(2014 – Level 99 Games)
Sellswords is a two-player card battle game from Level 99 Games (Pixel Tactics, BattleCON) and first-time designer Cliff Kamarga, in which players will draft a hand of six Heroes per Round from a central play area. The game contains 50 different Heroes, with each Hero providing various amounts of strength depending on how they are placed on the board, along with a specific special power. Each Hero is double-sided, with one side representing the blue player, and the opposing side representing the red player. When a Hero is placed on the board, depending on its strength and special power, it is possible that it can convert adjacent opposing Heroes to its player’s color. At the end of each Round, players will total points according to the Heroes they control (those face-up matching their player color) in each row or column. After two Rounds, the player with the most points is the winner.
A game of Sellswords is played over the course of two Rounds. During a Round, the players will take alternating turns placing a Hero card tile of their color into the play area, and resolving its ability (if applicable). When placing a tile, the tile must always be placed directly adjacent to another tile (not diagonally). Each tile contains a number of each of its sides, and since the directional placement of these numbers are relevant (as we’ll see in a bit), the player can choose to place the tile by rotating it in any direction. It’s important to note that a row or column can never exceed 5 Hero tiles. Therefore if a row/column already contains 5 Hero tiles on it, a 6th tile cannot be placed on it and must be placed elsewhere.
After a tile has been placed, and the player is satisfied with its rotation, the placed Hero tile will compare it’s numbers with any of his opponent’s adjacent tiles. If the placed Hero has a higher number than the opponent’s tile, the opponent’s tile is flipped to the player’s color. If the placed Hero has a lower number, or is equal in number to the opponent’s tile, nothing happens. Each Hero tile contains the exact same information on both sides of the tile, the sole difference being the color. When flipping a tile, it will be kept in the same rotation, and in the same location as before it was flipped.
The Red player’s Priest is also adjacent to the Viking. Even though the Priest’s special ability is that he can not be affected by any ability (thus won’t take the -1 from the Viking), his base strength of 2 is lower than the Viking’s 3 and therefore will be flipped to the Blue side.
While I won’t go through all 50 of the various Heroes and their abilities in the game, I do want to give you sense of how a few of them work. Some include immediate abilities that occur when placing the tile, and can either be mandatory or optional. Other abilities may be ongoing throughout the game, and a few will resolve at the end of the game.
End of Round/Game:
As mentioned before, a game of Sellswords consists of two Rounds. At the end of each Round, points are scored depending on the current layout of the Hero card tiles. After both players have placed the six Heroes from their hand, points are awarded to players based on how many Heroes they have (of their color) in a particular row or column. Points are awarded for each row and column individually in the following way:
– A player with only 1 Hero in a row/column will still score 0 points.
– A player with 2 Heroes in a row/column will score 1 point.
– A player with 3 Heroes in a row/column will score 2 points.
– A player with 4 Heroes in a row/column will score 4 points.
– A player with all 5 Heroes in a row/column will score 7 points.
Since a row or column can not exceed five Heroes, a row/column can never score a player more than 7 points. After these points are totaled from the 1st Round of play, 12 new cards are drawn and drafted to create the hand of Heroes that players will be using during the final Round. The previous Heroes are kept in the central play area, and players will add their new Heroes to these that have already been played.
Going from left to right, the Blue player would then score 1 point for Column 1, 2 points for Column 2, 0 points for Column 3, and 0 points for Column 4. His Rows and Columns would score the Blue player a total of 6 points in the 1st Round.
Going from top to bottom, the Red player would score 0 points for Row 1, 0 points for Row 2, 0 points for Row 3, 0 points for Row 4, and 1 point for Row 5.
Going from left to right, the Red player would score 0 points for Column 1, 0 points for Column 2, 2 points for Column 3, and 0 points for Column 4. His Rows and Columns would score the Red player a total of 3 points in the 1st Round.
After players have completed the 2nd Round, points are again score according to the number of Heroes controlled in each row/column, and this total is added to their 1st Round score. The total of both Rounds is the player’s final Victory Point total, and the player with the most points wins.
Sellswords is a neat asymmetrical, two-player card game that provides a substantial amount of replayability considering the 50 various Heroes and their abilities included in the game. Each special power feels different on its own, and with four different types of abilities (immediate mandatory, immediate optional, continuous, and end-game), there is a nice balance of strategy and counter-reactions that players can wade through.
As with Level 99’s previous title Pixel Tactics, Sellswords includes a massive amount of abilities available for players to choose from, while doing so in a game that can be played in less than 20-30 minutes. Fans of Pixel Tactics and those that grew us on the SNES in the early 90’s will enjoy the nostalgia of the pixelated Heroes, and the artwork contained on each card is almost worth the price itself.
Since points are awarded for the amount of controlled Heroes in each row/column, the game becomes more of an area control type battle than one would expect at first glance. The Hero’s strength on each of the four sides of the card, along with the Hero’s ability itself, are really a means to the end as far as using the combination of these two elements to manipulate the board in your favor. All that is really important is controlling Heroes by the end of each Round, so a majority of a player’s focus should be spent on using all options available to a player to formulate the best strategy to do so.
I was a huge fan of Level 99’s Pixel Tactic series when it first released a couple years ago. There were so many options given to a player for how they could play and use a particular card to assist with whatever strategy they had formulated. It’s the same reason I have had a great time with Sellswords. Fifty Heroes with fifty different abilities, all able to smoothly combo off each other and help a player construct a neat plan to control different areas of the board. It’s a simple concept with a payoff that provides a lot of replayability and new strategies with each session depending on the Heroes you’ve chosen to draft in both Rounds. It may only take 20-30 minutes to play, but you’ll probably find yourself playing multiple sessions, one after another when it hits the table.