15 November 2019
It’s a game of bluffing, skill and luck!
A number of tabletop games have attempted to match the blazing button-mashing speed and deep combo-executing complexity of arcade fighting games such as Street Fighter. Combo Fighter is one of the most accomplished efforts yet.
It’s a game of bluffing, skill and luck, as the players simultaneously execute moves by revealing cards from their hand – each turn mimicking a split-second button press in a video game. The cards are drawn from a deck individual to each fighter, with the make-up of the rock-paperscissors- ish move list split across attack, defense and footwork actions that each trump one of the others.
What allows Combo Fighter to land its hits so successfully is its clever combo system. Winning a round allows a player to chain together cards form their hand into a combo, as dictated by clear symbols. This means opening with an evasive feint that deals zero damage can provide the chance to follow up with a devastating series of punches and kicks. Particular combinations execute signature moves, dishing out even more damage – represented by removing cards from the deck.
The strategy involved in planning out winning combos makes Combo Fighter more than blind luck, without bogging it down in clunky rules around initiative or card combinations. Battles rarely take more than 10 minutes, especially once players have memorised their characters’ handful of special abilities, and keep the blood pumping throughout.
Like jumping on an arcade machine, it’s a perfect game to fill a few minutes with friends. But it doesn’t quite land a knockout blow. There’s a welcome selection of rules variants, including tag teams, a battle royale and a simple single-player AI, but the lack of ability to customise your deck in any way means that Combo Fighter’s variety feels disappointingly limited – especially with only four characters in the base game. (The VS Pack expansions add two more each, and make for decent two-player intro sets by themselves.)
Even so, the central experience of going toe to toe is outstanding – with a few more characters in the roster, Combo Fighter could end up becoming something very special indeed.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Asger Johansen
Artist: Snorre Krogh
Time: 10+ minutes
Purchase the game here
This review originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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