The Daily Worker Placement

Saturday, October 21, 2017

SUPERHOT: What the flux?

by | published Wednesday, February 15, 2017

(Note: Board&Dice, the publishers, sent me a free demo copy so I could write this article.)

The TL;DR: Every once in a while a game comes along that does something different. If you are looking for an innovative game which translates a hit video game into a tabletop experience, Superhot: TCG looks like a good bet.

As Rabbi Hillel then said, “The rest is commentary—go and study it!”

* * *

Every once in a while a game comes along that does something different. In February, 2016, Superhot (the video game) was released, and it was immediately apparent that it was no ordinary shooter. The world of Superhot is literally white-washed, serving to highlight the orange-red mannequin antagonists all gunning for you with murderous intent only to explode into jagged shards as you dispatch them. The retro 90s computer interface (complete with DOS folder architecture) between levels provided comic relief and juxtaposition.

But what made Superhot unique amongst all the other “me-against-the-world” shooters out there was its tagline: “The FPS where time moves only when you move.” Sort of (but not quite) like Quicksilver, you control the pace of events. Bullets can be dodged. Statues can be grabbed from podiums and smashed against an enemy as you zip in and out of the timeflow. This mechanic turns Superhot into the tactical equivalent of an RTS game where you can pause and unpause the game at will.

For an indie game that was Kickstarter-funded, Superhot ended up getting a lot of positive, mainstream attention, and at some point someone decided to make a card game out of it.

* * *

Every once in a while a game comes along that does something different. In 2008 an almost-unknown designer named Donald X. Vaccarino introduced the concept of “deckbuilding” with a game called Dominion. Taking the part of the CCG experience which happened outside the game and making it the core mechanic of the game was a stroke of genius. Dominion spawned many sequels and countless refinements and mutations. Deckbuilding with a board (Trains, A Few Acres of Snow)! Dice pool building (Quarriors, Dice Masters)! Dice-building (Rattlebones, Blank White Dice)! Shufflebuilding (Smash Up)! Micro-deckbuilding (Flip City)! If the number of imitations can be considered a measure of success and influence, Dominion is beginning to be up there with Magic: The Gathering and Monopoly.

* * *

Every once in a while a game comes along that does something different. When the makers of Superhot decided to turn their video game into a board game, they turned to Manuel Correia, designer of 2016’s Multiuniversum, who had also been nominated in the 2016 Golden Geek Awards for a print-and-play solitaire game called Agent Decker. This micro-deckbuilder pitted a solo player against a series of increasingly-difficult missions. Agent Decker’s mechanics were relatively standard. Starting with the now-clichéd Beginner’s Deck of Weak-Ass Cards, the player used the game’s two currencies (Dodge and Fight) to acquire better gear and deal with obstacles that came rolling off the also-clichéd Conveyor Belt Deck of Bad Shit (the Obstacle Row). Cards that fell off the end of the Obstacle Row added to an Alarm Level, which caused Game Over if it ever reached fifty. After each mission, new (and harder) cards got shuffled into the Obstacle Deck, the Alarm Level was reset, and Agent Decker kept moving.

All in all Agent Decker is a challenging and enjoyable game, and I encourage you to pay-what-you-can to download and play it. However, don’t assume it will prepare you for Superhot: The Card Game.

* * *

Every once in a while a game comes along that does something different. Although Superhot: TCG is described on its Kickstarter site as a micro-deckbuilder whose design is based on Agent Decker, I don’t think either of those claims is accurate. I don’t think Board&Dice is using alternative facts—I simply think they’re trying their best to market Superhot: TCG by relating it to that which is already-known.

It’s not hard to see how Superhot: TCG grew from Correia’s previous design. He kept the following elements:

  • You start with a weak basic deck;
  • There is a conveyor-belt-like Obstacle Row of bad guy, gear, and smoov move cards you can interact with;
  • There are two game currencies (still called Dodge and Fight and using the same iconography);
  • You interact with cards in the Obstacle Row using Dodge and Fight;
  • Some cards in the Obstacle Row trigger negative (and sometimes positive) effects if they are not dealt with;
  • Running out of cards causes the player to lose instantly;
  • There are “missions” the player is aiming to accomplish as well as just staying alive.

That looks fairly similar, but I assure you Superhot: TCG is (to Correia’s absolute credit) not just a reskinning of Agent Decker. That is because Correia has made some fascinating design decisions, keeping only two mechanisms we have come to associate with deckbuilding. Those are:

  • The player has a personal deck of cards which she draws from, and when this deck is exhausted she shuffles her discard pile and turns it over to become a new version of her deck;
  • The player uses currencies on her cards to interact with cards in a “market”, gaining or disposing them as appropriate.

Forget everything else you know about deckbuilding. In Superhot: TCG:

  • Cards you interact with go into your hand (not your Discard Pile) at the end of your turn;
  • Cards you play to interact with the centre row go into the Obstacle Discard Pile, not your own deck’s Discard Pile;
  • For every card you play, a card from the Obstacle Row goes to your Discard Pile, except for Bullet cards, which go straight into your hand, and if you ever have four of them in your hand you lose.

Can you wrap your head around how different this is? You need a freakin’ flowchart to keep track of what goes where, it’s so mutant. This is not deckbuilding. It’s some weird, Moebius-strip, figure-eight, cycle of construction and destruction.

I would call it fluxbuilding, except that makes it sounds like Fluxx, which is more misleading than calling it deckbuilding.

Whatever it is, it’s weird and new and very thematic and I like it. Much like the video game, you’re constantly deciding how much to “move” (i.e., how many cards to play) to deal with the stuff coming at you. Like the video game, you’re constantly throwing things at your faceless attackers and grabbing at weapons and objects as they fly by you. Like the video game, you always feel you’re one bullet away from death, and you when you pull a clever move to dodge away you want to pump your fist in the air in triumph.

The solo game is tight and very replayable due to the variety of mission cards available. While the final game promises to include PvP and Co-op modes as well, I confess I have no idea how (or whether) the game will work as well in those situations. The KS spiel makes them sound tasty, and given how well Correia has done so far I’m confident enough in the final results that I have backed the game. The promised delivery date is July, 2017, so with any luck I’ll be able to update you by the fall.

* * *

Every once in a while…hmmmm…fluxbuilding…


2 thoughts on “SUPERHOT: What the flux?

  1. Jens says:

    Dang, you talked me into it — I just pledged myself a copy. And I’ve never even played the video game.

  2. […] games are a dime a dozen. Heck, I just wrote about one last week and again last month, and yet a third time about a dungeon delving […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *