Guilty Gear Strive: The Board Game Review

Guilty Gear Strive: The Board Game from Level 99 Games captures the video game's pulse-pounding excitement and tense moments and splendidly adapts them into a two-player card battling game featuring 20 characters from the stylish anime fighter.

May 15, 2024 - 12:30
 0  15
Guilty Gear Strive: The Board Game Review

Heaven or Hell, controllers or cardboard - let’s rock. Guilty Gear Strive: The Board Game from Level 99 Games offers players a new way to experience many of those same pulse-pounding moments and swings in gameplay that fans of the video game expect. Plus, it has a surprisingly fast turn-around between matches and 20 characters to choose from. If you're in the market for a new brawling game for you and a buddy to add to your game rotation, Strive may be it.

Guilty Gear Strive isn’t so much a brand new game as it is the next entry in a long-running series -- think a new season of fighters for the video game. Strive is built around Level 99 Game’s Exceed system, first released in 2016, and has seen sets featuring other prevalent video game characters like Street Fighter and Shovel Knight. Strive (along with all the previous Exceed releases) pits two players against one another on a 9-spaced board, similar to the stage of a 2D fighter. Players advance and retreat around the stage by using their decks of special moves, basic attacks, and super specials, spacing themselves properly to take advantage of their specials to whittle their opponent down to zero life.

At first, it may be hard to imagine that a card game could capture the moment-to-moment action of a fighting video game. Level 99 has had a long time to refine this system. When I’m not playing board games and RPGs, I also love a good fighting game, with Guilty Gear being one of my favorites. So, I’m saying this from a position of familiarity with both the genre and series when I say that this game really nails that feeling.

This game is just as much about accurately reading what your opponent is going to do and responding to it as it is about trying to strategize and best use the moves in your character’s toolkit to poke holes in their game -- just like in a video game. I appreciate the juggling of spacing, trying to keep yourself out of harm's way while just close enough so that you can hit them or hitting them with a weak but fast attack, preventing them from hitting me. It actually does feel like a fighting game -- just played with cards instead of a controller or fightstick.

Much like a match in a video game, it doesn’t take long to play out, making this a solid quick-playing board games. Most games take less than a half hour, and once my friends and I had a grasp on what was going on, it was even shorter. Even when jumping from one character to another, the different styles and mechanics lent themselves more to applying and learning new strategies as opposed to having to start fresh and learn how to play.

On the topic of the characters, I have to applaud the team at Level 99 for doing a good job capturing the feel of each of 20 included characters' play styles from the source material. For instance, Axl’s expertise in battlefield positioning, lets you advantage of his long-range to push and pull his opponents into spots that are best for him. Or, Zato-1 can bring out his tethered demon pal, Eddie, onto the field to attack from. Little touches like that make jumping into this card-based version of Heaven and Hell all that more exciting and approachable.

Most games take less than a half hour.

Strive is an Exceed-based game, making it compatible and able to be played alongside previously released Exceed character sets. If you find yourself smitten with the system after playing Guilty Gear Strive, you can have Sol exchange blows with Ryu from Street Fighter or have Faust take on the knight of shovelery himself, Shovel Knight. All you need to do is pick up their respective decks, and off you go.

After eight years of releases, Level 99 has had a lot of time to figure out and refine the instructions and the best methods of teaching their Exceed system, with Strive benefiting from these refinements. Strive comes with a 27-page instruction book -- ditching the paper foldout of older seasons -- with straightforward explanations and visual examples of some situations you may encounter during a play session. As an extra handy bonus, each player deck also comes with its own set of reference cards showing rules, actions, and all the attacks that the character has access to. Where most games may give you a few, Strive gives you 20 sets.

Playing and teaching with a few friends, even the first time I was learning myself, things always seemed to click by the end of the first game, if not partway through. By the time I was teaching my third and fourth friend the game, where I didn’t need to confirm or double-check my information in the instructions, I could teach the basics in about 10-15 with little issue.

Regarding the components packed into Strive’s box, you can expect some solid-feeling cards with a semi-gloss finish. The cards are sturdy and feel good to shuffle, the tuck boxes for each character’s deck easily fit sleeved decks, and the included neoprene play mat is sturdy and well-constructed. However, I encountered a strange coloring issue around some of the cards that came in my copy of the game. Each character’s specific deck features an associated color scheme on its backside, and there were a few cards in my game where the odd card had a slightly off color to it. Were this color oddity on the front side of the card, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal, but considering this is a game where knowing what you have coming can adjust your strategy, this difference can provide you with an advantage. Hopefully, this issue isn’t widespread.

You can have Sol exchange blows with Ryu from Street Fighter.

As opposed to the previous releases of sets in the Exceed line, Level 99 has opted to include all the characters in a single release as opposed to bundling a few together and selling multiple smaller boxes. This means Strive comes in a large box, with a shocking amount of wasted space inside, too. The box itself comes in at 39.5cm x 41.5cm, a dimension that from a distance appears to be a square, even when up close appears to be a square, but when it comes to putting the top on the box means that there is a specific way you have to put it on. Does this impact the quality of the gameplay in any way? Not in the slightest. Does it make my eye twitch with minor annoyance when I get it wrong? No comment. But, on a more serious note, unfortunately, the box’s dimensions mean it is too large to fit on an Ikea Kallax shelf, a common go-to game storage solution for board gaming hobbyists, and is something to be aware of.

Guilty Gear Strive: The Board Game is a game where you have to be cutthroat, and players will get the most enjoyment when they play someone of an equal skill level. On the flip side, it also means the differences in experience can vastly skew the game in favor of one player over the other. The fact that Guilty Gear Strive is strictly a two-player board game doesn’t help alleviate or balance out that imbalance either.

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