Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 10-20mins
Play Time (Goof): 20-30mins
Producer: Level 99 Games
Designer: D. Brad Talton Jr.
I’ve never been a huge consumer of arcade fighters. Now don’t get me wrong, I grew up on Tekken and DOA. I even got really hooked on Injustice: Gods Among Us for a fair while (probably more because I’m obsessed with superheroes).
Not to say I don’t find them enjoyable. There is a real sense of satisfaction from finding combinations which work. Pulling off a really cool move. Or rather for me, finding a way to make Yoshimitsu teleport or jump around on his sword which used to make me giggle.
The issue I’ve had with arcade fighters is the difficulty in finding opponents at the same skill level. I tend to sit in the middle somewhere on the spectrum. And I find arcade fighters are probably the game type where you can feel the skill gap the most because you’re watching yourself get flogged without being able to do a damn thing about it – right in the middle of the screen. My favourite time to play an arcade fighter is when a game is just released, and you get a group of friends around to clumsily beat the snot out of each other. When no one really knows what they’re doing. It makes for a great evening.
But I’m here to talk about tabletop games, not do a Goof’s Guide on best times to play arcade fighters.
Thing is though… I’ve always wanted to enjoy arcade fighters generally more than I do. The idea of two opponents going against each other in a battle of warriors is so much fun. It’s why I always got sucked into those martial art films. Hearing about the Exceed Fighting System, I was eager to give it a go. I was looking forward to a fast two player fighting experience, and boy did it not disappoint.
“I feel like I’m button mashing” has got to be one of my favourite quotes from my mate Lachlan as we started to try out Exceed. It accurately describes the chaotic feeling you get in your first few games. There seems to be a pattern there, moves you should be doing, but it’s right out of your reach.
Then it clicks.
Some of the characters are far easier to learn than others. Which leads to the initial feeling of Exceed being unbalanced. But once you learn what each character is supposed to be doing, you start to see more and more options reveal themselves.
I made the mistake of initially thinking there was no real way of choosing which card you should play. Pick a card and see what happens. I thought there was too much luck. The reality is Exceed is about maximising your moves while not overspending your resources. It’s about striking before your opponent has a chance to set up. It’s about maneuvering on the battlefield to put your target within range while staying out of shot yourself. It’s about seeing your life total as a resource itself, one which is okay to lose parts of as long as your opponent loses more. The only way to work all this out is through repeat play.
If I were to play a game where you only really understood what you were supposed to be doing after a bunch of games and it was particularly lengthy, I’d probably leave it on the shelf. Exceed however plays in about 30 minutes. Which is a really good length for this style of game. You get a good amount of turns, opening up a decent amount of strategic options. And I’ve never had a single game of Exceed. When we’re done we jump right back in, playing another two or three games.
Now don’t get me wrong, Exceed has a decent sized amount of luck chucked into it as well. But rather than the type of luck built around a die roll, Exceed gives me more of a pushing your luck vibe. As I said before, it’s about not overspending to pull a move off, lest you leave yourself wide open for a counter attack or scrambling to find cards for future strikes. And I really enjoy this type of gameplay.
Ever since I played Arkham Horror: The Card Game, I’ve been a huge fan of games where cards have multiple uses. It opens up a lot more strategic choices. In Exceed every card has an option to be used in combat, a boost effect at the bottom of the card (like a cool move or passive bonus), or they can be consumed as focus – allowing the use of stronger abilities.
It’s always interesting to analyse what you learn from games. I look back at games like Lords of Waterdeep where I learnt about maximising turn efficiency, Magic: The Gathering where I started to think about statistics and probability of card draw, or Heroes of Metro City where I learnt how not to make a deckbuilder. A lesson I learnt from Android: Netrunner applies to Exceed – I like when you have options outside of card play.
The cards themselves form the tools and techniques of what you’re doing. But you’re more than your deck. You have options. Some of the options you have are to move around the battlefield, prepare for additional attacks by drawing additional cards, or spend cards to Exceed! and go all Super Saiyan. A lot of the options involve using the cards in some way, which keeps you focused on hand management. And the quick selection of one action, then passing to your opponent keeps the gameplay flowing and action packed.
