There are plenty of two player battle card games, but none really capture the feeling of classic two player video game brawlers like Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Tekken, The King of Fighters, and others. None, that is, until the BattleCON series of table top games came into existence.
BattleCON stands for Battle Connection Fighting System and the base game has multiple expansions, expanded standalone versions, and even an online multiplayer system. The core mechanics connect all of the different sets and they are all fully compatible with one another, which means there is a lot from which to choose. Any of the base sets come loaded with plenty of fighters, which means gameplay won’t get stale any time soon. But, combine two (or more) sets and your roster of available fighters gets crazy huge.
With all of the available content for the BattleCON system, one might ask, “Where should I start? What version should I buy?” And, that is a legitimate question. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the base sets, as they will contain everything necessary to jump into the game and start dishing out punishment to your opponents. However, if you want to start at the beginning, the original base set is called War of Indines. As with many first editions, the original version of the game was updated. Some of the rules were tweaked, the art was refreshed, and the components were upgraded in the second printing. Retailers only have the second printing so don’t worry that you might get the first printing. For the purposes of this review, I played the remastered second printing of BattleCON: War of Indines. But if you have your eyes on Devastation of Indines, Fate of Indines, or any of the other standalone sets, there is no reason not to jump in with one of those versions.
BattleCON: War of Indines is a two player head to head battle card game that brings the feeling of classic arcade fighting games to the tabletop. There are rules to expand the number of players, but at its heart the BattleCON system is made for two players to duke it out. The base set comes with 18 unique fighters, gobs of tokens and counters, two spin dial life trackers, and a game board (rulebooks and such are also included). Each fighter in BattleCON is represented by a cardboard standee. These are used with the game board and are really what separates the BattleCON system from all other two player battle card games. The spatial and tactical movement/positioning of BattleCON is what lends it the feeling of those classic video games it is trying to emulate. BattleCON does a very good job of capturing the essence of 2D fighting video games and that is just one reason the game system has been so well received.
All of the actions your fighter takes during the game is controlled and predetermined by paring together a set of cards. Every fighter gets a set of six base cards. This set of six cards is the same for all fighters. Unique to each fighter is a set of style cards, which give each fighter their personality. These two sets of cards are combined to form a special move. You will always play one base card and one style card. This is called an attack pair. The backs of base and style cards have different colors to easily tell the difference. Forming an attack pair is fundamental to BattleCON so taking a moment to familiarize yourself with the different cards is a good idea. Each card, each side of the attack pair, has a set of numbers which correspond to the move’s Range, Power, and Priority. They might also have special ability text. The special ability text is pretty important and dictates when certain abilities trigger, when/where your character moves, how much damage they soak, whether they get stunned, etc. But the main part of the attack pair is the numbers. Each side in the attack pair will have a number, or range of numbers, for Range, Power, and Priority. The numbers are combined to determine the actual stats of the attack. Range determines how far (how many spaces) the attack can hit. Power is the amount of damage that will be inflicted on your opponent if they are within range of the attack. And Priority dictates which fighter will activate first. Priority is super important most of the time because attacking first is often a good way of gaining the upper hand. Taking damage can cause a character to become stunned; a stunned character does not deliver any combat damage. If you can strike first and stun your opponent, not only were you able to put the hurt on them, but you effectively escaped any blows they had planned for you.
The only way to move your fighter is if your chosen attack pair says to move. It might say something like, at the start of the round move up to two spaces, or on hit move, or at the end of the round move. But if your attack pair doesn’t say move, your character doesn’t move. Movement, and your proximity to the other fighter, is important due to the range (in spaces on the board) of your attacks. If your opponent is too far away, you will essentially be shadow boxing with air.
After your attack pair is chosen, but before it is revealed, you have an opportunity to ante a counter (or sometimes a special card). These counters grant your fighter special bonuses for the round. No two characters have the same counters/abilities. Some fighters call on the elements, such as fire, to power up, others manipulate time to gain extra Priority, while others might activate their Iron Body to become immune to stun effects. The unique style cards, counters , and tokens that each character has really affects gameplay. All of the characters feel different; no two characters play the same. This adds to the replayability.
The rulebook starts players with an illustrated, follow along sample game that is designed to teach you the basics of how to play. There are several section headings which are helpful if you need to skim/reread a particular section. After the intro game setup and basic concepts section, the rulebook goes into the meaty particulars, breaking everything down in detail. All of the keywords are outlined and explained and there are quite a few example scenarios. There is a FAQ as well as a gameplay tips section. The core concept of the game is easy enough to understand and be able to teach others fairly quickly. The various fighters are grouped by difficulty: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. The advanced fighters do, in fact, introduce some concepts/rules that are more difficult than the basic fighters.
The components are all fairly top notch. The fighter standees and cardboard tokens/counters are all very thick. And there are a lot of them. Like really a lot. Each fighter has an envelope to store their unique style cards. This makes storing the cards and finding which ones you need later super easy. The spin down life dials are made out of the same thick cardboard as the tokens/counters/standees. And while it is a pretty nice life dial, after using the clock in Chaosmos, I’m a little jaded when it comes to cardboard spinny things. The little rubber feet that are included in Chaosmos are an example of a board game publisher going above and beyond. The only minor downside to the components is that the cardboard standees fit inside a plastic base, which keeps them upright. This base is super tight, and rightly so, but after a few times pulling your fighters in and out of their plastic bases, you’ll notice some wear on the cardboard. This isn’t supremely awful because the wear is on the bottom of the fighters where they fit into the base, which covers up the wear. With normal use, the wear should be minor at any rate.
The storage solution is okay. It isn’t great, but with so many components I’m not sure how they could make it better while keeping the price reasonable. That being said, the large compartment that acts as the token/counter depository does not make it easy to find the specific tokens you’re looking for. Because most fighters use between 3 – 5 tokens that are unique to them, you’re either going to have to deal with digging through the mountain of tokens or get lots of little baggies to keep them all separated. The envelopes that keep the style cards is a very nice touch and they fit in their compartments very nicely.
With 18 fighters to choose from, it is going to take a long time for this game to get stale. If this is the sort of game you really enjoy, it probably won’t ever get stale, and if it comes close, there are several expansions to make it fresh again. In all honesty though, the number of fighters and different combinations of attack pairs that are possible means there is a lot to devour. Each of the fighters have a completely different feeling from the other fighters, this also lends to the high degree of replayability.
Overall, BattleCon: War of Indines is a lot of fun. It is a solid fighting game that feels like an old school video game. The amount of game that is in the box is generous to say the least. With multiple modes (not to mention all of the expansions) and different fighters, it is going to take a while before you get bored with this one.