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Subject: Initial Thoughts from 2 plays rss

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Sam Hoffman
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I thought I'd quickly put up my thoughts regarding this game before the kickstarter ends.
Firstly I'd like to say that I like the way this kickstarter has been run, specifically:
*- The print & play has allowed me to try the game out before buying, showing 4 different characters;
*- The 2 gameplay videos show how the game works in reality and were fun to watch (go cabbagehands!);
*- I think that the designer, Benjamin Yamada, has conducted himself very well on the forums.

I've played the game twice using the Print & Play, as Jun and Ren. I appreciate that isn't many games, but I really enjoyed the game and it was enough to convince me to back it. What I've really enjoyed are all the decisions in the game.


Character Choice & Deck Construction
Before you get to actually beating up each up, you get to make a decision on which character to play and how to create their deck. The characters each have an individual ability and each have a set 13 cards that go into their deck, and this veers each character towards a certain style of play. For example, Lumi's ability is to increase their blast value by 1 (their blasts travel quicker), and their 13 cards are dominated by blast attacks, and a "mode" which again boosts their blasts. The picture below shows Kasi's personal cards, leaning her towards knockdown combos:


The big decision point here though is how you construct the rest of your deck from the game's "common" cards. All of these cards are broken up into 20 different technique packs - each pack includes 8 cards (2 copies of 4 cards). You get to choose 4 of these packs to complete your deck (for a total of 4x8=32 cards). The 20 techniques are arranged into 5 different styles as follows:

Hard: Knock, Stun, Brawl, Push
Soft: Assault, Denial, Precise, Combo
Fluid: Fallback, Forward, Rush, Aerial
Wrestle: Crush, Grapple, Press, Throw
Chi: Bombard, Yin, Yang, Wave

Certain rules and guidance are given for each character. For example, Ren has to take 2 "hard" techniques and 2 "chi" techniques and is recommended to take Brawl and Push for his Hard techniques, and Yang and Wave for his Chi techniques. However, the although it is fixed that Ren has to take 2 Hard and Chi techniques, despite the game's recommendations, the exact packs from each can be decided by the player.
Looking at all four characters from the PnP, all of them have to take 2 packs from the Chi techniques. And though suggestions are given for which to take for each fighter, if they take different techniques their decks will play very differently. E.g. Ren is recommended the Yang pack, while Jun takes Yin. The 4 Yang cards focus on "energising" (drawing more dice into your pool), while the 4 Yin cards focus on drawing cards. Yang features 2 short range attacks and a ground blast that only hit standing and crouching opponents, while Yin features a longer range kick that can hit jumpers and crouchers, an aerial blast, and a movement card that allows for rapid redeployment.
The picture below compares the Chi/Yang technique with Wrestle/Grapple.


As you get more experienced with the game, I think there will be a lot of fun to be had customising your favourite characters technique packs to fight exactly how you like them to, and to give them an edge against other fighters - e.g. you might decide for Ren to swap out the suggested Yang pack for Yin instead, as his opponent Jun has a habit of spending a lot of time leaping about, and Yin gives him the tools to kick and blast her out of the sky and keep up with her speed.
In a discussion in the forums about the number of characters present in Way of the Fighter compared to other fighting games (BattleCon, Exceed, Yomi, etc), Joshua Christensen theorised
Quote:
"I'm not sure how I feel about this aspect of the game but WotF technically has more then 5 fighters to a set because of the whole Technique Pack switching aspect of the game. Ren essentially becomes a different character and should provide a different experience if you give him two different Chi packs then the ones he starts with or 1 different Chi and 1 different Hard. Or any combination of that."

I completely agree this. If my maths are correct each character has at least 36 different technique pack combinations. The technique packs chosen make up 32 of the 45 cards in your deck, and 4 of the 5 cards in your starting hand (see below), so it's a very meaningful decision, and gives each character a lot of replayability and flexibility.


Gameplay
Let's get to the game itself. I really like that during setup you get to choose your starting hand of 5 cards. 1 is always your character's block, and the others must be 1 card from each of your 4 techniques - lots of great decisions here! Let's say we're Ren going up against Jun. We may decide to take our quickest attacks to start with, to compete with Jun's speed. We may decide to let Jun use all her starting energy on some weak combos, saving our own energy dice, then counterattack with our heavier Hard technique attacks when she is out of dice to respond and we've seized the initiative card. We may decide to go defensive at first and put into play some "mode" cards - these are permanent boosts which last until you get knocked down. An example is "Clarity" from the Chi/Yin technique which allows a player to always pick from 2 cards when they have to draw 1.

