There’s something missing from my gaming table. No, not engaging theme. No, not complex and varied mechanics. It’s buff dudes. I mean, in the world of table-top, scantily-clad women get more than their fair share of showtime. So where are the beefcakes? I’LL TELL YOU WHERE THE BEEFCAKES ARE. They’re here, in WWE Superstar Showdown. [Ed. Note: Please excuse Nat. She’s having a moment.]
Become your favourite ripplin’ Superstar (or someone you kinda-sorta like), as you lift, throw and kick your opponent, until they are naught but a sweaty pile of pecs and delts.
WWE Superstar Showdown is a grid-movement combat game from tie-in pros, Gale Force Nine. It’s recommended for 2-6 players and can supposedly take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours to play. Buckle in, Sports Entertainment fans, we’re going in no holds barred.
It’s all about the game, and how you play it
There are different types of matches but so I’m just going to focus on a standard one-on-one match to give you a flavour.
Lay out your game board and select your very own Superstar to fight with. Lay your role card on the board, plop a coloured base on your mini, place him on the board and stack up your move cards to form a draw deck. Boom! Setup complete.
Your deck of moves will have five different types of cards: Grapple, Strike, Maneuver, Slam and Block. Grapples, Strikes and Maneuvers resolve in a rock-paper-scissors face-off. Slams are totally awesome and beat all other cards. Blocks negate damage.
To start, each player draws a hand of 6 cards. On a turn, you will each simultaneously select three cards from your hand and play them face down onto the numbered spaces on the board. Next, both players flip the card in their number 1 space and compare the results. ‘AHA! My Grapple beats your Strike!” you shout, thumping your chest aggressively like the fiery WWE Diva you truly are. As the winning player of stage one, you get to resolve the actions on your card. If you draw, then each player simultaneously flips the top card of their draw deck and compare that.
Combat cards do a number of things: you can use them to move, attack, stun, throw, reverse, take a corner shot or to set up a future move. Pull up a steel chair and let me explain.
Movement can be made in any direction, but you can only attack a figure orthogonally adjacent to you. Movement is easy; you can move as many spaces as indicated on a card (plus any bonus movement from a previous winning card). If, on your merry travels, you hit the ropes (all the way round the ring) then you can use the momentum to bounce off, all the way to the opposite set of ropes if you so desire. You could go on forever, imagining the Big Show triumphantly wheezing back and forth across the canvas. This is handy when you get a momentum attack (denoted by a bicep and an M), which means the damage you do is equal to the number of spaces you moved in a straight line.
When you take damage you must lose cards equal to that number, unless you have a block you can play instead. You can choose to lose those cards from your hand or from your draw deck, but I’m afraid they’re gone forever. You stack your ‘give up’ cards off the board (that’s right; separate from the large, sparsely filled board). Apparently this is called your performance stack but that sounds stupid so I’ll not call it that.
Cards with the Stun icon on mean you can play an extra card from your hand, assuming you managed to do some damage in the first place. Corner icons let you leap up to three spaces from the corner onto another player, dealing three damage. Throw icons let you fling an adjacent beefcake up to three spaces. There is also a kick out icon, which we’ll talk about shortly. If your card loses but has a Reversal symbol, you get to play a winning card from your hand in its place.
So, once you’ve resolved each of the three stages, that’s round one complete! Go you! Move all of your used (but not ‘given up’ damage cards) to your discard pile. At the end of the round the Superstar with the most wins out of three can try for a pin. If, by the third card played, you are unable to produce a Kick Out card, then you have lost, you suck as a human being and should probably retire forever. If you succeeded in kicking out, each player draws back up to six cards and play continues to a new round. A player wins when they either pin their opponent or their opponent has no cards left to draw (a knockout).
Climb atop the turnbuckle and do your best Randy Orton statue pose. You’re the best thing to happen to WWE since baby oil and lycra.
And That’s The Bottom Line
I enjoy me some pro wrestling. While WWE is no Lucha Underground, I still watch the PPVs and gleefully sing along to all of the intro music. I asked for this game as birthday gift because I’m mega cool, so it goes without saying that I came into my first play expecting to like it.
