Recorded SOR2 Go Straight from PC88FA headphone out. No EQ and compression. -14.5LUFS. If you want the best soundin… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
THEMES: Punching, kicking, walking, smashing mohawked dudes in the face with pipes
Ryan Lesser is a pretty interesting dude. In addition to designing board games, he’s a visual artist that has worked on the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises as well as with Shephard Fairey. He also makes knives and is in a metal band called, rather awesomely, Megasus. His first game released through Wild Power Games was High Heavens, an interesting skirmish game between Roman, Norse, and Egyptian pantheons with the kind of unusual mechanisms and mis-steps you see from first-time board game designers. But it was hardly a bad game and offered some unique charms. His second release is Streets of Steel, offered in two boxes (Rush n’ Scare and Kickin’ Asphalt) with a couple of optional miniature upgrades.
Now, I caught wind of Streets of Steel when TWBG alumni and occasional contributor Josh Look started talking about and at the time I was way deep into playing Streets of Rage 4 as well as the Capcom Beat ‘Em Bundle. All I wanted to do in video games was walk right, pick up a pipe, and bash some mohawk dude in the face with it. And then eat a turkey I found in the trash. And here was a board game that Josh specifically described as being a tabletop homage to these kinds of games, using one of the greatest mechanisms of all time – Thunder Road’s “Switch and Link” system where map tiles are used to generate a sense of endless forward movement. I had to check it out. So I contacted Ryan and he sent along both Streets of Steel boxes (as well as High Heavens) and I got to work on this game.
First off, the art style and illustrations are right on the money- it all looks right out of a 1989 arcade brawler and the tone is dead on- including the fact that the baddies in Rush n’ Scare are, in fact, Soviet caricatures. And Kickin’ Asphalt did in fact provide me with the mohawk dude to bash in the face as well as the pipe to do it with. There’s all kinds of fun 80’s bullshit represented- fighters on rollerblades, butterfly knives, mutants, robots, kangaroo ninjas, an Amiga reference- Mr. Lesser knows this stuff, and it comes across as a game full of heart and verve. I absolutely love the 2D stand-up figures with the pixel art, so much so that I think the plastic miniatures are totally unnecessary.
The gameplay is fun, obnoxious, and by gum it does feel like Final Fight. You move around the street tiles, using three actions to move, attack, taunt, or do a super attack. There are some terrain matters to be concerned with, with rough terrain and hazards present as well a three figure stacking limit. There are item crates to grab for when fists and feet aren’t enough to teach Kommandant Kimmitzar the American Way.
There are eight characters, four in each box, and I’m pleased that there are non-white, non-male characters. Each is differentiated by a couple of stats, most importantly the number of Punch, Kick, and Danger dice they get as well as their super attacks. The super attacks cost Wild Power tokens, which you get from taunting and also by beating up Baddies. The attack dice are divided out between Punch, Kick and Danger dice because Punch has more hits per die, Kick has more damage, and Danger is more unpredictable. Combat is a matter of just moving into a space and rolling to see if you can beat their Defense value.
But interestingly, moving is almost as significant as fighting. You have to keep moving right or else you drop off the screen, essentially, and you can almost imagine your hero flying up in the air and flashing in agony as the leftmost street tile is removed and a new one placed to the right. But moving through zones with Baddies can be dangerous- they get a Backstab attack (what we over in the D&D world call an “attack of opportunity”) as you pass by. And the stack limit can reduce your options to get off the tile that’s disappearing. The goal is really to get to the last street tile (out of 8) and beat the boss, and you’ve got to keep pushing forward to do so.
Enemy AI is card-controlled, nothing we haven’t seen before. They spawn on the street tiles, move, and sometimes interact with a Baddie Behavior card that modifies how they move and attack. It’s not a super-sophisticated system but hey, you know what, the AI in these games was pretty much just “move toward player, attack” anyway.
This is a fun play, but don’t expect it to Change The Way You View Board Games Forever or anything like that. It’s simple, dumb fun without pretense or astronomical ambitions. It’s super dice-y and I generally like that, but it also feels like it is a touch repetitive and it’s one of those games that just barely comes in under the “too long for what it is” bar. At 30 minutes, this is a corker. At 60 minutes, I’m wishing I just fired up Streets of Rage 4.
This is one of those games that comes across with scrappy charm and spirited delight rather than mechanical precision and dynamic depth. Meaning that it is exactly the kind of game that I want most these days. The concept is novel, with its only other competitor being the much more expensive and expansive Street Masters. And it’s a good looking, small press game. It’s one for the folks that get the joke that defeated players walk back on the board on their next turn, ignoring difficult terrain or hazards. This is a game for the Final Fighters, for the folks that see the four joystick arcade console on the box and wax nostalgic. So it’s scoring well with me on those points, although I could not reasonably defend this game as a “great” design or as something with universal appeal.