Today, I’m going to try and sell you on a card game called Buddyfight. To that end, I’ve decided to give you the highlights of what I’ve discovered about this game during the past two years that I’ve been playing it.
There’s a pretty good chance that you haven’t heard of BuddyFight, you’d have little to no interest in checking it out just from the name alone. I don’t blame you. I was exactly the same way when I first started working for a store that carried it.
However, I decided that I needed to know more about the games we sold so that I could actually do a better job of answering questions, and selling it to customers. Plus, we offered in-store demo games with our sample decks. Mark Rosewater, the head designer for Magic: the Gathering, often says that the best way to get people interested in a game is to get them to play it. If I wanted to help our store move product, then I needed to know this game as well as I knew Magic (which is what I’d originally been hired to cover).
1) The Anime is Pretty Good
I grew up on Yugioh waaaaay before I ever got into Magic, so I’m pretty familiar with the whole “card game animu” genre. Given that I still love those kinds of shows, I was happy to hear that BuddyFight had a show just like its sister game, Vanguard.
Let me put it this way: what these shows are to kids (and me) is what Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even My Little Pony were to kids growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. They’re shows that are meant to be 22min commercials for new toys, accessories, and playsets, but they’re still entertaining to watch.
From the first episode, before we even get to the main character, we’re thrown into a police situation. Tasuku Ryuenji, the main rival of the show, gets a hot call reporting a criminal buddyfighter is on the loose. Never mind that he’s a 6th grader apparently riding (driving?) in an automated future car, or that he’s being dispatched to deal with an adult criminal, he’s their ace so they have to rely on him to save the day.
Tasuku summons his buddy, a giant dragon with a machete knife stapled to its head. Tasuku flies off with his buddy to take on the criminal. While the fight is a tad cheesy in its setup and execution, we get an awesome sequence of Tasuku swinging a sword the size of the friggin’ EMPIRE STATE BUILDING as his finishing move.
That’s pretty much the tone for the entire show. There’s a lot of cool things to watch, and there *are* in-universe reasons for why things are the way they are. The conflicts are entertaining, and the show goes into some surprising depth with it’s themes. Season 1 focuses more on what the game is and competition means to the characters. Season 2 actually deals with Chrono Trigger shenanigans, PTSD, grieving for lost loved ones, and basically anything else you missed out when 4kids didn’t dub season 4 of Yugioh GX. Season 3….well, we don’t talk about season 3.
My favorite part of any story has always been the characters though, and for the most part, the show delivers on those too. Each of the characters are personified by the flag or archetype that they’re playing. Gao is aggressive and energetic, like his battle hungry armor dragons. Magic World features a lot of rock and roll with other music tropes, so Tetsuya is a dancing rapper, and so on.
My favorite is definitely Paruko.
Every sort of game or battle series usually has the supporting characters making commentary on the sidelines in order to help the viewers keep up with what’s happeing. Sometimes this reduces them to proxies of “this is how we’re supposed to feel”, which is a huge disservice to the character we enjoy. However, Paruko’s job is nothing BUT commentary. The difference between her and any of the random supporting cast is that commenting is her passion. She LOVES BuddyFight! She can’t help but get fired up when she watches someone playing and really gets into her commentary. Her play-by-play also lets us skip mundane parts of the game (drawing cards, paying costs, etc) or helps us catch up if we’re jumping into the middle of a game. Not only that, but in japanese version, she’s voiced by Sora Tokui who also voices Chloe from “Luck & Logic”, and Nico from “Love Live” who is my personal spirit animal.
That’s all just for the story and the characters though. They do play BuddyFight the same way you can, just with extra theatrics and real monsters. You can learn how to play the game as well as new strategies and tips as they come out.
2) Bushiroad’s “Clan System”
Magic is an expensive game. Every time something new comes out, you’re compelled to get some even if it’s just a little. Commander decks, main sets, “Master” sets, new planeswalker decks, the list goes on. Everything can be mixed together depending on the format you want to play, so it’s constant drain on your wallet.
BuddyFight restricts you to a single “flag”. This is similar to how Weiss/Schwarz won’t let you mix different series, or how Vanguard no longer lets you mix clans (hence the term).
You can think of the clan system like a game getting patches and updates, with constant rebalancing. In Overwatch, each character seems like they get new abilities every so often or get older abilities updated to make them more relevant for the current meta. It’s kind of like that, only with a card pool.
Focusing on a single flag makes it easy to keep track of when you’re about to get updates or not. Is Magic world getting support in the next set? No? Then there’s no worry. Once you do you get your update, you’re usually set for the next six months or so.
The downside is that you can build and play with different kinds of decks and flags, but you won’t be able to mix them together. But the card pools are big enough that you can still try making several kinds of decks regardless of what world you try out.
