Radio Review #80 – Sellswords

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(2014 – Level 99 Games)

 

“The man of the hour is taking his final bow….goodbye for now….”

 

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.

 

 

 

Components:

– Hero card tiles

 

– Terrain card tiles

 

 

 

 

Setup:

At the beginning of the game, the set of fifty Hero card tiles are shuffled together to create a draw deck. The four Terrain card tiles are placed to the side and are not a part of this deck. Each Hero and Terrain tile is double-sided, representing either the red player’s side or the blue player’s side.

The top twelve Hero tiles are then drawn from the deck and placed in the central play area. The two players will then take alternating turns drafting a Hero tile into their hand, until both players have a hand total of six Hero tiles each.

There are four different Terrain tiles included in Sellswords. At the beginning of the game, the standard Asgard tile is placed in the central play area. This is the tile that will begin the game. One of the other three Terrain tiles can be used instead, for an advanced version of the game. Each of these alternate tiles have a certain special ability that can alter how the game is played.

For instance, if playing with the Ragnarok terrain tile, at the end of the 1st Round, each player will take turns removing Hero tiles from the board until a total of six have been removed from the game. This action is not something that would normally take place when playing with the regular Asgard tile. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:

 

 

 

Gameplay:

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.

The Blue player decides to use his Viking hero on his turn, by rotating and placing it in manner seen above. Even though the Viking’s number is equal to the number of his opponent’s Knight, the Viking’s special ability is that when played, it will force his opponent to get -1 to his adjacent Hero’s numbers.

 

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.

Taking a look at the above example, after the Blue player’s Viking was placed, the opponent’s adjacent Heroes will compare their numbers to this Viking. As previously discussed, the opponent’s Knight would have to flip from Red to Blue, since the -1 ability of the Viking would shrink his total from 3 to a 2, thus being lower than the Viking’s adjacent 3.

 

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.

 

 

 

Hero Abilities

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.

King Alexian XXXVII – The King is a powerful Hero who contains powerful numbers on all four of his sides. However, while he’ll most likely flip anything he touches, there’s a catch. When placing him on the board and after comparing his numbers, he must be flipped to the opponent’s color. This action is mandatory.

 

 

The Squire – When the Squire is placed, you have the option of switching his current space with the space of an adjacent Hero of your color. When doing this the Squire will compare numbers from this new space.

 

 

The Titan – The Titan has an ability which prevents it from being flipped at any point during the game. Therefore it is considered an ongoing ability.

 

 

The Beggar – The Beggar’s ability will trigger at the end of the Round when points are scored for that Round. For the player that controls the Beggar at the end of the Round in which the Beggar was played, his opponent will subtract 2 points from his overall score for that Round.

 

 

 

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 no Heroes in a row/column will obviously score 0 points.
– 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.

After the 1st Round is complete, the Blue and Red players will score points based on the layout seen above. Going from top to bottom, the Blue would score 0 points for Row 1, 2 points for Row 2, 1 point for Row 3, 0 points for Row 4, and 0 points for Row 5.


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.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

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.

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