In the last few years, cartoony deckbuilding games have been quite popular. Most games stick somewhat closely to the Slay the Spire formula, but I don’t think I’ve seen one that’s tried to change things up quite as drastically as Battle Bands. The premise is simple: you play as a single member of a four-person rock group against another rock group. This takes one of two forms. The first is a random mode where you create a band and fight against AI boss-type enemies. And the other has you participate in a series of matches against other human players.
Once you start, Battle Bands ushers you into the tutorial. You’re put in a pre-made band as a guitar player. The basic gist is that both bands need to compete in order for one of them to emerge victorious. Your band needs to reach 100 hype. To earn hype, a band has to have a song section card active. There are four members in each band, consisting of a guitar player, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist. Each of the four has instrument-specific song sections they can set up, or common song sections that can be in anyone’s deck.
Once a song section is set, a certain number of performance cards can be played. Band members have a certain amount of energy, which allows them to play cards in their deck. Every performance card increases a band’s hype. You can also play certain cards that reduce the opposing band’s hype, or have other effects. If a band member runs out of cards but still has energy, they can elect to give that energy to another member. It’s an interesting setup that makes a certain amount of sense, given the premise.
Rock and rule
When you jump into a campaign, you can start a new band or join a pre-made one. This mode allows you to join with three other players or just play with bots. You can even tell the bots what to do via Battle Bands‘ chat feature. The campaign puts you in a van and has you pick locations to travel to on a map. These tend to grant opportunities for new cards or enemy bands to face. Opposing bands often have fewer members, but they’re themed. One is the Goo Fighters, which is a band made up of slimes. Another has you jamming on a trailer on the open road as the background whizzes by. There’s a fair amount of creativity at play.
The thing is, whether or not Battle Bands is worth picking up at launch is based solely on how big the player base gets. I like the concepts and the systems are interesting. But this game isn’t all that fun solo. You really only get to play a few cards here and there before spending a couple minutes or so waiting until you can go again.
It’d definitely be different with seven other people in a session, but finding that many people could be challenging come launch. The game will need a lot of people playing it for anyone to find matches. It’s a pretty big risk and there isn’t even a full page of comments in the general discussions on the game’s Steam forum. Of course, word of mouth could certainly grow Battle Bands, as it’s only just now entering Early Access. It could also be worth it for people playing through the campaign with three friends, but the focus is obviously on the broader multiplayer mode. One thing’s for sure, though: it’s a long way to the top, if you want to rock ‘n roll.