Flash Duel is the second of the Fantasy Strike Universe games that I've played, although the first to be released chronologically. I'm happy to report that the game, while not as deep or robust as its bigger brother Puzzle Strike, is still a lot of fun and a worthy addition to your collection.
Based on Reiner Knizia's title En Garde, Flash Duel depicts a series of one-on-one battles between the 10 characters released so far for Fantasy Strike. Players are positioned on a straight, linear board on opposite sides, and take turns playing numbered cards to either change their position, attack the opponent, or make 'dashing strikes', moves that allow you to rush forward and attempt to catch your opponent off balance with a quick strike.
The deck is a small one, 25 cards in all. The cards are numbered 1 through 5 and there are five copies of each in a deck. The values represent how far you can move, attack, or both (when played in combination.) They also represent the ability to block and/or retreat as necessary.
This is basically how it works. You can play a numbered card to either move forward or backward on the track. Once you are a certain number of squares away you may instead attack--for example, being four squares away from your foe and playing a 4 card is an attack that must be dealt with. To block it, your opponent would need to play a 4 in response, representing a successful block. You can strengthen an attack by playing more copies of the same card all at once, and your opponent will need to respond with the same amount--a pair of 4s would be needed to block an attack consisting of two 4s (still being only 4 squares away, as the boost is not to range, but to the strength of the attack.)
You can also do the more reckless "dashing strike" by first playing a move card to get in range, then striking with the same mechanism for attacking. To be clear, the game never uses the two terms interchangably, as an attack is always an attack and ditto a dashing strike. At any rate, let's say you were 9 squares away from your foe. You could opt to close the distance with a 5 move card and then play the strike, in this case at least one 4. Your opponent could block as normal, but a dashing strike gives them another option--retreat. If they cannot or choose not to block, in response to a dashing strike they may move backwards by playing a number card and sliding back that many spaces. This will cost them almost their entire turn next time as they will only be able to even up to five cards, but by dashing striking you are giving them an option they wouldn't have with a straight up attack.
Once a blow is landed and not blocked, the round ends and the winner scores a point. Games are played to a best of 5, so the first player to score three points is the overall winner.
Of course, there's the additional wrinkle of the character cards. Each character you can play as has three ability cards that start in play face up at the beginning of each round. You can trigger them once per turn when applicable, and if allowed you could play one on your own turn, and one on your opponents, for example.
This is where the game really shines. Now you compound the fighting game positioning with characters who have individual strengths and weaknesses. These cards really give the characters different flavor and will change how you play each game. Rook is a beast up close, with his deadly throws and rushing grabs; Jaina is dangerous at long range with her flame arrows; and Setsuki can cover ridiculous amounts of board space at once with her incredible speed. How you play will definitely be affected both by whom you've chosen as well as which character your opponent is using. It gives the game a nice degree of variability and additional strategy.
As with Puzzle Strike, there are two flavors of Flash Duel. There is the standard edition which is nice and portable, consisting entirely of just the cards. The board is fashioned from cards laid end to end, and you just need a few coins to track player position and round victories. It's also extremely affordable, available at Amazon.com for around $15.
The Deluxe version won't quite give you the sticker shock as the Deluxe Puzzle Strike, and is a much nicer package. Instead of a small card box you get a wooden box, wooden tokens for the players, a two-piece wooden board that fits together with two jigsaw ends, and five laser-engraved wooden tokens to track round victories with. It's $40, which is admittedly on the steep side for this kind of package, but from a smaller publisher it's expected and honestly entirely reasonable. I don't mind if a game from a smaller publisher costs a little more, so long as the bits are still quality, and these are.
The cards are of really good quality. You get the aforementioned 25 numbered cards, and 30 character ability cards, 3 each for the 10 characters included in the game. The numbered cards are fairly plain, with just the number on a colored background, but are definitely functional and easy to read from either side of the table. The character cards are nicely illustrated, I really dig the graphic design for them. It's definitely a Japanese fighting game style of illustration, and they've done a great job of conveying and giving personality to each just through card powers and their graphical depictions.
Flash Duel is definitely a game that can hook you in, giving you that "just one more" feeling. You can play it either as a quick filler, busting out the cards for a ten-minute duel, or chain together series of matches over an hour or more. All the while you'll be moving, counter-moving, watching your opponent's played cards carefully and finding your exact moment to strike.
The depth added by the characters really makes the game shine. Take Degrey, for instance. He has three ability cards. One can push the opponent one square away; another can pull the opponent one square closer; and his final card is the Pilebunker, which allows him to attack with any number of 4s immediately after he retreats (this depicts a dash back followed by a energy-laden crushing punch.) When playing against him, you've got to watch not just one range but potentially three from which you'll be in danger, and saving a 4 or two in case he sets up his Pilebunker is going to be invaluable. Contrast that with playing against Rook. He has a card that allows him to attack at point blank range with a 1 and it be unblockable (against almost every character, this is round over, no questions asked.) He has a card that allows him to dashing strike with a 1, and that strike be unretreatable (again, round over unless your opponent has saved enough 1s to block.) Lastly, he has Rock Armor, allowing him to block any blow by discarding the same number of cards, only it can be of the same value or higher.
Rook marching toward you, shrugging off an attack with Rock Armor, is a terrifying sight and you'll be doing everything in your power to keep away from the rocky bastard, pinging him from range and keeping yourself out of his clutches. Again, these character cards add so much flavor and strategy to the game.
There are only a few complaints, really. One, this game is going to be lighter than you will be in the mood for sometimes. It's abstraction is also going to show through the design at times--why can't I throw a fireball (play a 5) right now? Ah yes, they've all been played already.
You can play the game as En Garde by eliminating the character cards, but I can't imagine wanting to play that way, with only the dry, mathematical numeric positioning and cardplay.
Lastly, and this probably isn't a fair comparison, but the game isn't as varied and robust as its bigger brother Puzzle Strike. In Puzzle Strike, based on the starting bank, a character can find himself with tons of different options. True, the characters in Flash Duel give variance, but playing each individual can start to feel a little samey with only three cards to differentiate them. Not really a big deal as you can just grab another character after a match, and again probably not as fair a comparison to make when this game wasn't intended to be as deep as Puzzle Strike.
Flash Duel is an excellent filler that plays perfect on the go and gives you the great maneuvering of your favorite 2d fighting game. The characters breathe real life into the originally somewhat dry Knizia design.
It's going to be a little on the light side for some game nights, but when you do drag it out, expect to duke it out for an hour solid. It definitely has that elusive "one more game" feel to it, and I'm usually eager to give it a whirl even after around 30-35 matches thus far.
The choice of characters means you're likely going to find a few that fit your playing style well, whether it's the "get close and pound your face" style of Rook, the defensive slipperiness of Argagarg, the mid-range flexibility of Val, or the crazy poker antics of Lum.
Really, it only suffers a little from not being the grand-slam homerun that Puzzle Strike is, but this is a fantastic little game in its own right that I will never turn down a game of. That makes Sirlin 2-for-2 with me, and I can't wait to try out his magnum opus Yomi, a card-based battle game that has been six years in the making.
Whether standard or deluxe edition, Flash Duel is definitely a worthy buy.
* Fast-paced battles
* Great theme
* Characters lend a lot of flavor to each battle
* Solid components
* Nice and portable
* Not as robust as its big brother; can feel a bit light
* Abstract mechanics can show through the design at times
The Final Verdict:
4.5 (out of 5.0)
Ken is a member of the Fortress: Ameritrash staff.