I’m sure that it will come as little surprise to know that I’ve been into collectible card games for quite some time. My first, along with many who find themselves on this path, was Magic: The Gathering, which I first dabbled with in my elementary school years and early years of middle school. Star Wars had a pretty CCG going for it for a few years in there that I entertained as well. With the help of the Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh phases, even more young players entered into the world of strategic card games in the 90s and into the early 2000s.
Something that’s very easy to forget, however, is that the CCG world is more than just Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh. There are numerous CCG’s out there that get blocked out by the behemoths on the market. Jasco Games’ Universal Fighting System, or UFS, is one such system.
Recently, Jasco was kind enough to send over a care package full of goodies for us to review/check out, including a handful of UFS decks and starters to play with. A huge fan of Mega Man, you can imagine my delight when I not only found the Mega Man Pixel Tactics set inside, but also UFS starter decks for Mega Man and Proto Man, and numerous booster packs.
One of the coolest things about the UFS is that it offers up many of your favorite characters from various universes to play as. These series include (but are not limited to) Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Mega Man, Soul Calibur, and most recently, Cowboy Bebop.
Games are designed to be 1 v 1, with each player choosing a Character to represent his deck. The object of the game is to whittle down your opponent’s vitality with attacks while also attempting to “block” their attacks in order to reduce or nullify damage. Every starter deck comes with an exhaustive insert going over gameplay and mechanics, but we found that the video series is a pretty quick and effective tutorial, so check that out if you want to see the mechanics in action!
Playing through the game, I couldn’t help but appreciate the speed at which we were trading blows. The attacking and blocking mechanics are really fun, causing you to pause and consider whether you should attempt to empty your hand to build “foundations”, which can help strengthen future attacks and give you improved utility, or keep some of those cards in hand to use as “blockers”, which is indicated in the upper right hand of the card.
What really helped to set it apart, however, was their “control check” mechanic. If you’re familiar with card games like this, you know that there is typically a system in place to determine what cards can be played. Many games take a ramp-up approach, where you either start with a fixed amount of “energy” that increases cumulatively as turns progress, or rely on drawing and playing energy sources (one might even call these sources mana) in order to play more powerful cards as the game goes on.
UFS departs from this system pretty drastically. Instead, when you go to cast a card, you reveal the top card of your deck to initiate a “control check”. If the number in the lower right of the revealed card exceeds the number in the upper left of the card you are attempting to play, the card passes the check, is successfully cast, and enters your “card pool”. If the revealed number is lower, then you can either choose to pay the difference in cost by committing, or tapping, foundations that you have in play, or you let the card fizzle and be discarded.
The draw step is also unique in that you always draw up to the hand size of your chosen Character every turn. In addition, you have a chance to discard and draw a single card to further adjust your hand if you wish.
With an aggressive draw step, and constantly revealing cards from your deck to cast your various card-types, you can burn through your deck pretty quickly. This is where the “cycling” feature comes in. You essentially shuffle your discard pile and re-form your main deck, but you do remove the top 10 cards from the game every time you do so. In this way, there is a built-in timer because if you cycle through your deck enough times and run out of cards, you lose.
The result of these various mechanics is that a game can hit the ground running. Maybe you open with an attack to try and get the first blow, or you want to slow down and build up some foundations in order to make your first attack more powerful. If you only have a single block card, you may want to wait out your opponent and see if they have additional attacks in store instead of using it on the first assault they send your way.
The depth of strategy, combined with the frenzied speed of combat, made my early experiences with UFS really fun. I know that shouldn’t be surprising, but sometimes when I reflect on my time playing Magic and other CCG’s, I’m not entirely sure I’m actually having fun. Sure, executing that win-combo can be fulfilling, but it sometimes feels like I’m not really playing a game as much as I’m managing a team.
In short, if you haven’t tried out UFS before, I would suggest giving it a shot. If you’re a fan of CCG’s you will likely be pleasantly surprised with the pace and diversity of the decks. Is it going to topple Magic? I don’t think so. However, there is value and fun to be found in Jasco’s UFS – so get to fighting!
Note: Jasco Games provided us with UFS materials/releases in exchange for our fair and honest review.
Universal Fighting System (UFS)Varies
- Healthy variety in Characters and deck themes
- Attacking & Blocking is a fun mechanic
- Control Check mechanism + Generous Draw Step = Fast Start
- Some elements of gameplay aren't adequately explained in the included rules
- Depending on where you are, it can be hard to find UFS events/players