The monster lords have returned! Gather your heroes to try and defeat them in this cooperative dice battle game.
What Is 8-Bit Attack?
8-Bit Attack is a cooperative tactical game from Petersen Games for 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, and takes 60-90 minutes to play according to the game box. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with pledges costing $25. Petersen Games has already printed 1,988 advanced copies of the game, so those first printings will ship out to the earliest backers immediately after the pledge manager for the campaign closes. Despite the horror theme, the 8-bit art style makes the game perfectly suitable for children, but due to complexity of play, 10 years seems a good minimum age.
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8-Bit Attack Components
Note: As this is a production copy of the game, all components should be the same as found in the version that ships from Kickstarter.
Here are the components:
- 1 tactics die
- 15 battle dice
- 128 hit tokens
- 20 timer tokens
- 20 energy tokens
- 10 medals
- 20 hero sheets
- 20 champion cards
- 80 minion cards
- 40 rune tokens
- 1 Cthulhu final lord assault card
- 1 final lord standee
- 45 buff and debuff cards
- 1 game turn tracker
- 5 hint cards
- 7 assault cards
- 15 potion tokens
The components are all of very high quality. The dice are big, chunky, and engraved, and feel good to roll. The icons on them are large, colorful, and easy to read. Smartly, there’s also color coordination to help with the gameplay: “fast hits” on the attack dice are blue swords, which are blocked by blue “fast defense” helmets. Similarly, “slow hits” are represented by red maces, which are blocked by red “slow defense” boots.
Tokens are uniformly thick, with a good size to them that makes them easy to pick up and hold with smaller fingers. The hero sheets, champion, and minion cards are all printed on heavy card stock, and feel nicely durable.
And then there’s the art style. 8-bit artwork has been done before, notably on Brotherwise Games’ Boss Monster. It’s a style that tends to be somewhat polarizing; I had one friend who refused to even try the game because he hates 8-bit art. But regardless of whether you’re a fan of the style, the execution of it—much like the physical quality of the components—is excellent. Characters are, well, characterful, and the monsters look distinctive and interesting.
The only knock I really have to give the components for the game is in their quantity. In playing the game with five players, we consistently ran out of both timer and energy tokens. I checked with Petersen games, and have been notified there will be more of those tokens included with copies of the games that ship from the Kickstarter. But there’s one additional component that would run out, especially in larger assaults: some of the buff/debuff cards. There are only 6 of each included in the game, but some abilities can put certain debuffs onto all heroes or enemies at the same time, leading to cards running out. Hopefully like with the tokens, this will be a situation that Petersen Games can rectify before copies ship out to backers.
How to Play 8-Bit Attack
You can download a copy of the rulebook here. You can also try out the game yourself for free online on Tabletopia.
The goal of 8-Bit Attack is to defeat several assaults from enemy champions, their minions, and their allies, ultimately facing and defeating the final lord before the end of the 5th turn.
Shuffle each of the enemy decks and place them face down on one side of the table. Choose and place the final lord (in the case of the base game, it’s Cthulhu) and place it by the enemy decks. Place the final lord’s standee on Turn 1 of the turn tracker.
Each player picks a hero, which they will place in front of them face up on the “locked” side (the “unlocked” side, which provides additional powers and abilities, requires two medals to level up). They then will collect four energy tokens, at least two battle dice, a number of hit point tokens equal to their HP value, and a set of the three different potions.
At the start of the game turn, you will choose an assault level between 1-7. The higher the level, the higher the difficulty, but also the greater the reward: your team will receive a number of medals equal to the level of the assault. Medals are the currency of the game.
You will then draw a random champion, as well as a number of minion and ally cards as indicated by the assault card. Minions are drawn from decks matching the color and border of the champion. Allies are drawn from any of the other minion decks. The assault card is placed over the hit points of the champion, which takes on the new HP value.
If you are in the final turn and therefore facing the Final Lord, you will instead place down the Cthulhu board and draw a number of champion cards equal to the number of players. Additionally, Cthulhu has 25 hit points per player… so in a full 5-player game, you draw five champions and he has 125(!) hit points.
