Pixelated 8-bit artwork seems to be one of the staples of Retro that always does well. Last year there were three major 8-bit Kickstarter projects that all seemed to have success; Pixel Lincoln, Boss Monster, and Level 99 Games' Pixel Tactics. The artwork is fun, imaginative, and reminds many of us gamers about a time more simple, more engaging, and frankly, more engulfing than some of the more modern artwork found in today's videogames.
Translating that to a card game though isn't always the easiest thing to do. Many of us have played games like Final Fantasy where you have to take turn by turn combat tactics to take out a boss or an opponent, and it's here where Pixel Tactics attempts to drive home some fun and creative gameplay! In Pixel Tactics you will face off, 1 on 1, against an opponent, attempting to defeat their Leaders, but, as you may imagine, there will be heroes called to aide said leaders, and their placement on the battlefield, and the strategy and tactics you choose to deploy, will be your keys to victory or your path to defeat!
Pixel Tactics seems simple enough. Each player will have an identical 25 card deck. Each card is a Hero and a Leader. You begin by choosing a Leader from your initial 5 cards dealt to you, place them (Red Star Side up, which is the leader side) in the center of your Unit and it's off to the races!
Units are the term used to describe your 3 x 3 grid of available Heroes and your Leader, you can use in attacks. Each Unit has 3 rows (otherwise known as waves) of 3 cards. The waves (rows), from front to back are Vanguard, Flank, and Rear. Since your Leader is placed in the center, your Flank row will only ever have two heroes in it, one on each side of your Leader. Also of note, while Heroes may move around from wave to wave as an action, Leaders always stay in the middle.
Each game consists of multiple rounds. After selecting the first player randomly, each round consists of three waves, with each player taking two actions per wave, trading, and then shifting waves. Beginning with the Vanguard Wave, each player takes 2 actions. Actions can be seen on the card to the right, and consist of everything from drawing, playing heroes, using attacks, restructuring your unit and even clearing corpses.
When a hero takes lethal damage, they become a corpse and are flipped face down. Some heroes and leaders, as you might imagine, may benefit from this, use corpses, and even bolster their own attributes from them, but at times, they can also become cumbersome, as they'll be taking up a slot in your Unit. So, as an action, you may choose to clear them and open that slot up as well.
While in each wave a hero has access to their corresponding wave action. Some are "always on" type of abilities and others are attacks or attack modifiers. This is where the restructuring becomes powerful. You may choose to play a hero early on to protect your Leader, but then later, choose to move them to a Flank or Rear position to add to some major attacks. This makes Pixel Tactics a constantly changing game.
Aside from being just heroes and leaders though, a card may be played from your hand as an action on your turn, as an order as well. Orders are in a purple text box and you simply perform the order, discard the card, and move on. Some are very powerful and can be combined well with other heroes or leader abilities, and some may have you questioning "should I play this now, or bring this guy out as a hero later?" making for some very fun decisions.
Thankfully, there are only 25 cards to make decisions from, so you're not going to be stuck in AP mode all the time. Unfortunately, there's only 25 cards to make decisions from, so you more than likely will be left, like me, wanting more.
Pixel Tactics is a very fun game, both easy to take with you and teach, but challenging enough to pose as both a filler or all night game. It does however, due to it's size, leave you wanting and hoping for more. The game design is well thought out and it's very balanced in terms of both players having access to the same cards. It can, at times with longer games, prove to be a hard fight to come back from. The natural game recommends to play best 2 out of 3, with the winner taking the loser's leader as a trophy, removing them from their deck for the next battle. In a 2 out of 3 match this is powerful, but not insurmountable. In a 3 out of 5 or 4 out of 7 match, it can be hard to come back from a 2-0 deficit though.
The artwork is beautiful and fun, albeit it small. With only the tiny pictures of each hero and leader, I do wish there were more options to highlight the great 8-bit artwork involved. The cards, while not tough quality stock, are good and haven't bent or creased at all in multiple plays we've seen. The gameplay meanwhile is fun, fast and furious, with decisions, repercussions, and actions that all make an impact.
Finally, the experience provided is fun and light, while offering enough to perhaps, play all night. We've seen us sit down for 30 minutes as well as 3 hours and in both cases, walked away pleased. The teaching experience is great too, as this is an easy game to pick up and easy to learn, and the combos come naturally, even to new players.
Overall, Pixel Tactics is a Hit of a game. It's small, lightweight, and fun, but packs enough of a punch to leave you both enjoying what you have now, and wanting more in the near future! Whether you play this as a filler or as an all-nighter, it will provide a good amount of enjoyment for all ages and all types. Obviously the "retro" gamers will greatly appreciate the theme as well too. With so much going for it, the major challenge presented is the small amount of cards. Hopefully in the future, more heroes and leaders will escape from Level 99 and we'll see more pixelated options to add to the fun!
Final Score (Crit, Hit or Miss):
EDIT: Post review, it has been noted that Pixel Tactics 2 is in production and is slated for release later this year! Excellent news and thank you to those who shared that info!