Full disclosure: Blacklist Games kindly provided me with a review copy of Street Masters.
What is this game about?
Street Masters: Rise of the Kingdom is what would happen if Double Dragon and Sentinels of the Multiverse had a love child. Street Masters is a beat-'em-up board game that is all about taking down the bad guys. It combines tactical movement around a stage tile, card play, and die rolling. As in Sentinels, players, enemies, and the environment are controlled by individual decks of cards.
Each of the fighters you can play has his or her own personality and set of strategic strengths and weaknesses. Each fighter also has an individualized deck. You can pit your fighters against one of several enemy decks—each of which plays differently and is led by a unique boss—and within one of several stages, which are also controlled by stage-specific decks of cards.
When you attack enemies, hits are not guaranteed. You have to roll dice to see if you were successful. The good news, however, is that no die roll in Street Masters is entirely useless. If you don't land the hits you want, you collect defense tokens instead. Defense tokens allow you to block different types of incoming damage from enemies (punch, kick, or grapple). They also play another extremely important role in the game—every time you defend against an enemy hit, you are a step closer to charging up your character, which allows you to use an extra-strong special ability.
All of these pieces come together to truly create the feeling and flow of a fighting game, but without all the button mashing. (Maybe you were great at combos as a kid, but I was... not.)
How does it play solo?
Street Masters is a cooperative game designed for 1–4 players, and it scales beautifully. It is entirely possible to play as a single fighter, although I currently prefer to play with two just because I like looking for strategic character combinations.
For those of you who are more interested in story and campaign modes, Street Masters offers both "story mode" and individual hero stories that can be completed separately or within a larger campaign. I'm really liking what story mode has to offer. Win or lose, you get to move on in the story but with different consequences. Hero stories add even further zing. When playing hero stories, your decks actually change from stage to stage depending on what happens, so a loss in a campaign isn't just a loss, but something that adds depth to the tale you're spinning out. I love that the evolution of a fighter's deck is tied to progress within a storyline, and it does feel like you've gone somewhere with your characters when a campaign comes to an end. I wouldn't say that campaign mode is the meat of the game, but it doesn't feel tacked on, either. It's fun, and I'm hoping to see more of this mode of play as Street Masters grows and expands.
I am really enjoying Street Masters. There is no question that this game has been lovingly nurtured by its designers, Adam and Brady Sadler. Every aspect of Street Masters is steeped in theme, and you really do get the feeling of being in a fighting game. There are a lot of card abilities and moving pieces to think about, but the rules themselves are not overly difficult to learn because they all make sense—they are perfectly tied in with the theme. I love that.
Each deck in the game is also extremely well thought out. If you enjoy Sentinels of the Multiverse but sometimes wish that the environments had a bit more purpose, then Street Masters will really scratch that itch. Each deck of fighter cards truly feels different and promotes a different play style, and the game has sufficient depth to reward multiple plays as you learn to master each fighter's deck and true strategic potential. The enemy bosses each feel different and keep things flavorful and fun. And the stages are used to prevent each game from being just another beat-'em-up. The fact that each stage comes with its own setup and objectives makes the game more interesting. I also love that die rolls are rendered less frustrating in Street Masters, because a miss generates defense tokens, which will be highly beneficial to you on future turns.
I am also happy to see that the Sadler brothers seem committed to developing Street Masters and expanding it over time. Right now Street Masters is a brand new game, but I'm looking forward to seeing how my relationship with it develops over the years. I compared Street Masters with Sentinels of the Multiverse, which is one of my all-time favorites, and I hope it ends up having one further similarity: I hope Street Masters becomes one of those games that just gets better over time, as expansions come out and the game world grows.
My one quibble with Street Masters might be that it, like Sentinels, can leave you to deal with a lot of tokens and card abilities. I don't particularly mind this myself, but if keeping up with a lot of moving parts drives you crazy, then you should be aware that it can happen in this game.
Do I recommend it?
Absolutely. I am having so much fun with Street Masters. I expected to like it, but it has far exceeded my expectations. I'd say it's an absolute must try.
Overall Rating; 4.5 stars (likely to become a 5 over time)
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.