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Subject: Bolt from the blue: Flash Duel rss

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Michael Kefauver
United States
Saint Charles
Illinois
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Like a bolt from the blue, it's time for a Flash Duel review.

Sirlin Games has always been a mixed bag for me. While I like the world he's created and I like fighting games, his personal philosophy on gaming isn't quite my cup of tea. Add that to a less-than-stellar first impression of the company due to an initially-disappointing preorder of Puzzle Strike Deluxe and I was a bit hesitant to grab Flash Duel off the shelf of my FLGS. Nevertheless, I'd heard about it in the past and it seemed interesting enough, so I went for it. I quickly found myself surprised, but not joyously overwhelmed.

The Box and What's Inside

I grabbed the Deluxe edition, which comes with a very nice wood box (though the woodglue used in the box is a bit weak, which means that if you leave it, say, in your car for a day in summer, it'll start to fall apart, even if not in direct sunlight) with a nice 2 part wooden board, wooden pawns, and wooden win counters. The cards are serviceable, but, to my dismay, chip and rub very easily. Just common play for three games left the cards looking well-worn. In addition, some of the character cards are printed a bit blurry in my edition. Nothing that stops play, but something a bit irksome in a "Deluxe Edition."

The Gameplay

The general play of the game is simple; just like in its inspiration, En Garde, both players control a character on a line of spaces that they can move forward or backward on. The goal of the game is to win 3 of 5 matches, and you win a match by hitting your opponent or by winning a tiebreaker at the end of the match.

Play is dictated by playing cards, and the deck is 25 cards, 5 copies each of numbers 1-5. When you play a card you have 3 options.

1. Move
When you play a card you can move forward or back that number of spaces. If you would move past your opponent you instead move up next to them and stop. If you start your turn standing next to your foe, you can instead push them back spaces equal to your move number.

2. Attack
To attack you play any number of cards, each of which is the distance from you to your opponent. For example, if there are 2 empty spaces between us, I have to play a 3 to attack (or multiple 3s). To block the defending player needs to discard a matching set. For example, if I attack with two 3s, the other player has to play two 3s to block, or they are hit and I win that round.

3. Dashing Strike
Here you get to move and attack at the same time. You play one card to move normally, and then a second card (or set of cards) to attack from your new range. "But wait, Michael!" I hear you cry, "Why wouldn't I just dashing strike every turn?" The reason is that when you dashing strike, your opponent can, in addition to blocking as normal, retreat. They can play one card and move back that many spaces to totally avoid the attack, skipping their next turn (expect for drawing) so a dashing strike throwing out 3 cards to attack won't normally win you a match. It's great for positioning and throwing your opponent on the defense, however.

If you hit your opponent, you win, if not, you play until the deck is empty, at which point you do the tiebreaker. You reveal your hands and, if either can hit their opponent, they land a 'final strike' and win. If not, whoever is farthest from their starting point wins. In the (very) rare case that you're both the same distance, it's a draw.

The Characters

And this is what makes the game stand out. The characters are represented by 3 cards, each of which is a special ability that can be used once per round, and only one can be used in a turn. These add individual flavor to the game, increase re-playability, and make matches interesting and different. Each character has a strong theme (Geiger, for example, can control time, so his abilities allow him to control the deck (the timer. Ha), position himself, and draw from the discard pile) and is, for the most part, balanced. They require different amounts of skill to play, but even the hardest characters to use aren't out of reach.


My Thoughts

The base gameplay is simple and, at its heart, is about odds and card-counting. There's a bit of bluffing as you move into and out of attack range, but usually it comes down to the hard math of
"Well, there's a 3 in the discard pile and I have two more in my hand, so if I can attack at range 3 the worst I can get is a draw, so I'm safe there, but his ability lets him move me one closer or farther away, so he could hit me with a 4 or 2, and I only have 1 of each in my hand after I move this turn, and there's two of each in the discard pile, so..."

The characters are really needed to make the game shine, and they really do. Some seem more balanced than others, though. Rook is a master at close range, and he has a card that, if he can attack at range 1, he instantly wins, a card that lets him weather Dashing Strikes more easily, and a card that lets him take away a foe's retreat ability at range 1. Therefore, if he can be sure of getting a majority of 1s, he can win with one dashing strike. Other characters, like Valerie, are more versatile, but a lot less powerful. She can play one 3 as a 4, one 4 as a 3, and draw one card out of turn to give her more options. Useful, but none of them by themselves are game-winners, especially because you can only use 1 in a turn, so you can't grab a card and use the 3-to-4 or 4-to-3 ability. Jaina has a card that lets her insta-win if her opponent ever ends their turn at range 6 (an important range, since it's right outside the attack range, giving you a good deal of flexibility), a card that lets her grab a 5 from the discard pile (again, great for winning a game, since until you use it you basically have an extra 5 in your hand for attack purposes) and a card that lets her push her opponent pre-attack by revealing a card from her hand from a range. So, given the right cards, she can move you from a closer range to a farther one where she has a majority of cards and then pound you with them.

I'm sure in the long run they're all balanced, but some seem more useful than others, and certain characters are certainly 'counters' to each other. Argagog focuses on running out the deck and winning a tiebreaker, for example, while Geiger can re-shuffle the deck and make a match nearly twice as long. Lum has a card that gives him an alternate win condition that Grave can counter, etc.

Finally, the theme. I'm not sure why all these fighting game characters almost always attack at range, or lose in one hit. Don't get me wrong, it's a great system and it works great for the game, but it seems odd; more suited for guns or calling air-strikes on each other than throwing punches/fireballs.

My Opinion

I like it. For its card-counting and math-y gameplay it's very quick, very fun, and the characters add much-needed variety to the game. I wish the box was sturdier, the cards better made (or at least a warning that sleeves are very much suggested before a few casual games destroy them) and the art uniformly printed, but I'd still recommend that you at least play it. It isn't for everyone, but as far as 2 player fillers go, it's five minutes of fun.
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Cameron Chien
United States
Rancho Cucamonga
California
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It's a great two player filler game!

I agree that the horrible production issues with Puzzle Strike's initial printing were just the pits (I went the print-n-play route).

Cameron
 
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Michael Kefauver
United States
Saint Charles
Illinois
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Zeede wrote:
It's a great two player filler game!

I agree that the horrible production issues with Puzzle Strike's initial printing were just the pits (I went the print-n-play route).

Cameron


Nice to hear someone else knows the pain. I kinda wish I had that option, but after waiting so long for the game and paying so much I didn't want to spend the extra money on the PnP edition while my 'nice wooden copy' was supposedly on its way any day.
 
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