Disclaimer: As part of a new initiative on BagoGames we will be covering a number of board games that will look at the game from an experienced board gamer’s perspective while also discussing how easy or difficult the game was for non-board gaming friends or family to learn to play.
Way of the Fighter is a new arcade-fighter based board game from Ninja Division and designer Benjamin Yamada. The game is designed for two players to carry out a 1v1 match in a traditional Street Fighter style brawl. Way of the Fighter: Super and Way of the Fighter: Turbo both include a track and five characters with enough cards to customize decks for each. So, if you purchase both versions, you will have 10 fighters total and a load of cards to build decks that suit your playstyle.
But first, is the game worth your hard earned money? It largely depends on what you want out of your board game. I will say this, the game is extremely rules-heavy. While quick-start guides are available, there are a number of questions left unanswered that you need to consult the rulebook for. In addition, some of the rules seem to be extra work until you start to understand the game a bit more.
How It Works
Before starting a game of Way of the Fighter, each player chooses a fighter. These characters include all types of traditional fighting game archetypes, from fast combo based characters to heavy hitters with a ton of grabs and status effects. Next, each player grabs their 46 card deck and takes out their block card (which never gets discarded) and one basic card for each of their four “fighting styles”. This creates an opening hand of five cards.
Each character has a special ability. Jun, a fast, combo-based school girl, for example, gets an extra point on all her rolls for strikes and blasts. Finally, each player puts six dice in their starting pool (called the burnout pool) and the rest create their hitpoint bar. Two types of dice will sit in the hitpoint bar; white dice that roll from 1-3 and colored dice that roll 2-4. These are your core and power dice respectively.
Once everything is set, each player rolls three core die to decide who has initiative. Initiative comes with a number of boosts, but for now, it simply decides who wins ties and who gets to move first. Once this is all decided, the player that wins the initiative powers up one die, while the second player powers up two. Each player draws a card – or discards three cards and draws three cards – and moves their energized dice to the active dice pool. This was the first confusing step. Why are we energizing then activating dice? It becomes clear later, but caused plenty of confusion, especially for my wife, in our first game.
Now, the player with the initiative has three choices for movement; shift one space forward or back and draw a card, crouch and energize another die (which will then become active in the next round), or jump forward or back up to two spaces. The second player then does the same. This is actually a very strategic part of the game as your cards, which are the different moves you can perform, have a grid on them and can only hit certain areas. So, you need to look at the options in your hand before deciding how to move. If you can’t play any cards while jumping, you obviously won’t choose to jump. If you have no cards that hit a jumping opponent, you obviously want to move as far away as possible and prepare for a block.
I don’t recall a moment when I couldn’t choose any of the movement options based on my hand. I seemed to always have one or two options at a minimum and normally more. Now that movement is done, each player chooses a card and places it face-down in front of them. The cards have a number of rules and factors on them, but the important part of this step is the priority number – which is essentially how fast the card is. Each player then secretly chooses a number of dice (between 1 and 4) to roll and reveals them at the same time. Once the roll is done, each player has a moment to decide if they want to make any last many choices – such as using the initiatives card to add 2 to a roll. Then they reveal the cards they chose.
The player that has the highest total of their roll, the priority number on their card and any other bonuses, has their card go first. This is also one of the few issues I have with Way of the Fighter. If the players tie, the player with the initiative card wins. Once a player is hit, if their card has not yet gone off, it is discarded with no effect. I would have preferred that a tie means that both players hit. The advantage of a board game, though, is that you can make that a house rule if you see fit. I have played enough fighting games in my lifetime to have a double knockdown or a double knockout to sorely miss this as a staple of the rules. And to clarify, if you and your opponent are both going for a strike that does 2 damage, the player with the highest roll will hit first, and the player that is hit will have to discard their card without doing any damage. The only time that this doesn’t happen is in the case of blocking, which is handled very well.
For the most part, this is how the game goes, until someone is knocked out or the turn timer is over (12 rounds total). A few final notes, though, to explain certain aspects without just writing out the entire rule book. When you take damage, you remove dice from your energy bar equal to the damage taken. These dice go to your energize pool, which will then be added to the active dice on your next round. This is where it starts to click. Taking damage gives you a bit of an advantage on the next swing. Blocking also does not cancel (in most cases) your opponents attack, but if you don’t win the priority roll on blocking, the block will be discarded and you will take full damage. Otherwise, the block can reduce the damage or negate it completely, and may have other keywords that can throw your opponents plans off a good bit. Grabs, which are the bread and butter of a number characters can completely cancel blocks, which gives a nice level of strategy to choosing the card you wish to play for the round. Once you start to understand the rules, every single choice is deeply strategic and relies heavily on trying to read what your opponent plans to do.
But is it Fun?
