Pixel Tactics is the second of four games from Level 99's founder D. Brad Talton Jr.'s A Game for All Seasons: 4½ New Games --quite the mouth full, eh? In Pixel Tactics two players will go head to head to prove who the better tactician is. To do this, both players start by shuffling a deck of twenty-five hero cards, each of which have five distinct uses. The first use is as a leader card, a special role that works much like the Summoner from Summoner Wars. Each leader has a special ability which is far more powerful than common hero units and if your leader is defeated in battle, you lose the game. The second use is as an order which is a powerful (in general) one time effect like spell/event cards in many other games. The final three uses are all hero abilities that are based on where you play a hero onto the battlefield.
Each player, after taking their initial hand of 5 cards, will choose a Leader from these cards and place it in front of them. The remaining cards make up your starting hand. From then on, each turn players will have two actions that they can use. These actions can be anything from attacking; drawing a card; playing an order; or playing a new hero to the table. Now as we mentioned above, playing a hero to the table is important not just because it gives you more people to attack and defend with, but also because heroes have different abilities based on where they are played. The battlefield is made up of your side and your opponent’s side, each which can have 8 heroes and a leader placed in a 3x3 grid. The three in the front are your Vanguards, the 3 in the middle your Flanks (the Leader always starts as your middle flank) and the three in the rear are—well they are your rear. Depending on which of these sections you play a card to, it will behave differently. For example, the Vampire hero when played to the Vanguard section regains life as he attacks; when placed in the Flank, he can transfer all damage done to the hero in front of him to himself; and when in the Rear, he can transfer 2 points of damage from his leader to any other hero. There are a few other important rules such as the fact that cards can be defeated and a turn must be spent removing their corpse from the table before you may play another hero to the same spot. There are also the rules of melee vs. ranged attacking but the gist of the game is about hero placement and which actions you chose to take when. So, did Pixel Tactics make us want to join the war effort or just do some draft dodging?
Components – The copy we reviewed is a prototype copy and thus we cannot fairly judge this category. We will update this section later upon receiving the final product.
Value – Average for components high for gameplay quality. While it is true we cannot judge the final component quality, I think it is fair to say $12 is a fair price for the number of components you will receive. When you add in the quality of the gameplay, we both feel you receive a fairly high amount of value in this little box.
Length – 20-30 minutes in general. With that being said, we did have a few games where really powerful order cards ended the game in around 10 minutes.
Luck to skill ratio – Amanda feels the game is 75% skill/25% luck and Ryan feels it is more 65% skill/35% luck. A few really powerful order cards can absolutely ruin a game that you had played perfectly and a few heroes/leaders do feel quite a bit more powerful than others. This means that while in general the game is more skill then luck, some cards can toss a win to a player that did not deserve it.
How often does it/will it hit the table? – For Amanda, sadly never. She will play Pixel Tactics if Ryan requests it, but she will never suggest it herself simply because it is not her style of game. Ryan will request the game at least once or twice a month (and despite Amanda's dislike, he most likely will!) and he would never turn down a game if someone else suggested it.
Accessibility & Rules- The rules of Pixel Tactics are simple to understand and fast to read through. We feel we could explain it to anyone and did in fact teach it to two others in around five minutes. The accessibility we feel is a bit more of an issue though. While Pixel Tactics is very easy to understand and to teach, it is not a game we feel that most non-gamers would be willing to give a shot and they would most likely miss out on important factors like chaining heroes abilities together for more powerful effects. The accessibility is great for we gamers, just do not expect to teach it to your non gaming friends and have them compete.
A bucketful of cool heroes, leaders and orders - There are 25 cards total. This means there are 25 heroes, 25 leaders and 25 orders. This also means that there are 75 total different ways a hero can be played. I love that I have so many options in front of me and that there are so many cool abilities to play around with.
Building an army and comboing abilities - With so many options in front of you it is only natural there are some combos to be discovered! I always love games where I can find ways to make multiple cards work in tandem to create very powerful effects. Pixel Tactics is swimming in such combos! A great example of this was a game where I played a hero in my Vanguard that could intercept ranged attacks and took no damage from them; behind him in my Flank, a hero that could transfer damage from the card in front of it. This meant that the front hero only took damage from melee attacks, which I then funneled to the hero behind him. I then combo-ed that by adding a healer into the mix and putting a card in front of her that prevented all damage to the card behind it. Even when something did damage me I was able to transfer damage where I wanted it to go and then heal it, but nothing could harm my healer! Sooooo freaking cheap, but sooooo much fun!
Pixel Tactics feels like a video game - I grew up playing Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Lufia and other classic role playing games. Pixel Tactics in both its gameplay and its art direction feels like a blast from my video gaming past. It especially feels similar in style to tactics games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre or newer series like Disgaea. If you grew up on these types of games, you will feel right at home playing Pixel Tactics.
I feel like I am a battle commander - With the leader placed at the center of the table being of such vital importance and the fact that I am constantly calling in new troops, I feel like I am a general of sorts. I love games like Summoner Wars, but for some reason I never really feel like I am a part of the battle. Maybe it’s a fluke, maybe it’s the games design or the fact that I grew up playing video games similar to Pixel Tactics, but I feel like I am closer to the battle then I usually do.
Reading tiny text upside down - To play Pixel Tactics well you will need to know everything that goes on at once including what all of your opponent’s characters do. Problem is that the card text would be hard enough to read from across the table, but then to have to do it with the text upside down too! It’s just impossible! Even if you have a great memory and can recall every ability that is currently active, there are cards that say things like, "Activate an opponent’s leaders order". Since this is not something that in any other situation this game you would want to know, you most likely won’t know it and thus end up having to pick up their card which can possibly give your strategy away.
