Jay Bell, a game designer and graphic designer living (for now!) in Lafayette and one of the top Potion Explosion players on I-10, is back with another review! You can reach him on Twitter @TheJayBell or find out more information about him at his design page, Clover Spark.
TLDR: A niche audience is going to love Fight Your Friends. The premise and fight system are really cool, but you might have to dig your heels in a bit to maximize your experience with this one. It’s worth the buy if you’re into battle card games, but it has the potential to be better.
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BJ told me in passing that he had a game he just couldn’t seem to enjoy. He described it as a mash-up of comic book characters fighting one another. My face instantly lit up, and I demanded he let me try it out! Here’s my take on Fight Your Friends, designed by Ash Maczko and published by Cold War Inc. The game is set in Carnaval de la Lune, which is basically a mystical fighting ground for various world dwellers. It’s a 2 player head to head fighting game that offers tons of replayability and chaining strategies.
The packaging is vibrant and fits the spooky theme, but the box is a little low in quality. While that’s great for contributing to the generous price point, I recommend reboxing it if you have the means.
What’s nice is the level of detail put into the game cards. The back sides have a textured emboss of spider webbing and the game logo that add a really nice feel when you’re playing.
My favorite thing about Fight Your Friends is the fighters themselves. The fighters, or Friends, are characters pulled from different comic series, games, and other creative projects. The art styles of each stay true to their original, but everything still blends in gameplay. What’s more, the creators and illustrators are credited on each card, along with info on where to further explore each character.
As you can see, there’s a ton of diversity in Fight Your Friends. There are powerhouse women, savvy and sinister men, ferocious animals, a personified tomato, awesome aliens, and everything in between. Let me emphasize… the mashup of characters is bananas, in the best way. There are about 60 characters, and a handful of duplicates of the more powerful Friends. Once you get the hang of gameplay, you’ll want to play over and over to try out all of the different Friends’ abilities. And these cards are beautiful to look at. The art doesn’t get old.
Here’s where things fell short for me. I always read a game’s rulebook front to back before playing, and this one is simply not explanatory enough.
The way gameplay works is: you form a team of 10 cards that will play over 4 rounds. Round 1 is solo, round 2 is a duo fight, round 3 pits a trio, and your last 4 Friends form a team in round 4. The only other stipulation is “30 Gold Value” which I’ll talk more about later. The first question I had was, “How do players choose their 10 Friends? Are they drafted? Are they randomly dealt?” The rulebook does not explicitly say.
Ultimately what worked for my playthroughs was forming a draft pool of 32 random Friends and letting players draft their teams of 10 from there. And as of 5 minutes ago, I realized that yes. You should draft them, that way you can control the Gold Value you’re receiving.
The fight system at its core is simple, but well done. Each Friend has 3 stats (Attack, Magic, and Defense). The Defense stat uses a “helmet” for its icon, and truly, it looks like an upside down bucket. Whether intentional or not, a shield would’ve been much simpler. But, stats are compared between the 2 Friends facing off, and best 2 out of 3 for those stats wins. Stat values range from 0 to 9, and are pretty well balanced with card effects, and between Friends. Again, at face value, this fight system is straightforward and sets the stage for great gameplay.
The compounding Friendship Bonuses are where things get complicated. Friendship Bonuses are special effects that only activate if you already have a Friend present in the round. So this happens in every round except the first one.
Also, the Friendship Bonuses compound. So in round 3, your first Friend will have no Friendship Bonus. Your second Friend will have 2 (their personal Friendship Bonus plus the bonus of the Friend before them.) Your third Friend will have 3 (theirs and both of the previous Friends’ bonuses.) You can probably imagine the gambit of bonuses in round 4, right? The rulebook also does a poor job of explaining how the Friendship Bonuses work. There isn’t enough instructional text accompanying the graphic explaining each round.
Don’t get me wrong, I like how the Friendship Bonus effect compounds and makes you be very strategic about what teams you form and the order in which your Friends are played. I just don’t like how unintuitive the calculation of the bonuses are. Some bonuses are based on cards in your hand or cards that have lost fights. Other cards have bonuses that are based on the 3 classifications of Friends.
Each card falls into one of three Orders, one of three Classes, and one of three Types. The classifications have iconography on each card, but not all of them are distinct. Remembering which color bust belongs to which Type, and which flag belongs to which Class is a pain. The Classes are distinguished well, because the icons fit the names of the classes.
So to recap gameplay…
- Pick 10 Friends, making sure that you don’t exceed 30 total Gold Value (shown in the lower left of the card). I didn’t follow that guideline in the above image.
- Form 4 teams based on strengths and combos to face your opponent’s teams.
- In each fight of each round, compare the Attack, Magic, and Defense of the fighters. Be sure to account for the Friendship Bonuses that apply.
You earn points and ultimately win the game by earning more Gold Value then your opponent. Gold value is awarded from all of your Friends who won fights in the 4 rounds. I won’t go into how to settle ties, or how to play out a round step-by-step, because those things are straightforward in the rulebook.
I like Fight Your Friends. I like it because it’s kind of a tabletop version of a Marvel vs. Capcom 2, a beloved video game that lets you mix and match fighters. I like the strategy potential and art blend, and I love the fact that Fight Your Friends brings exposure to an array of creators and their work. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship for Cold War, all of those who’ve contributed Friends, and the players who get to find tons of new content to enjoy. I think it could be highly competitive for the right group, and even be entertaining on a veteran tournament level.
I don’t think this game is for everyone, though. Your first play, like mine, will be rough. You won’t be familiar with the characters and the potential “perfect” teams. There’s an entry barrier that will make some gamers shy away, especially with the compounding Friendship Bonuses, but if you’re as captivated by the concept and art as I was, sit down for a few more plays. It gets easier the more you play.
I do think Cold War took an awesome idea and brought it to the tabletop in a functional way. But I think it has the potential to be much more fluid and succinct in gameplay.
— Jay Bell @TheJayBell