The fighting part of the game consists of 3 phases in each turn. I'll talk about the Ready and Challenge phases here - the recovery phase is just an automatic cleanup phase with no real choices.

In the Ready phase each player draws a card and decides which dice to "energise" into their ready pool. The main decision here is whether to get 2 normal "Core" dice (a d3, with faces range from 1-3), or 1 "Power" dice (a d3+1, with faces ranging from 2-4). You use dice to set the speed of your attack, so 2 Core dice may always seem better than 1 Power dice. But ...
*- Power dice boost the damage of certain powerful attacks where Core dice do not. In the PnP, Kasi has a lot of powerful attacks boosted in this way.
*- You can only roll 4 dice per attack, so if you've been clever with your energy use (or did a great block) you may already have 3 Core dice in your active pool, so the Power dice gives you the edge for speed.
*- You may be playing a character that specialises in "energising", which can only draw Core dice into the energy pool, so decide to get the Power dice now. You could specialise this way due to a fixed character ability (e.g. Ren energises a Core die everytime he lands a hit), or because of deck construction choices (e.g. see the description of the Yang deck above).

The Challenge phase is the meat of the game.
Each character first decides whether to leap (allowing 2 spaces of movement), to stay standing and possibly shift a single space (and to draw a card), or to crouch (and to energise a Core die).
Each player than secretly chooses an attack card from their hand, and secretly chooses how many (from 1-4) of their energy dice in their active pool they want to use for that action. They then reveal their dice, roll them off and add them up. Cards are revealed, and the speed of that card's action is added to the total of their dice roll - this determines who resolves their actions first. If your opponent hits you first, your action is cancelled and lost - even a block! So speed is vital.
But so also is positioning. Every card has a Hit Grid Diagram showing how far the attack reaches, and whether it hits crouching, standing or jumping opponents. For example, the short range "Yang Fist" from the Chi/Yang technique pack can only be used by crouching or standing fighters, and only hits crouching or standing opponents 1 square away from the attacker. The opposing "Yin Kick" attack from the Chi/Yin technique pack can be used by standing or jumping attackers, and hits standing or jumping opponents up to 2 squares away. So if Ren was standing and threw a Yang Fist, and Jun was leaping with a Yin Kick, speed would be irrelevant - Jun would jump over Ren's punch and kick him in the head. Or maybe Jun was standing 2 squares back, so Ren's punch didn't reach, but her foot went far enough to tickle his [family rated review].
If you successfully hit your opponent, or the card you play has the "Link" ability, you can combo into another attack card. You do this by taking dice leftover in your active dice pool, rolling them and adding that to your new attack card's speed to beat the speed of your last card. If you do, the new attack hits. And you can keep doing this till your run out of dice or you fail to beat the speed of your last roll.
Another major factor in the Challenge phase is the "Initiative Card". After rolling dice, but before revealing cards, the person with this card can use it to add +2 to their action speed, to change their stance to jumping, standing or crouching, or to move 1 space forward or back. But if you use the card for one of these benefits, you have to hand it over to your opponent.

So given all of that, there are a lot of decisions going on here. Whether to crouch, shift or leap will be based on what you expect your opponent to do, and which attacks you have in your hand. Once you've decided that, you need to figure how many dice to put into the attack. If you want to hit first, you need to use as many as possible. But if you want to link into a combo, you can't make your first attack too fast, because you need to beat that number with your second attack speed.
You may just decide to take a hit on this attack, and just use 1 dice, saving all your others for a powerful blast or combo on the next round once your opponent has used most of his up in this round (all dice used in attacks go to the burnout pull and need to be re-energised).
And playing around the initiative card is vital - the ability to change positioning or get 2 to your speed is huge.


Final Thoughts
Summarising my thoughts, just from the PnP I rate this game an 8. I prefer to play it over Yomi, Battlecon and Exceed. I've played each of these 3 games many times - Yomi when it used to be F2P on your web browser, Battlecon on the iPad (despite it crashing every 5 minutes), and I played Exceed a lot recently at the last Lobstercon down in Eastbourne and with the PnP from the Kickstarter.
Way of the Fighter immediately evokes my memories of playing classic fighting games like Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat with my friends as a kid. This is compared to Yomi which feels more abstracted.
I like the hit grids on the cards and the way the fighting goes over 2-dimensions as opposed to the 1-dimensional fighting of Battlecon and Exceed.
I love the deck construction aspect, not present in any of the other games.
Like Exceed and Yomi, it's quicker, faster, and more immediate than Battlecon - which feels, slower, more cerebral, more "mathy". But I find the results of combats in Exceed a little chaotic - it's hard to start guessing what card your opponent will play. I found the opponent's decks a little bit easier to understand and play against in Way of the Fighter. I also like the catchup mechanic in that when you take damage, it puts more dice into your burntout pool to use later.

