I got a review copy of Flash Duel, a two-player combat game by David Sirlin. The game is a card game version of the classic fighting games like Street Fighter, with characters done in similar style. The base of the game is however more abstract and mathematical.
A familiar game in new form
Actually, Flash Duel is a variant of Reiner Knizia’s old fencing game En Garde. The equipment — 25 cards, with 1-5 five times each — is the same, as are the rules. Flash Duel just adds pushing (stand next to opponent and you can push her backwards), which is a good change (but would be out of question in a fencing game). The rule book gives credit where due and says the game is inspired by En Garde.
For those who don’t know En Garde, the basic idea of the game is that players move on a track by playing cards. Play 1, move 1 step forward or backward and so on. If you would move to the space in which your opponent is currently standing, that’s an attack. Attack can be made stronger by playing multiple copies of the attacking card.
A successful attack wins you the round. Attack can be blocked by playing the same number of same card. Since there are only five copies of each card, a triple attack is already unbeatable.
There’s also dashing strike, where you play one card to move and then attack with another card. That’s a long-range attack, but it’s easier to avoid, as the opponent can retreat from the attack. However, after retreat the defender has to skip a turn, so you can attack again.
If you standing next to your opponent and play a card larger than 1 (which would attack), you push your opponent back that many steps.
If the deck runs out, players can attack one more time from hand cards. If that’s not possible, the player who has advanced further on the track wins the round.
The more important addition is the cast of ten characters, with three special abilities each. The abilities can be used once a round and have all sorts of funky little effects. One character can shoot flaming arrows, which are instakill at range 6. Another can deliver unblockable blows at range 1. One can rewind time and reshuffle the discards, other is a pacifist who wins time-out matches. One can turn into a dragon…
The abilities are strong and fun, yet seem to be in balance. You just have to know them. They’re public and there’s only three per player, so that’s not a problem. When you’re against someone with an unblockable attack, you stay out of the range of that attack. That, of course, constricts you, making life a that much harder — but then again, you have your own abilities.
The game is usually played to three wins, but we played a quick succession of 11 one-round matches so we could each try all the characters and get a good feel of the game. One round is quick to play and takes just few minutes. Playing longer matches is a good idea, especially as at least one special power actually requires it (the Gambling Panda character — a jolly chap, by the way — can raise the stakes and increase the value of the round), but quicker one-round matches are certainly possible.
The verdict is simple: Flash Duel is a good game. That’s not a huge surprise, as En Garde was already a good game and as I see it, Flash Duel simply adds value to En Garde. Last time I played En Garde was in 2004 (haven’t missed it, much) and Flash Duel might just have a longer life, as the characters and their abilities definitely add to the replay value.