In second grade, I went to a friend’s birthday party, and he had just received Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo. Despite being a large group, we decided to watch each other play, with the winner getting to stay in the round. I was the only player who could throw Hadokens or any other projectile. Let’s just say I didn’t have many friends at school the next day.
Since then, despite realizing just how poor I really was at SFII, I have always enjoyed one-on-one combat games, not only in video form but also in tabletop card games like Magic: the Gathering and Summoner Wars. Recently, there have been many attempts to translate the likes of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and their many cousins more directly to card format – Yomi, BattleCON, and many more. The EXCEED fighting system by Level 99 Games and D. Brad Talton (Pixel Tactics, BattleCON) is the latest attempt at doing so.
The idea behind EXCEED is to have an accessible-but-interesting system adaptable to different game worlds, allowing different characters from various areas of geekdom. This sounds great, but is the game system any good? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: First off, let me say that I have only played one of the four upcoming packs, which had four fighters: Satoshi, Mei-Lien, Baelkhor, and Morathi. The artwork on the cards was great, and the iconography was very clear and useful once we had the rules down. I also really like how the ultra attack cards were foiled. I wish the “fighting area” was a board and not just 9 plain-looking cards, but I think the $25 MSRP trade-off for four characters is worth it. My only real complaints is that the box comes in a somewhat low-quality tuckbox (which stunk to high heaven, but I’m told that’s an anomaly); I’d rather have a traditional, sturdy game box with a lid or magnetic case.
Prudish Comment: Take this or leave it. If you look at the Kickstarter page for EXCEED, many of the characters are scantily clad, for lack of a better phrase. However, the particular deck I was sent did not have this problem with any of the fighters. I do not think I’ll pick up the other decks for this reason, but if that’s an issue for you like it is for me, you can safely pick up this set and have a lot of fun with it.
Accessibility: The point of the EXCEED system is to have something simple enough to “graft on” many different types of fighters, but still complex enough to be interesting. In this, I think Level 99 has succeeded. It’s not a gateway game, but it’s an easy game to understand for veterans of games like Magic, Summoner Wars, Dominion, or any other card game with lots of text and abilities. I also think this game is one of those where it’s easy to jump in and begin playing, even if you won’t necessarily be playing well. It’s fun just to explore the characters the first time and read some of the crazy abilities, especially on the “exceed” (i.e. powered-up) side of the characters – a fun throwback to many video game fighters.
Depth: A huge part of this game is learning the characters and their decks inside and out. At that point, the game becomes more about reading your opponent than figuring out the system that you are working within, and this is a very good thing. It’s a very well-done parallel to the same “mental paper-rock-scissors” happening in other card games and particularly in the video game fighters that EXCEED draws its inspiration from. For example, one character has an ultra attack that’s a ridiculously large amount of damage, but it only hits if he is exactly 3 spaces away from his opponent. Once you’ve lost to that once, you’ll know how to play around it. The subtle things, like keeping track of your opponent’s Gauge costs and the amount they have on hand, or the ranges and effects on their unique attacks, come with time. I could definitely see this becoming a lifestyle game for people in the way that Magic and many LCGs have done.
Theme: Although I don’t know the history of these characters, the art in the game and their unique abilities says a lot about them. I felt like each character had an overarching “theme” to their abilities and those came out very well during the gameplay. Level 99 has said they made sure to pay careful attention to having these characters play similar to their original form in Jasco’s Universal Fighting System, and though I haven’t played that, I can tell that these characters were carefully crafted and refined. The fighting game theme is linked about as tightly as you could possibly imagine to the gameplay.
Fun: I have unfortunately never played BattleCON, but I have played Yomi, Magic, Summoner Wars, Mage Wars Academy, and a slew of deckbuilders and two-player card games. This is the game that I feel best simulates my “glory days” of Street Fighter, Tekken, and Killer Instinct in a way that’s got the right level of accessibility and game length for me. Games only take 15-30 minutes, and I suspect they’ll be quicker as we get better at the game. I look forward to playing the game more and to see what other game worlds end up licensed to the system.
If you’re looking for a video game fighter simulated in a tabletop card game, and you want it to be accessible but deep, look no further than EXCEED.
4 out of 5