Battle Blakes is the 90s stoner cult film come aggressive combat card game that we’ve all been waiting for. Wait, that’s totally not a thing. Well, too bad! Because that is what Battle Blakes is, and if the world is not ready for that, then it’s already too late.
Battle Blakes is a competitive card game and has, by far, one of the wackiest backstories that I’ve ever encountered. The game centres on Blake, who suffers from multiple personality disorder. Normally, alternate personalities exist only in the mind of the individual they belong to, but Blake is the exception. He has a ‘special imagination’, which allows the various facets of his mind to ‘come to life’ in an alternate reality called ‘Blaketon’. Through secretive research, the military has learnt of Blaketon, and invented a device that allows them to take control of the various aspects of Blake’s personality. It is the military’s ambition to figure out a way to bring these figments of the mind into our reality, so that they might be used as weapons.
As I said: whacky. After reading the game’s description four or five times, I’m still not entirely sure where the player fits into the story. Are we military operatives, battling each other for dominance in Blaketon? Or are we the Blake personalities? In either scenario, the goal of the player is the same – destroy all other Blakes. The gameplay sees players take control of one aspect of Blake’s personality (for example, ‘Drunken Blake’ or ‘Gamer Blake’) and engage in a relentless battle to destroy the other Blakes’ ‘self-esteem’ in order to become the dominant personality.
To begin, the game’s eight different personality cards are shuffled and two handed out to each player. Then, each player chooses which personality the player to their left will use during the game. All Blake personalities feature four stats – Self-Esteem, Verbal Assault, Skin, and Wit. The excess personalities are shuffled into the central draw deck, which primarily contains Buff and Action cards. Each player is dealt six cards from this deck, and starting ‘Self-Esteem’ (the game’s HP) is set using the player’s Self-Esteem card, according to the personality they were dealt. The youngest player takes the first turn.
The length of a game of Battle Blakes is determined by the number of event cards in the game. The event card deck is shuffled at the beginning of the game and a number of cards are drawn to make up the game’s event pile draw deck. Simply put, the more players, the less event cards (and therefore rounds), evening out the game length to a reasonable time, regardless of the number of players.
To begin a round, an event card is drawn. The primary effect of an event card will always affect all players. Most also feature a secondary effect, which will affect only one specific Blake or specific cards. Once the event card has been described to all players the first turn of that round begins.
The draw pile is made of three different types of cards – Buffs, Actions, and Blake personalities. The mechanics of Battle Blakes are similar to that of most popular trading card games. Buffs can only be played before your attack and permanently affect the base stats of a player’s Blake personality (until they are removed or destroyed by another card or effect). Actions can only be played after an attack has been declared. They may be played by anyone – regardless of whose turn it is – and are resolved once all players have stopped playing cards. Blake personalities that are picked up from the draw pile are used differently to players’ starting Blake. A secondary Blake personality can be played as an action, combing with your starting personality in order to create a special combo for a round that receives the combined stats of both Blake personalities, but ignores any active Buffs. As there are so few personality cards in the deck, this happens very rarely.
The turn phases of Battle Blakes are straightforward. First, the active player may play Buffs. Next, they declare their attack type – Battle of Wits or Verbal Assault. Every player must declare an attack every turn. A Verbal Assault sees players use their Verbal Assault stat against the defender’s Skin stat. It is only possible for the defender to take damage from a Verbal Assault. A Battle of Wits is riskier, as either party may take damage, depending on who ends up with the higher Wit stat when the attack is resolved. After the attack is declared, all players may play Action cards. Once all desired cards have been played, the attack is resolved, and the active player draws three cards (the hand limit is six) and ends their turn.
Each round a new event card is drawn, and play continues in this fashion until the event draw pile is empty. Whoever has the highest Self-Esteem at the end of the game wins!
The art style of Battle Blakes is as zany as the game concept. Highly reminiscent of the absurd, ‘stoner’ humour of cult films such as Wayne’s World, Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Beavis and Butthead, the Battle Blakes art style is best described as ‘so bad it’s good’.
The cards are bright, colourful, and often cringe-worthy. The art style pays little attention to proportion or realism, instead employing a visual style that enhances the joke, meme, reference, or pun included in each card’s fluff text. Although there are very few explicit references or jokes, there are many allusions and gags that rely on memes or other aspects of internet culture, and the groups I played with had a lot of fun with this humour.
The card design of Battle Blakes is very functional – Buffs and Actions are easily differentiated by their Red and Blue sides, and icons are helpfully employed in the card design. In fact, I was very impressed with all aspects of the presentation of this preview copy – the cards are of a professional stock and the game components were thoughtfully packaged, arriving at my doorstep in perfect condition.
When played with three or four, Battle Blakes is a balanced and fun experience. Utilising simple trading card game mechanics that will be familiar to any who grew up playing Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, or Magic The Gathering, Battle Blakes is good, old-fashioned, beat-your-friends-up-before-they-can-beat-you-up fun.
A game of Battle Blakes with two players, however, was a totally different experience. When playing with three or more there is enough strategic choice to keep things interesting, whereas with two players, luck becomes a far bigger part of the game, making player choice less important, and the whole game feel less meaningful. The fact that you must attack each turn raises the importance of luck in card draw to great heights when playing with two, and ultimately makes Battle Blakes feel like a totally different game. Two simple remedies could be removing the ‘each player must attack every turn’ rule, or allowing players to always draw back up to the hand limit.
Additionally, the likelihood of the event cards being in play at the same time that the relevant Buff or Blake personality was on the table – allowing the secondary event effect to be activated – was very low. While Battle Blakes is full of cards with interesting mechanics, the volume of different cards makes it rare for players to actually experience many of these mechanics – especially during a two-player game.
Finally, although it did not negatively affect my experience with Battle Blakes, I can imagine some players getting snarky over the fact that the game has no ‘official’ resolution rules, as the order in which Buffs and Actions are resolved could, arguably, influence the outcome of an attack. Using the rules as written, my groups simply resolved the cards in the order they were played, but this solution may not suit hardcore rule-loving types.
I enjoyed my time with Battle Blakes and can easily see myself playing it with friends. The visuals are very fun, and created a great mood. The card design is functional, and the rules were fairly easy to pick up. The two-player rules could do with some tweaking, but, as I find this is the case with almost every game that is advertised as being ‘for 2-4 players’, I do not think this is a significant drawback. A game of Battle Blakes is a half hour you’re unlikely to regret. Silly, competitive fun.