Level Up: Exceed: Seventh Cross Shreds Other Fighting Card Games
Because sometimes you need a way to socialize outside of a mosh pit, welcome to the leveled-up Level Up, where we take a look at metal-friendly board, card, and role-playing games.
Today’s entry is for the symphonic metal nerds out there. Game designer D. Brad Talton listened to a lot of Symphony X, Helloween, and Sonata Arctica while designing the world for Exceed Fighting System: Seventh Cross (Level 99 Games), and like the ornate neoclassical guitar work in those bands, this game requires quick wits and some serious precision to master. It’s a fast-paced, two-player card game meant to re-create the experience of throwing fireballs at your friends in arcade brawlers like Darkstalkers or Guilty Gear X (which has a seriously shredding soundtrack of its own). And it’s a blast.
Each “season” of Exceed comes in four separate boxes containing four fighters each and everything you need to play them. The first set of fighters were from Jasco’s boob-tastic anime pastiche Red Horizon, but the second season is based around characters from Level 99 head designer Talton’s upcoming Seventh Cross game. While the rules are basically the same, the Seventh Cross setting is way more awesome. Set in an alternate 1920s where church inquisitors (with some monstrous secrets of their own) hunt down immortal demons and other sinister creatures, the theme should appeal to aficionados of video games like Castlevania or comics like Hellboy (i.e., metalheads). The artwork, from the wicked talented Ian Olympia, has a definite manga influence, but the dude knows how to draw monsters. Some of these cards would make pretty good Iced Earth album covers.
The game itself is pretty easy to pick up. Each fighter has seven pairs of unique cards and eight pairs of basic cards in their deck. You shuffle it together, draw a hand of five or six cards, and then take turns moving towards or away from your rival, drawing more cards, playing “boosts” that give you advantages when you strike, or – the meat of the game – actually striking your opponent. When that happens, each player simultaneously reveals a card from their hand that says what their character does. You want to either hit your adversary faster than they can hit you, be out of their range, or be able to block their attack and then hit them with your own. It’s like poker – certain cards trump other cards, and a big part of the game revolves around trying to guess what your opponent has in his hand so you can beat it. If you’re successful, you can add cards to your “gauge,” which allows you to unleash even more powerful attacks.
One of the fun innovations in Exceed lies in the eponymous mechanic – you can spend your gauge to make your fighter Exceed, which allows you to flip over your fighter’s avatar card and get a more powerful version of the character that makes them play differently. In the case of Seventh Cross, that means your fighter transforms into the monstrous version of themselves, and you really get to tear into your opponent. But be careful – it can backfire if you time it poorly. In addition, the season features a new card mechanic, Transformations, which gives you passive effects that you can tap into. It adds an extra layer of strategy, and there’s already a lot of strategy. The game has a deceptive amount of depth for something that involves brightly-colored characters hitting each other with swords and claws.
As with any game that involves drawing from a deck of cards, there’s a fair amount of luck involved – which can work for you or against you. Your opponent may initiate a strike when you don’t have anything that can hit him in your hand. On the flipside, if that happens you can draw a card from the top of your deck for a “wild swing,” and it could be exactly the one you need. You need to keep track of what you’ve played and what remains in your deck – as well as what your opponent has in their arsenal. That flexibility makes for an exciting, unpredictable experience.
Talton has designed some of my favorite games, including the collectible card game simulator Millennium Blades (which is just as weird as it sounds) and his other fighting system, BattleCon. This is another of them. I’ve played the Red Horizon season a bunch, and while Exceed: Seventh Cross is still being tweaked, the sets that have been revealed so far take the game to the next level with the clever ways they use the system and feed into the theme of the characters and their monstrous transformations. I actually got on Twitch and played Talton, which you can view below, although be warned: a lot of the first part consists of me figuring out how the Tabletop Simulator program works, so the game goes a lot slower than it otherwise would.
Exceed plays quickly, has a fun setting, and gives you the satisfaction of kicking your friends’ asses. Throw on the playlist above and let the immortal combat begin.