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Preview: 8-Bit Attack

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This is a paid preview of 8-Bit Attack for Petersen Games, now on Kickstarter.

Cthulhu is back, and this time he’s got friends.

Suit up, heroes from all the realms. Whether you’re a high-tech space hero, a destroyer of demons, or a legend out of myth, the world needs your help. The great one arises, and creatures from all corners of reality – myths, aliens, cultists, and demons – are following their champions into battle to herald the arrival of the greatest evil. Only by banding together and using your best tactics, pointiest blades, and laser-y-est laser guns will you cut down the enemy forces and ultimately destroy Cthulhu! Plug in your controllers and hit Start to face this 8-Bit Attack.

How It Plays

In 8-Bit Attack, players take the role of video-game heroes setting out to defeat an ancient and monstrous evil. Players are cooperating to defeat minions, champions, and ultimately the final boss within 5 rounds.

The components for 8-Bit attack laid out
Arcade attack!

Each round, players can choose what level of assault they’re going to face – including the final boss. Each Assault features a number of champions and minions, with higher-level assaults throwing more enemies at the players while offering a higher reward.

At the start of an assault, enemies are drawn from various decks. 1 Champion represents the boss, and there may be minions and allies, which come from the Myth, Cultist, Alien, and Demon decks, and possibly additional Champions.

Players divvy up the monsters amongst themselves, then the battle begins in earnest. Players fully resolve their attacks first, applying dice rolls, special abilities (requiring Energy tokens) and any Runes or Potions. Players can attack any monster in the Assault.

Then monsters resolve their attacks – usually a basic attack, and perhaps additional attacks based on a tactics die roll earlier in the round. (For example, if Purple on the tactics die is rolled, all monsters with Purple tactics will resolve those icons. Monsters generally only attack the player they are engaged with, although certain effects allow them to attack any player (players choice) or even all players.

Attacks are resolve based on the icons involved. Fast Hits do 1 damage and can be canceled by Fast Defense, Slow Hits can be cancelled by Slow defense, and Critical hits can’t be cancelled while dealing 2 damage. For players, Energy icons restore 1 energy point. Other icons may activate Buffs (which temporarily enhance a hero or monster’s effectiveness) or Debuffs (which temporarily harm the target).

An assault lasts until either all the players or all the monsters are dead. Either way, the round track will advance and players will fully heal and restore their energy. If all players die in an assault, no reward is gained. If all monsters die, players gain medals equal to the assault level to split between them.

a pile of Rune tokens featuring upgrade icons for player characters
Upgrade your characters with fancy runes

Medals can be spent on Ascending a hero (granting additional abilities and an extra die), runes (permanent but smaller boosts to hero abilities), or Potions (one-time-use items that can restore health, energy, or revive a fallen hero in the middle of an assault).

If 5 rounds pass without the final boss being defeated, players lose. But if the players manage to defeat the final boss, they win the game!

Player 1 Ready

While the back of the box says this game was inspired by side-scrolling arcade shooters, my experience was far more akin to a turn-based Japanese RPG, with your team of characters lining up against the enemy’s team, taking turns smashing each other with character attacks and special abilities. There’s no sense of frantic, fast-paced action, but there is a strong sense of tactics and teamwork and trying to figure out how to quickly and effectively take down the other team.

This game truly shines in the hero phase, which is packed with tough decisions, balancing risk, reward, and cost, and the general glee of getting to smash an enemy to smithereens with a few well-placed attacks. Right from the get-go, assigning enemies to your heroes means considering how much damage you’ll be taking, what you can defend against, how you’re going to approach the battle. Then, as dice are rolled, who do you assign your attacks to? Will you spend your limited energy now, or save it for a more opportune moment? There’s great satisfaction in putting your heads together as a team to figure out the best way to combine abilities and wipe out a monster one blow.

a sample of a hero character sheet
It’s like a character upgrade menu in a video game!

This gets even more satisfying as you manage to level up your heroes, or “Ascend” them as the game calls it. New abilities, extra dice, and permanent effects add more flexibility and opportunity, which is important to allow you to take on bigger armies for greater rewards and hopefully, ultimately go for the big baddie.

There’s a huge amount of variety in the heroes, each providing fairly unique powers with different effects. The hero that can provide loads of healing to his team plays drastically differently than the hero that can add a ton of critical hits. There’s some slight weirdness as all the hero dice are the same – and it feels like it would make sense for each character to have a different set of icons, more likely to make a fast or slow attack, or having more Energy opportunities – but the abilities are mostly unique and used often enough that it gives each person their special role. And as you earn Runes, each hero has a different upgrade set, further diverging their abilities and purpose in the battle.

Admittedly, there are a few powers that feel more useful than others. Some characters are great at removing buffs from monsters – but that’s only cool if monsters are getting buffs. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw, but I honestly did not see a ton of that happening. The hero who could heal and protect his friends was always useful all the time; the hero who could gain extra critical hits when they rolled 1, was more often frustrated at their poor rolls. Every hero has multiple abilities from the start, and from what I’ve seen everyone has something worth using – but it can be frustrating to have fewer choices than other players, or to be more dependent on luck.

