Flash Duel: 5-Minute Fight Game in Your Pocket

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Flash Duel game in progressFlash Duel game in progress

Overview: The Fantasy Strike contestants are practicing for a tournament by sparring — one hit ends the round, but you have to position yourself to hit your opponent. Flash Duel has 20 unique characters to choose from and can be played in as little as five minutes, and even includes a portable version for 2 player games. (Note: this is the second edition, which introduces some changes from the original 2010 version.)

Flash Duel boxFlash Duel boxPlayers: 1 to 5

Ages: 8 and up

Playing Time: 5 to 15 minutes

Retail: $35 full game, $8 print and play

Rating: Smashing!

Who Will Like It? If you like the idea of playing Street Fighter with cards (or if you’re a fan of David Sirlin’s other games), then you’ll get a kick out of Flash Duel. It has similarities to other fighting games like BattleCON: War of Indines, but is simpler and plays more quickly.

Flash Duel charactersFlash Duel characters

20 characters to choose from. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Theme:

Like Puzzle Strike and Yomi, Flash Duel is set in the world of Fantasy Strike, a Street Fighter–esque battle between a bunch of colorful characters. Each of the 20 characters has three unique abilities — these reflect their personalities from the other games as well, and lend themselves to particular strategies. The core of the game is quite simple, moving back and forth on a bridge and trying to land a hit on the other player, but the various powers make it fascinating and endlessly replayable.

Flash Duel componentsFlash Duel components

Components:

  • Game board
  • 4 wooden fighter pawns
  • 1 wooden dragon pawn
  • 5 cardboard win tokens
  • two sets of number cards (each set has numbers 1 to 5, five of each number)
  • 60 character power cards (20 characters, 3 per character)
  • 8 oversized dragon cards
  • 5 Loyalty cards (4 Loyal Mortal and 1 Traitor)
  • 5 track cards

I have mixed feelings about the components. The quality of the components is high: good cards, glossy sturdy cardboard for the board and tokens, fantastic character art. But the number cards themselves and the art on the board is very plain. Sure, there’s only so much you can do with a card that just has a single number on it. But this has the number in the top corner in a circle with an arrow, and then the number really big, and then small people icon at the bottom representing the number. It just feels like a lot of unnecessary (and unattractive) graphics to communicate one single piece of information.

One cool feature is that all of the character cards, and one set of number cards fit into a small included tuckbox which also holds 5 cards that can be used as a track — this small pocket-sized version lets you play the one-vs.-one game on the go, though you’ll need to provide your own tokens to keep track of movement. Oddly, the portable track isn’t numbered.

Flash Duel trackFlash Duel track

5 cards can be used as a track in the portable version. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One thing that isn’t absolutely necessary but would have been nice is a description of the characters and their abilities. When you’re still becoming familiar with the characters, it can be a pain to flip through 60 cards while you decide which one to pick. A list of characters in the rulebook would have been nice. There’s a small section in the back that clarifies a few specific abilities, but not all of them.

[Update: Sirlin does have brief bios of the original 10 characters here, and slightly lengthier bios of the newer 10 characters here.]

Gameplay:

There are several game “modes” included, but the basic idea is the same in most cases. I’ll start with the one-vs.-one simple mode, which is mainly for learning the game. The players start with their pawns on opposite ends of the board, and each person gets a hand of five number cards. Scoring one hit on the opponent ends the round, and you need to win 3 out of 5 rounds to win the game.

On your turn, you must do one main action: Move, Push, Attack, or Dashing Strike.

Move: Play a card and move that many spaces in either direction. If you run into the end of the board or your opponent, you stop.

Push: If you are adjacent to your opponent, play a card to push them that many spaces away from you. (If they run into the Start space, they stop there.)

Attack: Play a card that matches the exact number of spaces to the opponent to hit them. You may play multiple copies of the same number to strengthen your attack.

Dashing Strike: Play one card to “dash” toward your opponent that many spaces, and then play an attack. The attack must match the exact number of spaces left after moving, and you may play multiple copies for a stronger attack.

If you Attack or Dashing Strike, your opponent must respond or loses the round and you take a Win token. Otherwise, draw back up to five cards, and then it is the other player’s turn.

To block an attack, you must play cards that match the attack. For instance, if somebody attacked with a 2, you must play a 2 to block it. If they played a pair of 3s, then you must play a pair of 3s to block. For a Dashing Strike, you can either block the strike (by matching the attack cards), or retreat by playing a card to move backward. However, if you retreat instead of blocking, you have to recover on your next turn — you just draw back up to five cards and end your turn.

As soon as the last card is drawn from the deck, time is over — reveal all your cards and see if either player is able to hit the other. If not (or there’s a tie), whoever has advanced further on the board wins. If there’s a tie, then the round is a draw.

After a round is over, go back to starting positions, shuffle all the number cards, and start again.

Flash Duel powersFlash Duel powers

A few examples of Ability cards.

Full Mode is where you get to throw in the character abilities. Before the game begins, you each pick a character and get that character’s ability cards. Place all three face up in front of you. Each card has a “timing trigger” printed in a yellow band, and then the effect printed at the bottom. The timing trigger indicates what has to happen for you to use the ability: some are triggered at the beginning of your turn, others can be triggered when you make an attack or even when your opponent takes a particular action. To use an ability, simply follow its effect, and then flip the card over to indicate that you’ve used it. You may only use one ability per turn.

At the end of a round, you can then flip all of your used ability cards face-up for the next round. When a round ends in timeout, no more abilities can be used (except Argagarg’s Pacifism).

