Before I begin I as provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would rather check out a video of this review you can see that below. Get your own copy here.
One of the first games I reviewed was this small compact little dungeon crawl game filled with cool 8-bit art. I enjoyed it, and it was a super popular prize in the giveaway I did with the extra copy I was provided. So when the designer reached back out and asked me it I would review his latest offering, a 1-2 player skirmish card game I was all about it.
Then we packed out house up, and put tons of stuff in storage so we could move. Then that lasted far longer than expected. Then I finally got to try it and shelter in place hit, so I could only play the game solo (this type of game is just not one that my wife is keen on playing). Time has just been dragging on, so at last I have had to determine that I can only really review the solo play, and give my predictions of what I think the two player game will be like.
In To the Death each player selects four characters from various archetypes. Each character has slightly different abilities that they are able to use throughout the game. These characters get set out in front of the player either close or at range from the enemy, be it another player or an stack of evil 8 bit monsters.
Each turn you will be managing your hand of cards, each card has a suit that relates to one of your characters, and you are able to use those cards to activate their various abilities. Characters are also able to move between ranges, block and make attacks.
All you have to do is beat 4 monsters to face the boss, a particularly challenging task because with each defeated monster, the subsequent ones gain passive abilities that makes your life, what there is left of it, that much harder. When playing two player you simply have to annihilate your opponents four heroes to claim victory.
So what do I think?
There is so much variety in this box. There are so many monsters, and so many different heroes to choose from. I, truly, cannot imagine exhausting the options and combinations that come in this game.
The 8-bit art is exquisitely done. If you are in to 8-bit art, this is your jam. I also have to praise the card play mechanics, it is simple, yet again you really have tons of options as you go, and the combos you can create with your characters is just delightful. Finally, I love how you gain and lose abilities as you take damage. You actively are forced to choose whether or not it is worth healing yourself when you take a hit, because maybe that bonus you got, is exactly what you needed to kill that monster.
The game is “just” a skirmish game. I know that often in games like this we have come to expect more, some kind of campaign, some kind of deep story, or some thing like that, well that is not this game. It is a skirmish game, and that is it. Not a bad thing, but I would hate for someone to expect something the game is not.
Also, while the game does give you that skirmish vibe, it does not feel particularly tactical. Yes you can move forward and back at range, but that is it. Usually, when I think of a tactical skirmish game there is more movement to it than that.
The rules. I had this same comment with Puzzle Dungeon. The rule book could really use a diagram or two, and I did find that to fully figure it out I needed to go to the Kickstarter page and watch a playthrough. Once I did, it was easy enough to grasp, but it did take me a hot minute to figure it all out.
Bringing it all together
To the Death is a delightful evolution from Puzzle Dungeon. If you like 8-bit art then you are in for a treat. The game delivers on the skirmish vibe, though less so on the tactical part. The game has an incredible amount of variety, and I cannot fathom ever exhausting the possibilities here. If you are looking for a relatively quick, inexpensive skirmish game, without any campaign or story to go with it, then this is absolutely one worth looking into.
Ugh I didn’t think To the Death was about making me read until I was dead
* Delightful 8-bit art
* Definitely a skirmish game, not really tactical
* Clean, simple mechanics, but there is so much you can do within the system
* A good quick beat em up in solo play
* Ridiculous amount of variety in heroes and monsters
* No story to speak of, just a beat em up
* Inexpensive, and portable skirmish option