Two Minds About Super Punch Fighter
Did you know that Brock Poulsen and Dan Thurot originally bonded over their shared love of Plaid Hat Games’ Summoner Wars? It’s true. Which is why this month’s Two Minds About… is such a meeting of the minds. Welcome to Super Punch Fighter, one of the latest titles from Plaid Hat.
Brock: Tabletop gamers are an opinionated bunch. Ask a group of us our favorite things about the hobby, and you’re likely to hear a lot of tactile answers: The riffle of a deck of cards. A well-written rulebook. The fresh cardboard smell of a new game.
Occasionally, though, this celebration gets weaponized as proof that board games are better than video games. It’s a silly war for which the stakes could simply not be lower. Yet Super Punch Fighter, from Robert Klotz and Plaid Hat Games, tries to bring peace to those warring factions.
Dan: Because it’s a board game of a video game of a fighting game?
Brock: Right. So maybe they’re bringing pain, rather than peace? You’ve reviewed a few fighting games on Space-Biff, including BattleCON and my personal favorite, EXCEED. What do you think are key factors to make a brawler successful?
Dan: Although I’m sure we’ll get into the nitty-gritty, what initially draws my eye to a fighting game is its roster of characters. In that regard, Plaid Hat felt like a perfect fit. There aren’t many design houses out there with such a key eye for putting some color — and some mechanical distinction — into their characters and factions. Just look at these oddballs. A luchadora in a mouse costume! A farmer who throws hogs! The arena’s security officer! Did you have any favorites, Brock?
Brock: I’m partial to Tchotchke, simply because I like a word with a very high consonant-to-vowel ratio. It’s like pronouncing a thick stew.
Plaid Hat has a great track record for games with wild player powers, and I was happy to see their favorite name pun (“Khan Queso”) make a return from the Summoner Wars days. But before we dive into what makes the fighters unique, let’s talk big picture.
Dan: Frame it for me.
Brock: Super Punch Fighter wants you to fight your friends. Pick a silly and/or strange combatant, take their deck of cards, and march yourself headfirst into a fistfight. Or a hogfight.
Each turn has you perform a few steps. First, there’s a real possibility that you’re dead. Don’t feel bad, it’s going to happen, maybe even a few times. If so, you’ll want to get back on the board. Then you’ll power up, drawing cards if you’re on one of the hotly contested red or yellow spaces.
Next you get just one action. Turns go quickly in Super Punch Fighter, so you’ll need to choose between moving, taking cards, or triggering a combo, using those brightly colored buttons in front of you.
Finally, just like with so many board games and bar brawls, it’s the cleanup phase. Time to reap the consequences of your button mashing. If you pushed too many buttons, you’re going to lose some of them.
I think that covers the basics, Dan. Did you have a favorite fighter? Or even a favored strategy?
Dan: There are strategies in this game? I’m not being flippant. The whole thing felt more like a real-life brawl than a video game to me. As in, a big floppy mess where everybody is grabbing onto each other without much purpose or direction.
And maybe that’s what it’s going for, at least at a certain player count. In our matches, life came cheap — so cheap that we blasted back into existence with all the fanfare of a ruptured balloon, but an old balloon with the helium gone flat. Back into action, attack whomever’s milling about nearby, get knocked out of the running before you have a chance at another turn. And around it goes.
Brock: I found that this experience varied wildly across the player count. At the full six players, it’s like a birthday party attended solely by piñatas. Deaths come fast and often, and it’s not uncommon to respawn at full health and be dead before things come back around to you.
For the most part, I like that these Revives are built right in to the turn structure. The game knows what it is, in that respect, so it tells you exactly what to expect from the start. A fresh 16 health pops you onto the board like one of Mario’s question blocks, begging to be punched until you barf up your precious stars.
At lower player counts, though, it trades the raucous, sometimes hilarious bedlam for something that feels a little — or a lot — less exciting. With two players especially, it just felt like trading damage almost point-for-point, without much in the way of drama or triumph.
Dan: I think my main problem is that the whole thing lacks heft. But before we pull that statement apart, let’s talk about the one thing I genuinely liked: the combo system.
You may have seen that Mario 64 thing where the guy explains how to beat the game with as few A-presses as possible, including half-presses — you know, the “we need to talk about parallel universes” video.