A sample of 3 monsters from the Demon, Alien, and Myth decks
Demons and Aliens and Myth[ological Creatures], oh my!

It’s worth mentioning, though, that there aren’t necessarily “bad” dice rolls. No matter what you roll, you’ll be able to do something. You may not deal as much damage as you’d like, but you’ll never go a round without dealing some damage, without making some forward progress. Even if you just recoup energy icons, that gives you more opportunity to use your cool abilities. You may not be able to unleash the maximum possible attack each round, but you’ll never feel totally stuck.

The monster phase is probably about as smooth as it could be for an upkeep phase. The straightforward icon system is easy to resolve, although it can take quite a few steps especially at higher assault levels. But if each player does their own monster, it can go pretty quickly, and there aren’t abilities that are super-complex to resolve. It’s one of the less convoluted “upkeep” phases I’ve had to deal with. You’ll spend a majority of the time in the hero phase, planning and executing your attack.

My biggest complaint about this game is that it just not scale well to different player counts. My first game was with 3 players, and we were demolished on our second assault; tried again, demolished again. Yes, you get to choose which level Assault you tackle, but there’s a sense of urgency; you need to earn those medals to increase your abilities to be able to tackle bigger challenges. There’s a certain amount of math to achieving victory; you really need to ascend and upgrade your heroes as much as possible, and you can’t do that by sticking to lower-level assaults. I also found out later we played a rule incorrectly – the incorrect rule made the game easier, yet we were still wiped out.

During another game with 2 players, and we could barely pass level 1, and not without spending more resources worth of potions than we gained by winning. I almost threw in the towel at that point in frustration, but we decided to try with 4 characters, each of us controlling 2. It was there that the game revealed itself; the ability to divide enemies up in a manageable way, put our powers (and die rolls) together, and earn enough reward to go into the next level even stronger made the whole experience vastly more satisfying. With lower counts we were left wondering how the game was even possible.

Dice, medals, and energy tokens.
Suit up.

So my recommendation, then, is to play with 4 characters even if you have fewer than 4 players. It’s not my favorite thing to run 2 characters at once, but at least you don’t have to manage separate hands of cards or anything like that. It was a far more satisfying experience than simply getting destroyed again and again with fewer characters in play.

To be fair there is some amount of luck; a wide variety of characters means you might get some that are more effective than others, especially depending on which monsters come out. And there are a huge variety of enemies as well, and the tactics die may favor you or hurt you. When you play with 4 characters you at least have a greater variety of powers and are likely to have something useful for any given situation.

My other major criticism here is common to many RPGs and minis combat games – the “clean up.” I’m not talking about a phase of the game, I’m talking about the general idea that with most assaults you will hit a point at which victory becomes inevitable (if you don’t get wiped out first). You’ll kill just enough of the minions to be sure that with your resources you will most certainly defeat the remaining enemies; but you still have to go through round after round of rolling dice to officially get all the enemy hit points to 0. It can feel a bit tedious at that point, and this became especially pronounced with the final boss, who has 100 hit points (against 4 heroes). Once we had all his champions cleaned up, it was a matter of rolling dice repeatedly. The steps to survive were clear, the champions were gone, and it was a simple matter of addition to get to the end.

The boss monster of 8-bit attack: Cthulhu
As far as this guy is concerned, you pretty much have to poke him to death with your tiny little swords and ray guns.

When that happens do you just… let the monster surrender? Call the round, depriving yourself the satisfaction of scoring that last hit to officially confirm the death of an enemy? I mean, there’s still a chance that you could roll poorly and something could happen that would cause you to lose, however unlikely.

This is probably made more noticeable since damage is erased, KO’d heroes come back, and energy is restored at the start of each new assault. The only resource you have to worry about depleting is your set of potions. But at some point you’ll know that even if 3 out of your 4 heroes get knocked out over time, the last one will still be able to score the final blow. There’s no need to minimize HP damage or conserve energy tokens.

I don’t want to harp on these things, but potential players should be aware of them. For the most part, the cleanup drag was minimal, just adding a few minutes at the end of each assault – and is likely much less when playing 4 players with 1 character each.

As long as you play with 4 characters (preferably 4 or 5 players) 8-Bit Attack delivers. It’s got to be one of the best 8-bit / arcade game inspired designs I’ve ever played. Working as a team, combining abilities and rolling dice to destroy your enemies one by one provides plenty of interesting choices and strategic decisions. Players will be engaged and active throughout.

The game contains a tall stack of hero options.
Lots of heroes lining up… to die.

A huge stack of heroes and 5 full decks of enemies leaves you with a ton of content to explore, and each assault will provide a relatively unique challenge. You may lose a few assaults (or games) thanks to a bad combination of enemies and heroes and luck, but for the most part you’ll be able to apply your wit and tactical mind to achieve victory. Expansions with new bosses, heroes, and enemies are promised soon, so who knows what the future holds?

Interested? Check out 8-Bit Attack on Kickstarter.

I do have just have one more question, though.

What in the great blue universe is this?

A blue monster... or genie?
This is in the box, but has no apparent function or purpose… yet…

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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