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From TV to Tabletop: A Look at The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena Board Game

The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra aired on Nickelodeon from 2012-2014
(image from manic-expression.com)

It’s been roughly 4 years since The Legend of Korra last aired on Nickelodeon in 2014. Created by Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the TV show is set 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Following in Ang’s footsteps, Korra – a young girl from the Southern Water Tribe – proves herself to be the next incarnation of the Avatar and moves to Republic City in order to learn Air Bending from none other than Ang’s own son, Tenzin. While there, Korra is entranced by the popular sport of Pro-bending. This particular sport centers around two teams made up of three Benders each (an Earth Bender, a Fire Bender, and a Water Bender) that compete to gain as much territory as possible within 3 minutes while hurling rock discs, fire, or water at one another in attempt to knock the opposing team’s members backwards (or completely over the edge of the hexagonal ring and down into the water below causing a knockout). Game designers Sen-Foong Lim and Jessey Wright have paired up with IDW Games to bring the sport of Pro-bending from the TV screen to the table top in a 2-player miniatures based board game that I simply can not stop playing!

Leged of Korra Kickstarter Box

Deluxe Kickstarter Edition Box for Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena
(All photos of IDW product were taken and edited by KristaG unless otherwise specified)

Having launched on Kickstarter back in September of 2017, I jumped on board the well run campaign on day one and could hardly contain my delight over the daily reveals of new content for the game. As stated above, the board game is designed for 2 players and is an arena style combat game centered on player elimination. It features a little bit of deck building, quite a bit of area control, and some gorgeous plastic miniatures. The retail version of the game was released in March 2018 and comes with 2 very familiar teams: The Future Industries Fire Ferrets and The White Falls Wolf Bats This review, however, is based on the Kickstarter Deluxe Edition of The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena board game, which came with seven additional teams: the Golden Temple Tigerdillos, Bau Ling Buzzard Wasps, Black Quarry Boar-Q-Pines, Red Sands Rabbaroos, Chief Unalaq of the Northern Water Tribe, P’li of the Red Lotus, and Kuvira, the “Great Uniter” of the Earth Empire.

Korra Set Up

Setting up for a head to head match!
(image from IDWgames.com)

Setting up a game of Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena honestly takes only a few minutes after the first few times you do it. Begin, as with most games, by placing the Arena board in the middle of the play area. Personally, I then start picking teams because that will determine which tokens I’m going to end up needing to pull out as some teams have special tokens for their abilities. Once both teams are chosen and all required components are taken by each player (Technique cards, Team Board, Miniatures, a Chi token corresponding in color to the side of the arena they are on, Trick cards if using them, and any special tokens). Element tokens, Hold tokens, and Foul Fan tokens are placed nearby, along with the Referee die. When placing miniatures, the board is divided into halves (orange and blue) and each of these halves is then further divided into 3 zones. Characters can be placed anywhere on a team’s side within the zone closest to the center line. Team boards should be placed in front of their respective player, with the starting player placing their Chi marker on “2” and their opponent setting theirs on “3.” Each player will also have a Main deck and 3 Strategy Decks (one for each Bender). The Main Deck will always start with the 6 Basic Technique cards (the ones with 0 cost). These are shuffled together and placed to the left of the Team Board. The Strategy Decks, however, have a couple of options for building. The easiest is to simply take the Signature Technique card and one of each of the Advanced Technique cards and shuffling them together for each Bender. On the other hand, players can also construct their own decks by choosing which of the Advanced Technique cards they want to add in. These decks will always have 4 cards in them (Note: is using a solo Bender, the Strategy deck is technically 12 cards instead of 4, but it one Bender compared to three so the number of total cards remains the same). The three Strategy Decks are then shuffled separately and placed in the Strategy Row on the Team Board. The game is then ready to play!

Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena is played over a series of turns, with each turn being made up of four phases: Keep Focused!, Play Hard!, Check Hits!, and Stay Sharp! At the beginning of the turn (“Keep Focused!”), the active player will advance their Chi token one space and will then begin playing cards from their hand (“Play Hard!”). If a player either does not want to or can not play a specific card for Actions, they may also play it for extra Chi. All cards in a player’s hand must be played before moving on to the “Check Hits!” phase. If any of the Benders have Elemental tokens placed by an opponent in the same space as them at this point, they are knocked back; otherwise, they stay put. Once hits are checked, all of the opponent’s tokens are removed from the Arena. During the next phase (“Stay Sharp!”), players may spend their Chi points to purchase new Technique cards from their Strategy Row and place them at the top of their Main deck. A face-up card is then added to the Strategy Row from each Strategy deck regardless of if a card was purchased or not (face-up cards can – and will – be placed on top of other face-up cards). A new hand of 3 is drawn and play passes to the next team. Should a character be knocked out of the Arena completely or all three characters are knocked back a zone (a “Line Advance”), gameplay changes a little bit to handle these events. Otherwise, players continue to take turns until either the referee calls the match or an entire team is completely knocked out of the Arena.

Tigerdillos vs Buzzardwasps

The Tigerdillos vs the Buzzard Wasps are one of my favorite match ups!

