Twice the Pixels, Double the Tactics
As it did for so many others, Pixel Tactics from the Level 99 Games Minigame Library took me by complete surprise. Here was a game every bit as deep as it was slight, as expansive and expandable as it was compact. At a mere fifty-two cards, including a pair of references, it had more game packed into its box than most full-sized titles cram into packages many times the size. So not only was I entirely unsurprised when Brad Talton announced its sequel, an expandalone version that could be merged with the original or not according to my mercurial whims, I was also decidedly pleased, raising a single well-groomed eyebrow at my monitor at the news. Indeed.
Well, it’s now out (along with a healthy restock of the first game, for those who struggled to lay hands on it), and after a few days of heavy play, I’m ready to tell you whether it’s a worthy extension of the Pixel Tactics namesake.
As with its predecessor, Pixel Tactics 2’s personal trick is that each card is brimming with so much potential it’s a wonder it doesn’t seep from the cardstock to stain the table a murky lavender. As you sit there looking down at your first hand, trying to decide which hero to transform into your “leader,” an ultra-powerful version of itself whose death means your defeat, you’re actually holding far more than the five cards you’ve pinched between thumb and cheese-puff-stained pointer finger. In fact, it’s more like twenty-five.
See, each card is so full of multiple options that until you understand the game’s iconography, they look terrifically busy. The meanings of all these colors and symbols and text-boxes aren’t actually particularly difficult to puzzle out, especially once you realize that each row is just another possible “identity” for that hero.
Consider the Relic Hunter. If played to your front row — the “vanguard” rank, to use the game’s terminology — this guy intercepts enemy ranged attacks, meaning they can’t fly over his head to strike your heroes positioned in more rearward ranks, and confers a special immunity to his fellow vanguards. A great defensive front-line fighter! If, on the other hand, you were to position him to your leader’s flank, he could perform a special action to increase your other heroes’ attacks for the rest of the round, making him a handy support for the rest of your army. And if placed to the rear of your unit, he gets a whopping +5 attack strength, which adds to his regular attack for a terrifying total of 8 — though the tradeoff is that this is a melee attack rather than a ranged one, so you can’t position anyone in front of him or he won’t be able to land a blow. So a great warrior, under the right conditions.
Of course, those are only the three uses you’d get from recruiting the Relic Hunter into your formation. If you were so inclined, you could also choose to discard him for his “order” — in this case, to draw and discard off the top of your draw pile until you found a hero you wanted to keep. Or lastly, you could pick him as your leader at the start of the game, at which point the lowly Relic Hunter morphs into the champion Cèsar Grist, capable of building up army-empowering “threat tokens” so long as he doesn’t recruit new soldiers or play special orders.
The beauty of Pixel Tactics is that each of these five options is worthwhile and helpful, dependent on the flow of the game, the strategy you find yourself pursuing, and the gaps left in your formation as soldiers are killed and their corpses dragged off to the discard pile. The fact that you and your opponent are dipping into identical pools of 25 cards really doesn’t matter so much once you realize your pool is actually 125 options deep.
That same coating of options-heavy gameplay paints every corner of Pixel Tactics 2. Each turn, which sees you controlling a single row at a time (cutting down on the analysis paralysis factor by a significant margin), you have a big ole Thanksgiving cornucopia of options. Do you attack? Activate a hero’s separate attack ability to heal or take other special actions? Cast an order? Recruit new heroes? Draw cards? Move a hero to a more advantageous position? Remove formation-cluttering corpses? Use a necromantically-gifted hero to transform those corpses into temporary warriors for free attacks and have them shamble away to the discard pile at the same time?
There are always things to be done, and never enough actions to do them all. Choose wisely.
Now, it’s possible you’ve already played Pixel Tactics, and you’re wondering if the sequel does anything different. If it shakes up the formula. Introduces new elements. Revolutionizes the genre. Anything like that.
The answer is that it totally doesn’t, and thank goodness for that. There are a couple minor changes, all cosmetic, focused on making things clearer. Like a little megaphone symbol to show when a unit can perform a special action in place of a boring regular attack, or a scroll icon that shows when an order is considered “ongoing.” Other than that, Pixel Tactics 2 is just more, more, more. More heroes, more crazy abilities, more absurdly overpowered actions that are only balanced because your opponent has a whole basketful of stupidly overpowered options too.
Oh, I guess it also comes with a big floppy manual that fans out like an unwieldy and un-refoldable roadmap and sports a pointless playmat on the reverse side. That’s kind of the low point of the whole thing, so please don’t let that tarnish the whole experience. Because Pixel Tactics 2 gets exactly the same score I gave Pixel Tactics 1: “Easily the best yet from the Minigame Library.” Hm, okay, that doesn’t work too well. New score: damn awesome.
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Did you know Pixel Tactics 2 — and even Pixel Tactics 1 — are on Amazon? I was surprised too! I was also surprised to learn that you can support Space-Biff! by purchasing either PT1 or PT2 — or both! — through those special links. Wow. We live in the future.