3) The Aesthetics
In Buddyfight, the clans are called “worlds”. There are 10 of them, and each of these worlds have unique play styles and aesthetics that make them very easy to identify, and really change the game for you based on which ones you’re using. They are: Dragon, Magic, Danger, Katana, Ancient, Dungeon, Legend, Darkness Dragon, Hero, and Star Dragon.
Most of the Hero World cards are homages to different superhero stories and tropes. Iron Man, Transformers and, recently, even Megaman, have been used to make cards. It’s the world I play and I’m pretty partial to the magical girls and power ranger cards. A lot of the cards are named after classic lines that are a lot of fun to say as you play. Things like “I’ve Seen Through Your Moves!” and “It’s About Time I Got Serious!” just make me smile.
That’s just Hero World, though. Katana world is basically what happens when Kamigawa block is allowed to mix itself with nanotechnology. It has things like samurai animals, robot ninjas, shinto/buddhist monsters, and demonic assassins. A lot of their decks are executed by outsmarting your opponent with tricks and traps.
Dungeon World is based off of classic JRPG titles like Dragon Warrior, complete with slimes and mimics. If you want to be the villain you can even build a Demon Lord deck. The demon lords are inspired by classic demons from games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior.
Magic World has demon lords too, but they’re styled after the demons of Solomon which is great if you’re a “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” fan. Magic World plays like old-school Magic with a reliance on spells rather than brute force, but the monsters you can use are primarily demons that love music and memes. They also feature wizards and silhouettes as decks.
Legend World uses Euro-Celtic myths for inspiration, including King Arthur, the Norse pantheon, fairies with fairy tales, and classic astrology. This is the world you play if you love combo synergies. It’s very easy to start a chain reaction of effects just by playing monsters or discarding cards, like tipping over a trail of dominos. The hero archetype that King Arthur is a part of comes with a mechanic that allows the player to switch items at will. We’ll cover items in a moment.
Even the four worlds that kinda look the same have unique styles that keep them apart. Dragon World, Darkness Dragon World, Star Dragon World and, to an extent, Ancient World all have really cool decks that I’d love to try at some point.
Ancient World’s dragons are pre-historic, making them more like dinosaurs with wings. They also have giant, hulking kaiju. Think Godzilla, just less atomically inclined. These kaiju specialize in being bigger than everything else in existence, and if you watch the show you’ll get a chance to really appreciate their full scale. One these kaiju likes to take the phrase “this isn’t even my final form” to an extreme.
Think of Dragon World as being your basic aggro world, with filled warriors, knights, and soldiers. The dragons are almost entirely anthropomorphic. However, they also have the exclusive “dragon knight” archetype, where famous historical figures and heroes ride dragons into battle. It’s like if Fate Stay/Night decided that everyone from Calamity Jane, Marco Polo, and Abraham Lincoln, would be a lot cooler if they were riding dragons. You know what, they’re not wrong.
Now go back, take those basic anthro dragons, and give them the Christopher Nolan treatment. Let’s make them so dark and edgey that every 14 year old that gets a deck will think they accidentally picked up a Linkin Park album. That’s Darkness Dragon World. If you want to play mill, control, or enjoy using your creatures as value pawns, that’s basically what this world does. It’s a lot like playing mono-black magic without the discard effects.
Star Dragon World is definitely neither of the previous two. Most of it’s dragons are essentially cyborgs, rather than anthro knights and it has two primary archetypes. The first is just pretty crystal walls that focus on absolute defense. The second is basically “build-a-dragon workshop”. Only instead of picking out cool hats for your fluffy, stuffed friend, you’re picking out lazars and buzzsaws. More importantly, all of those lazars and buzzsaws have emoji faces to make them look extra cute.
Finally, Danger World plays out like gladiator Fall Out. Everything is scrappy, dirty, and incredibly violent. This world plays like the Suicide Shadow archetype in Magic, sacrificing life in order to gain powerful effects often and early. While everything does tend to be more “earth based” with golems, mummies, etc, the primary focus is almost always on the item mechanic.
4) The Item Mechanic
The Item mechanic is probably my favorite concept in BuddyFight. Players can equip an item card and participate in the fight alongside their monsters. This items allow for stronger attacks but leaves the player open to counterattacks.
If another game uses a mechanic like this, I’ve never heard of it. I’d like to point out that I’m not counting games like Vanguard that try to say “you are this character” because it relies too much on flavor. The flavor of the Vanguard is that it’s the body you’ve possessed, but that’s it. There’s nothing too distinctive between that particular unit and the ones that you call as support. Case in point, I’d wager if you asked someone who didn’t know about the lore of the show, they wouldn’t know anything about that lore.
