At long last the critically acclaimed fighting card game, BattleCON, is getting true online play. Up until now the only option for online play has been playing by forum, an outdated iOS app, or using the Google Spreadsheets version created by a particularly dedicated fan. With its depth and breadth, BattleCON is a game that needs a large, dedicated community to explore all of the game’s nuances, and a true online option will go a long way to growing the community. If done right, an online version could bring exponential growth to both the size of the community by lowering the barrier of entry in the series, but also in the level of competition as experienced players from all over will be able to hone their skills against each other.
Based on what Level 99 Games have announced so far, it’s clear that they’re done with doing half-measures for bringing BattleCON online. Not just a basic port of the board game, but instead so fully featured that it’s practically a videogame in its own right. Glance at the planned modes, and you’ll see exactly what you’d expect to see in a fighting game with the standard Arcade mode, 2 Versus modes, custom games, Training mode, and even a Story mode! Along with this comes music, voice acting, and more. They aren’t slacking on platforms either, at BattleCON Online will be released on Steam, Android, iOS, and will even be playable through web browsers.
It’s definitely a huge undertaking, but after blowing past their funding goal almost as soon as the Kickstarter went live, it’s clear that they’ve got strong community support for the project. A lot of those modes aren’t planned for a release any time soon though, as the Kickstarter campaign is focused on having Strategic and Turbo modes up and running for the initial 10 character roster first.
Speaking of the roster, BattleCON Online is planned as a “roster-based” Free-to-Play game—i.e. the same format popularized by League of Legends. Players will be able to choose from a rotating selection of free characters each week, or any characters they’ve purchased, via in-game currency or with real world money. I’m not normally a fan of this model, but I think it’s the ideal format for BattleCON Online. In my experience it usually takes a few matches for new players to truly grok BattleCON, and that task is made easier if players stick with one of the basic characters while they learn the game. In fact, even the card game itself follows a similar format, with characters separated into different “flights” based on their complexity, and players are encouraged to master one flight before opening the next one.
I got the chance to play a few matches of BattleCON Online with the Level 99 Games community manager, JR Honeycutt. As it was only an alpha build of the online exclusive Turbo Mode, and with only 2 playable characters, there wasn’t much to see, but I was impressed with what I did see. BattleCON Online was able to handle all of the rules, cards, etc. without much issue. The interface looks great, could be controlled with either mouse or keyboard, and was very intuitive—I managed to figure everything out on my own before JR finished explaining it.
There were several features absent that I can forgive for an alpha build of the game, but should definitely be included by beta. For me, the most important missing feature was the ability to view the opponent’s hand—BattleCON is a game where players have perfect information most of the time. Also absent was a viewable gameplay log to allow players to see exactly what happened during a beat, as well as making it easier for them to spot any errors the program might make, and a text chat system—JR and I used a separate program for voice chat. I would consider those standard for a game of this type, ideally implemented before the beta. Beyond that, my only other gripe for the interface was only being able to view 6 of my cards at a time—3 Styles and 3 Bases. I assume this was done to keep the interface consistent across devices, but being able to only view 3 of my 5+ bases at a time is a bit annoying. Hopefully this is something that can be customized for each platform.
While BattleCON Online will be able to simulate traditional BattleCON, Turbo mode is designed for faster play online by reducing the number of decisions players need to make during a given turn. Anyone who has played board games online before has experienced the frequent breaks in the action required each time a player needs to make a decision—or *doesn’t* actually have one to make, but the game needs to pretend there is one to avoid inadvertently revealing information to the other players. BattleCON itself is filled with these sort of moments in a given turn (“Should I advance 1, 2, or none?” or “Do I want to move the opponent, and if so, to where?”). Turbo mode will avoid that by only requiring one or two decisions each turn, and both right at the beginning of the turn. Choose what you play and choose what you ante, if needed. This of course requires a number of changes to the base game. Every move that allows for a variable amount of movement is changed to a set amount, Dash is replaced with Guard, and I have to imagine that some characters may not work at all unless given a complete overhaul. It still manages to feel like BattleCON though—albeit a bit simpler—and that’s ultimately what’s important.
By releasing on so many platforms, and with so many features, Level 99 Games certainly have their work cut out for them with BattleCON Online. What they’re building now is a solid foundation: the core gameplay modes and a good mix of characters. While I have no doubt they can deliver that on time, what will matter most is timely, regular updates after launch. The extra modes will be nice of course, but filling out the roster is key—and I’m not just saying that because my top 3 characters aren’t in it yet. A complete roster isn’t just about everyone getting to play their favorite character, but is also for accumulating matchup data to inform subsequent balance tweaks.
All in all, I’m really looking forward to BattleCON Online. I would have been happy with just a basic port of the card game, but what Level 99 Games are looking to do with BattleCON Online exceeds my expectations. If you like what you see, check out the Kickstarter.
Disclosure: I am a Kickstarter backer of BattleCON online. JR Honeycutt and I became Facebook friends after playing BattleCON Online together.