John Cena, Randy Orton and four other top wrestlers are ready to take over your next board game night in WWE Superstar Showdown. Developed by Gail Force Nine, this board game aims to recreate the action and drama of a WWE wrestling event on your tabletop. Does it score the pinfall or does it find itself flat on the canvas?
The experience starts with the six WWE wrestlers in the box. Each one gets a deck of cards that control all of their moves, as well as a figurine that will represent where they’re standing in the ring. The figures are accurate representations of their real-life counterparts, quality images of them action are used on the cards and their signature moves are captured in the gameplay. When you play as John Cena in the board game, it feels like you’re John Cena.
Where the roster falters is with the number of combatants in the box. Six is too few, limiting the potential number of matches you can create. Expansions featuring more characters would be greatly appreciated, though they don’t appear to be arriving any time soon, if at all. It also hurts that the roster is getting a bit dated. The Big Show is only a bit character nowadays, Big E appears here as a solo act instead of as part of The New Day and Daniel Bryan retired years ago. Age will eventually catch up to this game’s character selection, hurting its appeal in the long run.
Somewhat offsetting this roster deficiency are the variety of different match types available to players. The game supports singles and tag team matches, along with a number of different stipulations to spice things up. It’s ultimately not enough to compensate for a lack of characters, but it does go a long way towards allowing players to recreate the WWE experience at home.
All of the action takes place on the board, which features a grid-based ring in the middle and two play areas for each side numbered one through three. Each character’s figure is placed in the middle of the ring and players will draw six of their character cards into their hand to start the match. Play is broken up into rounds where players will each lay a card in each of their numbered areas. One area at a time, players cards are flipped and the results are resolved.
Combat is resolved through a modified rock-paper-scissors system. Maneuvers beat grapples, grapples beat strikes, and strikes beat maneuvers. Slams beat all of those and blocks always lose, but are the only way to avoid damage and break pins. In the event of a tie, additional cards are drawn from the deck until a winner is determined. When that happens, the winning player gets to execute the actions on their card, which can include movement, inflicting damage, throwing their opponents and more.
After a set of three card reveals, the player who won the most draws gets the opportunity to pin their opponent if they’re adjacent to them. At this point, the pinned player must play a kick-out card from their hand or draw three cards in hopes that one will show up. If they can’t find one by the time the third card is flipped, the pinned player loses.
The core of the combat system is very simple, but there are a number of factors that make it more compelling. For one, the actions that are granted from each card give you a lot of interesting combinations to create. Certain cards let you throw your opponents around the ring or add modifiers that can make future moves more powerful. However, these gameplans can be shut down if your opponent is able to counter your cards with their own.
Positioning also plays a big role in how the action plays out. Slams, strikes and throws are powerful attacks, but they require you to be in close range to execute them. If you’re not able to get in range, your attack will simply whiff. That being said, if you’re able to bounce off the ropes, you can run back to your opponent and hit them with momentum behind you.
The most clever aspect of the combat system is how health is managed. Instead of the use of a traditional health tracker, your attack cards double as your health. When you get hit, you cough up a number of cards equal to the attack power you got hit with. The more you get hit, the fewer attacks you’ll have at your disposal and the higher the likelihood of you being unable to kick out of a pin.
There are some minor kinks to the system that go against the flow of wrestling. For example, it is possible to land your signature moves very early in the match if you draw those cards quickly. It’s also possible for someone to finish off a sequence with their finishing move, but then immediately get pinned and lose because they lost the best of three. For the most part though, it flows like a thrilling wrestling match and it’s really easy to get caught up in the action.
WWE Superstar Showdown features an excellent combat engine and a variety of match types that will captivate wrestling fans. I had a blast playing this one each time I stepped foot in the ring. Unfortunately, its paltry roster is going to shorten the game’s lifespan once you tire of John Cena and company. All things considered, this is still a worthwhile experience for wrestling fans who also happen to like designer board games. Heck, if you’re a wrestling fan and the proposition of playing a good wrestling board game piques your interest, this might win you over too.