Who doesn’t like an epic, rumble-and-tumble, bare-knuckles bar fight crashing through the windows and spilling out into the streets?! But you can’t travel back to the raucous Old West. And it’s probably wise not to cause any great stir down at the local biker bar. Truth be told, these frays can be a little dangerous. Well, you’re in luck! Thanks to Level 99 Games, you can enter the land of Indines from the safety of your own tabletop, where fist-fighting pros from across the mythical world have gathered at the greatest pubs under the mysterious powers of the Belt of Beatdown…and erupt in an epic tussle.
How it Plays
7-Card Slugfest is a free-for-all brawl of interaction which combines speed, bluffing, and press-your-luck mechanics. It accommodates three to eight players, each choosing one of eleven characters who all have a unique power. The goal is to earn coins (victory points) by throwing a plethora of punches, hoping to land the knock-out blow on individual characters.
After choosing a character, you take his corresponding seven cards (see what they did there?), placard, and face token. All of the players’ placards are set out in the center of the playing area and everyone shuffles their small deck. These cards have a value of between 1 and 6 (bust mostly 1-3) printed on both front and back. However, three cards in each character’s deck have a special ability printed on the face. Next, place a number of bonus drink tokens within everyone’s reach (that detail is important) equal to the number of players. Finally, place the Bartender’s placard alongside those belonging to the player characters. The Bartender is a non-playable entity worth 2 points if knocked-out.
At a pre-determined signal, players start simultaneously drawing cards from their deck one at a time and with using only one hand. Looking at the card, they decide quickly – or not – to who’s placard they wish to play it. This signifies who they are punching and at what strength.
After you play all seven of your cards, you can take any available bonus token. These come in different values and can either increase or decrease your stamina (hit points), thus making it harder or easier to knock you out. Therefore you have some incentive to play quickly so that you have first choice on the better bonuses – or avoid getting stuck with the bad ones.
When everyone has exhausted their decks, you will score the placards separately. Each character has a base stamina of 10, plus or minus his drink tokens. To resolve a character’s knock-out, flip over the stack of cards played to his placard so that you begin with the first punch thrown. Add up the hit points as you go through the stack until reaching or exceeding the character’s stamina level and then stop. The player who owns the card which dealt the vital blow earns that character’s face token and one knock-out point. All remaining cards in the stack after that are discarded and have no effect. If your character happens to survive because not enough punches were dealt to his placard, then you get to keep your own face token, earning another knock-out point.
Character abilities will influence and mess with scoring; and each of the eleven personalities have different powers. While players can always see what strength card is played to individual placards – since that information is printed on the card back – they’re not sure if it’s one of the unique skills identified on the face, or not. Some wild results are not uncommon. One power can discard other punches before or after it. Another inflicts extra damage based on the drink tokens earned by the character. One has stronger punches when stacking cards behind it. Yet another deals massive injury, but cannot itself deliver the ultimate knock-out strike.
When all character placards have been resolved, the round ends. Each face token earned counts as one knock-out point. Gold coins are then awarded based on a random arena card put in play. This card stipulates how many coins the first, second, and (in later rounds) third place players earn in each stage. More than that, after the first turn, the arena revealed at the beginning of a new round also injects an arbitrary rule in effect for just that stage. There are twenty-four of these and you will only use six in a game. They can boost stamina under certain circumstances, prevent attacks against particular players, change up where you play punches in a stack, or force players to play with their non-dominant hand.
After seven rounds of this frenetic fracas, the player with the most gold wins.
KO or Judge’s Decision?
Popeye always said, “I am who I am, and that’s all that I am.” Fitting for a tough, rough and tumble character not afraid to mix it up a little. 7-Card Slugfest is just as rough and tumble – an unabashed brouhaha awash in chaos and luck. It’s meant to play fast and furious with tongue in cheek and ears pinned back. Speed and trickery can serve you well, but the scene can quickly unfold out of control as the action swirls unabated about you.
While the pace in 7-Card Slugfest is frenzied, the rules are streamlined and easy to pick up. You can explain the game and be underway in less than five minutes. Scoring is intuitive and straight-forward. Even the rules-breaking powers are not very fiddly – after one round of using an unfamiliar skill set, you’ll be up to speed. Generally, you understand there is a certain average point in the stacks to which you’re aiming to place punches in order to land that knock-out blow. Of course, trying to mentally calculate when to time your critical strike as whacks quickly land on multiple characters at a time while cards are flying down left and right is not, let’s say, an exact science!
Mostly, you’ll tailor a specific style of play to your character’s unique ability. But there are a few different tactics to try and utilize. You can hit early and often, concentrating on a minimum of targets. This will increase your odds of landing at least one cold-cocking punch, as well as boost your chances of going out first and grabbing the choicest bonus token. If you’re hesitant in setting the pace, you can instead react to others, hoping they’ll set you up for placing the perfect jab. Or you can simply hang back and take your time, finishing up the round at your leisure. You’ll end up with the worst drink token, but there’s likely to be one or more placards with not enough cards to reach its character’s stamina level – a problem you can now rectify to your advantage.
In addition to the speed element, 7-Card Slugfest includes a bit of bluffing and push-your-luck. While everyone can see the value of punches as they’re played (except for one character whose punches remain a secret), you’re never certain if a particular card includes a player’s special ability, which will alter normal scoring as you’re trying to hurriedly guess at a stack’s progress. You can try to throw others off by playing low on one placard, leaving, and then coming back a few cards later. A few characters have powers which can even be used in defense – so there’s that, too.
Otherwise, generally speaking, 7-Card Slugfest is simply too hard to control for any length of time. This would be one of the rare points of objections to the design, but it should be a slight one. The lack of control, the pace, and the unknown create a fun, even humorous, tension that is very appropriate for a game of this nature. Sometimes you can land your punches in the right places, while other rounds you feel as if you’re swinging blindly. This lack of control would probably increase with more players. I’ve not played with 6 to 8 people, but I can’t imagine being able to effectively keep track of nine character placards at the speed which the game plays. That said, going down to just three players doesn’t offer as great as tension.
The unique abilities give the title a good shelf life. Not only are there eleven characters to play, which enhances replayability from session to session, but they can interact with each other in different ways. So variety is strong. However, these asymmetrical powers might also lead to another legitimate quibble with the game – imbalance. Some seem more beneficial than others. And while I have not played dozens of games to test this notion, the design is not even conducive to any sort of studied consideration because there is simply little strategy to employ and experiment with. But then again, games play quick enough that weaker skills shouldn’t overly frustrate players.
The frenzied game play certainly matches the bar brawling theme well enough. The artwork is great and the characters have cool names like Minyard Milquetoast and Luc von Gott. Aside from that, the Indines world is sort of indifferent to those not familiar with the universe. You certainly don’t require knowledge of the subject matter to play or enjoy the game; but it’s not as if the land of Indines greatly enhances the theme, either. It matches another line of games from the same publisher, but could have easily been in a number of settings and periods, either real or imagined.
When honestly considering the design’s purpose, there are really no major negatives to Slugfest. This is one chaotic brawl and that’s what it’s meant to be. The tactics, unique abilities, speed play, and bluffing create a tension entirely appropriate for this kind of design. If you simply can’t stand a game getting completely out of your control, don’t buy or play this title – though it’s quick enough it won’t hurt you to try at least once. If you can tolerate that style for short spurts of time, then this will provide a nice diversion and change of pace – a good and humorous filler. And for friends and family, 7-Card Slugfest is a quick, simple, and enjoyable design full of frantic and entertaining game play that won’t overburden the casual gamer.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of 7-Card Slugfest.