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Subject: Could it be ... SATAN?!? - A review of Battle for Souls. rss

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Scott Sexton
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Back in the 1990's, like many kids, I was obsessed with CCGs. Magic, Star Wars CCG, Doomtown, 7th Sea, and well into the early 2000s with Lord of the Rings CCG (from Decipher) and the underrated Jedi Knight. I've always had a soft spot for "dueling" card games where 2 players would take their decks and beat the heck out of each other.

In recent years, there have been several attempts to offer this kind of experience without the blind purchases typical of CCGs. The Living Card Game being the most typical model. A less widely discussed/used alternative to the LCG model is one where the game is entirely self contained in a single box. See games like the reprint of Blue Moon, anything from Small Box Games, and also Battle for Souls.

These self contained games try to offer players the same "duel" experience in a self contained game that doesn't require the purchase of booster packs or expansions. While the Blue Moon reprint from FFG is probably the most well known, my personal favorite has been the now out of print Omen: A Reign of War from Small Box Games. So how does Battle for Souls stack up as a niche game in a niche hobby?

Quick pitch: Battle for Souls is a 2 player symmetrical dueling card where players take on the roll of agents working for Heaven or Hell trying to purify or corrupt souls so that when they die, their side collects the soul.

I never like to describe how gameplay works or go in depth with rules during my review. Check out Rahdo's excellent play through video for a sense of how the game works.

What I think works well with the game:

I really dig the 3 part tug-of-war that is the focus of the game. You are constantly struggling over three soul cards, and every little win you have feels like a hard fought victory. There are of course other games that employ the 3 part area control struggle (like Omen) but it feels wholly new because players aren't stacking up cards to fight one another, but rather in BFS, players are playing cards out as a way of manipulating the game state.

I love the Lavish components. The game's card layout is very intuitive and helpful to players. The game uses public domain paintings from master artists. While there is a great variety in the art used, it is all used quite well and the end result is that the game is simply gorgeous. This game is easily on par with Alf Seegart's Fantastiqa in how it uses pubic domain art in a way that doesn't come off as tasteless.

Once players have the game round's structure down, the game does move along at a good clip. Some turns are a quick as drawing a card, while others may require a quick string of combos to play out.

There are multiple paths to victory. How you manage your hand of cards matters, and so does how you manage the holy/unholy points you amass on your cards. Are you going to use your reap cards offensively or defensively? Are you going to focus on quantity or quality in how you build your play hands? Will you go after power cards, and if so, which kind? No single strategy seems dominant to me, and there is plenty of room to change your plan on the fly.

There is plenty of interesting card play. There are in truth three sets of cards you are going to be managing throughout the game: The Soul Cards (what you are fighting over). The play cards (your hand of cards that you are trying to use in building sets/melds like in poker or rummy). And the power cards (Devils/Angels, Sin/Intercession, and Relics). Building combos between the various cards is quite satisfying and enjoyable.

There is plenty of interaction between players. Some would say that the game can get quite vicious, and they would be right. Every turn your opponent has a chance to do something that will completely wreck your plans. Figuring out how to carefully plan for this and successfully mitigating such disasters is what separates the winner from the loser in this game.

What I don't like:

There are some Kickstarter backer cards that just don't look good compared to the gorgeous classic art used on most soul cards. I'm never a fan of this in games, but its pretty disappointing to see a modern photo mixed in with classic paintings from the masters. It isn't quite as bad as what we see in Lords of War's Templar Faction cards, but its jarring none the less.

The game plays a tiny bit longer then I would like. I've pretty much decided to remove the Kickstarter backer cards from my deck of souls. They do little more then add extra time to the game.

My son had a LOT of trouble with the turn structure, which is pretty complex, even for this type of game. There are SEVERAL steps in every turn and the timing of when you take each step matters A TON. My 10 year old son struggled significantly with keeping his turns moving in the right order. Often we had to "rewind" his turn several moves to fix a mistake he made or a misunderstanding he had.

The rule book for the first edition is hard to read. Something about it makes the game harder to understand then it actually is. I can't quite put my finger on it, but watching a Rahdo video makes the game SOOOO much easier to understand then reading the rules alone.

Speaking of playing with younger kids, the subject matter and several of the art pieces are of questionable content for younger children. There is plenty of grotesque imagery and a good bit of nudity in the paintings used in the game. After having a good talk with my son about this, I was pretty confident that we would be fine with this for him, but parents should be aware of this mature content.

This is a game that can make a kid cry. Its mean and tough. I found myself constantly weighing actions that could screw over my opponent, and often asking myself, "What will hurt him more?" This isn't exactly a BAD thing per se, but I could see some folks turned off.

Conclusion:

Battle for Souls is an excellent 2 player dueling game that comes self contained in a single box. This isn't a game that is too hard to get your hands on, and there is a second print run soon to be released. If you are in to this kind of card game, its a real winner. For me, BFS isn't quite as good as my beloved Omen, but it probably comes in as the second best game of this kind that I own. This is a solid recommendation for anyone who likes these sorts of dueling card games, and a definite "try before you buy" if you aren't sure if you like this sort of game.
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Darryl with one "R"
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Well isn't that special?
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Tyrone ..................
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Love the title!
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