All heroes start an assault with 4 energy, and no wounds or buffs/debuffs from previous turns. You first assign one enemy to each hero. If there are enemies left over, then distribute the extras amongst the heroes.
The heart of the game is the battle sequence. During the battle, heroes can attack any of the enemies, but the enemies can only attack the specific heroes they are assigned to. If, at any point, a hero is knocked out, their enemies must be reassigned to other heroes at the start of the sequence.
After reassigning any enemies, you roll the tactics die to see which enemy tactics will be used during this combat round.
The heroes then attack, in this order:
- Roll a number of dice equal to the hero’s attack value.
- Activate any abilities that they wish to activate, as long as they have the energy available (including any energy they may have gained on the dice roll). During this phase, the hero may also choose to drink a health potion to restore six hit points, or an energy potion to immediately gain 4 energy tokens. Revive potions can be used on any hero that has been K.O.’d (received wounds equal to their HP level) to be brought back to life. A hero can also choose to use their potion on an ally, but they would forfeit their attacks and abilities on that turn.
- Apply damage to enemies. Each hero can only target one enemy, though some abilities may allow them to damage additional enemies.
As mentioned earlier, a single fast attack is blocked by a single fast armor, and a single slow attack is blocked by a single slow armor. Some enemies also have an “if attacked” trait, which will trigger once they have been attacked and you will resolve before moving onto the enemy attack sequence.
Additionally, if any abilities result in a buff or debuff being placed onto an enemy or hero, place the appropriate card next to that enemy or hero, along with two timer tokens.
The enemies then strike back. Enemies will always use their basic attack, and will also use tactics if the symbol rolled on the tactics die matches one or more of the tactics on their character sheet.
After all enemy damage has been applied, you will remove any K.O.’d heroes, and then remove one timer token from each buff/debuff card. If there are no timer tokens left, then both the card and its effect are removed.
If all the enemies have been killed, then the assault is over and you move the turn tracker to the next turn. Heroes receive a number of medals equal to the assault level they fought. If all heroes are K.O.’d, then the assault immediately ends, and the turn tracker is moved but no reward is gained. If neither of those have occurred, then you go back to the start of the battle sequence and continue.
If you have successfully completed an assault, then there are three different things you can spend your medals on to upgrade your characters: runes, potions, or leveling up.
Each hero has different rune upgrade slots that can be filled at the cost of one medal per rune. Runes provide permanent offensive or defensive buffs to characters. A set of 3 potions can also be purchased at the cost of one medal, but with the caveat that each hero can only hold one of each potion. Thankfully, if you purchase a set of potions you can distribute any duplicates to other heroes.
At the cost of two medals, a character can be “ascended” or leveled up. The player flips the character card to the unlocked side (keeping any runes they may have already purchased). When a character is ascended, they gain an extra attack die, an additional ability, and an “always on” trait.
The game ends when, by the end of the fifth turn, you have either defeated the Final Lord or it has defeated you. If the former, then you win! If the latter, then the world is plunged into darkness… at least until you reset the game and try again.
The Verdict: 8-Bit Attack
There are co-op games where everyone sort of does their own thing and hopes for the best, and then there are co-op games where you either work together as a team, or you die. 8-Bit Attack definitely falls into the latter category. Much like old 8-bit arcade games, it can at times be crushingly difficult.
On the surface, the game is quite easy to play. Most abilities are pretty straightforward: you just repeat the battle sequence until either all the enemies are defeated or you are, through 5 different assaults (or fewer if you think you can take the Final Lord on before the fifth turn). There are multiple icons for abilities, buffs, and debuffs, but they’re easy to find in the rulebook or on the reference cards, and you’ll memorize them in short order.
When choosing what assault level to fight, there’s some real risk/reward gameplay. A lower level will be easier for a group to handle, but there will also be fewer medals, making it harder to upgrade the heroes enough to face the Final Lord and his champions.
And even if you choose a lower level assault to fight, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a cakewalk. After all, you know the number of enemies that you’re going to face, but you have no idea what types of attacks and abilities they’re going to have until you’ve randomly drawn them from their respective decks.