I do have concerns over a couple of aspects.
Firstly is blocking. If you successfully block an attack, your dice go back to your energy pool, while the opponent's attack is cancelled and their dice are burnt out. But to successfully block you still need to win the speed test. It fits the other mechanics in the game, but still doesn't quite feel right. I think I preferred the guard/block mechanic from Exceed for this.
Secondly is how important speed seems - whoever hits first usually hits and cancels the opponents attack. However, I think this is part of our inexperience with the game. We didn't know each others decks well, and was mainly using the initiative card to boost our attack speed. In our second game, we started to understand how to win the Challenge phase more through positioning. Ren has fewer attacks that hit jumping opponents, while Jun has fewer hitting crouching opponents. Ren hits harder at slighly shorter range (1 space), while Jun does light attacks from 2 spaces. So there was a lot more crouching, leaping, using the initiative card to close the distance for Ren, or pull away as Jun - we were starting to see that although you lost the speed roll, your dodged your opponent through clever positioning and still landed your own hit.


TLDR
Great game. I prefer it to the current alternatives. I appreciate having been able to watch videos showing the gameplay in detail, and to test play using a PnP. I'll be backing it.
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Yoki Erdtman
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Nice article Sam, thanks for sharing your thoughts on your initial plays. I haven't tried the print and play version, but am psyched to try the final product. To me Way of the Fighter: Super seems to perfectly emulate a 2D fighting video game. I look forward to hosting some fun game day tournaments.
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Aaron White
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Quick question, how well do you anticipate what your opponent will do? There are so many move cards and decision steps (choose stance, choose dice, choose cards) that it looked like guessing your opponents choices would be difficult. Yomi, BattleCON and Exceed are all similar in that you can have a good idea of your opponents options based on the game state. Way of the Fighter seems way too variable, especially since you can change the cards in your deck. My worry was that it might be too random. If you could share your thoughts it would be appreciated.
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Rook96 wrote:
Quick question, how well do you anticipate what your opponent will do? There are so many move cards and decision steps (choose stance, choose dice, choose cards) that it looked like guessing your opponents choices would be difficult. Yomi, BattleCON and Exceed are all similar in that you can have a good idea of your opponents options based on the game state. Way of the Fighter seems way too variable, especially since you can change the cards in your deck. My worry was that it might be too random. If you could share your thoughts it would be appreciated.

it might be difficult to anticipate if you dont know what are they playing, but you can guess their next move by which character they're using and their position (the player with the initiative moves first)... but this is one of the things that i like the most from the game, that you dont know what your opponent's gonna play... you have the character, you know which is their speciallity, but you dont know if the player likes to go with just punches to the face, or maybe he likes to combo, just like a videogame is
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Yoki Erdtman
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Rook96 wrote:
My worry was that it might be too random. If you could share your thoughts it would be appreciated.
To me it seems like it may feel random at first, but you should quickly get better at anticipating moves with experience. I love reading other players, I adore games that improve with repeat plays, and Way of the Fighter seems set to deliver on both counts.

Customizing decks will be a great equalizer, or handicap too, sure I know what your character is good at, and what Styles they can pick, but if I allow you to pick the exact ones without me knowing which they are, then you're at an advantage. This is another aspect I enjoy a lot. You could even play best two out of three games, and allow the loser of the previous game to pick their decks last.
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Michael Johnson
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ScarletJester wrote:

Each player than secretly chooses an attack card from their hand, and secretly chooses how many (from 1-4) of their energy dice in their active pool they want to use for that action. They then reveal their dice, roll them off and add them up. Cards are revealed, and the speed of that card's action is added to the total of their dice roll - this determines who resolves their actions first.


I'm curious as to the mechanical function of bidding dice and rolling them before revealing cards? I imagine the priority card comes into play here, but are there any other reasons?

I ask because I'm concerned blind bidding dice on blind cards feels a bit too random for me and I'd prefer to blind bid dice after cards have been revealed. Does that shift of when you reveal cards affect game mechanics in any fundamental way?
 
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