App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
User Interface Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Deck 'Em! is a card-based boxing game where your goal isn't to land the knockout punch. Your opponent is much too strong for that. He's the champ, after all. All you can hope for is staying on your own two feet for a full twelve rounds. Deck 'Em!'s gameplay is sound, but that's due to the fact that it follows a very familiar formula without doing a whole lot with it.
Shuffle your feet
Deck 'Em! is a Solitaire-like game, but all of the cards you're dealing with are either tools like punches, health, and block cards or incoming blows from your opponent. These cards come out in "rounds" of four, and your goal is to use them in the most tactical way to keep your boxer on their feet. Your boxer card is ever-present at the bottom of the screen and has 21 hit points that you need to keep from hitting zero successfuly across 12 sets of card deals.
If this sounds familiar, it's probably because you've played Card Crawl. If you sub out the boxing gloves for swords and hits from the champ for spiders and goblins, you're looking at basically the same game. To be fair, there is some nuance and novelty to Deck 'Em!'s block system, but otherwise the biggest difference between the two is that Card Crawl has a lot more depth and replayability.
Bet on it
The only thing Deck 'Em! offers to add replay value is virtual currency that you earn between matches. To the game's credit, you don't need to bank this currency to pay for unlocks, initiate timers, or any other silly free-to-play engagement strategies. Rather, you can bet this currency in subsequent matches to earn more of it if you win.
I think the idea behind the betting system is to make it feel like you're raising the stakes of the fight, but since the in-game money can only be used for betting, the mechanic doesn't actually hold all that much weight. Outside of this (and your drive to beat the champ, which is not all that difficult to do), there is little to draw you back into the game. There are no unlocks, daily modes, difficulty levels, or anything to change up the game in any significant way.
The easy defense for Deck 'Em!'s shallow nature is that it's free. On top of that there are no ads, timers, paywalls, or any other annoying monetization systems present in the game. There are in-app purchases, but those are just for accessing other character portraits, which are purely cosmetic unlocks that you can choose to buy outright.
This is great and all, but it's only worth celebrating if the game behind the pay model is also good. Deck 'Em! is fun enough for a play or two, but it quickly grows repetitive due to its derivative nature, random elements, and lack of variety.
The bottom line
With its attractive business model and sharp visuals, it's hard to resist giving Deck 'Em! a try. That's the most exciting thing about it, though. Once you open it and start playing, it's all downhill from there. This isn't to say it's an outright bad game. It's just an experience that needs a bit more to prop it up as a full experience.