I was lucky enough to get to jump online with someone from Level 99 Games and give their latest project a try. Sakura Arms looked pretty cool to me, and unknown to me I’d actually played games from Level 99 before and loved those. (It pays to do your research BEFORE you speak to the team, piece of advice for you). So I was excited to jump into a discord call and see what the game was all about.
Players choose a team of two characters from a range of powerful goddesses. Each brings a different style of play and strategy to the board, but you don’t just get all their abilities. The game has you take each goddess’ powers and construct a deck that balances their abilities and synchronises their strengths. I ran with the gun-toting Himika and the Naganita wielding Saine. Flicking through the cards gives you a very clear picture of what each goddess can do, and the two I chose had a slew of rapid fire ranged attacks. To back these up was a handful of defensive cards that could change the range we stood at, allowing me to push my opponent back into my crosshairs.
Gameplay works by cycling Sakura Petals, tokens which cover just about every element of the game. You have Aura, a mystical shield that can absorb damage for you, Life, which is self explanatory, and Distance. Range is a nifty collaborative mechanic I found uniquely exciting about Sakura Arms. See, either play can advance towards their opponent by taking a petal from the Range section of the board and moving it to their Aura. You can also move a petal from your Aura section into an open Range section to retreat. This means your defences as a close range fighter will be consistently replenished while long ranged characters will be sacrificing their Aura to keep their powerful attacks in range. This lends flavour to the different styles of play, and is just a genuinely exciting mechanic to play with.
There two other areas of play that are rather important, Shadow and Flare. Now, the card I showed above is an Ultimate, and in the top right you can see a little symbol and a 0. Most cost more than 0, but this is the Flare cost of your ultimate. To get Flare, you need to lose Life. So it’s a cool way of balancing damage you take with power you gain. The Shadow is basically a discard pile for petals, but a lot of effects can still use them there to great effect. This careful resource management is made super easy to understand by the board having big helpful arrows, but adds depths of complexity to enjoy.
The last element that makes this game really fun is the deck management. See, you don’t end up with that many cards in your deck, and as you use them, you hit an awkward spot. Any time you try to draw, but can’t, you lose life for every card you failed to draw. This would mean the game ends rather quickly but for the ability to reshuffle your discarded cards back into your deck for the low low price of just one life. You can do this at the start of any turn, so if you just used a super valuable card and need it back, pay a life. If you’ve got basically no cards left and don’t want to die, sacrifice a lonely lifey-boi. That life slides up into Flare, helping fuel your ultimates as described above. All in all, the game has a lot of interactions to think about when strategising, making for a very rewarding experience.
So my final verdict on Sakura Arms? It’s awesome! The wide range of potential goddess combinations opens up so many play possibilities. The game looks incredible, the rules flow intuitively and reward you for clever play. There’s a lot in this game that you won’t see anywhere else, and if you like the idea of a solid head to head brawler you can smash out over a lunch break, this is the game for you. Want something more? They’ve got variant formats to keep things interesting and push your game experience ever further. It’s been through Kickstarter and smashed its goal, but they’ll have late pledges up soon for those of you who think this sounds like your cup of tea. I can’t wait to get a copy, this is one to really look forward to.
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I was the lead writer for the online game War of Ninja for the duration of its life, but went on to have boring, normal people jobs when the website closed. Normal people jobs are no fun though, so I've contented myself with countless miniature wargames, card games of varying ilks, board games and a borderline terrifying range of Roleplaying Games. These days I judge for the Dragon Ball Super Card Game, play whatever flavour of RPG my mates are down for, and sneak in some 40k when I can. Some might think I have too many hobbies, and they're probably right, but it means I write the best stuff I can for you, dear reader, so who really loses here?