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Deck ‘Em! Review – Giving punch-card a new meaning

Deck ‘Em! is a simple and sweet boxing card game based on solitaire, where players try their best to last 12 rounds against the champ.

Deck Em Review Image
Image: Frosty Pop

Something indie games have a well-earned reputation for doing is taking a tried and true game concept and flipping it, refreshing a classic idea with some new gameplay or gimmick that nobody saw coming.

Deck ‘Em! takes this idea and applies it to one of the oldest games imaginable: Solitaire. At this point, it’s hard to imagine that a card game could have any twists or mix-ups that haven’t been done yet. I didn’t think anyone would want a twist on Solitaire, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got into Deck ‘Em for the first time.

Deck ‘Em is a card-based boxing game based on Solitaire. Like solitaire, the object of the game is to draw and place cards based on a sequence of draws and rules from a 52-card deck. Each hand will contain cards that help you or cards that beat your fighter down, with nothing but luck of the draw determining which you’ll get more of. Some hands are inherently more helpful than others, and it’s up to you to make the most of what you draw.

In Deck ‘Em, you play a rookie fighter given a chance to face off against the champ. Like any good boxing movie, you’re the unknown underdog looking to make a name for themselves.

The goal of Deck ‘Em isn’t to knock your opponent out. After all, you’re up against the champ, a true Brickhouse of a fighter, and the game likes very much to remind you that you’re like a baby bird compared to him. Instead, Deck ‘Em is all about doing your best to survive 12 rounds against the champ, earning money or score each round you last and ultimately beating the game if you can make it to 12. I’ve yet to get that far.

Deck Em Gameplay Image
Image: Frosty Pop

Each draw from the deck will contain punch cards from the champ that do varying amounts of damage. These cards MUST be played, so you’ll be taking a certain unpredictable amount of damage every single round. To help mitigate this, you’re given block, healing, and punch cards. Block cards reduce incoming damage from the champ, sometimes even mitigating his hits altogether. Heal cards increase your health, with no cap meaning you can heal over your starting amount, and punch cards can be used to reduce the damage of one of the champ’s hit cards.

Each card has a numerical value attached to it. The idea is to use punch and block cards with bigger numbers than the champ’s cards to beat his cards out and last longer in the ring.

Each round you last against the champ earns you a bit of currency. When you enter a new match, you can bet this currency to earn even bigger payouts, adding a sort of risk-reward feature to the matches that make things more interesting. At least, that seems to be the idea; The currency in Deck ‘Em isn’t actually used for anything, so the lack of value kind of takes away from any excitement that could be had earning or betting it in a match.

Before each match, you can choose one of three fighters to face off against the champ. While the three are pretty diverse, I think having a wider selection would do the game some good. Having a few more fighters locked behind an in-game shop, for example, would be a great way to spend some of that money you earn.

Deck Em Fighters Image
Image: Frosty Pop

Deck ‘Em’s gameplay is simple, and solid, and should have you coming back for at least a few more matches to chase that win. Beyond wanting to get to that first 12-round victory, there isn’t really a lot to keep you playing. The game utterly lacks any progression or replayability beyond the gameplay itself. That may be solid to most people, but others may find it lacking and won’t spend a ton of time with this title.

Deck ‘Em features a very simple but appealing art style. The game is really pretty to look at, with each card well drawn and featuring a ton of personality. As your boxer takes a beating, the card will reflect it, until that inevitable KO leaves them on the ground, and the lively announcer is animated and responds to every action to make in the game. The sound design is pleasant and fits the cartoony look of the game really well, with every card having its own sound and every punch having a sense of impact.

The Final Word

For what it is, Deck ‘Em! is a solid little game that you can’t ask a whole lot more from. While some sense of progression or something to spend your in-game money on would be nice, the game exists as a fun little time killer and is sure to appeal to plenty of players.

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