Jab: Realtime Boxing Card Game Review

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Personally, I don’t understand the sport of boxing. It’s not that I can’t follow what’s going on in the ring or why people enjoy watching it. No, it’s more that I don’t understand why people would want to participate in a sport where the goal is to limit the amount you get beat up. Getting punched in the head at work is not something I’ll ever find myself interested in doing. All that said I really like boxing videogames and LOVE movies about the punch-happy sport. Hell, I’ve lived all my life across the river from where Rocky was filmed. I’ve run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve ate lightning and crapped thunder!

To say that I’ve never played a tabletop game based on boxing is a lie, I owned Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots like any other child of my era worth their salt in having good toy taste. It’s definitely suffice to say that I’ve never played a tabletop card game based on boxing. Let alone one that’s played in real time. Hit the jump and I’ll explain some more.

Jab: Realtime Boxing is just that game. It’s a card game. It’s played in real time. It’s set in the world of boxing. All of those statements are facts and they surprisingly mesh together in a new and exciting way. The setup is fairly simple. You have three cards representing your boxer that act as the target for where you attempt to land punches (one head and two for each side of the body). You have two decks of punch cards, one for each hand. There’s also health tokens, combo and counter-punch cards that you can use to rack up round points and two special tiles that end the round.

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The “real time” part comes to play when you start a round. The two punch card piles are played one at a time, only by one hand (hence the separate left and right piles) at any speed you want. You and your opponent are playing cards at the same time, placing punches on the body or head of your opponent in any order or location you wish. The tricky part of playing in real time is that in Jab, there’s a lot going on. There are five different types of punches and five different colors that are mixed and matched making up your punch cards. You can block punches by placing one of your cards that matches the color or the type of punch card that your opponent has played on your boxer before he places another card on top of it. This has no immediate effect but comes in later on when figuring out how many points you got that round.

Another way to rack up points during the round is successfully counter-punching or landing a punch combo. Both are determined by a certain collection of cards that are currently in-play. Both players can try to lay claim for the cards simultaneously (1 of each that are available at a time) so the  available combo or counter-punch is not player-specific. When claimed they award you a good amount of bonus points at the end of the round.

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You win Jab by either knocking out your opponent or being the first to win three rounds. The rounds go fairly quickly, even if you’re taking your time playing your punch cards (which I highly suggest when first starting out). There are some other elements to playing the game, like throwing haymakers, staggering and damaging your opponent, but you get the basic idea. It all adds up to an exciting game with a lot going on.

Dan helped me test out this game and to be perfectly frank, we weren’t expecting much out of it. By the time we had gotten to our seventh round Dan was raising his fists in victory and we both found ourselves very pleasantly surprised with just how much we actually enjoyed it. You can tell that a lot of thought was put into the design of the game. It would be impossible for any two go-rounds to be anywhere close to the same. With so much to keep track of and watch out for it’s almost foolish to try and focus on one or two things, the others that you’re not paying attention to will definitely sneak up on you and cost you the round. It might sound like there’s too much going on, which there might be, the high-level of activity keeps it unpredictable and totally fair for both players.

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Beyond some really good design and an involved but well-conceived rule set the cards of Jab feature some nice, fun art that plays well into the spirit the game tries to capture, all the way down to the instruction manual. If I had any criticisms about the game it’s that I think it could have easily been distributed in purely card form. The health tokens and special tiles are nice, but they’re the only pieces not in traditional card form. If they were this could be an easy game to keep in your bag for down time at a convention. It’s a minor, minor gripe but it’s still something I pondered.

Jab is a welcome addition to the world of card-based tabletop games. It’s got a familiar and nontraditional setting, good design, a thought-out rule set and entirely unique gameplay. It all adds up to a super fun package that deserves space on your shelf next to other card battle games like Yomi or Magic: The Gathering.

If you’re interested in purchasing Jab: Realtime Boxing you can do so right from the developer!

Kevin Alexander

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