While there have been wrestling games before it (a recently noteworthy title being Luchador: Mexican Wrestling Dice), most find it difficult to really capture the feel and spirit of a match. Where other wrasslin’ themed games may have struggled to grapple with the theme, this title grabs it with an almighty choke hold. In Superstar Showdown you’ve got big names, signature moves, jumping off the top rope and flinging people around willy nilly. You’ve got early, regular pin attempts which could go wrong or right at any time. The three count has the same gripping Schrödinger tension that it does on the TV. You could drop the ball and be pinned after the first round (you idiot), or you could kick out every single time and lumber about the ring until you pass out. Whatever yours or my feelings about how good the game is, there is no denying that Gale Force Nine really nailed the feeling.
While I can see why they chose to use the WWE Superstars they did, I was still a little disappointed at the roster. Excluding Daniel Bryan, there’s no one really to get excited about. I’m mainly just sulking because I can’t play Undertaker. And I can’t be Brock Lesnar and woefully re-play Wrestlemania 2014 over and over again. But maybe that’s for the best. While I genuinely hope for expansions going forward, that seems a little questionable given how cheap this game got in the UK so soon after release.
When you start playing, there’s somewhat of a heavy luck element involved. You use the cards which have been drawn blind from a shuffled deck, in an attempt to beat an unknown card from another play who has also drawn blind from a shuffled deck. At first, it’s almost just a game of rock, paper, scissors. Until you start to know the card decks well, it’s hard to keep track of how many slams, for example, your opponent has yet to discard or lose. Your familiarity will grow but you can still play tactically in the meantime. Are you near the corner of the ring? There’s a good chance your high-flying opponent may try to jump on your face, so you might want to plan for moving, blocking or reversing. Or, just go banana-pants crazy and try to beat them to it.
Even as lucky as it is, wins are still satisfying and losses don’t feel unfair. For me, the luck adds the chaos essential to keeping the game exciting. I’d rank this game as a medium-light. There’s plenty of meat for gamers to get their chops into, while basic matches are easy enough to learn that you could play this with kids or use it to lure wrestling fans to the tabletop.
Along with the four different match types, you can also string matches together to form an event. It’s nice to have the different rule sets included and it handles pretty well. Personally I prefer the standard match but it’s good to have the flexibility. They don’t go as far as adding tables and ladders onto the board though, which would of course be awesome.
The component quality is pretty high, as you’d expect from a Gale Force Nine title. The miniatures are solid and chunky, and the likenesses of the wrestlers are more than sufficient. I look forward to painting John Cena’s little jorts. The coloured markers for the bases are very handy, particularly when you break out of the 1v1 setup.
The cards are fine. They’re still shots of the moves and the wrestlers, the symbols are easy to follow once you know what they mean, and the coloured system for the four different move types is utilised really well on the cards. There is also a handy reference for the win order on the board.
However, the board itself is a bit rubbish. The ring and the area immediately surrounding it is fine but there’s a whole lot of wasted space downtown in board town. There are handy markings showing where to play cards but it feels really sparse. Perhaps what the board is missing is artwork. It doesn’t have a lot of personality where there is a lot to draw from in reality.
The rules are pretty well laid out and it’s easy to navigate the instructions. The insert does that annoying thing where the top 3 or 4 cards slip out constantly. We burned ours, viking burial style (as is the way of my people) and opted to bag it all up instead.
I have couple a handful of niggles about the game. There’s a chance that after time the luck factor might become a turn-off. Also, as I mentioned previously I’m not terribly optimistic about continuing support for the game in the form of expansions. But I remain hopeful for my very own Shield reunion one day.
So as you’ve probably gathered, I like the game. It’s fun, it’s themey (and a theme that I like) and you can play a good selection of match types. I can’t say for sure how important an interest in the subject material is but I would certainly recommend it as a decent game. It has more value than a lot of people will assume, as I think the theme might be a turn-off to many. I hope it isn’t. While it is seeping with branding worthy of Mr McMahon, if you strip away the imagery and the marketing, it’s still a solid combat game. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all we want for our tiny avatars? Plus, now I have my very own tiny WWE universe where Daniel Bryan steps out of the shower smiling and we realise his retirement was all a terrible dream…
Note: I acknowledge that some of you may be disappointed, given the title, to find out that The Rock is not in this game. I am unapologetic for my rubbish title.