Battle Dex Review

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Battle Dex Publisher: Bandera Games
Developer: Bandera Games

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: DirectX 9.0 compatible video card with 32 MB RAM, 50 MB HD space, internet connection, Windows XP or more recent operating system

War... War never changes – but your enemy can, every time you log into a different battle. Battle Dex turns war into a tactical exercise between two somewhat cute, opposing forces, supplemented by decks of cards representing special tactical powers, discounted units, mercenaries and heroes of the battlefield.

Kyle Ackerman

Battle Dex is the best thing that can be said about any game: fun. There's not enough turn-based strategy to go around nowadays, and Battle Dex is a great opportunity to hop onto a PC for a few minutes and enjoy a quick match of carefully crafted combat against human opponents. Battle Dex does have some minor technical and design issues, but it's a solid and simple-to-learn game of multiplayer combat that is constantly being improved.

Cute Combat Meets Collectible Cards

Battle Dex is among the many games that calls itself "Free to play." The positive side of that is that it's easy to download the Battle Dex client, challenge the tutorial missions to quickly learn the ropes and even try out a few quick matches against real human foes using the starter deck. In reality, participation costs depending on your level of interest, but we'll look at the real cost of play further down.

At times, Battle Dex has been described as like Advance Wars mashed up with a collectible card game, and it decidedly has that vibe. Before the collectible card element enters into it, there are a small number of ground and air units that can be constructed and moved around the battlefield. Infantry can seize resources that produce the gold needed to build units at your headquarters, or capture control points that (if held long enough) can win the game. In this way, Battle Dex is a conventional turn-based tactical game, with turns resolved simultaneously.

Keep Those Cards Coming

Battle Dex is different thanks to the collectible card game element superimposed onto this tactical combat. Players accumulate cards that can be assembled into decks and brought into battle. Just as units require a certain amount of gold to build, many cards require gold to play, but can help combatants acquire inexpensive units, make existing units more powerful, temporarily incapacitate enemy units, or even change the battlefield. As with other collectible card games, there are plenty of common cards, but the cards that can turn the tide of battle are the rare cards that typically come one to a pack. Since packs need to be purchased or won in tournaments (that often have an entrance fee), it takes a modest investment to build a competitive deck. That should be no surprise if you saw the word "collectible" in the description.

There aren't that many battlefields available in Battle Dex (although more are being added all the time), so one-on-one battles with experienced players using constructed decks can quickly become tiresome. The stronger players on the server have exactly the cards they need to pursue practiced strategies, and can consistently kick the ass of any newcomer. One thing Battle Dex could use a bit more of – cards that transform play. For example, with the Tank Factory (that lets you start manufacturing ground units in a place of your choosing) I could occasionally surprise experienced players. Fortunately, many of those experienced players are also happy to play co-operative matches against the AI, while also giving useful tips on play and deck construction. The same goes for free-for-all and two-vs.-two matches in which the uncertainty of multiple foes can make up for weak decks or underdeveloped strategies.

Come Up the Learning Curve

There are a series of training missions that pit you against the AI, but these are only good for orienting you to the game. This is a multiplayer game, so Bandera hasn't sunk the time and effort into programming a robust AI. The early training missions are extremely easy, and serve to teach you how to give orders and capture resources. Later training missions rely on giving the AI overwhelming force, and can help players learn to keep units reinforcing one another while minimizing losses, but are more frustrating than difficult. The best way to learn and play Battle Dex is to do the easy training missions and then get a friend to join with you. That way the two of you can learn, playing against one another with starter decks until you decide to invest in more cards or tournaments.

The real fun in Battle Dex is in sealed play (both one-off matches and tournaments). In such games, each player has a random assortment of cards, with luck and tactical skill matched by players' ability to creatively apply the few advantages conferred by their selection of cards. Sealed-deck play is where the wacky stuff happens – the kind of games you'll tell your friends about or lament in the game's forums. It's possible to just hop into sealed-deck matches, but the easiest way to play is in tournaments, which happen several times daily. Of course, to play in a tournament, you have to be available at exactly the planned time. Also, some of these tournaments are free, but most require players to pay a certain number of points and/or packs of cards. Cards can also be a reward for winning, but to play (as much as you'll want), you're going to have to pay.

It won't make you competitive against seasoned players in constructed deck play, but the game's "Starter Pack" (for $20) is enough to get you into a selection of tournaments. Points and packs can be purchased individually, but the game also offers premium subscriptions of $50 for six months or $80 for the year that provide regular points and packs along with premium cards, the ability to trade cards, and space for more decks. Premium players are even more likely to get "byes" in tournaments, making them a little more likely to win. So, devoted fans can spend a lot of money on Battle Dex, but you don't have to. Some of these tournaments also have substantial cash prizes at the top level, so there's an incentive to devote yourself wholeheartedly to the Battle Dex.

Still Improving

Battle Dex really is a ton of fun, but expect to pay a bit once you get past the introductory phase. It's also not perfect – there are a few issues. The biggest problem is that play is subject to serious positive feedback. The more you get ahead, the more likely you'll stay ahead. I played few games (against strong players) that lasted more than a few turns, simply because once one side has captured some resources and destroyed several enemy units, victory is (usually) inevitable. It's often immediately clear who will win, sometimes as early as when you look at your cards. In my opinion, the rare cards need a little more balancing, but that's a tricky thing to do in a collectible game where players pay cash for cards, so expect to see some power creep over time. Finally, I did suffer occasional client crashes, and once the launcher stopped working after one of the frequent updates. That's not a big deal, but it would be nice if there were a way to reconnect to a match after such a crash. Lastly, given that this is a turn-based game that resolves moves simultaneously, I'd love for a way to issue a pause order so that units could move a little, late in the round.

That's an awful lot to keep in mind, but the key thing to remember is that Battle Dex offers some seriously good times. This is fun, and sorely-needed fun for fans of turn-based strategy. Bring a friend to help you get into the action, and stay for the tournaments and sealed-deck competition.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 5, 2010 8:40 PM.

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