If there’s one combination of genres I wouldn’t have expected to be playing in 2023, boxing and RNG card games would have been near the top of the list. The concept of muscle-straining action, fortitude-testing mental strength and power of wrist action would surely make Solitaire a difficult fit for boxing. Right?
To hell with my assumptions, Deck ‘Em exists. A £2.49 blend of concepts that in all logical sense probably shouldn’t exist, yet it somehow very much does.
Given it costs less than a BLT sandwich from Tesco (thanks inflation), is Deck ‘Em a worthy underdog vying your time? Does it have the plucky sense of overachievement not too dissimilar from an amateur boxer or a rookie Solitaire first-timer? Get your gloves and cards to your corner, let’s see how many rounds it can last.
Given Deck ‘Em’s rather meagre price point of entry, it’s worth stating immediately that your expectations should be tempered. A rapid tutorial, delivered by a yellow-jacketed, cigarette puffing and coffee chugging boxing commentator shows you the very basics.
You’re an upcoming boxer. What do all upcoming sportspeople aspire to do? That’s right, make money. Almost ripped straight from Spider-man (2002) where Tobey Maguire’s “The Human Spider” has to survive 3 rounds for a big pay off, so Deck ‘Em implores you to last 12 rounds with “Champ” for financial riches.
Unlike Mike Tyson’s Punch Out however, you won’t be slugging it out against a horribly overpowered behemoth directly. Deck ‘Em instead has a novel approach to out-besting the Champ – throwing cards in place of jabs and using intuitive thinking as opposed to brute strength. Mind over matter, or something like that, I’m sure.
All of Deck ‘Em takes place on one screen – your commentator on the left (who doesn’t speak post-tutorial) and your board on the right. It’s a nice and easy, simple set up. You select one of 3 boxers to take to the metaphorical ring and off you go. There’s no differences between them whatsoever other than their look, which begs the question of what the point is, but still.
Once the bell tolls, you’ll face up to 12 rounds, each one drawing 4 random cards from the deck. Opposing Champ cards will inflict damage on your novice boxer while blue cards come in the forms of attack (lucky, sucker and haymaker), block and healing. The objective is to survive as long as you can without being KO’d.
Of the 4 cards drawn, you can use them in any order. This is where the strategy element comes in – how do you set up blocks, when do you use attacks to weaken or eliminate the champ cards and at which point do you eat a straight to save your block points for the next round?
The actual setup of the mechanics is deceptively good, but it’s lacking any form of depth. Once you’ve understood how these cards work, it’s simply a matter of RNG and repeating the same processes over and over. I finished Deck ‘Em 3 times surviving 12 rounds and played a dozen or so other attempts in 40 minutes, I’d grasped everything there was within about 5.
Didn’t Yahtzee That Punch Coming?
That isn’t to say Deck ‘Em is easy, especially at first. The blocking system in particular takes a minute to get your head around. The top number on the card indicates how much damage you’ll absorb (indicated by Champ cards number/level). However, the bottom number reduces to the level of the card it absorbs.
So, if I have a 10 block card, but I block a Champ card worth 5, I won’t take any damage, but the card drops to level 5. If I then block another card which has a value higher than 5, the block is destroyed and you take full damage.
The tutorial hadn’t explained this mechanic well at all, which left me scratching my head and floored more than a couple of times. Once I wrapped my head around it however, it made the game a bit more fun. Suddenly it was a decision of when to still block a lower ranked card and when to just stomach the body blow for the next round.
Attack cards reduce or eliminate the champ cards, while healing cards boost your HP. Once you’ve got that down, there’s little else Deck ‘Em has to throw at you. It’s an opponent much akin to Deontay Wilder – a massive blast of a punch, but hopelessly exposed once that’s been countered.
Blitz To The End
Should you survive the full 12 rounds of mental arithmetic or fall to a solid left hook prematurely, you’ll earn money from your spirited effort. There’s nothing to spend it on or any reason to earn it aside from a leaderboard for bragging rights, which makes me wonder if some kind of progression or upgrade system was originally intended here. I was 11th on the worldwide leaderboard though, so I guess that makes me next in line for a world title shot.
There’s also no real diversity in gameplay. It’s the same cards, the same setup and same mechanics every run. The RNG will likely hit you below the belt more than once, leading to disqualification (read: me forfeiting) and a restart, but that’s both the beginning and end of the potential variety. Even some modifiers would have gone a long way to making this a bit more replayable.
But then again, it is only £2.49, so how harsh should I really be with it? It’s a straightforward slugger with a lack of nuance nor agility, but it does throw a decent punch for a round or two.
The colourful presentation is nice if simplistic and thankfully it runs with no technical problems whatsoever. There’s only a couple of menus or screens so this should probably be expected but games like these can typically be a mess performance wise, so this was a pleasant surprise on that front.
Hearts Of A Fighter
For what it is, Deck ‘Em is a fun little time-killer for about an hour or so. Beyond that, it’s not going to offer you much besides repetition and RNG randomness. It’s also not meant to be anything more than that. Some kind of between-run progression or modifiers would have done a lot to add to the basic experience, but it’s a cheap and cheerful PPV experience that’ll cost you less than a Starbucks.
It’s no Vampire Survivors nor will it be an indie darling, but for the 10-15 minutes it took me to figure it out properly, I had some simple fun. The fact I cruised along with it for another 30-40 minutes or so suggests it’s got a bit of a rookie undercard heart.
I’d certainly prefer to spend £2.49 on this than on a Tesco cheese triple. Just about.
Solitaire meets boxing with a cheap, cheerful and limited punch-up. Deck ‘Em is an hour of straightforward fun despite it’s lack of depth or content, but the low entry cost means it’s a decent way to spend the price of a high-street coffee for a bit.
Deck ‘Em is available now on PC (review platform).
Developer: Frosty Pop
Publisher: Frosty Pop
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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