Showdown!: Preview

Dueling samurai. Who doesn’t like dueling samurai? What if it’s a six-samurai, free-for-all battle? Today, Fairway previews the upcoming Kickstarter game: Showdown!  A game based on an original Western-themed game, Shootout!  He does a bonus review of that one too.

Showdown! is a two- to six-player hand-management card game from New Experience Workshop and designer Chris Amburn. In the game, players are samurai engaged in a fight massive fight (or a duel). Even at higher player counts, individual hands are over in about ten minutes.

Initial Impressions

  1. The rules were simple enough, although printed on cards in a weird order.  We were able to jump right in pretty quickly and play a bunch of hands.
  2. Some of the art is really nice. We especially liked the full-color “showdown” cards. They reminded us a bit of a modern version of the art of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (whose art was also in Starving Artists).
  3. This game was much better as a duel, but the other player counts offered some slightly different opportunities.
  4. Some of the players found the game to be a bit too arbitrary.

Game play

Showdown! is dead simple.  Players are trying to be the last samurai standing.  The game is played with a deck of cards. The cards have five different types of cards: weapons, title, notoriety, special and showdown cards. At the start, the deck of cards is shuffled. Each player is dealt a starting hand of five cards.  The remainder are set in the middle, face down, as a draw pile.

Beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, a turn consists of: flipping the top card of draw pile onto a discard pile, choosing either to take that card, or the card off the top of the deck and then discarding a card.  A few things about this: when the card is flipped onto the discard pile, it could be a showdown card or another card with a “discard” effect. Those are immediately resolved.

Most of the game, players are trying to prepare their hand for showdowns.  A showdown is triggered either by the card flop or a player discarding a showdown card.  During a showdown, the triggering player selects one of the other players to duel.  Players then, using cards in their hand, reveal at most of each of a weapon, title and notoriety cards.  Some cards may permit special powers.  The sum of those cards is the initial battle strength of the player.  Then, taking turns, players can play “special” cards from their hand to improve themselves or diminish their opponent. The player at the end with the highest value wins and the other player is out for the remainder of the hand.

On the green

Showdown! is a quick, little card game.

Play time and learning time.  This game is very quick. The biggest determinant of “how long” seems to be the arbitrary distribution of the showdown cards. We had one game where the last two players went through the whole deck because the showdown cards were in the hands of players that were eliminated. Conversely, we had games end after only a few rounds.

It took no time to learn the game. In some ways, it’s a lot like Gin Rummy: try to get one of each type of “special” card (weapon, title and notoriety) and then try to pick ever-better ones.

The art and theme.  We really liked the art. Many of the cards were intricately detailed and colorful. The cards also integrated very well into the theme and mechanics. Battling samurai works well for a card dueling game.

Where it comes up short

Totally arbitrary.  Other than the fact that this game is ultra-short, it was really hard to get past how arbitrary aspects of the game were. It shows up in a bunch of places: when showdowns were flopped, whether you even got one of the special cards, whether a player just randomly picks you because they have to pick someone, or whether you got too many of one special and none of the other type. This aspect is somewhat to be expected.  But it was somewhat distracting.

A sample hand. Click for a full card gallery.
A sample hand as shown on the Kickstarter campaign page.

One aspect of the arbitrary nature we messed around with is whether we could let players trigger a showdown.  We tried giving each player one showdown card and shuffling the remainder into the deck. This meant each player could trigger one showdown each, but also left the unexpected showdown opportunity too, it just was less frequent. This actually helped a little bit. It let players do the building of their hand.

“Winning.”  One of the other unfortunate parts of multiplayer games is even if a player was able to “build” a good character, that was lost after the first showdown victory. When a player “wins,” the played cards are discarded and a new hand is drawn.  That means the winner might be in the middle of the game, spent a bunch of hands making a good character only to be rewarded with having to start over.  Huh.

Graphic design. Not sure that the graphic design was up to snuff.  The card designs for the non-showdown cards were a missed opportunity. Not sure what the decision to break from the full-frame art.  The font choices were also questionable (too thick, hard white stroke around some).  Feels like this is one that could be improved before production.

Going out and higher player counts. I’m not sure I’d recommend the game at the higher player counts. There’s too much potential for a player to essentially sit out for too long. Plus, the time between doing things was kind of high at those counts. The “what you’re doing” is too limited for the pay off of flopping a card, drawing a card, and playing a card. This is decidedly not the case at two or three players, though.

In the hole

For a light, quick game, Showdown! definitely has an appeal. The quick game, the often laugh-inducing combat between players’ characters was enjoyable. We had a bunch of fun with it. Even with a bunch of players, we got in a whole bunch of hands in a relatively quick period of time. This game could neatly be played while waiting for dinner or for others to arrive.  The art also helps give the game a very polished feel. If you’re looking for a quick, fighting-themed card game, Showdown! will fit that bill.

Showdown! is in the hole for a par.

Bonus review: Shootout! and Shootdown!

So, Showdown! is a samurai re-theming of Shootout!  Shootout! is essentially the same game with a western, gun-slinging theme.  There was almost no difference in the game play. The values of the cards went higher, but without the special power cards.  Some players liked the Western theme better. The game was well suited for something that felt more like showing up for a gun-slinging battle at high noon.

One interesting thing is that you could “combine” the two games.  The designer suggested shuffling the decks together.  Although we preferred the two-player: gun slinger v. samurai.  Players would flop and draw only from their own deck. And then whenever a showdown / shootout occurred, the players would fight. The game had equally hilarious results.

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