There’s a design mechanic in Exceed I personally think is quite clever. After each action you take, you draw a card. Except when you strike (attack the other player). The reason I like this is it forces you to have to play your cards more carefully. You don’t get to draw back up to keep your options open if you’re constantly attacking. It forces you to consider whether you can afford to attack, or if you are worried about leaving yourself vulnerable.
I love the ability to exchange cards. If I have cards which don’t work against this opponent, or I believe I can get something better out of my deck, then I can spend them to draw equal to the focus (cards/gauge) I spend. Then at the end of this action I draw an additional card. I often prefer this to simply preparing and drawing two cards, because I’m able to cycle things through faster and get to what I need in a shorter amount of time. But like everything in Exceed, it’s about pushing your luck and not overspending resources you’re going to need. It’s about balance, you can’t always take this action over drawing additional cards because it may not be as efficient or as beneficial.
When your opponent strikes you and you have no good options, or even if you need to make one last strike in order to end your opponent. You can WILD SWING! I put this in capitals because it’s honestly one of the most exciting moments for me. It’s probably not going to work, it’s probably not going to secure you the victory. It’s a huge gamble. But when it pays off, I yelp and clap my hands in excitement. Mechanically speaking, you take the top card off your deck and play it facedown without looking at it. And it’s made for some incredibly fun moments.
Exceed is very much on a timer. But one which can be manipulated. What I mean by this is you’re allowed to reshuffle your deck once. If you run out of cards a second time then you’ve lost. Where I love the manipulation in this is your ability to draw more cards, so maybe you want to be careful about doing this. But more importantly, you can reshuffle your deck early as an action. I’ve cost myself a couple games by doing exactly this. But I’ve also won a couple. Because once the cards you feel are most beneficial to you are in your discard pile, you might as well speed things up and get them back so you can lay a beat down on your opponent.
The skill gap I was talking about in the intro? It’s very present in Exceed. I’m running into the same problem I had where I need to find people of roughly the same skill level in order to enjoy playing the game. It’s hard to teach a new player the nuance of playing a character while also not flogging them, using information you know against them, or essentially letting them win (which is fun for no one except young children). I actually think I’ll do a Goof’s Guide on how to teach two player games sometime. But Exceed struggles with having people be keen for another game when you’ve just stun locked them for a large portion of the game (pro tip: use a character you don’t know very well to teach them so you’re not fully familiar with the character… problem is if you’re like me and you’re excited about a game you’ll probably have played all the characters before too long).
Pros: ++Multiple Uses for Cards, +Maximising Moves, +Game Length, +Options Outside of Card Play, +Clever Mechanics, +WILD SWING!
Cons: –Skill Gap, -Learning Curve.
There’s two different layers of theme happening in Exceed. The problem is I can really only talk about one. The reason for this being I’ve never played Red Horizon.
See… Exceed’s characters come from different games. In Season 1 they used Red Horizon by Jasco Games. Season 2 (which is a Kickstarter I’ve already put money aside for) is going to use Seventh Cross characters from a Level 99 game coming to Kickstarter in 2018 (which I have also already put money aside for).
And while the characters look and feel unique, there’s not much in the way of story (in the box) for me to sink my teeth into.
But the second layer, the arcade fighter aspect, this I can talk about.
Picking up a new character in Exceed feels fresh and fun, moreso once you’ve gotten the basics down. This is largely because the characters are so unique. I found in videogame arcade fighters I will often stick with characters more than I will in other styles of games. Instead of trying out the variety and gravitating to a few, I’ll tend to find a couple I like and only play those. The reason for this largely being each character is more than flavour, or a slight variation in strategy. They’re a unique and different experience of the game. I do shift around characters in Exceed (I only have four) but if the roster was larger I can see myself getting more into the specifics of individual characters rather than experiencing the variety.
There’s no other way to say it, Exceed feels like an arcade fighter.
