BattleCON: Trials of Indines
I really don’t like card duelling games. I played Magic: the Gathering back in the day, but only casually. I never really liked the deck building aspects. Too many cards to keep track of, too much research to learn what works well together, too much “meta game” to follow regarding counters and broken cards. I also never much cared for the deck and hand manipulation aspects. I may have the perfect combos, but could never learn to how to bring those combos together. Most of my games I felt like I was just top decking, taking card after card from my draw pile until drawing one I needed. I realize that my dislikes are the very aspects that fans of the genre really like, so I don’t feel like anything is wrong with these games — just that I’m not a fan.
The BattleCON system seemed to address many of my dislikes. Character decks are prebuilt and only have around a dozen cards. Most cards are in your hand at all times, so there is no need for deck and hand manipulation. And each character comes with its own special, powerful move making sure that each matchup is different. This looked like a good system for me, and I jumped back into the card duelling genre with the most recent installment, Trials of Indines.
Being new to the BattleCON universe, I can't comment on how this version compared to previous versions. I had heard that the rules had been updated and streamlined. I found the game very easy to learn and teach. Each round breaks down into several phases, the order conveniently printed on the central board. The first step is to secretly choose cards (more on that later). Then payers can add power ups before revealing their cards. The player with the highest priority goes first. They then check if the opponent is in range of their attack, easily determined by the character position on the central board. If the attack is in range, do damage. If the second player is still able to attack, they do so (usually a character that has been hit is stunned and can't attack. Often going second will mean you don't attack this turn). Cards are discarded and older discarded cards are brought back into your hand. This repeats until one player loses all of their health.
(The game board provides a nice spatial component to the game.)
The twist is that cards are played in pairs. Each turn you will play a base card and a style card. The base card provides values for priority, range, and power (damage the attack does). The style card modifies these values up or down. Each card has special abilities that can be triggered at specific points in a round. These let you do things like move your character on the board or add stun guard so your character can attack after being hit.
I really like playing pairs of cards. It means that I only have to learn a dozen cards while having the variety as if there were hundreds. Even better, all players have the same base cards (they each have a single base card unique to them), so it makes learning a new character a bit easier. Finally, there is a reference card listing all of the style cards unique to the character. You give this reference card to your opponent so they know everything that is in your deck. I love this approach to perfect information. There are no surprise cards, no rare cards with game breaking abilities, just your skill at playing your character and anticipating your opponent.
The other thing I love about this system is that almost all of your cards are in your hand and can be played anytime. The exception is that 2 pairs of cards are in your discard piles. When you play a pair of cards, those cards are not available for the next 2 rounds while they cycle through your discard piles. This prevents a player from using the same attack over and over while still allowing you to have free choice each turn what you want to play. There are some hand management aspects ensuring pairs that work well together cycle through together, but this is really minimized.
What makes BattleCON really fun is how all of the cards interact with one another. I'll give a simple example. There is a base card Dodge. This card lets you move your character up to 3 spaces. If this movement swaps position with your opponent, their attack will do no damage. So you can pair this base card with a style that lets you recover or power up for a bigger attack next round. Of course your opponent may be anticipating your dodge, and play cards that limit your movement or moves their character out of range to neutralize your dodge. The way all of these cards interact keeps games interesting and unique.
The interaction between cards can also feel very random if you aren't familiar with all of the effects. Several times when playing with my son, an interaction prevented him from doing an attack or moving or powering up. Every time this happened he would get frustrated, complaining "I didn't know that could happen". Indeed, to really enjoy BattleCON, as is true for all card duelling games, it is necessary to learn what each card does and how it could interact with your opponent's cards. This, unfortunately, prevents BattleCON from being a casual game. Even with the simple rules and small deck sizes, this isn't a game to break out with new players for a quick hand or two.
BattleCON does reward patience and experience. To fully appreciate this game, you need to spend some time with each character. Trials of Indines comes with 10 characters (and 3 extra ones in the Kickstarter edition). Each character is helpfully labeled as Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced or Master and comes in its own custom tuckbox for easy organization and storage. The number of characters provides plenty of variability — in just this box there are probably dozens of hours of gameplay waiting.
(Tuckboxes are a nice component storage solution.)
Each character has unique powers and focus. Like many great asymmetrical games, each character seems unfairly blessed. As you play with these characters, you will see how intricately balanced they really are. For example, Merjoram Alexian specializes in counter attacks. Sticking to the counter attack theme, several styles provide a bonus if she goes second in a round — she wants a low priority. However, these style cards have additive bonuses to the priority stat, making it difficult to go second. Many of the characters play this way. When a special power hits, it hits hard. But getting a special power to trigger can be a very complex puzzle.
BattleCON: Trials of Indines is my favourite card duelling game so far. It is simple to learn while scratching all of the card duelling itches. Not really a casual game, I find it difficult to play with young players or gamers without the time to learn the cards. For this reason, despite being a really good game, it won't be seeing much play time in our household.
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BattleCon: Trials of Indines tends to make sure each character has plenty of power available. This is in contrast to Fate, which was more about complicated character abilities and control effects.
Overall, people like this set so far, with Wardlaw and Dareios being particular favorites.
Best friend got me into the game last year, I was able to track down a complete copy of the game earlier this year, and I have Trials, and pre ordered the three KS additional characters. There is so much depth to the game when you add the new characters we haven't actually touched Alt Costumes, Alt Bases, the Armory stuff, the Arenas, Tag Teams, Strikers, Finishers, or the Dungeon thing that they have released.