Currently wrapping up its Kickstarter, Exceed is the new dueling card game from Level 99 Games. Originally designed to be an alternate version of BattleCON (the other dueling card game from Level 99 Games), Exceed will instead be a crossover game, bringing together characters from entirely different games to duke it out. The first "season" of Exceed features characters from Jasco Games' "Red Horizon" property (who initially debuted in Jasco's own card game, the Universal Fighting System).
Each character in Exceed has their own 30 card deck, comprised of 2 copies of 15 different cards. 8 of those cards are universal, while the other 7 are unique to the character. This allows characters to feel distinct from each other without making the learning curve too difficult or making balance impossible to achieve. Rounds go quickly in Exceed, as on most turns players simply select a basic action and then draw a card afterwards. You can draw an extra card, discard cards to move along the board, power up your character's unique ability, power up your next attack, or (once per game) reshuffle your deck.
Of course, none of those actions are dueling, and this is a dueling card game, isn't it? That's where Strikes come in. The end goal of those actions is to ensure that you'll come out ahead during the next Strike. Instead of a normal action, a player may choose to Strike, during which both players will choose a card from their hand and simultaneously reveal them. The card with the higher speed will trigger first (ties go to the player who called for the Strike). Afterwards, if the damage dealt did not exceed the defender's Armor/Guard, their card will trigger as well.
Matches of Exceed have a real ebb and flow to them. Tension builds for several turns as each player jockeys for favorable board position, fills their hand, and plays Boosts to prepare for the next Strike. Finally, someone Strikes, and after a flurry of activity the tension drains a bit before the cycle starts again. It's not back to square one after each Strike though, as any attack that hits will be put into a player's "Gauge" pile to be exchanged later to either "Exceed" (power up their unique ability), or used to power a character's "Ultra" attack during a Strike.
While I only got to play with 2 of the characters from Exceed's first season, Alice and Reese, they felt both balanced and unique. Alice has better range overall and deals extra damage at max range, making positioning key for her to succeed. Reese is a rushdown character and can take another turn if he stunned an opponent during a Strike (and gets a power bonus if he Strikes again). Based on what I've seen already, I have high hopes for the rest of the cast of Exceed.
For those who follow Level 99 Games' other dueling card game, BattleCON, as closely as I do (read: an unhealthy amount), you're probably dying to know how it stacks up to BattleCON. While its BattleCON heritage is still apparent, Exceed does play quite differently. While Exceed uses that same basic stats as BattleCON (although some of them have had their names changed), and a few of the triggers are still around as well, nearly everything else Exceed brings to the table is its own. It plays more quickly, better simulates the moments in fighting games outside of attacking, and it fixes some of BattleCON's flaws (Dash being too useful, clashing, movement being tied to attacks). Exceed loses some of the depth and mind games that BattleCON thrives on, replacing them with the (perhaps less interesting) rounds of preparation and planning. Having perfect reads is less important than ensuring you have the right cards in your hand, the right boost in play, and the right moment to Strike. Both are solid games, and both succeed in simulating certain aspects of 2D Fighters, but how and what they simulate is what makes them unique. In BattleCON, each round represents a moment in a fighting game where something dramatic has happened. In contrast, Exceed focuses more on the decisions that lead up to those moments.
From what we've seen so far, the Exceed Fighting System is an interesting new take on the growing "dueling card game" subgenre. It's got its own niche, doing things that no other game is doing, while still staying true to the source material. And the fact that future seasons could bring in characters from any number of other intellectual properties makes Exceed all the more appealing. You can check out the Kickstarter here.
Disclosure: the designers provided a free preview copy of Exceed for the purpose of this preview.