Dragon Punch is a charming little (quite literally) card game which recently achieved ten times its funding goal on Kickstarter. The premise of Dragon Punch is the same as that of popular fighting games like Mortal Combat or Tekken – two players are pitted against each other in a hand-to-hand, typically martial arts inspired fight and the first player to win 2 rounds is declared champion. The goal of Dragon Punch is to be a super-portable, fun, fighter-inspired card game – an ambitious mark to which I felt it hit pretty close.
Dragon Punch‘s unconventional mechanics are easy to understand and quick to learn. Both players are given identical hands consistig of 6 basic moves, and 1 character card, which also contains 2 moves. Unlike most card games, cards are not discarded after use. Each player keeps the same 7 seven cards for the entirety of the game. The six basic cards have a white side and a red side. The amount of white cards you have right-side-up represents you health. Damage taken is represented by flipping cards so that the red half is right-side-up. When all cards are red-side-up, that player has been knocked out and loses the round.
Cards are played by each opponent secretly selecting a move. They then both simultaneously reveal their chosen move. Each move features three properties – location (high or low), attack strength (how much damage this move will deal if successful) and execution time (with a lower execution time being faster, and therefore better). Moves may also feature ‘effect text’ which grant that move special effects. Usually, the player with the best (lowest) execution time on their move will succeed, however moves can also be evaded or blocked. Additionally it is possible, through special move effects, to gain ‘Initiative’. As the rules so eloquently explain, “Initiative represents a speed advantage that one player may have over the other,” so if you have the Initiative, your move is resolved first. If neither player has the Initiative, execution time is consulted, and if execution time is equal, both attacks succeed. While only the right-side-up move on basic cards may be played, character cards may be flipped at any time, and therefore always provide a choice of two unique moves.
Both player’s basic cards are exactly the same, which is highly unusual for a card game. The reason behind this feels linked to the game’s strategy – which it is only possible to engage with once you have familiarized with your opponents move set – much like in video game fighters. By keeping each player’s move set the same, the creators have made this familiarization process easier and faster. The pitfall of this is that it lowers the game’s re-playability. Once you are familiar with your opponent’s play-style it becomes easy to counter them – especially if you make good use of the ‘Taunt’ move. Although the provided basic move sets are quite well balanced, the inclusion of custom cards would make the game more interesting and re-playable. Unfortunately, there has been no mention of this being in the works at the game’s Kickstarter project page.
The visuals of Dragon Punch cannot be faulted. The art is colourful and polished, and the cards’ layout and graphic design is both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional. In keeping with the extreme portability of the game, Dragon Punch‘s rules are provided on five cards, exactly the same size as the rest of the deck. As the Kickstarter project page advertised, this game can fit in your pocket and can be played anywhere. The rules of Dragon Punch are very well written – clear and concise. However attempting to find reference to specific rules when they are unpredictably spread over 5 double sided playing cards can be a little awkward.
Playing Dragon Punch is an unusual mix of scissors-paper-rock-style risk, poker-style card counting and fighter-style action. Fighter video games are all about thinking and reacting quickly, and Dragon Punch does a good job of capturing this feel. While the core game is definitely fun, a little more variety in the cards available would improve the game greatly.