Good morning everyone and welcome back to our Tabletop and Board Game review series! For your pleasure this morning we have one of the latest box sets from Level 99 Games with their latest inclusion into their EXCEED Fighting System with Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight.
For a bit of background into the EXCEED Fighting System, it’s a 1v1 tabletop fighting game in which two players draw cards for moves instead of mashing controllers at insane speeds like you would see in the global Street Fighter and Dragon Ball tournaments. Being provided with the Shovel Knight Hope Box and Shovel Knight Table Mat by Level 99 Games, the main box contains four fighters with Shovel/Shield Knight acting as one, Mole Knight, Tinker Knight and Propeller Knight.
Each character has their own uniqueness which makes trying them all out paramount if you’re planning on both winning with and against them. Having opened the box with my brother, and our unboxing video is right below, what we both appreciated is that there are cards provided in each deck to be exchanged with the opponent so that they can see all of the special moves that a character has as part of their deck. Also part of that video are our first two hands as we worked to figure out the rules, buuuuuuut, let’s just say that we over complicated it so while our video is right below, we also included a link back to Level 99 Game’s website with the 8 Minute video quickly explaining the rules. Basically we just had to realize that we were only allowed to do ONE thing at a time, not try to do multiple… once we had it going though? Damn it was fun.
For the main Shovel Knight Hope Box itself, everything comes in a hard box in which there’s no fear of this thing collapsing if something is put on top of it. Inside of that box are the four main decks that each represent a character, four boxes for each of those decks in order to store them individually, spacers for a field if you don’t have a table mat already, the rule book, an erratum and an advertisement flyer for other products.
Also given to us was a Shovel Knight themed table mat to use instead of the provided spacers which itself has the spacers built in. Alongside the playing field are both the player’s total amount of possible hit points and a space for each character’s gauges that increase once specific objectives have been met. The mat is fairly high in quality and is made from the same material as those really nice large mouse pads that you put between the table and your keyboard / mouse.
Taking it from the top in regards to the gameplay and the cards though, the cards are all fairly solid so there’s no fear of them tearing from being used a few times. If anything, these are the types of cards that you may not even need to look into putting into plastics until many gameplay sessions down the road. In regards to each deck, what’s really neat is the cohesiveness of the designs in relation to one another. What I mean by this is that all of the standard moves all have “standard art” of a golden and silver knight dueling while the character specific cards feature that hero. These are the abilities that appear on the swappable hero ability cards so that you can work some sort of counters into your possible strategy.
For the gameplay itself, the “board” is set up with nine spaces in which one player starts on space #3 while the other starts on space #7. From there, you’ll be moving back and forth, or even past your opponent to land hits, block hits, dodge hits or prepare for your next moves by drawing more cards. You can only have seven cards in your hands, but it’s easy to go through them so it’s good that in your list of things to do in a turn you can draw at least two more.
Turns play out fairly quickly. Going in turn of advantage, which can be switched around through certain actions, each turn player decide what they want to do:
- Prepare (draw a card)
- Move (forwards or backwards on the battlefield)
- Change Cards
- EXCEED (name of the game and unlock more powerful hero abilities)
- Reshuffle (can only force this one a game, the rest are naturally done once the deck is empty)
- Boost (Use a card’s boost ability which is generally a temporary stat boost), and finally
- Perform a strike (attack)
Where Marc and I got confused at first is we thought there was an order. Nah, you just pick an action and do what is required, then your opponent does the same. The only time that you’re both truly involved is during a strike in which your opponent can defend which has its own set of interesting rules.
To perform a strike, you simply need to place a card face down and be able to perform the actions such as your target being in initial range. From there, both players flip their cards for the attack and the defense and it goes in order of which card has the higher speed. This means that even while you were launching an attack, it could backfire spectacularly. On each card, there are a possible combinations of Range, Attack Power, Armor and Guard. Range for some is brutal being able to hit anyone with an attack from two to four spaces away. If your opponent is up close though? It won’t work. Attack Power is the amount of damage that will be dealt to an enemy’s health bar. Amor reduces the amount of damage taken but it isn’t always present. Finally, there’s guard and this can make or break a Strike.
The Guard stat is a number that if the Attack Power is higher than, there’s a guard break and then the defending character will not be able to perform their move. With a total of thirty hitpoints on the line, this can go by quickly if you’re not dealing what you’re receiving, especially if you’re taking damage on both your turn and your opponent’s turn. It’s honestly very well designed and I would be surprised if it didn’t eventually make its way over to the video game realm where the game would take care of a lot of the math as it has an amazing base for it.
Now here’s possibly the biggest thing about the EXCEED Fighting System that makes it so damned cool. Not only does each character have their own abilities, but they have their own very uniqueness that makes them different to play while on the board. For Shovel Knight, Shield Knight can be moved forward in order to block moves or reduce damage but Shield cannot be attacked personally. For Propeller Knight, they can deal extra damage in accordance to specific range distances from their opponent.
Mole Knight has a burrow ability that allows them to retreat back to their burrow which works very well for guerilla tactics as a lot of the abilities have a fair amount of range too. Finally, as part of the Hope Box, Tinker Knight starts with half health but once it’s over they can get a new set of health and become three spaces large and use their boost abilities alongside their normal ones. What’s really nice as an addition for Tinker Knight is that you can either play with two cards that go side by side to your character, or, use an already pre-assembled trifold so you only need to move one card instead of three.
And this is just one part of the Shovel Knight season. There’s also the Shadow Box with Plague Knight, Polar Knight, Treasure Knight and King Knight. Add in two extra solo fighter sets for both the Specter Knight and the Enchantress and there’s plenty of 1v1 versus that can be had at the same time with plenty of people at the table or simply by two people for different combinations of fighters from one game to the next. Finally, as Shovel Knight is Season 4 for content and the upcoming BlazBlue is Season 5, every set is designed to work together so Shovel Knight can go up against Ryu from Street Fighter if you want to. It’s a series that is designed to work together and make the first sets just as useful as the latest sets.