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PopCats Fighter: Unleash the Furry is Arcade Fun – No Quarters Required!

PopCats Fighter Box

PopCats Fighter: Unleash the Furry!
(All photos of Ninjabot product were taken and edited by KristaG)

In the vein of arcade fighting games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or even Samurai Showdown, I present to you PopCats Fighter: Unleash the Furry! Artist and PopCats creator Ninjabot (a.k.a. Arnel Baluyot) is joined by game designer Estefania Baluyot to bring both the PopCats franchise and the classic fighting style video games to the tabletop with their newest project, which is, at the time of this review, currently live on Kickstarter. In this unique card game for 2 or 4 players, contestants will either face off against each other in 1v1 or 2v2 combat as they attempt to win the Hairweight Championship Title and the $9 Trillion Grand Prize!

PopCats Fighter Open Box

How cool is this box?? It legitimately looks like an arcade game!

While I was at SDCC 2018, I not only had the pleasure of meeting both the designer and the artist, but I got to sit down with Estefania Baluyot to learn how to play! Currently, there are 8 playable characters to choose from: Purl, Purrserker, Claw Fang, Catana, Apuma, K17-7Y, Spawrkles, and her brother El Tigre. Each of these cute, chubby little cats not only has their own backstory but comes with their own distinct set of special moves. Based on art alone, I have a really hard time choosing a favorite character, but I do tend to like playing as Claw Fang, Purl, and Catana. Before I go too far into the mechanics or set up, however, I really want to take a moment to talk about the sheer creativity and brilliance that went into just the game box itself. First, there is the bold, bright color palette mixed with fonts that just scream 80’s nostalgia when I look at them, which is a great attention grabber. The real awesomeness, though, is what the box looks like on the inside! Once you flip open the lid, it is like staring directly at a classic game machine in an arcade! There’s a choose-your-character screen, a joystick, quarter slots, coin return “buttons”, and even “buttons” for 1v1 or 2v2 player selection! How cool is that?! Pretty cool, if you ask me!

PopCats Fighter Set Up

A 1v1 Cat Fight set up with Claw Fang taking on Purl!

As mentioned above, there are two ways to play PopCats Fighter: Cat Fight (1v1) or Dynamic Duo (2v2). Games can be played either in “Training Mode” or “Competitive Mode” depending on the length of play you want. Training Mode, which consists of just 1 match, can sometimes be over within 10 or so minutes, but can also take as long as 45 whereas Competitive Mode can double or even triple the amount of play time as there are 3 matches (best 2 out of 3). It should be noted that 4-player games will typically double these times since there are twice as many players. Set up itself is very straightforward and doesn’t change much regardless of what mode or variant is being played. Players may either choose their character or be dealt one at random, placing their Special Move Cards next to them. After shuffling the Power-Up cards, randomly pick one (we tend to just deal them out) to give to each character and place it under the Character Card. These Power-Ups aid in replayability as well as make each character even more diverse and powerful. Each player is also given a Health Bar and Meter Storage card. The Meter Storage card should start with its slider token on “0” whereas the Health Bar should have the slider pushed all the way out to 9 Lives (or 27 hits). The purple backed card deck should be shuffled together and each player will be dealt 8 cards for their opening hand. If playing with Dynamic Duo rules, there is a separate 2v2 deck that gets shuffled in with the 1v1 cards, but things otherwise remain the same. Players can then either flip a coin, roll a die, or just pick someone to go first for the first match.

PopCats Fighter Card Types

There are 5 different types of cards in the game: Block, Hit, Direction, Instant, or Move Enhancer.

There are 5 different types of cards: Hits, Move Enhancers, Instants, Directionals, and Defenses. As each turn consists of an attack phase, defense phase, and response phase, players will want to try to keep a variety of cards in their hand (there is no hand size limit). The attacking player goes first. They get to use 4 Actions on their turn consisting of any of the 5 following actions: play an Attack Move, play a Move Enhancer, play an Instant (only 1 per turn, unless a card says otherwise), draw 2, or burn 2 (place 1, non-Instant card from their hand in their Meter Storage and discard another from their hand). Once their actions have been used, the defending player will get a chance to defend themselves with their own 4 actions (same as attack actions, but with Defense Moves instead of Attack Moves). If the defending player played any Counter cards, the attacker gets a chance to respond with their own attempt to block. After responses, if any, have been made, the round ends and damages are scored. Any hits that were not successfully blocked are subtracted from the character’s total health on each player’s Health Bar. Additionally, any of the cards that successfully either blocked or dealt damage (other than Instants) are placed in each respective player’s Meter Storage. What is the Meter Storage used for? Well, remember those Special Moves that come with each character? Much like with spending mana or some other resource in a video game, players can spend cards from their storage meters to use their Special Moves! Play continues to pass back and forth like this until a player’s Health Bar is dropped to zero. When playing 2v2, there are several additional rules to make the game more co-operative for you and your teammate as well as granting the ability to face off against different opponents each round. Otherwise, though, the game is more or less played the same way.

As I mentioned earlier, PopCats Fighter: Unleash the Furry pays homage to the arcade video games of the 80s and 90s. I feel Estefania Baluyot has done an amazing job emulating these classic games yet still managed to create a game that can still appeal to those that have never set foot in an arcade before. The passion that has been poured into the game and the character creation shines through as more than just a theme and skin for solid mechanics. In addition, I was greatly impressed by how these mechanics and the game components were used to translate gameplay normally found in a video game. For example, the Meter Storage that provides a spendable resource for power-ups as well as the movable Health Bar to keep track of hit points. Upon the arrival of the PopCats Fighter: Unleash the Furry prototype at my front door, my friends and I have already played more games than I can count. It is rare to find a game that everyone in both my household and my game group is not only willing to play but actually asks for. This has proven to be a game that can be played with kids and adults alike, works well for new, entry-level gamers as well as seasoned ones, and has worked as being a decent bridge to get a few of my “video game only” friends to put down their controllers and come play a card game instead without feeling completely lost as far as mechanics go. I highly recommend it and have even backed it on Kickstarter for myself so I can have an official copy!


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