Through my games, I’ve discovered that the optimum player count is four. Five can also be good, but it can take a very long time to play at that count. I had a five-player game that lasted four-and-a-half hours! Granted, these were all new players, and familiarity with the game speeds things up quite a bit. But as with most games, the more players you have, the longer the game will take to play.
So why four players? Hero selection can be a very important factor in how well your game goes. There’s a nice variety of characters that come in the game, and most of them fall into one of four categories (which will be familiar to many of you that play MMOs): tank, healer, buffer/debuffer, and DPS. A balanced team should have at least one of each of these archetypes to best handle everything the enemies can throw at you. With two or three players, you’ll have holes in your team… unless, of course, some of the players play more than one hero.
When you have good synergy with your team, you feel like you can tackle anything. In one of my games, I had a character with an ability called “Warcry.” For the cost of three energy, she could give all enemies Fear, which added an extra damage to each attack against all of them. If my character had the energy, she would always apply it at the start of the round, as it’s a very powerful debuff that helps everyone on the team.
Even with the best of planning and preparation, this game can throw you curve balls. In another game, I had upgraded my character to have two fast defense. On quite literally the very next assault that we fought, every single enemy turned out to only have slow attacks, thereby rendering that rune useless. Granted, things changed after that round, but it did make me regret purchasing that over a +5 HP rune at the time.
If you’re a fan of strongly-themed games, then 8-Bit Attack won’t be the game for you. The backstory at the beginning of the rulebook boils down to: There was a great evil that was finally defeated, but now it’s back, and we have to stop it. It’s kept fairly vague, as the enemies and characters in the game are drawn from multiple different sources. You can have a science fiction warrior from the future fighting alongside a Lovecraft character from the 1920s. If anything, the theme could be described as “Petersenverse,” seeing as the many enemies come from various other board games that Petersen Games has published such as Cthulhu Wars, Planet Apocalypse, and the upcoming Hyperspace. Thankfully, the 8-bit artwork manages to visually tie these disparate sources together.
There are a few nitpicks I have with the game, ones that I wish had been addressed during playtesting. As previously mentioned, there really needs to be additional buff/debuff cards included with the game.
The rulebook says that, when drawing minions during an assault, “you can tell a champion’s category by the matching borders and frames as minions of the same category.” While this is true, the matching borders and frames are on the pictures, not on the backs of the decks. You can still match by color, but it would have been nice to have had the matching borders on the backs of the cards as well to more easily draw the correct minions.
And lastly, there are some rules that are unclear or even missing from the rulebook. For example, nowhere does it say whether you can use multiple abilities per round or not, an important omission. Some of the descriptions of individual heroes’ abilities could also use clearer text to explain them. As this Kickstarter has already printed thousands of copies of the game, these are all things that will have to be addressed in a FAQ or errata. Thankfully we’re in an era where we can easily go online, download, and print those out, but it would be nice to have a tight enough rulebook at Kickstarter delivery to make that unnecessary.
8-Bit Attack is a fun, challenging game. Some players may be put off by the repetitive nature of the gameplay. But in that respect, it embraces the artwork’s arcade origins. It feels like you’re playing an old-school arcade game, like a tabletop version of Gauntlet. Much like levels in video games become progressively difficult, so do the increasing levels of the assaults. Until, finally, the difficulty gets turned to eleven with the big endgame boss, in this case, Cthulhu. He’s going to require the heroes to work well together, bringing with them as many upgrades as they could achieve. And a little luck. Or a lot.
But also like an old arcade game, if you’re defeated you can just metaphorically insert another quarter and start over. With the wide range of characters to choose from and enemies to fight, each game will be different. And if you want to add even more replayability, Petersen Games is offering four add-on expansions that each introduce additional Final Lords, enemies, and heroes.
If you like a tough tactical challenge in a co-op battle game, then you should check out 8-Bit Attack. It’s visually striking, with great components, and an easy game to teach and get up and running quickly on a game night.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the 8-Bit Attack Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.