Pixel Tactics, Finally Home
I’m a big fan of Pixel Tactics. Look, I’ll prove it, right over here, here, and here. I never even got around to reviewing the sprawling deluxe set, because, one, I had nothing interesting to say that hadn’t already been said, and two, there was so much stuff in that big box.
Which is why I struggled to pull the trigger on Mega Man Pixel Tactics, which promised not one, not two, but three new boxes. On the one hand, I’ve never minded more of a good thing, even when we’re talking ice cream and more of a good thing will make me ill for two days. On the other, I still haven’t seen everything my current collection of Pixel Tactics has to offer. Which, considering I have the exact same problem with BattleCON: Fate of Indines, seems to be a recurring theme with D. Brad Talton’s designs. The guy is dangerous like a good fast food restaurant.
For those who aren’t initiated, let’s talk about Pixel Tactics for a moment.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. That’s the name of the game. Also Pixel Tactics. But mostly Decisions, because each card boasts five distinct ways it can be employed. Most crucial is a card’s leader half, the big boss who sits at the center of your gang. Beat up the enemy boss and you win; let your boss get beat up and you lose. Breezy.
But while picking a boss is the first minute of the game, the next twenty are all about using your cards to their best effect despite each of them having four remaining uses. The first three revolve around which “wave” they’re positioned in across your three-by-three grid of robo-men, whether fighting on the front lines, hanging around in the middle with your boss, or lobbing spells and long-range attacks from the rear. Their fourth use is a one-shot discard ability that can reshape the entire fight if played at the right moment.
Just as an example, let’s consider Air Man. He’s a decent fighter with a smallish attack and decent hit points. Out front, he’s got Intercept, one of the most common abilities, which blocks ranged attacks from hitting anyone behind him — though Air Man sports a bit of a twist, because he can’t take damage from ranged attacks while in this position, forcing enemies to engage him in melee. This makes him an excellent blocker, especially when plopped down in front of your leader. Then again, he’s useful in the middle of things too, making your leader immune to ranged attacks at all, probably because Air Man has a big fan in his tummy that blows enemy attacks harmlessly into the ether. Meanwhile, in the back row he can instead deal one damage to every rival hero on the table, or can be discarded from your hand to force an enemy unit to reposition itself. Done at an opportune moment, either of these abilities might easily secure you the victory.
Pixel Tactics’ greatest strength has always been its greatest weakness. Take Air Man and multiply him by twenty-eight. That’s how many unique cards you have in your deck. Multiply that by each robot’s five potential uses and you get, uh, a far bigger number.
The point is, there’s a lot to consider in a single hand of Pixel Tactics. Two actions, a hand of cards, and all these different ways to use your dudes. At the same time, you’ve got to keep the turn order in mind, bouncing between players and waves. There’s this moment where your back row will go last but the passage of the first player marker will see your front row going first, a nervous twitch of the turn order that provides a moment of opportunity before your enemy can replace a defeated blocker. Getting good at Pixel Tactics isn’t just about using your best abilities, it’s about using them within particularly clever slivers of timing.
Tricky though it may be to tame and hopefully master, this is a considerable beast, easily one of my favorite small-box offerings. Each set is absolutely bursting with emergent gameplay, great ideas, and reversals of fortune. There’s a lot of drama to be found here.
Mega Man Pixel Tactics is no different. Sure, a few changes make it a little more obnoxious to parse its info-dump-overload of abilities. Most notably, gone are the little icons that indicated abilities like Intercept or Ranged Attack or a Spell, forcing a greater reliance on microscopic blocks of text. Also, while each of the original sets gradually added wackier and more interesting abilities, like timed power-ups or traps, these boxes are a step backward in terms of complexity. Which does make sense, seeing as how these are catering to a potentially newcomer crowd of Mega Man fans. All the same, this easing back of the throttle does potentially make this a slight disappointment to anyone who was hoping to witness a next-step evolution of the Pixel Tactics brand.
Ultimately, that’s the distinction that will determine whether Mega Man Pixel Tactics is worthy of a purchase. If you’re coming from a place where Pixel Tactics is unknown, one of these three boxes might be right for you. Pixel Tactics finally has a license that gives the pixelated forms of yesterdecade something fresh to do, and puts them in one of the tightest and most thrilling card systems out there. It feels as though Pixel Tactics has finally discovered itself, arrived home, struck camp. The little game that began as one of many titles in the Minigame Library has finally grown from child to man.
Then again, some of us know Pixel Tactics as it already was, and that’s why I hesitate to give Mega Man my full recommendation. I miss the more complicated interactions of the deluxe box, and lack the nostalgia factor that might otherwise put the pep in this set’s step. In the end, I don’t miss the hours I poured into this retro version, but I’ll be returning to the more robust editions.