Discs of Indines
I don’t “get” Level 99 Games’ World of Indines setting. One minute its characters are brawling in the streets, the next they’re brawling in bars — I think I follow so far — and five minutes later they’re laughing over a friendly game of volleyball or soccer or speed-racer or something, and suddenly I’m not sure I grasp the nuances of this relationship. Weren’t they just barely angry with each other? Why are they now pals with that demon-faced dude? Are they just getting along so the artist won’t have to come up with a new set of fifty cutesy characters and the writer won’t have to invent fifty new names? Or is there really some sort of acid-trip story arc going on over here?
None of these fascinating question have anything to do with Disc Duelers, the latest title in the World of Indines. Flicking, on the other hand? Flicking has a lot to do with it.
What is Disc Duelers?
Here we are, less than a sentence into this review, and I’m already stumped, because I’m not really sure what you’d call Disc Duelers. It isn’t a game so much as it is a set of components. And while I suppose anyone with a smart mouth and pedantic mind could say that about pretty much any board game, it’s a lot truer here than for most others. It comes with some discs, stickers to put on those discs, cards that tell you who those stickers represent, optional item cards, and some guidelines for how to use them to play one of many different games. You could raid your kids’ Lego box to assemble a racing track and host the Indines 500 if you wanted. Or play a game of volleyball, full of tightly-controlled flicks. Or play a game of soccer and bat around a neutral disc for a while. If you’re like me, you’ll default to “Classic Elimination” mode, which is, at its purest, a bunch of discs using special powers and silly items to kill other discs.
Disc Duelers is more of a toolkit than a game proper, and it equips you with almost everything you’ll need to play. There are a couple things you’ll need to furnish on your own. It doesn’t come with “terrain,” for instance, though if it had the box would have been the size of a trombone case. And it doesn’t come with wound markers in the event that you decide to play a variant that involves, um, wounding. Neither of these omissions are a big deal, unless you live in some sort of Frankensteinian IKEA house where everything is prefabricated and there are no books or spare change or personal possessions allowed. Even then, you could probably use piles of complimentary Allen wrenches for barriers.
There Are 52 of Them
At the heart of Disc Duelers are its many, many characters, with a disc/card pairing for each. There are all shades and sorts of colorful folks to build a squad from — some that move a lot and some that attack a lot, some that don’t do much of either (I’m not convinced that the characters are in any way balanced), some that shoot tiny red discs instead of attacking in melee, and all with fantastic skills like the ability to teleport, to remove terrain permanently or for the duration of a single shot, healing hits, automatic damage within a hand’s width or card’s length of your disc, immunities, damage boosts, or even the ability to use your hand as temporary terrain for as long as you can stand it falling asleep:
So Light, They’re Hydrogen
The rules are incredibly light, which is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, it’s simple enough for kids or anyone burnt out on a long week who just wants to kick back and blast shit across the table with olympian feats of flickery that would undoubtedly put your face on a Wheaties carton if only ad men would get their priorities straight. The most complicated rule is also Disc Duelers’ most interesting: before you send one of your discs across the table, you must announce whether it’s making a “move” or an “attack,” and there are slightly different rules for each. Moves let you ricochet your disc off of terrain to set up trickier shots, but if you collide with an enemy it’s you who takes a wound. Attacks do the opposite, dealing damage to whoever you ram into (and more if you can slam them into terrain or off the table), but wounding you should you hurl yourself into a wall. It’s a neat distinction that informs everything about how you slide your discs around the table, and adds a harmless extra layer of strategy and risk to a system that might have otherwise been a little too light. Announcing each and every flick as either a move or an attack does eventually grow mildly tedious, though it’s preferable to the alternative. As in, having your friends glare suspiciously when you assure them that, yes, that was a move and you shouldn’t take a wound for brushing against the terrain.
Which brings us to the “curse” part of Disc Duelers’ simple rules. For one thing, they’re so light, the manual assumes you’ll naturally pick up on everything. It will tell you twice about how to indicate whether your character cards are “ready” and “unready,” and it’ll teach you loads of variants, and assume that the item cards and even just terrain are too complex for you to grasp on your first play… then forget to tell you how ranged attacks work. To be clear, I’m not really saying this is a problem. The rules are straightforward enough that you shouldn’t have any problem figuring out that ranged attacks use those spare red discs, or that playing the soccer variant is the last thing you want to do in the entire world. But unlike some other dexterity games, there isn’t much to do besides flick discs around obstacles so they can be flicked into another disc.
There isn’t the campaign system of Catacombs, or the empire-ascending of Ascending Empires, or the rapid-fire army construction of Cube Quest. Instead, there’s a quick character draft followed by a bunch of straightforward decisions about which enemy you want to flick your discs at. It can be a lot of fun with the right crowd, but definitely go into Disc Duelers aware of what you’re getting. Or not getting, as the case may be.
As I said above, what you’re getting is a highly-customizable set of tools. And one huge benefit is that you’re free to add in or chop out rules and variants as you see fit. For instance, one of the rules, undoubtedly included so your whiny kids won’t lose quite so immediately when matched against your dextrous fingers and keen adult mind, is that when a character dies (usually at their fifth wound), all that player’s other characters become “ready” and heal a wound.
This seems like the same sort of well-intentioned rule as the “Catch-Up Events” in Summoner Wars — an okay concept, ideally to help the game stay balanced throughout — except that it ultimately leads to uninteresting play. In Disc Duelers’ case, it means that the optimal move is to gang up on a single guy until he’s dead instead of spacing out your characters. Meh.
So what did we do the instant we discovered we hated this rule? We cut it out. Snip! Gone.
And what did we do when we were drafting characters and thought one guy in particular was sort of a talentless doofus? We tossed him under the box insert, ne’er to be seen again.
Disc Duelers lends itself well to this sort of house-ruling, crafting exactly the experience you want to get out of it.
Anyway, that’s Disc Duelers. My final complaint is that the table gets a bit hard to read, since all the discs are plain white instead of being different colors. Every single person I’ve played this game with has mentioned that.
But ultimately, this is an interesting little toolbox, full of variants and ways to play. Good for a nice light evening after a hard day.