The world of wrestling seems like it would naturally lend itself to the tabletop space, and there have been several great experiences that capture the magic of a match. Lucha Wars from Backspindle Games aims to manage this again, and while it's successful in certain aspects, an unfortunate clunkiness often gets in the way and removing those elements completely robs the game of some of its depth and charm. There's still some lovely fun to be had in Lucha Wars and its Lucha aesthetic is fantastic, but its flaws hold it back from greatness.
For those unfamiliar, Lucha Wars is a game based on the world of Lucha Libre, and you'll take the game's cast of delightful characters into Singles, Tag Team, Weapons, Ladder, and Cage Matches with dice acting as your main mechanic. Artist Guillermo Marsilla's artwork is wonderful and brings so much energy and fun to the matches through the various character standees and their player mats. The character designs themselves are also delightfully over the top, and having the bigger standees to represent your characters in the ring allows players to really appreciate the stellar looks.
Even better is the included ring, which will be used to throw your Grapple dice in as you attempt to gain the advantage turn by turn and even knock your opponent's hits out of the ring before they can count against you, and the ring looks fantastic once you get it set all up. Unfortunately, you have to build the ring first, which is fine in and of itself, but the game doesn't actually tell you how to do that or how to secure the ropes around it. Not that it's the most difficult thing, but having some mention or image quickly showing how the ropes need to be secured would have been welcome. Things take another hit when you realize that the game box won't fit the ring when put together, so you then have to dismantle it and then put it back together every time you want to play. Not a deal breaker, but frustrating.
If there are going to be a few steps before gameplay can start, that's fine, the game just has to warrant that additional effort. Lucha Wars has you choosing your Luchador (or two if you're in a Tag Team match) and rolling Grapple dice at the same time to attack your opponent. Hits are what you're looking for but Dodges allow you to re-roll that die, and you can then use that die to try and knock out one of your opponent's dice, which is a fun concept and spices up your turns. As you dish out damage, you'll then move your counter up your Special Attack Track, which is how you utilize your specialized abilities, pick up weapons, move up a ladder, or attempt a pin. This aspect of the system is easy to grasp after just a turn or two, and your options will change a bit as you take health away from your opponent's Life Track.
Though the system is easy to understand, a Singles Match will quickly start to feel repetitive, and sadly the Special Abilities of each Character leave a bit to be desired. While the descriptions of the moves are fantastic, the effects are just variations of "do x damage" or "heal x health", and don't actually feel that special, though in some cases the rarity of hitting a special move with the Special Attack Die does lift raise that up a bit.
The action bumps up considerably when you start playing in the other match modes, especially Tag Team. In fact, after playing a singles match to get used to the systems, I would leave it behind and move to Tag matches, because they add a welcome layer of strategy to the match and you can incorporate Weapons if you so choose as well. In a Tag Match, you have to roll a special die to see if you can actually tag out that turn and if you can what bonus you'll get, which can net you more health regeneration for your outgoing partner and additional attack for the incoming hot tag. Utilizing your partner and being strategic regarding when you tag in and out makes the matches themselves feel much more like a match you would see in the ring, and quickly became my preferred way to play.
Weapons then bring in even more welcome chaos and will have you attempting to flick your dice from the top turnbuckle to hit your opponents (T-Shirt Launcher), knock down dice towers in the middle of the ring (Net), and even flipping your Luchadores to try and hit someone else (Football Helmet). You even have a see-saw that will have you attempting to clear the ropes with a Luchador, and it all brings some welcome chaos and creativity to the matches. More often than not it's actually more practical to go with the weapons that just give bonuses or allow you to counter damage, as these larger-than-life moves can be quite challenging to pull off, and the other moves are rather effective without the heavy chance you completely miss.
Ladder Matches are fun as well, but with some tradeoffs. Your Special Attack Track will build and once you reach a certain level you can move up the ladder one rung, and having the characters on the ladder physically represented goes a long way. Again though, they don't always stay attached to the spaces on the ladder, and I spent much too much time just fiddling with them to get them to stay put. Also, you have to accommodate the ladder by not rolling your dice in the ring for that match, which is half the fun of the core dice mechanic.
There's so much to love in Lucha Wars, and many of the mechanisms hold so much promise. Unfortunately, the fun is mired in clunky execution, and the game seems to be either fighting against you or not delivering enough depth far too often. When the game achieves that balance, there's plenty of fun to be had, and the artwork and character designs are wonderful. Perhaps the next edition can iron out those issues, but as of right now, too many things are holding it back.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Published By: Asmodee and Backspindle Games Ltd
Designed By: Leonard Boyd and David Brashaw
Art By: Guillermo Marsilla
Lucha Wars is available in stores now.
Review copy provided by publisher0comments