I was pretty stoked when I first saw Redakai. It looks freaking awesome. All the cards are printed on clear plastic, and the biggest part of the game involves stacking them on top of each other to alter the way the total stack appears. There are cool plastic accessories, and neat plastic deckboxes, and even chip clips you can use as power counters. The graphics are very cool, if you like the art in Digimon, and the stuff I got comes in sculpted metal tins. If I was only scoring a game on eye candy, Redekai would have already received an uncompromisingly glowing review.
But this is one book that does not deliver on its cover. The game play requires very little actual thought, and the designers failed in nearly every way that matters. There's a training game that requires as much consideration as boiling a pot of water - except that you could actually screw up boiling water. The advanced game is only slightly better, but at least it's a game.
The idea is that you've got these three kids who are all really good at turning into monsters and then throwing horrifying violence at each other, and the other player has a similar team of malcontents. This is how you know it's a game for the kids, because adults are generally a little less impressed with violence to minors. If you can hit one of your opponent's child soldiers three times, the little punk is out of the game, and you only have to take down two more. There's some light decision-making, but overall, this is a game for kids who are even younger than the pre-teen characters who are beating on each other with lightning bolts and mucus attacks. Redekai is probably also a cartoon, but I don't know, because I don't have cable any more.
There are really only two kinds of cards. You can turn into a monster by placing a see-through card on top of your character, or you can attack an opponent by placing a see-through card on top of his character. That's it. If that sounds like a game with a lot of depth and opportunity for smart decision-making, then either you're an idiot or I'm not describing this very well. That, or you're still in grade school.
Every character has defense ratings, and every attack has attack ratings, and if you want to play an attack, it has to beat the other guy's defense. And in a full game played with full decks, we never once ran into an attack card we couldn't play. The theory is sound, but the execution is horribly flawed.
Additionally, turning into a monster is rarely useful. Because the attack ratings are so high, modifying your defenses is usually rather pointless. This leaves you with two reasons to mutate - gain a special power, or heal some wounds. But not enough of the monsters have useful abilities, and not enough of them provide any healing. Unless you buy bucketloads of cards (and we bought a lot of them - they were cheap), you're not going to have enough monsters that you'll usually want to bother.
I wasn't just underwhelmed by Redakai, though. I was very disappointed. The concepts are beyond sound. They're wicked awesome. A card game that keeps track of your stats, with special abilities and power scores and health and everything all right there, changing on the fly thanks to see-through cards - this is really clever. You can see moments of brilliance here and there - attacks that do no damage but render opponents defenseless, monsters that gain special abilities when played on top of the right character, and a sort of weak reaction effect that pops up now and then with some very cool potential for mayhem. The problem is that they had a great idea, and they managed to make it suck.
If more thought had been put into the actual execution of this game, I would have been back at Target tonight, cleaning them out. This game is full of unfulfilled promises. I want to build a ridiculously clever deck and use it to destroy all the children who oppose me. I want to mix up some combos and deliver frighteningly effective child abuse. I want to surprise my opponent with brilliant maneuvers and ironclad defenses. Instead, I'm just going to take turns going back and forth, stacking cards on the other person until one of us manages to finish off the other.
Redakai is long on style and short on substance. Your kids will probably love it, assuming they haven't finished sixth grade, and you'll be dazzled by the holograms and sculpted boxes and plastic accessories. But after you play it a couple times, and never really see the cleverness come together, you're going to wish you had not bought it at clearance, so that you could take it back to the store.
I know I do.
Outstanding production value
Quite simple to learn
Like playing with toys
Very little useful decision-making
Card design mistakes render the game a little on the dull side
If you want to buy a bunch of Redakai, real cheap, go to Target. I'm not going to deliberately give you a link to waste your money, though.