The “Custom Clockwork Mode” is the same as the above, except that you get to build your own character. Choose 12 at random from the set of 60, and then you will take turns picking abilities from this set until you each have four. The order of selecting abilities is 1-2-2-1-1-2-2-1 (i.e., the player 1 picks one, the player 2 picks two, player 1 picks two, etc.). If you lose a round, you can tweak your soldier by swapping one of your abilities with one from the pool. The winner has to keep their abilities.

The Solo Mode lets you play solitaire. You can either play against the training dummy, who has no abilities; Rook the Stone Golem, who will use his abilities any time he is able; or the Deathstrike Dragon, who will use three abilities against you. The “bot” has a list of rules indicating what it will do each turn.

Flash Duel DragonFlash Duel Dragon

The Deathstrike Dragon has oversized ability cards. (Shown with Argagarg for size comparison.)

Finally, there are three modes that accommodate more than two players. Two-vs.-two is a team battle: you have two people on each end of the board, and your goal is to eliminate both players on the other team. You can be in the same space as your teammate but can’t advance past either of the opposing players. You get access to one other move: the Dashing Block. If somebody attacks your teammate, you can play one card to dash up to your teammate’s space, and then play a card (or cards) to block the attack.

Raid on Deathstrike Dragon pits 2, 3, or 4 players against a single player who controls the Deathstrike Dragon. The dragon takes multiple hits to defeat (depending on number of players), and must get one hit on each mortal to win. You’ll also use more of the number cards (depending on the number of players). All the mortals start on one end of the board, and the dragon is on the other end. The dragon gets to pick from 8 abilities, and will have twice as many abilities as there are mortals. All the mortal players take their turns (in order) and then the dragon takes a turn. Whenever a mortal is defeated, the dragon gets another turn.

Betrayal at Raid on Deathstrike Dragon is similar to the above, but can only be played if there are five players (four mortals and the dragon). You shuffle the five loyalty cards and deal one to each player, which means there’s a chance that one mortal is actually a traitor. (The dragon gets the fifth card and will know whether there is a traitor in the mix.)

If you’re a traitor, you win if the dragon wins (even if you die), but you don’t want to reveal yourself too early if you can help it. At any point in the game you may choose to reveal yourself as the Traitor. When you do, you may choose to name the exact cards in another mortal player’s hand. If you correctly name the cards, that mortal is defeated and you may pick another player and attempt to name theirs, and so on. Once you have revealed yourself, you move to the dragon’s start space and may start fighting alongside the dragon.

If you’re a Loyal Mortal, you can accuse somebody of being the traitor at any time. That player reveals their loyalty card — if it’s the traitor, they’re immediately defeated. If they’re not, then you’re defeated. Either way, play continues until one side has defeated the other.

Finally, if you’re the dragon and you got the Traitor card, you may reveal it at any time to get an extra hit point.

Conclusion:

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll mention that there has been some controversy over Flash Duel, which was originally inspired by Reiner Knizia’s En Garde, a fencing game. The simple mode is very similar to En Garde but with a few key differences, but the addition of the other rules and all of the characters and play modes makes it (in my opinion) a much deeper game. However, there are some who are uncomfortable buying a game which they feel takes somebody else’s game idea without proper acknowledgement or licensing. You can read Sirlin’s take on this (on Penny Arcade), or peruse this train wreck of a thread on BoardGameGeek for more information than you ever cared to know. I have not played En Garde myself but have a pretty good understanding of how the game works; between the two I think I like Flash Duel more but wondered why the second edition omitted the acknowledgement of Knizia. [Update: There are reasons for the omission, but that gets deeper into the legal issues and is beyond the scope of this post.]

Ok, with that out of the way, here’s my take on the game.

Flash Duel is a lot of fun and scores on a lot of important criteria: it’s really easy to learn, it plays quickly but still offers some depth of strategy, it accommodates a wide range of players (including solitaire), and it’s very portable. With the four wooden pawns and two sets of number cards, you can even have two simultaneous two-player games going at once, as long as nobody wants the same characters.

Because the cards are used for moving, attacking, blocking, and dashing, you can get a feel for what the other player has in their hand as you play. It’s not purely random, just playing whatever you have, but also calculating what your opponent may be storing up for an attack. In that, it’s similar to Yomi, which takes the basic mechanic of Rock-Paper-Scissors and elevates it into a game about reading your opponent. Well, that and smashing each other with crazy powers.

And, of course, the powers are another really fun part of the game. Just like Street Fighter (or other fighting games), your choice of character will influence your strategy, and with 20 characters to choose from, there are lots of combinations to play. One of the things that amazes me most about all of Sirlin’s games is the balance and asymmetry: giving people different powers, but still keeping the game balanced so that any given character has a chance to win. It hurts my brain just to think about it, but that’s Sirlin’s secret ingredient.

I do wish I had a better way of knowing the “story” of the characters. I think Yomi is the only one that really tells more about the story behind the characters, and even then it’s only with the original ten characters. The other games simply allude to them, so if you just have Flash Duel then you’re just getting a glimpse of the Fantasy Strike universe. Still, it’s also the lowest cost to entry, and is a game that is easier to pick up and play than Yomi, which requires many, many plays to learn the characters well.

I highly recommend Flash Duel for anyone looking for a great quick-playing game. The price may seem a little steep for the components, but in my opinion the depth of gameplay makes up for it. You can pick it up directly from Sirlin Games, from your local game store, or through Amazon. You can also get the print-and-play version for just $8 if you want to do a bit of the work yourself: Sirlin includes instructions on using a regular deck of cards with a reference sheet if you don’t want to print out and cut 128 cards yourself.

Wired: Another great game set in the Fantasy Strike universe. Easy to learn, quick to play, great depth and incredible replay value. 20 unique characters to choose from. Portable!

Tired: Number cards are pretty ugly.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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