I don’t have anything good to put in this opening paragraph. Maybe I should just talk about how good the food in Philadelphia is? It’s really tasty. Reading Terminal is delicious, even if PAX Unplugged does pack it to the brim. Even if it can take 40 minutes for someone to get you an egg and cheese on a roll.
Anyway, enough about sandwiches, lets talk about board games. Today I’ll be covering the board games at the show that are either adapted from or licensed from video games. It’s an arbitrary category, but one with a fair number of entries. Also, interestingly enough all of them are based off games I’ve played.
Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels
I want to open this part of the writeup by noting that I love Shovel Knight, the video game. I did a writeup on it where I said as much. Which makes it a bit hard to say the next bit.
Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels feels like the literal definition of overproduced Kickstarter Ameri-trash.
That’s kind of a bold claim, so let me make some observations, and back it up. From a mechanical standpoint, the game is incredibly uninspiring. The goal is to get the most victory points, by defeating enemies, and clearing out a boss. This is done by moving across a board.
You have three actions per turn, moving, attacking, and jumping. Of those actions, only moving doesn’t require you to roll dice. The problem is, moving isn’t going to be enough, because the board is covered in spikes, and you need to roll to jump over those. And if you fail? Fall into a pit, and lose half your victory points. You want to attack something? Roll dice, and hope you get enough success to do something valuable. Because if you don’t, you might die, and lose half of your victory points.
Should you manage to survive long enough to get to a shop tile, you can spend your victory points to buy a completely random upgrade. It could be +1 dice to all your rolls! It could be the ability to make ranged attacks. It could be an item for a slot you already have filled, and a worse one, because it’s a completely random item deck, not a list of items to buy, making it utterly worthless and forcing you to throw it away immediately.
Of course, dying doesn’t knock out of the game. You’ll get to replace your wonderfully crafted miniature at the start of the next round on the far side of the board. And that’s good, because aside from the aforementioned falling into pits by missing a jump, or just taking enough damage to die, you can also get pushed back into pits by enemies if they damage you.
Of course, this can’t happen during the boss fight. Instead, if you’d get knocked off the board during a boss fight, your character goes prone, and instead has to spend an action to get back up. And if you get unlucky, the boss can do this to you before you even get to take a turn. And yes, someone in my demo was on the receiving end of this.
These are all the mechanical reasons I have for calling this Ameri-trash, and it pretty much boils down to the game being incredibly random with a focus on dice rolls for resolving most meaningful interactions, and minimal capacity make meaningful choices around upgrading/building your character.
But on a more abstract sense, lets talk about the other bit. This game was Kickstarted. It has 44 miniatures. And they are very nice minis! I like these characters so much from playing the video games, that I was and am still tempted by them because of how much fun they would be to paint. But those mini’s are also probably a large portion of why this game costs $125. It has a 58 page rulebook apparently? It has custom dice, and tokens, and lots of playable characters.
My personal verdict: Cut down on the minis and include a fun game. Or even keep the minis and include a fun game! Or, scratch that, screw the game, just let me buy the minis from you directly. Because they’re the best part about what I played here.
Continuing a trend of writing things that guarantee I will never end up on a press list for prerelease copies of anything, lets talk about SolForge Fusion. Like with Dungeon Duels, I really liked SolForge Fusion’s parent game, SolForge. Also like with Dungeon Duels, I really don’t like SolForge Fusion. It’s for a very different set of reasons though, and to explain them, we need to talk about SolForge briefly.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to talk about what SolForge was. You see, SolForge is dead. And unlike many games that I’ve written about in my end of year wrap-ups, SolForge didn’t really do anything to deserve to die. It just didn’t make enough money to be worth supporting. Which honestly kind of sucks, because SolForge was one of the best digital CCG’s to exist.
The key word in that sentence, and the root of a lot of problems we’re going to be talking about briefly is Digital. SolForge’s key mechanic was digital only, and it worked like this: Whenever you played a card, an upgraded version of the card would be put into your discarded cards. When you ran out of cards in your deck, you’d shuffle your discarded cards back into a new deck, and continue the game, now with some of your cards being more powerful. It also had a reliance triggered effects, and damage/buffs on creatures didn’t wear off between turns.
All of these were good and interesting designs that worked well digitally where the computer could manage resolving triggers/triggered effects, tracking stats, and upgrading your cards. Because all of these were handled by the computer, games were quick, fun, and could allow for ridiculous numbers and scaling.
Perhaps you see where I am going with this.
You see, all of these mechanics technically could work in a paper card game. Each paper deck would need to have three times the cards, forcing you to keep track of which ones you played. And because damage and buffs don’t wear off, you’d have to have a billion tokens for keeping track of damage. And you’d need to manually track all triggered effects, and also manually resolve the full combat step for the board.
This is all technically possible in the same way that it is technically possible eat an entire card board box. You can do it, but I don’t know why, and it probably wouldn’t be a good time.
All of this is to say that SolForge Fusion is effectively a port of the aforementioned mechanics to tabletop. It’s not a straight port by any means, with many cards being heavily changed around, and the numbers having been rescaled a fair amount. But it’s still a port!
Anyway, if this wasn’t funny enough, two days ago on Monday, I got this in an email.
So yeah. They’re planning to make a digital version of a physical card game based off the mechanics off a digital game that was shut down for ultimately just… not really making enough money.
It would be cool if this went well, but I’m not exactly holding my breath. And again, it also doesn’t exist yet, and until it exists, SolForge Fusion requires playing a set of decent, but fundamentally flawed in meat-space mechanics.
Storybook Brawl Unnamed Deckbuilder
I’ve debated whether to put Storybook Brawls unnamed deckbuilder here with the other video game adaptations, or with a later page on games I played in the Unpub Hall. Ultimately I decided to place it here.
I’ve written about Storybook Brawl before, but the board game version of this digital game goes the furthest out of it’s way to really be it’s own game. It’s also in the rawest state, if the fact that it doesn’t even have a real name wasn’t enough of indicator of that.
Unlike Storybook Brawl, instead of building a set of characters that you play out onto a single large, it’s much closer to a deck builder with simultaneous play competitive elements. And while it maintains some mechanics such as the idea of trippling, and playing a single spell turn, it mostly puts its own turns on it.
I wouldn’t say that I love this as of yet unnamed game, but given that it’s effectively an alpha, there’s both time to improve and tweak things, and also to refine the game as a whole. And despite both those things, its probably the most interesting of the three, despite not being a full game yet.
So in summary…
What have we learned today? Well, mostly that Panda Cult and Stone Blade Entertainment are incredibly unlikely to send me review copies for any reason whatsoever in the future. And the same is probably true for Storybook Brawl, if for no other reason then the fact that their parent company lost $16 billion dollars.
On a less sarcastic note, I think the main takeaway should be that if you’re going to adapt anything, it’s probably a better idea to try to work with the strengths of that format then to just try to port things straight across.
More PAX Unplugged writeups in the week(s) to come! And in the meantime, why not follow us on Twitter, assuming it hasn’t burnt to the ground yet.