BuddyFight’s item mechanic is upfront and obvious. YOU are holding this sword. YOU can now declare attacks. If your opponent declares an attack, and they point at your item card, they’re attacking YOU, not your sword.
More importantly, the item mechanic lets you do something very cool flavorfully. It allows you to transform.
I was drawn to Hero World not just because I love superheroes, but because the Hero World mechanics (transform, ride, and station) have the flavor of either turning myself into a superhero, or piloting giant mecha and battleships. Thanks to that mechanic I get to have a lot more fun when I imagine the game in my mind.
5) The Buddy Monsters
My two biggest formats in Magic were Commander and Limited. I loved playing Commander because I loved having a card game that I could play with multiple people. More importantly, I loved using legendary creatures. I love flagship creatures that you can identify with and treat like unique characters.
That’s mostly because I grew up with Yugioh. I got into card games with a deep love for individual cards to the point where I genuinely believed they could develop their own feelings. It became very hard for me to see them as “just cards” and more like “friends who just couldn’t talk back”. When my opponent deliberately folded a draft common in half, just to prove how little they cared about bulk, I was aghast and got a little upset.
BuddyFight takes this premise to the next level (the bonds thing, not the folding of commons). Just like in Commander, you use one of your monsters as your flagship, the card you use the most in your deck. In the show, it’s like Pokemon or Digimon. The players get a buddy monster and they build their decks around that monster specifically. Even though most players will pick their buddy based on “efficiency”, there’s still a certain amount of closeness you feel with the buddy you end up picking.
It’s a smaller thing, but personalization is important to me when I play games, and BuddyFight gives me quite a bit of it mechanically.
6) The Resource System
To play your cards, sometimes you need to pay a cost called “gauge”. Unlike lands, gauge isn’t something you need a specific card for. Any card can be turned into gauge. Unlike Duel Masters or Dragoborne, gauge isn’t something that sticks around for the next turn after you use it. In BuddyFight you build up gauge, and then lose gauge as you spend it.
Having enough gauge is something every player needs to keep in mind when they build their decks. But that’s it. You don’t have to worry about “land to spell” ratios, how many colors you’re running, or how you can get more utility out of your resources. You get to pack your deck with a lot more toys, and have a lot more fun figuring out the rest of the deck.
You can naturally build gauge by “charging away” cards you don’t need from your hand. That means your hand naturally filters itself and you rarely draw or get stuck with dead cards. It’s the perfect system for a game that wants to be fast paced.
Because you have to manage your gauge there’s a balance to how many things you can try to do in a single turn. You have to be mindful of costs and how they’ll affect your future turns. I like this better than Magic’s mana system for that very reason. In both cases, you can lose a game because you didn’t have enough ways to pay for your cards. But I don’t remember complaining that I had “too much gauge” unlike the fifth-thousand times I needed a spell a drew another basic plains. If I draw an extra gauge building card in BuddyFight, it just gets charged away for something better.
7) Fast-Paced Game Play
A couple of years ago, I tried playing League of Legends. It’s pretty fun to play with my friends, but that’s really about it. Despite liking a few of the characters, it ramps up too slowly and there’s a pretty steep learning curve. I got into Overwatch last Christmas and it’s been a completely new experience. By comparison, Overwatch is a lot faster, smoother, and simpler to jump into. No stat building, no farming. Just point at the enemy and go “pew pew”.
I love playing Overwatch a hell of a lot more than when I played League. BuddyFight feels the same way when I think about pretty much every other game.
This game can be played very quickly. On average, I’ve seen a single game get played in 5~15 minutes. They can definitely run longer if you want to play a slower paced deck, but the game is short by design.
You get 10 life points, and each monster can usually deal about 2-4 points of damage on their own. Since the only way to block damage is to use a “shield” spell, you usually end up taking and dealing damage very quickly. Once you get going, it plays almost like speed chess.
We just talked about the gauge system, but the true feature of that system is how you can jump straight into playing some of your more powerful cards. There’s no “ramping up” you really need to do in order to get started. You can just start playing your cards and jump into the action full-blow.
The rules are also incredibly simple. There’s a layout for how interactions work out, pretty much like Magic’s “program wording”, but for the most part, the game keeps things simple in order to keep the game moving so that players don’t get bogged down by those interactions.
One of the things the game limits is “the stack”. It’s the only Bushiroad game that uses a stack, just like Magic. However, you can only have one spell or ability on the stack at a time. Once you have a spell or ability on the stack, your opponent gets to respond before you resolve everything. There are no elaborate counter wars, or 6-8 card pile ups, where you have to work through everything just to make sure they resolve correctly.
