In Outchasers, you get to pilot a giant battle mech in space. Is this as exciting as it sounds? Fortunately, the gameplay in Outchasers is actually deep.
At the beginning of the game, both players select a pilot card and a mech card from an available pool of twelve (two pilots and two mechs from each of three different colors). Then you shuffle up the 48-card equipment deck and give half to each player at random. There are alternate rules for drafting your equipment deck, and it’s actually a lot of fun since there is a solid drafting mechanic, but the draft will take as long as the actual fighting and will result in much more powerful decks. Finally, there are five Cores selected at random from a pool of ten, which are placed in a row between the players.
You draw an eight card hand of equipment to start, equipping two of the cards to your mech right away. Turn sequence is to draw a card, optionally play a card as a strike or as an equipment on your mech, optionally make an attack with an equipment on your mech, get a Charge card if you skipped either of those optional steps, and then you’re done!
Choosing which cards to play and how to play them is obviously the most challenging part of the game, and it’s where you’ll be spending most of your mental cycles. Every card can be played as either a one-shot action or laid down as a permanent (but destructible) equipment on your mech, and their stats and gametext vary depending on which option you choose. You may place up to two stacks of equipment in front of your mech, and two stacks in the rear. Cards in front may be used to attack your opponent’s mech or equipment. Cards in the rear are armor that your opponent must break before they can directly attack your hit points (a number from 22-27, depending on the mech you chose). You can stack multiple cards in one slot, adding attack values or armor values together, but opening yourself up to attacks that damage everything in a stack.
Every card has an attack value and a defense value, which come into play when used as described above, but they also have a strike value, which you use when just playing them as one-shot action cards. Similarly, any given card might have game text for either or both options (there are no textless cards). So, when you’re holding a hand of seven cards, each of which could potentially be played to one of four slots or discarded to attack one of your opponent’s five possible positions, and each of which might have different stats or game text based on how you’re using it, that’s a pretty big decision tree. It’s a strength and a weakness of the game. Depth, but slow turns.
Charges are the currency in the game, and are represented by attractive little charge cards. You get one if you skip one of your actions on your turn. Your mech also has unique game text that describes how you can get more, typically synergizing with cards of the same color. Like the mechs, equipment cards come in red, blue, or green, skewed towards offensive, defensive, and oddball, respectively.
You can use charges to take more basic actions, to activate your pilot’s special power, or to buy one of the five Cores set out at the beginning of the game, and all of those choices are potentially good. Buying Cores is also a potential alternate path to victory, as buying all five means you win. In practice, it is hard to imagine a scenario where you have that many extra charges, and your opponent bought no cores, and neither of you managed to beat the other one into submission first. It’s a weird little appendix of a rule. But the Cores are still often worth picking up, as they give you an ongoing buff, such as modifying the stats upwards on one color of card, or giving you a one-point heal every turn. There are a couple of other little rules, for instance you can play equipment face-down. If your opponent attacks a face-down equipment card and it’s a trap card, it does something nasty to them (equipment fully heals between turns).
You play your cards, maybe try to get some charges, and wallop the heck out of your opponent. It’s all good fun and somebody loses an eye. You could do a lot worse with a 2-player fighting game, and people have.
But reviewers need fun too, so it’s time to nitpick!
The equipment cards for Outchasers have big, bold numbers, and lovely symbols to help out our colorblind friends, but when there’s game text it’s in a teeny-tiny font. There’s no reason for it: the equipment cards don’t have pictures, so there’s tons of room that could have been usefully filled with bigger text.
This game feels a bit like a TCG, but because you’re buying a fixed pool of cards, you’re going to be stuck with anything that’s broken or overpowered, and there seem to be some balancing issues in the game. This is particularly noticeable in the pilots and mechs that you select at the beginning of the game. If one of them is too good, it’s always going to be a coin flip to see who gets to pick it first. The mechs, at least, might have the power of their game text balanced against their starting hit points (though I don’t necessarily agree with the designers’ choices on this subject), but the pilots get no such consideration. They all have a power that costs two charges to use, and that’s it.
These balance issues, plus a few unclear topics in the rulebook, say to me that maybe a touch more testing was needed.
Because your hit points start over 20, a d20 is no good for keeping track of your health. You need at least two dice for each player, or lots of counters, or a scorepad. At least the box is big enough that you can include whichever option works best for you.
Biggest complaint for last: If someone builds up a big stack of weaponry and breaks up your best stack, you’re behind the eight ball. Same thing if someone sets up a strong Charge-generating combo. There are no catch-up mechanisms in this game. Everyone gets the same number of actions each turn, so any early advantage is sometimes all it takes to run away with the game.
And a couple compliments: Really beautiful art on the mechs, pilots, and cores. The rulebook also has some great self-parodying super deformed/chibi art. And the designers included some decent 2v2 “Atlantic Rim” rules, in case you have more friends over. Both players on a team have their own pilot, but they share a mech, of course.
With six pilots and six mechs to pick from, your deck changing every game, and five cores chosen at random from a stack of ten, mathematically speaking, no one will ever play the same of Outchasers twice. Pretty good value for a box of 80-odd cards.
A genuinely fun fighting game, with some good eye-candy art. A solid choice for two people who need to kill 30 minutes. There will be occasional runaway victories.
((A prototype copy was received for the purposes of this review, although that did not affect the outcome of the review. Prototype components are shown and are subject to change before final production.