A wonderful bridge between video games and card battles that feels familiar and fresh at the same time.
No one ever said a fighting game had to be played at an arcade, on a console, or with a computer. The Exceed Fighting System tabletop game expertly translates the strategic and fast-paced gameplay of its video game inspiration by swapping the sticks and screens with cards and your imagination. There’s a lot to learn at first, but just like with its digital counterparts, the more time you spend with it, the better your knowledge and experience become.
I am already a big fan of tabletop games, especially battle card games, having played quite a bit of Yu-Gi-Oh! in my childhood. One thing that has caused me to fall out of love with my favorite card games of the past is the constant need to buy more packs to improve your deck to an ever-changing meta. With Exceed, you don’t have to worry about building your deck, everything is pre-made and pre-balanced, and there are no individual packs. Each set comes with four decks as well, each featuring an individual character with their own unique abilities and moves, offering a variety of different playstyles for you and your friends.
While this approach is different than evolving trading card games like Magic The Gathering, Pokémon, or Yu-Gi-Oh!, this takes away the “Pay-to-win” environment that tends to fuel them. New sets are released regularly with new franchises being added to the mix like Street Fighter, BlazBlue, Shovel Knight, and Dead Cells alongside original playsets from Level 99 Games. There are plenty of new characters, moves, and abilities to check out, and who knows, maybe a character from a franchise you aren’t familiar with will match your playstyle perfectly.
Characters are faithfully adapted with moves and attributes that reflect their digital counterparts. For this review, we were sent the Chun-Li box set which includes the World’s Strongest Woman herself, Vega, Dan, and C. Viper. Chun-Li focuses on keeping a distance between herself and her opponent while closing in for an attack. Vega works best when at the edge of the playing field, with moves that allow him to strike while leaping multiple spaces. Dan is a pretty tricky character with moves that are less straightforward but can be devastating under the right circumstances. C. Viper rewards boosting your attacks by giving you additional effects giving her options at nearly any range with the right combo.
While the art used for the cards and their icons is fantastic, something that could make the Exceed experience even better would be the introduction of foil cards for the characters and their special and ultra moves. While typically used to indicate a form of rarity in other card games, pre-built decks usually highlight their signature components with shiny, holographic materials that make them feel special, even if they were included with every box. While it is usually obvious if you are using a character’s unique move since they are on the art, it would be an even better differentiator, especially with normals all using the art of other characters that are also playable like Ryu, Akuma, Sagat, and Zangief.
The core gameplay in Exceed revolves around players taking turns making actions and reactions with their individual characters while trying to knock their opponent’s health down to zero. There are a lot of things you can do in a single move but you can only settle on one main action. If you choose to move your character card on the 9 space playfield, that’s your turn, if you choose to attack, that’s your move, and so on. Small actions like normal attacks can have devastating effects if you play your cards right (Pun oh so definitely intended) by combining them with Boosts. These are special effects listed at the bottom of cards allowing them to be used as enhancements as opposed to an attack. Also, you draw at the end of your turn instead of the beginning, and if you strike at all, you are unable to draw, limiting your resources for the next phase of the battle.
There are many factors that go into every attack, including Range, Power, Speed, Armor, and Guard. These elements capture the essence of frame data, taking into account the speed and distance moves that can activate along with partial frames of invincibility. Since moves are based on speed, even if your opponent declares the attack, you can shut them down with a strong and quick strike that shatters their guard, causing them to be stunned, ending their turn and starting yours on top of adding an extra point towards your gauge.
This is where meter management comes into play. As mentioned, every successful move builds your gauge, allowing you to unleash your Ultra moves, add a Critical effect to your character and moves, or place your character into Exceed Mode. A character that activates their Exceed Mode gets additional abilities for the rest of the game which can help make the most out of your cards. There is a great element of risk-reward when it comes to saving and spending your gauge. Do you use it to pull off an Ultra for massive damage? What if that attack misses because your opponent is faster? Then you get stunned because your Ultra has no armor.
The quick turn-based combat emulates the “footsie” mentality found throughout the Street Fighter series and other fighting games. It is all about managing your spacing and making small calculated actions until your opponent opens up to be punished. It’s as if battles are happening a handful of frames at a time. This gives you more time to think between moves allowing you to be even more calculated.
It doesn’t take long to complete a full match, my early experiences ranged from 20-30 minutes, which feels just right. While it definitely takes a minute to wrap your head around all of the many systems and actions, there are plenty of tutorials out there to help make sense of things if you are feeling overwhelmed or you want to make the most out of your experience. With so many moves, abilities, and actions, there is plenty to master, giving Exceed plenty of replay value.
You can tell that the Exceed Fighting System was developed by true fans of the genre. There is such immense attention to detail that shows Exceed is made by players who understand what fighting games are at their core allowing them to transcend the screens they are typically played on. It doesn’t matter what, where, or how you play. Fighting games are all about strategy and the love of competition while representing your best self on the battlefield, whether it’s with an arcade stick or a card deck.
Prices vary per set but range from $29.99 – $34.99 with playmats, while not necessary, are also available for purchase to enhance the overall experience with great designs and functions. Want to take a look at a tutorial game in action? Check out this video from Level 99 Games detailing the Exceed Fighting System below!
Level 99 Games provided Shoryuken with the Exceed Fighting System – Street Fighter – Chun-Li Box and playmat for this review.