Dear Matagot, publisher of Ultimate Warriorz:
Did you see what I did with the title of this article? How I — sans talent or creativity — transformed “games” into “gamez”? Did you feel a shudder of professional contempt when you saw that? Was the breath sucked from your lungs in a paroxysm of disdain? Did you seriously contemplate depositing some hate mailz into my inbox?
Now you know how I feel whenever I play Ultimate Warriorz. No matter how great the game itself is, I will never ever be able to unsee that inverted S. Please use the correct spelling of words from now on. Misspelling is not cute. It is not fun. It is not whimsical. On the contrary, it’s worse than genocide.
More’s the pity, because other than its war crime of a title, Ultimate Warriorz is actually pretty spectacular. Every year, a bunch of the best warriorz come together for a huge tribal battle to determine which of them is most ultimate. As you might expect, this is done by smacking the stuffing out of each other.
Before I say anything more, I really have to mention how fantastic this game looks. For one thing, the characters come in vastly different sizes, which affects both the gameplay, where bigger warriors boast enormous pools of life points but can’t dodge worth beans, and the actual standees themselves, with man-trees, minotaurs, and dragons towering over goblins and dwarves, giving you an immediate sense for how tough or slippery all the warriors are. Even the arena is cool, assembled by flipping over the game box and tucking pillars beneath the edge of the lid.
At first, it might not seem like there’s anything particularly special going on. Characters move around, roll dice and compare to their target’s defense rating to see if they land hits, and very occasionally — once or twice per game — activate special powers. At this level, Ultimate Warriorz is the same sort of dice game as King of Tokyo or Luchador!, but this description belies its smartest concepts. Sure, the punches themselves are governed by dice, but it’s the cards that give the game its shine.
I’ll explain. Every character brings eight cards to the table, each showing a different combat move. Some focus on moving around, others on melee or ranged attacks, and others will allow a character to use one of their two special abilities. Additionally, they all activate at different speeds, so a powerful swing of the tree-man’s arm might roll a chunky handful of dice, but such a powerful move will take a while before it can hit, giving other players a chance to scurry away. Everyone simultaneously picks one of their cards and then shows them in order of their speed, slashing and then darting away from retaliatory strikes, sniping from the sidelines, or realizing that their freshly-revealed card doesn’t work anymore. Making this even trickier, each card can only be used once per match, so a flubbed move is wasted for good.
It’s a great use of a classic system, and it gives each character a healthy dose of their own flavor. The minotaur/matador dude, for example, likes to build up to his slowest but most powerful attack — but can’t move when he finally deploys it, which transforms later rounds in a fight against him into a guessing game of when he’ll reveal that last big move. The little goblin archer, on the other hand, has lots of opportunities to scurry around the arena before enemy hits can find him, using his ranged attacks from a safe distance or offering his peace pipe to drug out an opponent. Every character feels different and controls the arena a little differently, making matches with a lot of players appropriately chaotic.
So chaotic, in fact, that there’s a chance of some players being knocked out before the end of the fight, though Ultimate Warriorz takes steps to avoid this. Landing a hit means you steal one of your opponent’s life tokens and flip it over, revealing a trophy point. These are worth triple if the stolen token was the first hit landed on that opponent, whereas finishing off a character isn’t worth anything extra. Additionally, wiping someone out too early will cause the crowd to throw rocks at you. I realize that some people don’t appreciate artificial balancing mechanisms in their games, and these are definitely efforts to make sure everybody sticks around as long as possible, but I’m willing to give this sort of thing a pass here. After all, it’s a lighthearted brawl suitable for kids.
Other than its atrocity of a title, Ultimate Warriorz is a fabulous light dice game, largely thanks to the injection of some solid card management and its cast of wacky characters. It’s a lot of fun trying to figure out whether a particular move will land a hit or swing at nothing, if you should play it safe with a ranged attack or attempt a hit-and-run, or whether your special attacks might be of any use this turn. It looks good, plays good, and usually gives rise to some laughter. It isn’t the deepest game out there, but it’s just about the perfect dice game, letting you use your brain as well as your bones, and not taking forever to finish. This is good stuff.