When it comes to choosing your team, there are quite a few options to choose from in this edition and no two teams play alike! As each team is made up of different characters, I feel it is obvious that different teams would have different play styles and character synergies. Each team also incorporates their own unique signature move. Some of these moves, like the Frozen Floor used by Tahno of the Wolf Bats come with the risk of earning a foul. Getting to know each of the teams has been a lot of fun and I’m still not sure which one is my favorite to play as since they all play so differently. I really like the clean play that comes from the Fire Ferrets as it means I am never risking a foul unless my chosen Trick cards might cause me to earn one, but I also enjoy the “Sting” ability granted to me by the Buzzard Wwasps that causes my opponents to lose Chi. Even without their signature moves, however, knowing how your team moves and operates is extremely advantageous for developing a strategy. For example, the Tigerdillos are a veteran team and their age is a bit of a factor as they are a little less nimble and apt to dodge attacks like many of the other teams. However, due to being a veteran team, the Tigerdillos have also had more time to hone their skills and they hit hard when they attack in addition to having some wickedly strong blocks. Thanks to their signature move (“Veteran”), the Tigerdillos are also able to generate twice as much Chi as other players through card sacrifice as long as they are playing “Veteran” cards for Chi, which can lead to a huge advantage early on when purchasing new cards from your Strategy Row to add to your deck. Having played as all six of the 3-man teams since my copy of the game arrived, I can attest that they are all surprisingly well balanced and can create some really cool matchups. I especially love seeing the Buzzard Wasps go up against the Tigerdillos as they seem to be perfectly slated to go against one another due to the Chi manipulation granted to them by their signature moves. As a side note, it is also possible to create Fantasy Teams by mixing and matching Benders from different teams. The rules for this are included in the rules for the base game.

Kuvira vs Fire Ferrets

Kuvira (a solo Bender) vs. The Fire Ferrets!

One of the things I really like about the 3-man teams is that any of them can be used to introduce new players to the game as they don’t require players to use Trick cards during gameplay. While Trick cards are a lot of fun, I do agree with the rulebook’s suggestion to start out learning the mechanics without them – at least until after your first game or two! Trick cards, however, are definitely required for playing any of the three 1-man teams and not just because the rules say so! P’li, Kuvira, and Unalaq all come with Trick cards that are exclusive to them but can also pick from the generic ones as long as they match their respective element. There are also several differences in set up and gameplay when playing as a solo Bender. Solo Benders have only one Strategy deck and only two spaces in their Strategy Row. Instead of having the option for some deck construction, these players will use all of the included cards in their Strategy decks but are limited to hand size of 2 instead of 3. Additionally, Technique cards cannot be removed from the game to try to optimize the deck like with the other, larger teams. As with all bending teams, the solo Benders all come with a signature ability such as P’li’s Combustionbending or Unalaq’s “Siphon Soul” ability.

Amon's Invasion

Amon’s Invasion comes in it’s own, separate box.

While I’m hoping that either some of these teams eventually make it to retail or some of the other teams from the show are released as purchasable expansions (such as the Xiao Yao Zebra Frogs, Ba Sing Se Badgermoles, or the Kolau Komodo Rhinos), there is currently one expansion already available: Amon’s Invasion. Amon, for those that didn’t watch the show, is the masked leader of the revolutionary group known as the Equalists. Amon and his legions of “Chi Blockers” aimed to permanently rid the world of Benders in order to introduce equality between Benders and non-Benders. His appearance in the game makes sense as Amon and the Equalists make an attack at the Pro-bending Arena during the championships. Included in the expansion are all of the components to play Amon either with his Chi Blockers (non-bending Equalists who have been trained in the art of Chi blocking) or as a 1-man team. However, even as a 1-man team, Amon does still get the aid of his Chi Blockers, but they work very differently in Amon’s “solo mode.” Additionally, there are also rules and Trick cards included in the box that allows for Korra to be played as a 1-man team as the Avatar with full use of her water, fire and earth bending skills (sorry, still no air bending!).

There has been talk of tournament play and even “Sudden Death” rules for matches that run longer than the 45-minute mark since before the Kickstarter campaign completed. Though there isn’t much word yet about when these rules will be released, anyone browsing through the comments on the Kickstarter page can see that IDW is preparing for their eventual release. There is also mention of a “tournament kit,” which I’m hoping I can pick up either on my own or through one of the local game stores here so I can run tournaments and potentially even leagues for my local community.

Ironically, I hadn’t watched the show until long after it had finished airing on television, but I had been a pretty big fan of it. When the game was first announced, I knew I would not only be backing it but that I would probably be going all in on it. Even with this knowledge, however, I was a little worried that it wasn’t going to be as good as I was hoping for like so many other games with great IPs. However, I shouldn’t have worried at all! Of course, I have seen and heard other people say that this game is simply one for the fans of the show and while, yes, it is heavily thematic, the game is still very solid regardless of the Legend of Korra motif. I have been completely blown away by the miniatures, how well thought out each of the players and their teams are when it comes to their gameplay, and how unintrusive the deckbuilding mechanic is. There have been numerous board games that have tried to achieve incorporating deckbuilding without it overshadowing everything else in the game, but I feel many of them have fallen short whereas Korra has been incredibly successful! As you can see, my miniatures are currently still unpainted, but I am hoping to start working on them soon! I’ve been mentally tossing paint schemes around for weeks, but haven’t quite settled on how I want each team to look. Regardless of being painted or not, these minis are really detailed and are, in my opinion, easily discernable when trying to pick up the correct sculpt for the corresponding character. Though the player count is small, the support and community created by it are not. I feel the future releases of tournament rules and supplies will only help this game launch even further – even for casual players as they can still simply integrate the Sudden Death rules into their own games if they want. This is unquestionably a game that can be played with almost anyone in the family on some level (potentially leaving out the Trick cards while younger or newer players get the hang of playing their chosen team and understanding what the symbols on the Technique cards mean) as well as friends. It doesn’t spend a lot of time sitting on my shelf, either, as it is one that I take with me to game night, to the game store, and even to our local Denny’s a time or two. Even with other arena games on the market, I feel this one packs a punch that left me pleasantly surprised!

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