I tossed up arguing which section this next point belonged in. It’s technically all three, but I feel like the missed opportunity for atmosphere is where it belonged the most. The cards which make up the playing field are a good solution to space issues for the game, you can orientate the cards in the direction you need in order to fulfil your game-space needs. There’s simple enough to understand the context of and provide a way to keep the game running smoothly. I think the lack of artwork on them is a shame (part of my dilemma on production) but the biggest missed opportunity in my mind is the backs of these cards. It would have been worth it, I feel, to make these cards to have a bit more context. Add some variety to the playing field. Maybe the middle square has height advantage and can add +1 to range. Maybe there are rocks you can add to your armour or guard behind. I wasn’t always the biggest fan of having imbalanced transition screens in fighters where the side you were on made a big difference to your likelihood to win. But it’s still satisfying as hell to plant your opponent through a big ol’ pile of rocks or something. If you want to keep one side basic with no gameplay effects it makes total sense to me. But think of the opportunities for expansion here! Promos and mini-expansions with new environments. You can lay them out in balanced formats, or throw caution through a rock pile and shuffle the deck before laying them out to create hectic arenas. Ah! Seriously! Release this so I can buy it now!
Pros: ++Unique Characters, +Feels Like an Arcade Fighter
Cons: -Bland Arena
In typical Level 99 Games style, there is so much damn content in the box. Level 99… can I call you Level? I mean damn… when you open up the lid to a board game and find the kitchen sink it’s a hell of a surprise.
For a game as relatively low cost as Exceed is, you get four characters and enough basic cards to have all four combatants permanently made up ready to simply pull out and play. This simple addition means I’ve played more and more Exceed then I probably would have otherwise, because we can grab new characters and go again. It keeps things fresh and moving.
The artwork keeps me fired up as I play. Especially some of those holographic ultra attacks. You really feel like you’re exchanging blows and pulling off wicked attacks. Despite losing a lot of the matches I played as the character Vincent, he just felt like such a badass walking through oncoming enemy attacks to deliver some devastating hits.
Look, I’m not a magician (sorry to disappoint). So the fact I could easily pull an Ultra attack from the deck with a flawless success rate says more about the composition of the cards then it does my magical prowess. They sit funny on the deck. Because they’re a different thickness, and not the same thickness throughout the card itself. It’s not too much of an issue if you don’t look at your deck from the side, but it still bothers me a little from a gaming ethical standpoint. And a production standpoint.
Reality is an easy fix is sleeving the cards. But Exceed doesn’t come with cards sleeves so it’s still gonna count against it.
When I pull a game out of the box, I really don’t like having to scour my house looking for pencils. I get a little frustrated when games don’t come with a way of keeping track of damage/health/points. The issue becomes even more painful in Exceed’s case because the number of health each player starts with is 30, which makes a lot of sense from a gameplay perspective but in the case of practicality it means I can’t even use MTG lifecounter dice. And yeah, we could use phone apps. But there’s not one specifically designed for Exceed so it’s still a point against (and I track rounds etc on BG Stats coz I’m a nerd).
I know the box is small. I know they crammed everything they possibly could into a tiny package. And I think their praises should be sung for that (I’m happy to sing a little ditty for you Level. But maybe someone with a better voice would be nicer homage). But the rulebook (and I really shouldn’t justify the use of the word “book” there) is dreadful. I HATE sitting there flipping the gorram thing back and forth trying to find the answer I’m seeking. I’d have rather a tiny book and a little plastic microscope. I feel like I’m an ancient explorer reading an old treasure map. I’m sure there’s good stuff in there, but we live in the era of GPS technology.
The reference cards are a bit of a lifesaver here.
Pros: ++Value, ++Enough Cards, +Artwork, +Reference Cards
Cons: -Different Thickness of Cards, -Lack of Components, -Rule”Book”
There’s a lot to love about Exceed. I know it won’t be for everyone (I can’t think of a single game which is) but if while reading any of the above your vision flashed red in bloodlust and you smiled while screaming about numbers higher than 9000 at any of the above, consider giving this one a go (Ooh! Ooh! Level! Have you considered pursuing a Dragonball Z season!?). It’s really affordable for everything you get in the box.
I give Exceed Fighting System:
I’ve just been out to Office Works myself to pick up some cardstock so I can try out the print and play demo they’ve released online, give myself a couple new fighters. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I got my copy through Tabletop Wonderland
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