Pixel Tactics 3 is, as the name suggests, the third in the Pixel Tactics line of player-vs-player tactical card games from Level 99 games, using characters from their fictional world of Indines. If you're already a fan of the Pixel Tactics games, you'll find some nice new features... if you are new to the games, you can start playing right away - these decks work on their own or combined with their predecessors.
There is a lot to like about Pixel Tactics 3, but I will get my one caveat out of the way right off the bat. There is a lot of text on the cards and the cards are not large. This means a lot of reading and reasonably sharp vision will be required. The artwork is highly stylized to appear as old fashioned 8-bit computer graphics. This will be nostalgic to some, annoying to others. I happen to own (and occasionally use) a collection of 1980s-era computers, so it's right up my digital alley. But a painter I tested the game with couldn't understand why a game would intentionally make artwork MORE blocky. Your mileage - as with any game - will vary. This is a gamers' game.
Now the good stuff. Pixel Tactics is a head to head game of commanding a force of up to nine characters against your opponent's up to nine characters. Each of your heroes is a card you play from your hand, and the one you play first is the "Leader" - this one has an over-arching passive game effect that continually modifies all your other characters (and thus, directs your strategy.) The regular heroes can be played in a variety of ways. Their capabilities depend on where you place them - each hero has a front line effect (melee attacks on the other unit, intercepting incoming ranged attacks etc), a flank effect (maybe giving you extra actions, etc) and a rear effect (ranged attacks, healing, etc etc). You may also choose to discard a card to use its "Order" effect, which is powerful but will remove that card from play for the rest of the match.
The game is fun in both the short term and the long term. Discovering how the cards work together is very fun. You can bide your time to see what cards come out, then build a strong strategy, or you can try and go for a quick kill - as the instructions warn, you'll likely do better if you go the former route. Once you know all the cards you can have even more fun since you now know what you're doing. Essentially, the possibilities unfold and then begins the battle royale.
The synergy between the cards is effective and multi-varied and there are always interesting decisions to be made. The Leaders have interesting and powerful effects - one lets you use 14 heroes instead of 9 in your unit; one lets you play heroes out of turn (usually you play from one row at a time, front to back), one lets you switch leaders mid-match. Here are three cards as an example. The Leaders are used by turning the card upside down, so each card can be either a Leader or a Hero. Click on the image below for a larger scale image.
Pixel Tactics is designed to be a relatively quick game, and it is. The package says 30 minutes - the web site suggests 30 to 60 minutes - my games were longer, but my testers and I were being leisurely about it. Once you and your opponent understand the game and know all the cards, the game will play quickly - so you can knock out a game whenever convenient, unlike those strategy games that take hours - you know the ones!
Playing the out-of-the-box game means you and your opponent will have identical decks, which means you'll know what cards each other have and be playing the same cards on each other. This is mitigated by all the different card effects. Because cards behave in different ways depending on how they are used, the cards stay interesting longer. Expert players can combine cards from Pixel Tactics 1 and 2 and even play with card drafting to create their own decks. Some special cards are included - I was amused to see Tom Vasel, game reviewer, in pixel form - and there's a blank card so you can make your own.
As with films, my test of a good game is - was I thinking about it later after it was over? - and with Pixel Tactics 3, the answer is yes! If you like tactical games with lots of options - be sure to check it out. There's a video showing how to play it at Level 99 Games' web site.