So, here is the thing with Way of the Fighter. I want to love it. I really do. But good lord, there are a ton of different rules and a great deal to keep up with. My first time playing, I really didn’t enjoy the game as much as I thought I would. This was because I never felt like I had any control over what was happening. I was fighting the rules more than the game itself. The second game we played, we got about halfway through before real life took over and made us stop. By the third game, I was having a lot of fun. I was controlling the battlefield and keeping the dice in my active pool high, trying to make sure I could land big hits that could potentially lead to combos, which let you play additional cards after your first hit. I still feel like the game is a bit rule heavy, but I think I can explain why it has to be that way.
If you were around when Street Fighter II first hit the arcades, you would get up to the cabinet and just hope to pull off some kind of cool move on your first play. The more you played, though, the better you became. You had to learn the rules of the game. Look at the fighting games of today. Tekken, for example, is like college. You need to memorize long strings of combos, learn which combos link to which combos and understand all types of information about frame data and each character’s strengths and weaknesses. Fighting games are far from easy and are actually very rules heavy in the arcade or on your console. So why should you expect a board game that tries to emulate that level of fighting to be simple to just pick up and play?
I mentioned quick-start rules earlier, and this is going to big one of my biggest knocks on Way of the Fighter. They do help you get set-up and started, but then you run into something like a Mode card. What the hell is a mode? How do they work? The quick-start rules say nothing about it, and I have it sitting in my hand and it seems cool, but I really have no idea how to use it. In my opinion, the quick-start rules need a rework. They need to remove some of the advanced cards, give players a basic deck of 20 very easy to understand cards and keep the rules simple. Then, once they have played through a game or two, learning about how the dice move through the pools, how the movement on the board works, and how the characters get different abilities, they can start incorporating the more advanced stuff, like modes, or cards that move you forward and link to a specific type of card, to give you that sweet feeling of setting up a big combo that your opponent thought they had moved far enough away to avoid. The game just has so much going on to start, that you are going to have to beg your non-gaming friends to give it a few more chances after the first game. Fortunately, my wife is trapped and has to play, as this is part of the new series on the site. For others, no matter how good you are at explaining the game, if they aren’t used to the more complicated board games out there, it is going to be a tough sell to get them to try again.
Still, now that I completely understand the game, and my wife has a good grasp on how it should work, we can get through a game in about 30 minutes without too many issues. We still occasionally forget to move the initiative card back and forth as it is used, or remember to energize if I get hit, or add one to her roll, or other small rules, but for the most part, that is just because we are still getting used to all of the rules that go on in each round. The game itself is actually extremely fun and strategic and recreates that 2d fighting game experience very well. Will it be the first game I pull out when friends come over to play? Probably not. Will my wife and I stay up after the kid goes to sleep on a Friday night and have a drink or two while we talk and beat each other into the ground, probably so.
In the end, the fun that you get out of Way of the Fighter will come from how invested your partner is in learning how to play the game. I left out a number of finer details when it comes to the rules, but just know that your first few games will be a trial by fire. If you stick with the game, though, it is a game that you can actually have a great deal of fun with. In addition, rules are included for tag team matches, where two teams of two can work together in teams. I didn’t get a chance to playtest it, but from looking at the rules, it doesn’t add much complication.
Do I Need Both Versions?
Currently, I am only playing Way of the Fighter: Super, and honestly, it has more than enough to last our needs for a while. We have a number of board games to review and learn, and we have yet to use all the characters or create custom decks. So, depending on how often you plan to play the game, pick the copy that has the characters you like most. Ultimately, it comes down to aesthetics. I do feel that Way of the Fighter: Turbo will be on my shelf in the future, but there is no rush to buy it just yet. The art in the game is beautiful and captures that Street Fighter feel flawlessly, while also being its own thing. This game is a love letter to fighting game art, and the cards are a joy to look at.
Each of the pieces is high enough quality as well. The characters are cardboard cutouts with full standing art for each. Would I like to get a figure instead? (The 3d statues do exist, they just cost extra). Probably, but from a rules perspective, it makes sense to have 2d cutouts instead of 3d statues to represent each character. The game does feel like a premium game and the instruction booklet includes biographies of the characters and the story behind the game. Is it Game of Thrones? Not even close – this is a fighting game story. But it is nice to see that this much attention to detail went into the game.
The Wife’s Take.
I am not a gamer. I can count on one hand the number of combined board and console games I truly enjoy playing. Way of the Fighter would not make my top 5, but I’m glad I gave it a shot. Bottom line, it’s complicated. Incredibly complicated. After attempting to play a few times, I can confidently say I have a base level understanding of the game. But as previously stated, I’m not a gamer nor do I have the necessary bandwidth for the intricacies of this type of game. However, I would likely play again on a weekend with a very large glass of wine in hand.