8) Match Set-up
This is something that Magic and Yugioh players will take for granted, but BuddyFight follows the “Best-of-3” format, and allows for a 10 card sideboard at their tournaments. This was the only Bushiroad game that did this prior to Dragoborne’s release. Weiss, as well Luck & Logic, use a best-of-1 setup because of how long it takes to play a single game. Vanguard is occasionally best-of-3, but official Bushiroad tournaments tend to do best-of-1 until their second day cuts. Even then, they don’t get the luxury of a sideboard.
The 10 card sideboard gives BuddyFight players just enough options to shore up their bad matchups. While it’s not as extensive as Magic’s 15 card sideboard, 10 cards usually ends up being enough if you have an idea of what the metagame is going to look like, and puts a heavier emphasis on doing your research so you can’t just “prepare for everything”.
It’s a simple thing, but one I appreciate nontheless.
9) Ease of Access
BuddyFight has the lowest barrier to entry that I have ever seen in a game. The rules are quick and easy to learn, but it’s also cheaper than other games and (relatively) easy to get cards.
For Bushiroad’s core set releases, they tend to focus on four of the worlds at a time (one of them almost always being Dragon world for some main character reason, idk). That’s not dissimilar to how Magic releases four main products a year. But you may not have to wait a whole year for your main set support. Smaller “extra boosters” and specialty products do come out with support but only for certain flags/worlds at a time.
The means that if you don’t want to be super invested into BuddyFight, you don’t have to be. The card pool is small enough for some worlds that it’s possible to create a “playset collection” of every card they can use. While that might sound expensive, it’s not if you were used to the investment of bigger card games.
Consider for a moment that most competitive modern decks can easily go for $600~$1100. For that price, you could build any deck from your world and be able to modify it at your leisure. The exception tends to be Hero World, Dragon World, Star Dragon World, and Darkness Dragon World because of how big their card pools are, and how frequently those worlds get updated. Hero World is popular enough that it tends to get an entire extra booster filled with its cards exclusively (it’d actually be fine if you just wanted to update a few decks), but that also makes it easier to get into since they always reprint staples you need to deck build.
Saving up for updates is easy enough. You can expect a major set update no more than once or twice a year. Even then, most of you would probably build individual decks rather than trying to collect an entire world’s worth of playsets, which means you only need maybe two or three new cards from that update.
If you want to play a new decks that comes out, it’s relatively easy to get your hands on it in the first few weeks. The prices are at their lowest on launch, and there are now several online stores that sell card singles. If you still want it a couple of months after launch, there are facebook trade groups where you can post your request. Usually there are a few people willing to sell for a reasonable price.
10) Overall Game Balance
At it’s worst, the competitive metagame for BuddyFight ends up being a rock/paper/scissors format with 3-4 top tier decks. The meta shifts with each major set update, so it rarely gets stale, It’s pretty refreshing from Magic’s standard environment which can take up to two years for things to change. Your cards don’t rotate, so it’s kind of like Modern or Legacy. You won’t feel like you wasted your time or money (usually. Some decks do become harder to use in a given environment, but that’s a common hazard with card games in general).
However, because of the speed that the game was designed with, rogue decks can have a much easier time pulling off upsets. Clever players that understand matchups, and what their tools are, can do well with what they have. This was the case when I got Top 4 at a recent regional in Indianapolis.
There are a lot of decks that hover around the 1~2 tier range. While the top tier decks do have some standouts, I consistently see tier 2 decks topping when piloted by skilled players. It feels pretty great to know that decks aren’t just dead when a new archetype gets introduced. They can be adapted and tested to continue succeeding.
Incidentally, BuddyFight does not currently have a ban list, nor are there really any serious demands from its community for one. This game has successfully gone for four years without having to implement restrictions, and that’s an amazing achievement. The closest it’s gotten has been to errata a few cards so that the wording isn’t abused. Those fixes are quick and easy though, so I don’t take them into account.
I love BuddyFight. It’s one of the few games that I got into without my friends having to draw me in. The only other games that did that were Yugioh and Magic. I can enjoy the game for it’s own sake without it having to be a social experience.
I’d play it much more often if I could, but the reality is that it’s a very niche game right now. It’s growing, but a lot of people get turned off by the name and the cartoony art. It’s a real shame because I wish more people would give this game a chance.
So, as part of my effort to help raise awareness for this game, part of my article repertoire will include entries for BuddyFight. Specifically, I’m going to start writing about the show (since it is, in fact, a quality animu) and hopefully go into some articles about various aspects about the game.
You can watch the BuddyFight anime on both Crunchyroll and Youtube. If you’re curious about the game and you want to pick up some starter decks, I recommend going to TheCardAcademy.net where I go for all of my bushiroad card games.