Triumph of Indines
I don’t have much of a history with fighting games. Oh, there was that time up at Rocky Mountain Pizza Company when a pack of older kids kicked me off the Street Fighter machine, and I owned both Power Stone games on Dreamcast (though they were 3D, so they don’t “count”), and I occasionally got roped into enduring a match of Super Smash Bros with my cousin — but other than those isolated instances, fighting games always stood out as a particularly silly genre, and anyway, I was too busy playing games like Baldur’s Gate II and Planescape: Torment. *raises pinkie ever so superiorly*
So when BattleCON: Devastation of Indines appeared on Kickstarter, I wasn’t exactly out of my mind with anticipation. Still, it was by Level 99 Games, and after gems like Pixel Tactics and the Minigame Library, I figured I’d take a chance. That was nearly a year ago, and now that I’ve played through a couple dozen matches, I can tell you exactly how disappointed I am…
… disappointed to have lost my false sense of superiority over fighting games, that is!
Sorry for the gimmicky fake-out, but it kind of fits into my review. Y’know, kind of. It’s a stretch. Really, it was the best intro that came to mind.
But I’ll come back to this talk of fake-outs in a minute. In the meantime, like BattleCON: War of Indines before it, and like Pixel Tactics, Disc Duelers, and 7-Card Slugfest, Devastation is another in a string of titles set in the World of Indines. Indines is a strange and violent place best pictured as a colorful bouncy house where a whole bunch of flamboyant types hop around and smack each other with pillows, switching allegiances with all the eager nervousness of a newcomer to a well-established gaming group, and rebounding to standing position just as soon as they’ve been knocked onto their rumps. It is, in short: colorful, ridiculous, gleeful, memorable, and — like all bouncy-house pillow fights — shockingly devious. If you had ever been in one, you’d know.
So what does one do in a board game that emulates the 2D fighting game genre? If you’re picturing a pair of scantily-clad participants waddling around and slugging each other with all the direction and control of a button-masher and shouting random phrases in Japanese, you’re on exactly the same page I was. You’re also, incidentally, completely wrong. Well, scratch that — some of the characters are indeed scantily-clad, but otherwise you’re wrong. Instead, you and an opponent will engage in one of the tightest, most agonizing mind games ever put down on cardboard and cardstock.
At its core, Devastation is about setting up the best possible “attack pair” — a combination of base card and style card — in order to outperform your opponent on that beat (round) by lining up the right conditions and range for your attack, and trying to deal damage while avoiding it at the same time, and also trying to move faster than your opponent to get “priority” (to go first), and ALSO trying to end the turn in a position that sets you up for future advances and hits and feints and dodges, and ALSO bluffing your ass off the entire time, because your opponent knows exactly what cards you have in your hand just like you know what’s in hers, and like those ridiculous “you know that I know that you know that I know…” nonsense recursive lines in the comedy movies your parents somehow enjoy, you and your opponent are actually hilariously acting out that process over and over. You know that I know that you know that I know…
If it sounds complicated, it isn’t. Really. In fact, it’s brilliantly simple: you and your opponent select attack pairs simultaneously, maybe modify them with tokens and whatnot to further psych each other out, then you both reveal your pairs and resolve what they say. There’s a lot of information on each card, but it’s all logical enough that newcomers can get down to playing the game almost immediately, and instead you can settle in for an evening of glancing at your opponent after she glances at you after you glanced at her a second ago, and wondering if five years of marriage have given you some insight into her tics and tells, or if maybe she can read you way better than you can read her.
For instance, you might be playing as Karin and Jager, a lady/wolf tag-team that’s exactly as hilariously absurd as it sounds. It’s the eleventh beat and you’re down in health, meaning your opponent — the emo-boy Eligor — can just dodge around the board, running out the clock until the requisite fifteen beats have expired and he wins by default. Okay, so you need to deal some damage. Since you and Eligor are standing a couple spaces apart, and since your wolf pal Jager is crouched behind him, you figure maybe you’ll take a long-range shot that Eligor won’t be able to dodge just by staying out of reach. You can do that by pairing your “Burst” base card with the “Full Moon” style, which would deal extra damage because of Jager’s flanking position. That would strike Eligor at range for five damage, putting you in the lead!
Then again, Eligor is a counter specialist, meaning his abilities revolve around soaking up wounds and turning them into opportunities of his own. With that in mind, you notice that his “Counter” style has recently recharged. If that card finds its way into his attack pair, he’ll get to advance a space towards Karin for every point of damage you deal — so unless you stun him (which is hard to do to Eligor, especially if he antes some of his vengeance tokens), he could run right up and hit you back for a bunch of damage in return, and you’d be right back where you started, except a little more dead.
Okay, so your wife knows your moves as well as you know hers; so what if, instead of “Full Moon Burst,” you play the “Coordinated” style with the “Grasp” base, which would give you enough range to knock Eligor into Jager, who would maul him for a couple extra points of damage? Then again, maybe her cursed eyes, the same ones you fell in love with years ago, maybe they’ve spied that opportunity too, and she’ll lay down the “Vengeful” style to let Eligor ignore all movement applied to him by attacks…
What the hell, you figure. You’ll do it. You’ll just do it, and damn the consequences. You lay down your attack pair, she antes some of those pesky vengeance tokens, and you both reveal…
“You’re dashing?” you shout. Scream, more like. Looks like Eligor has dodged out of danger again, this time sprinting past you in a chicken whirlwind, and you’ve wasted a pair of good moves trying to pin him down. You’d really like to smack your wife right in her grin. Or kiss it. Fiercely.
There are two last things I want to tell you about Devastation of Indines.
The first is that in a year full of excellent releases of all genres, this is one of my favorite games of the entire year. It’s that good.
But the second thing is that I don’t actually feel qualified to talk about it yet, at least not in its entirety. See, the two-man duels I talked about above are just the tip of this insane iceberg, and even after nearly thirty matches I haven’t seen even a fraction of what comes in the box.
There are also scenarios that transform the duels into multi-stage battles, like the Jabatos Outpost scenario that sees players expending the speed of their attacks to order alcoholic beverages that confer mysterious healing benefits — until suddenly a monster ransacks the place and the brawl continues as players try to escape the pursuing wall of teeth and claws. Or the tag-team mode that lets you play as, um, a tag-team, or the cooperative/solo dungeon-diving variant, or the boss-fight mode where two or three players battle a souped-up super-fighter. Or even just the fact that the game comes with thirty fighters, each totally unique. Like the madwoman who swarms her opponents with insects that improve her actions so long as her opponent is distracted with the little creeps. And a power-armored chick who starts the fight with all sorts of incredible equipment and seems totally unbeatable, right until her armor and tools start to fall apart under the strain of combat. There’s the dude with the fluctuating power levels, and the overpowered king who’s so fair-minded that he gives power-enhancing chivalry tokens to his opponents whenever he hits them, and the thief-lady who moves crazy fast. So much.
All in all, Devastation of Indines feels like one of those games I could play a hundred times and still find new things to do. And when your base game is so solid, so full of agonizing trickery and feints and bluffing and rage, that’s saying a hell of a lot.
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Want to play Devastation? And want to support Space-Biff! at the same time? Then buy it through Amazon using this crazy link. Also consider buying it straight from Level 99 Games, since I’m sure they derive more profit that way, but hey. Up to you.