Sometimes it’s really hard to prioritize writing game reviews. Like, I absolutely need to write these reviews because they need to be done in time for their Kickstarter campaigns. Then there’s the games that companies will send us specifically to review. We want to get those reviews done in a timely manner so that those companies will utilize us for reviews more often. That leaves little time to review some of our favorites that we already own and play. There’s also the idea that people want to read reviews of new games more than old games. All of that said, sometimes I just have to make time to write about the games that got me to where I am as a gamer.
I’m still relatively new to the whole board gaming hobby. I went to a few local game nights at friends’ houses, but I probably didn’t start purchasing any games of my own until 2015 or so. I started out with video games. That’s where my nostalgia lies. So, any card or board game that pays homage to classic 8 or 16-bit video games immediately piques my interest. My favorite classic video game is Mega Man. I will still occasionally fire up an old console and play a Mega Man game from start to finish in an evening after the kids are put to bed. When I say I’m a Mega Man fan… it may be a bit of an understatement. I know what game each boss is from, I know the differences between the different console releases, I know the obscure Gameboy only characters, and I’m well vested in the mythos and timelines of various Mega Man series. I had orchestrated versions of classic Mega Man music playing in the background while guests were eating at my wedding. (I think my wife said “As long as it sounds pretty, I don’t care.”)
I know some of you might be thinking “Oh no, he’s going to talk about the Mega Man board game.” No… I’m not. I saw it demoed once and was not impressed. Reviews I’ve read only reinforced my own thoughts. I’ll still play it eventually, but my expectations will be well-tempered. However, Jasco (the company that made the Mega Man board game) did have a hand in the game I want to talk about today. I want to review the first game I ever backed on Kickstarter: Mega Man Pixel Tactics!
Designer: D Brad Talton Jr.
Publisher: Level 99 Games, Jasco Games
Now, when I backed this, I knew nothing of Pixel Tactics. I’ll get to that in a second. First I want to talk about how well represented the Mega Man theme is here. Wow. The game boasted 2 stand-alone sets that could be mixed with each other for further deckbuilding. Each set contained 28 cards for 2 players. That’s 28 different Mega Man characters in each set. So, we’re currently sitting at 56 Mega Man characters, containing practically every named character from Mega Man 1-6. But wait, as a stretch goal we unlocked a 3rd set with 28 more cards. That set contained other villains not yet featured (Bass and Treble), more animal friends (Tango and Beat), and all of the robot masters from Mega Man 9 and 10. Then, they created a special add-on featuring the Stardroids, characters that only appeared on the Gameboy version of Mega Man V. Upon receiving the game, there were even some unrevealed characters included, such as the Yellow Devil and Mecha Dragon, characters that have become infamous over time despite being merely sub bosses of levels in Dr. Wily’s Castle. As far as fan service and knowing their IP, Jasco and Level 99 Games knocked it out of the park. They pulled characters from so many different hidden corners of the Mega Man universe, it is such a treat for fans of the series. Over 100 characters from the classic Mega Man series. The only constraint was being limited to 8-bit characters. So Mega Man 7 and 8 were left out. I was told that Jasco would have to create 8-bit artwork for those characters since none currently exists. Then, that artwork would have to get certified and licensed by Capcom as official Mega Man artwork. And the cost just didn’t make it worth it to get those characters in the game. Despite that, they still did get a single character from each of those games rendered in 8-bit and included in the game. That was a nice surprise when opening up the game, as I’ve always been a huge fan of Mega Man 7. (Yeah. I said it. Come fight me.)
After I backed the game, I saw it would be compatible with cards from the regular, non-Mega Man, sets of Pixel Tactics. Now, Pixel Tactics uses 16-bit artwork and generic characters, themes, and stereotypes found in many popular JRPGs (Japanese role playing games). Games that fall in to this category are Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, Star Ocean, and Fire Emblem just to name a few. JRPGs are in my wheelhouse right behind 2D sidescrollers as favorite video game genres. I decided to pick up the first set of Pixel Tactics while waiting for the Mega Man Kickstarter to finish and ship.
At the start of the game, you will choose one character in your opening hand to be your Leader. Your Leader goes in the center of your formation. They have unique abilities, health, attack power, and can manipulate the ways some actions are used throughout the game. Every card in your deck can be a Leader, or be played during gameplay as a regular Hero.
The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round, the first player will choose up to 2 actions for the 1st row, the Vanguard. Then pass to the second player. Once priority is passed back to the first player, you move to choosing actions for the 2nd row (Flank). Then the second player gets actions for that row. This continues for the 3rd row (Rear). Once the second player is done taking actions in the Rear row, the round ends. Then the first player marker is passed to the other player, and that player starts the next round by selecting actions in their Vanguard.
A beautiful feature is that each card in your deck has a different effect when played in the Vanguard, Flank, or Rear waves. Cards can also be played as Orders, one time actions. So that’s 5 different ways each card can be played.
There’s a cease fire during the first round of the game, so that’s mostly just used for recruiting Heroes to your field and drawing more cards.
And that’s about it. After that, you just keep taking turns until one player’s Leader is defeated. If you run out of cards in your deck, you just keep playing. You just can’t draw any more cards.
The game can feel a little slow at times, especially early on during the opening round’s cease fire. I’m strangely okay with this. There is so much strategy with every move, I feel like this game is best played with understanding the gravity of these choices. By playing a card 1 way, you are essentially saying “I don’t want to play it these other 3 ways.” For me, Pixel Tactics is a real mental exercise, tiptoeing the line between strengthening your own formation, and trying to weaken your opponent’s. I love it! Every time I finish a game of Pixel Tactics, I have to take a sigh. Even if a game is short, there’s a lot of thought that went in to it.
No two games of Pixel Tactics will be the same. The infinitely versatile nature with replayability is done so well. Even if you know every single card in your opponent’s deck by heart, after they placed their Leader, any of their 25 cards could be played at least 4 different ways. Those kinds of options make me so happy, with replayability being one of the most important features I look for in a game.
The game is super quick to set up. Each player has a deck of cards and needs space to lay 9 cards down in front of them. You have a pile of damage tokens sitting to the side to keep track of different characters’ health and you’re ready to go.
If you’re a fan of classic console video games from the 8 to 32-bit era, you will likely fall in love with the art and theme. While the Mega Man versions use officially licensed art, the regular Pixel Tactics has art from Fabio Fontes and Maciej Mutwil. I need to give them a proper shout out, as this game looks absolutely beautiful.
Where a game like Boss Monster might appeal to more fast-paced game play, making the best choice in the moment, Pixel Tactics rewards a player for seeing their long plans to fruition. I make that comparison because I love both games with similar themes, they just scratch different itches.
By the time I received my copy of Mega Man Pixel Tactics in the mail, I had already purchased every non-promo Pixel Tactics product released… Yes, even the deluxe box to keep it all stored in. It’s my first game that I’ve completely sleeved.
I don’t get this game to the table nearly enough, and I don’t really have a reason why not. I love to play it! It’s not really for young kids. The game says ages 12+, and I feel that’s accurate. There’s just too much strategy for kids younger than that. Hopefully when my kids get a little older, this will get played a little more regularly.