Brock: I’ve now seen it. I feel I’ll never be the same. It was like drinking the Water of Life, the bile of a young sandworm. I’ve seen all possible futures. This article turns out pretty good most of the time.
Dan: … Yes. Well. Super Punch Fighter takes that notion of half-presses and slaps it right onto its cards. Once you’ve racked up enough buttons, you’re free to unleash them as a combo. But if you lay out your combos right, you can make an ultra combo.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re playing as Mad Hogger, the aforementioned hog-tossing farm lass. Looking through your combos, you’re holding Pig Slap, which does exactly what it says on the box, and requires you to press ABDC. Then you have Sow Launch, which also does exactly as advertises, although this one requires CBAB. Well, by doing Pig Slap followed by Sow Launch, the C at the end of the first move feeds into the C at the beginning of the next — a half-press! Congratulations, somebody’s bacon.
Brock: It’s a slick trick, if you can pull it off. Getting to know your fighter will help, but being in the right place, with enough other fighters in range, is really the key. This is another place where the player count is going to be a heavy factor in determining your success. Some fighters have area attacks, which are best used against groups of foes. Other fighters want to do multiple attacks from just one card, but at different ranges. If you have a big pile of targets to clobber, you’re going to feel like the octopus version of Casey Jones; if not, it feels like a whole lot of text just to say “deal 3 damage.”
It’s not to say I don’t like the combo system. I especially like the way you can accumulate button cards — up to ten shiny buttons splayed in front of you — and then trigger a huge combo that wipes out half of them. It’s a great way to capture that classic fighting game trope of building up your power meter and then unleashing pixelated hell.
Dan: You know, Brock, it sounds like maybe we disagree on this one. So why don’t we give you the first word? What is it that you like about Super Punch Fighter?
Brock: I like the chaos that happens with a crowded board, when fighters are packed tight and jostling for space. At its best it has potential for laughs all around the table.
I also think the “free action” system is clever, and helps players make use of those turns where they’re building up steam. Those button cards you collect can be mashed even when you’re not rocking a sick combo, letting you deal a bit of damage, reposition your character, or draw a card or two.
Dan: I used the word “heft” to describe what Super Punch Fighter is lacking. Now that I’ve put some thought into it, I think my central problem is how it relates to the game’s pacing. Those big combos take forever to set up, so you spend a lot of little turns doing piddly nonsense, which in turn makes the whole thing drag. Big shots eventually land, but it’s usually with a note of relief rather than triumph — like, oh thank goodness, I’ve finally expended this pent-up energy that I’ve been harboring for three turns. If there’s any one feeling a fighting game should not evoke, it’s listlessness.
It doesn’t help that there are so many better fighting games. When it comes to a duel, I’d much rather be playing BattleCON or EXCEED — in fact, I think it’s crazy to design a one-on-one fighting game in a universe that contains Level 99. And if I want a big silly brawl, why not play The Dragon & Flagon or something sillier like Cosmic Encounter? Super Punch Fighter may be light, but that’s because it’s emptier than the surrounding atmosphere.
Brock: I guess maybe we disagree to a point. I agree that for two players, you should always reach for your reliable Level 99 games. Their cardplay and tension is superior in every way, and they translate the feeling of head-to-head fighting games beautifully. But if you’re after something more akin to a super-powered Royal Rumble, or curious what a barroom brawl would look like in the Street Fighter universe, I think this is worth a look. It’s probably quicker to teach and get playing than heavier games in the same vein, and what it may lack in gameplay punch it makes up for in eye-popping personality.
So is there anything you like about it?
Dan: The characters are cute. And I’m always a fan of simplicity. Maybe if it had landed in a time when we weren’t inundated with excellent games, I would have appreciated it more. But it takes more to stand out than a nifty combo system.
Brock: We really are just up to our necks in great games these days. On the one hand, it makes it harder for something to rise above the crowd if it’s not exceptional. But on the other hand — which is wearing a rad fingerless glove — more variety means a higher likelihood that a person will find the game that’s just right for them.
I think there’s a place for Super Punch Fighter, just maybe not on every shelf. But it’s going to be good for someone who wants a light, silly brawler, something to get a big group playing together. It’s appealing in a lot of ways; it just might not have a lot of stamina.
Dan: It’s like you’re describing me!
A complimentary copy was provided.