The World’s First Real-Time Bar Fight Sim
The good ole saloon fight was basically the Old West equivalent of boardgaming. Feel free to fill in the blanks of this metaphor on your own.
Enter 7-Card Slugfest. This isn’t the first game to tackle the “bar fight” as its subject matter, though it’s definitely the first real-time bar fighting game. Y’know, short of actually punching someone in the face in a bar, because that gets pretty real-time too. 7-Card Slugfest is much less likely to end with a hospital visit, though anything’s possible when it’s set in the Level 99 Games World of Indines, which as far as I can tell is a colorful fantasy universe where everyone is perpetually pummeling everyone else in the face, whether Street Fighter-style in the BattleCON: War/Devastation of Indines games, as 8-bit phalanxes in Pixel Tactics, flicked discs in Disc Duelers, or, in this case, as a hot mess of raging testosterone in a poorly-lit tavern.
Your name is Minyard Milquetoast, unfortunately, and you’re basically a pervy twenty-something version of Peter Pan. Or maybe you’re Jager Brandtford, who is very likely a werewolf. Or Joal Kalmor, who “claims” to have visited faraway lands. Doesn’t much matter. Either way, you and a handful of fellow adventurers, scalawags, and gentlemen (most especially the teacup-sipping Luc Von Gott and university professor Larimore Burman) have come to occupy the very same bar this evening. By the way, it’s a manly bar, no ladies allowed. The plan was to sit in the corner and quietly sip some delicious amber liquid, likely cracking open a book before warming your feet by the fire.
Suddenly everybody starts fighting!
That’s pretty much the entire setup. There’s talk of a magical artifact under the control of the moustachioed villain Wardlaw O’Brien that makes people fight in bars, but nobody really cares about that. The main thing is that everyone gets their own unique character, along with a small deck of seven “punch cards” and a placard of your character’s face for everyone to direct their punches at. Appropriately, these placards show each character with the smuggest shit-eating grin possible, just to put everyone in the mood to punch out those pearly whites.
Without warning, without breath, someone at the table screams “Ready Get Set Fight!” without a single beat between the words, and the table transforms into a flurry of activity: cards fluttering through the air, fingers jammed, confused whimpering, personal insults, a pile of cardboard coins elbowed onto the wooden floor, curses at forgetting yet again to pick up a beverage once the fight has ended.
The whole process takes about 40 seconds, and then the table is a mess and everyone’s looking around at each other with bewildered eyes and wondering who forgot to pick up a drink token that time. “Shit!” mutters Mark as he fumbles for the -3 token of shame. Him again.
At its most basic, that’s 7-Card Slugfest. One-handed, you pick up one punch card at a time, take a peek at its strength and ability, then slap it facedown onto someone’s placard, all while howling at your friends to get their damn hands out of the way. Once you’ve laid out all your cards, you grab one of the drink tokens that will make your character harder or easier to knock out.
Of course, that’s an oversimplified way of looking at it, because in addition to all the jostling and shouting and wrestling over the desirable +3 drink token, there’s a subtle strategy to all the punching and insulting.
See, the goal of each round is to pick up the most K.O. points, which will earn you some gold coins. You earn K.O. points mostly by, well, knocking people out, one point for each victim, but you can also beat up the hapless bartender for two points, or survive the brawl for one.
Knocking someone out is as simple as landing the finishing blow. This usually happens on the tenth point of damage, though you can’t be entirely sure because those drink tokens modify each character’s stamina, so someone might be sitting on 13 hit points. Or 11. Or 7. This means you’ve got to watch the table like a hawk with a sugar rush, sort of counting but mostly just leaping to wild approximations of the damage on each player’s placard. Slap your cards down too soon and you’re only paving the way for someone else’s victory; too late and you’re just kicking a limp body, and there ain’t no points in that. Laughs, maybe, but no points.
Further complicating matters, in addition to the variable attack values on each of your seven cards, each character brings his own set of abilities to the table. Some of Pendros Schalla’s attacks, for instance, don’t deal damage unless they K.O. the target, so when you spot Schalla putting down a juicy 4-strength attack that would be the prime setup for a K.O., you can’t count on that card building to the finishing blow. Gerard “Mercenary King” Matranga, on the other hand, capitalizes on characters surviving, stealing their bonus if nobody puts them on the floor. Rukyuk Amberdeen’s attacks cycle to the back of each stack, Jager Brandtford discards his opponent’s punches, and dudes like Hikaru Sorayama and Luc Von Gott get bonuses based on how many other punches were thrown at their target. Other characters, like Joal Kalmor or Malandrax Mecchi, bluff players by showing different values on the backs of their cards — or no values at all.
Suddenly, 7-Card Slugfest is a whole lot meatier than when you first started accidentally bending cards and knocking over carefully-stacked punches. Not only are you constantly fording a river of sheer chaos, watching a dozen actions per second and trying to make sense of the nonsensical flipbook playing out before your eyes, you’re also trying to suss out your friends’ intentions and tactics and bluffs, and doing your best to strike a precarious balance between strategy and speed.
Best of all, no two games of 7-Card Slugfest are alike. Each game takes place over seven rounds, each of which are given a unique spin by the game’s “arena cards.” Some of these have simple effects, like forcing you to play with your off-hand, or letting you use both hands, or removing the real-time element in lieu of an agonizingly tense turn-based affair, or transforming the leading player into a “boss battle” with a heap of extra stamina and an extra bounty on his head. I could see the game growing tedious without these; with them, I’m a big fan.
Unfortunately, certain arena cards highlight some of my gaming group’s complaints with 7-Card Slugfest. We had a wide range of reactions, from “loved it” to “it’s okay” to the most resounding “meh” I’ve ever heard in my life. To be fair, some of the complaints were things like, “I don’t like real-time games,” and “I hurt my finger,” but others had to do with perceived imbalances. Certain characters are simply more powerful, or, at the very least, much easier to play, than others. This is only compounded with certain arena cards. For instance, “Back to Basics” robs players of their punch cards’ special effect text — the problem being that some of the characters actually benefit from losing that text, while others are hobbled.
Still, I don’t see the game’s chaotic nature as a downside. It’s about a bar fight, after all; it’s meant to be chaotic and silly and slapdash. And when an entire game takes less than half an hour even with the maximum eight players, I don’t mind a few rough edges. It’s still one of the best short-form real-time games I’ve played, an entire hour’s worth of careful thinking compressed into a panicked half-minute blur.
Oh, and don’t forget to take a drink token again, you twit. Seriously, that’s why you never get a survivor bonus.