More than merely a play on words, “Deck,” as in cards and punching someone in the face, Deck ‘Em! is an interesting game involving cards and boxing. However, this game would fall under the category of “flash games.” Not “Flash” as in “Macromedia Flash” of yesteryear, but quick ‘casual’ games that at most take maybe 5 minutes tops per run. Before I begin, a quick thanks to Frosty Pop for allowing me to review another one of their titles. Coincidentally, there’s quite a bit of a comparison between Deck ‘Em! and The Pinball Wizard. Both games have little in the way to do with a plot as it’s something that’s basic to follow and gets the job done.
In Deck ‘Em!, you play as a boxer who has a bout against the current champion. Your booker gives it to you straight—you won’t win the match, but if you manage to outlast all 12 rounds you’ll win a bonus. Therefore, the goal of Deck ‘Em! is to last all 12 rounds to guarantee the best payout. Each run consists of the player boxer as well as four cards are drawn at random. At least one of the four cards will consist of the Champ, but the other three cards may include more champions, health, block, or punch attacks. While not a "deck-building roguelike," Deck 'Em! relies on its simple premise to ensure an easy-to-learn ruleset for first-time players.
The player begins with a set number of health points and if they take enough damage, they will be knocked out and their run will end. In order to survive, the player will have to balance between block cards and health cards. Ideally, there are also "punch" cards, ranging from a "Lucky Punch" (3), "Haymaker" (5), and a "Sucker Punch" (Sends one Champ card back to the deck). Each punch lowers the value of a Champ card, meaning if a Champ card is valued at 9 and the player throws a Haymaker, the Champ will be weakened and now deal 4 damage. Of course, if the punch is more than the health value, the Champ card gets removed.
Each Block card has two numerical values, with the number on the top left representing the strength of the player's Block. If the number is greater than or higher than the Champ's card, the player will absorb the attack. If the Champ card is higher than the player's Block, then the difference is calculated. The second value is shown in the bottom right corner in red, showing the strength of the Champ's punch if the player successfully blocks.
If the next attack that the player blocks is less than or equal to the number in red, then they will take partial damage if it's greater than the Block's value. If the attack is greater than the number in red, the player will take full damage regardless if their block value is greater than the attack.
An example would be if the block card was worth “9” and a champ card was worth “8.” That would normally be enough to absorb the attack, but if the number on the bottom right is “7”, the player will take the full “8” damage. The best way to ensure the player takes as less damage as possible each turn is to take the highest Champ card that is less than or equal to the value of a block card, then work their way to the lowest valued card.
The game doesn’t do the best job of explaining how Block cards work, but once the player gets the hang of it, it becomes less of a virtue of skill and one of chance. As soon as the player knows which strategies would ensure the best-case scenario, it’s up to luck to give the player the best possible hand to ensure survivability. As soon as the player completes a run, they win a set amount of money and they repeat the cycle once more.
That’s it. That’s the entirety of Deck ‘Em! If the player has the gambling options enabled, they may bet ‘double or nothing’ on earnings. The only thing this does is affect how much in the game’s lifetime a player has earned money on the leaderboards. Ultimately, this game feels like a very early beta for something that has the potential to be a great game. Perhaps a plot with the boxer can unfold and deck-building mechanics may be added. The player may be able to customize their character outside of the three default skins and earn rewards from the money they earn.
There’s so much more than can be built upon in Deck ‘Em! and ultimately it’s a little bit disappointing that after every twelve rounds, all the player has to do is start from the beginning and see if they can survive another bout. As of right now, money earnt means very little outside of leaderboard rankings. Once the player finishes a cycle, they have seen all that Deck ‘Em! Has to offer.
Considering this is a port of the mobile game released in 2020, it offers little surprise how basic the gameplay and its content are. That doesn't make it a bad thing as it's addictive once the player gets the hang of it, but there's a lot of untapped potentials here, similar to a boxing prodigy forced to go 12 rounds with the champ.
Whether it’s multiplayer, bonus story content, customization, or even gameplay improvements, there are endless possibilities to continue the growth of this very interesting game. However, as is, there’s little much else to do once the player gets the hang of the mechanics. I will recommend it on the grounds that, again, it’s a charming and interesting title should the player need something to pass the time. Here's to future content for this intriguing card game about going the distance, even if you're not a contender for the big belt.
Deck ‘Em! releases on Steam on March 7th, 2023.