Disclaimer: We were provided a review copy of this game by The Nerdalogues. This has not influenced our review.
In the 20s, an eccentric billionaire flies his airship around the world in search of pugilists willing to fight each other in order to claim the incredible prize of any wish granted. You are one of the eight participants in this year’s bout, ready to take on your opponents one-by-one in a gentlemanly sporting match. What you discover, however, that these Fisticuffs bouts are free-for-all brawls where almost anything goes: from the simple jabs and kicks to uppercuts and haymakers, and even spitting on your opponents is allowed in the ring! Do you still think you have what it takes to knock out all of your opponents and claim the title?
Fisticuffs is a veritable free-for-all of a Take That game, where each turn players will instigate combat against another participant, who can block and counter, or throw in the towel and allow others to tag in and join the fray.
To begin the game, each player chooses a character. Each character has a different special ability, as well as some flavor text describing their backstory. Each player also receives a Health Counter Card, which is placed behind their character card, and can be slid up and down to indicate the fighter losing or regaining health. All fighters start with 12 health. Finally, each player receives a hand of 5 Punch cards to begin the game. A starting player is chosen randomly and receives the Bell and Glove cards — the Bell indicates the player that starts the round, and the Glove indicates the player that started the turn. Play is now ready to begin.
Before describing the gameplay, let’s briefly look at the cards. As mentioned, each player starts with five Punch cards, and there is no maximum hand size. Punch cards each have an attack type (Jab, Stomp, Haymaker, etc.) and a color (Red, Yellow, or Blue). There are also Round cards which players draw between rounds. These cards have a variety of special abilities, such as Parry, which can be used to block attacks, Feint, which can be played before a round of combat begins, and Rush, which start a round of combat and can allow you to do extra damage or receive extra cards.
On each player’s turn (when they have the Glove card), they must start a Brawl if possible. This is done by playing a Rush card or a Punch card targeting another player. When you play a Punch card from your hand, you declare the player you’re attacking. That player has the opportunity to Block the card by playing a card from their hand with the same name. After successfully blocking an attack, the defending player has the opportunity to Counter by playing a card with the same color as the one they used to block the Punch. When a player Counters, they may direct that attack at any other player currently involved in the brawl (all players other than the initial attacking and defending players are not involved until they step in). If the defending player cannot block the attack (or doesn’t want to), they must say “Towel” to indicate this. At this time, any other player in the game may play a card from their own hand to Block, thereby becoming involved in the combat. Likewise, if a player cannot or does not want to Counter after a block, they must say “Towel” and open it up for another player to step in with a Counter. Play continues like this until an attack is not blocked, in which case the defending players loses health equal to the value on the Punch card, or a blocked attack is not Countered, in which case nobody loses any health. Then the Glove card is passed clockwise to the next player, and a new turn begins.
When the Glove returns to the player with the Bell (who began the round), the round ends. At this time, each player receives a Round card and if he or she has fewer than six cards in hand draws Punch cards until he or she has six cards (including Round cards). Note that this is the only time players draw new cards; if they use all of their cards in the first turnoff the round, they won’t have any later to Block or Counter with. Then, the Glove and Bell cards are passed to the next player, and a new round and turn begin. When a player’s health reaches zero, they are Knocked Out and out of the game. The player who dealt the final blow draws a random card from that player’s hand, and the rest of the cards are discarded. Play continues until only two players are left. At this point, Close Combat is initiated. The Bell card is removed from the game, as there are no more rounds. Instead, the Glove card is passed back and forth between the players each turn, and each player receives one Punch card when they begin a turn with the Glove. The game ends when one of these players is eliminated, leaving the ultimate victor of Fisticuffs!
It took us a while to be able to play this game because it requires at least 4 players, which makes sense for the free-for-all brawl feeling of this game, but makes it hard for us to play at home. The mechanics can be a bit tough to wrap your head around at first, most games encourage one-on-one combat so it can be tricky to figure out when it’s okay to jump in and defend on another person’s turn. This is something that is simultaneously nice about the game, in that it helps players pay attention when it’s not their turn. The fighting theme is fun in this game and fits in with the mechanics well; the airship 1920’s thing is a nice add-on, but really just makes for a fun story rather than really tying anything in the game together. The components are pretty typical of other games, the cards are of typical of other games and the art is a nice touch, though nothing super spectacular; because of the nature of the theme and mechanics, this game doesn’t NEED super spectacular art like you would expect in a fantasy or other game with a huge engrossing world. While this game works really nice with 6, it would be interesting to see if it could work with 3, as that may give us a better chance to play the game with different groups. This game was a ton of fun with the group we played with, but make sure you play with people who don’t mind being picked on too much.
- Small box game
- Plays well with the scaled amount of people
- Keeps players engage when not their turn
- Higher required player counts makes it hard for us to play
- Can be a bit slow to pick up on the first play
Fisticuffs! is an interesting little fighting game. It’s clear from the (admittedly kind of silly) premise and character backstories that this game was a labor of love, and the theme is certainly a unique one. The theme really is one of the strongest parts of the game, and it is very well reflected in the gameplay. Playing the game does feel like a frenzied free-for-all, with cards flying back and forth quickly each round. Unfortunately, the chaotic nature of the brawls is somewhat of a weakness as well — you can only block if you have a card of the same name, and can only counter if you have a card the same color as the block. With typically six cards or fewer (and not all of them Punch cards if you draw a lot of Round cards), it sometimes can feel as though it’s hard to defend yourself, especially if multiple players go after you and deplete your hand in a round. I can understand that this is supposed to encourage other players to jump in and get involved in the brawl, but if a majority of the players want to take you out, they’ll probably be able to do that easily. Nevertheless, games are relatively short, so even though player elimination sucks, it hopefully won’t last long. The art in this game is good — I like the depictions of the fighters and moves, which are reminiscent of a 1920’s comic style. We’ve only played the game with 5, but I can’t imagine it would play too differently with 4or 6. Unfortunately, though, games requiring higher player counts are a bit harder to get to the table, as we typically only play with 2, but when you have the people, this is a fun little game to pull out. In summary, when you have a handful of friends and want to beat each other up without an ensuing trip to the ER, you should check out Fisticuffs!
- Thematic boxing game with matching mechanics
- Great artstyle
- Player elimination
- Narrow player count window