A few orders and combos can really just decimate the game - We have spoke with the developer and he has said there is still some play testing and tweaking going on before the games final release, but as it stands a few cards did seem kind of overpowered. The orders really were the main culprits of this. For example, there are cards that can do 5-10 damage to a whole row or column of cards and seeing as hero cards only have 4-10 life, this means they can kill entire sections in one go! Then there is the Overlord who when used as an order allows you to play every hero card in your hand to the table! If you get this in the first few turns you can have an instant army while your opponent struggles to get out their first cards. These effects can be heightened even farther by playing them as combos. An example of this though was one game where I played a hero that got a bonus attack every time I played an order card. I followed this by playing an order that let me play as many orders as I want for one turn. Finally, I played an order to add +5 to his atk for the rest of the turn and I then proceeded to unload orders even if they were not useful, just for that extra attack. By the end of this combo, I had done like 60+ damage--more than enough to kill Amanda’s front row and her leader. It can be really fun to do, but it seems rather unbalanced. Again, thankfully though, this is a handful of cards and situations and the developer has said he is actively balancing such orders/combos.
Multiple uses for each card - I enjoy the fact that each card can be played in so many different ways. This makes it so I am far more likely to have a card for any given situation and also keeps the game feeling fresh and fun as I try out new functions.
Playing 1st is not necessarily the best choice - Far too often in games about killing a leader or using massive number of units to accomplish a goal, I feel the first player has a huge advantage. I do not believe this to be true in Pixel Tactics. If anything, I feel that the 2nd player may have a slightly larger advantage. The reason for this is because at the end of a wave (a wave is when both players finish their turn in a given row), all heroes with damage on them past their hit point total will die. If you are the 2nd player, this means after the first player damages your heroes you will still have a chance to heal your heroes thus keeping them alive even if they had taken what would have been lethal damage.
Analysis paralysis - This is definitely one of those games where AP can really set in. Ryan loves those combos, but when you are thinking of how your 3 heroes in your hand can be used in 3 different spots each to create 3 actions and how they each interact with the other 6 heroes already on the table, then toss in orders and leader abilities—ugg, it gets to be a lot!! Both of us, as well as my brother who we taught the game to, seized up at least a few times as we tried to figure out which of the 2,000 possibilities we wanted to try!
There is a lot to remember - This is probably another part of why people can seize up at times. Not only is there all the info in your hand and all the possibilities of the cards you play, but there are also your opponent’s cards and other effects too. I just feel like to play well, you need to remember so much information all at once, but it is far more then I can ever keep track of.
Not all of the card effects are clear - This is something the developer says he intends to further fix before the game is released, but in our review copy we did have some issues with understanding card text and a few rule questions that an FAQ section in the rulebook really needs to be there to clear up.
Ahhhh, my childhood. Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana. Can’t I just go back? This game to a small extent does take me back; even more so, though, it takes me back to being a teenager. While unlike my childhood I do not want to go back to being a teenager, it reminds me of the fun I had playing Tactical RPGs on my good ole PlayStation! Trying to maneuver people to attack a boss or taking a sneaky side route and taking out weaker units before I went after the head honcho. Better yet, learning to mix my abilities so my Knight would counter attack with a weapon in each hand! To many of you, I understand this type of talk probably means as much as your grandma explaining the intricacies of crocheting. To those of you without the nostalgia, and thus no clue what I am talking about, I ask do you like board games where you can make multiple pieces/units work in tandem to create powerful effects? Do you like games like Summoner Wars where you are attempting to use your units to take out your opponents? Are you in the market for a cheap, 2 player, light tactics game? If you said yes to any or all of these, I think Pixel Tactics is worth a look. I feel the game does have a few kinks to work out with card a few overpowered cards and some confusing card text, but I have faith that the developer will do so and even if he does not, for $12 I enjoy this game more than enough to back it myself.
Ryan may have grown up playing games like Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire and evolved to play stuff like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre over time. I, meanwhile, grew up playing Cool Spot, Bayou Billie and Golden Axe and evolved to play weird games like Katamari Damaci and Death Spank (though Ryan loves those too). Ryan enjoys making deep tactical decisions and having epic battles; I want to roll cats and fence posts up in a sticky ball and attack chickens with my epic sword. That strong nostalgia Ryan has brought out by this game, I have none of. I also do not feel that I have all of the skills needed to play Pixel Tactics. That is not to say that you MUST have played those video games to be good at Pixel Tactics, let alone to understand it. I just feel it helps and thus gives Ryan a significant advantage. He understands how to make all of his cards work together to become a powerful army. I meanwhile have never combo-ed anything in my life other than adding Doritos, Mustard and bread together (don’t judge me, the sandwich is delicious!). Pixel Tactics is a good game and I do give it a recommendation despite a few of its issues. It is just not a game that I am equipped to enjoy personally. If you are the type that can make an army work in harmony, then by all means pick this one up.
As a note: Pixel Tactics was sent to us for free by the developer. The copy we were sent was a prototype copy not the finished product. We have since backed a copy of the final product ourselves and will try and update this review and our geeklist to reflect the final product if changes warrant it. If you too would like to back Pixel Tactics, you can do so until the 8th of July by following the link below. $12 gets you your choice of any of the four games at release shipped to your door. There is also an option to buy all four games for $50 which may be $2 more than they would cost separately, but it comes with a nice carrying case to fit the collection.