Shaolin Showdown brings us a new game mechanic in Faceoffs. This kind of borrows from other games -- they are sort of like the duels in L5R. There are four Faceoff cards in Shaolin Showdown -- two each for the Ascended and the Guiding Hand. Most of the first round of Faceoffs are on the weak side, but that is to be expected when introducing a new mechanic. I expect Faceoffs in future sets to more powerful. Three more Faceoff cards have been added since the initial release, and I'll talk about them a little later.
Before you start looking at the Winner effects on Faceoffs, you need to really assess the basic card functions -- it's character kill (known around here as take out). There are two timing options available to you when choosing to smoke your opponents characters in a Faceoff -- on your own turn to clear the way for an attack, or as a Bushwhack, usually at the end of the player to your right's turn.
A Faceoff kill during your turn is ideally going to clear the way for another of your characters to take a site. This works well with both thugs and characters with evasion abilities (Stealth, Superleap) if your opponent is setting up a defense. This also has the chance to draw out some stoppage before your main attack without risking having an unsuccessful attack (a Faceoff is combat, but not an attack, so even if you are the loser, you can still declare an attack).
But, 80%+ of the time, you will be using your Faceoffs as Bushwhacks. A Bushwhack is waiting until the last possible moment before your turn begins to sneak in a character kill. More often than not, this will be a 2 Fighting resource character of yours picking off a 1 Fighting character of an opponent. Even if you are planning on using your Faceoffs offensively on your turn, you still we be resorting to Bushwhacks more than you think. Remember that if you Faceoff at the end of an opponent's turn, they can back up into their main phase, so don't leave yourself vulnerable to a follow up attack.
Now that you have a good idea of when and how you will use your Faceoffs, which ones do you choose? Well, since the majority of your Faceoffs will be Bushwhacks, you want to concentrate on the Faceoffs that go best in that situation if you are playing more than one or two total in a deck. The best Bushwhack is Tiger vs. Crane (The 3 damage Mark of Fire) -- it lets you get in the most damage, and you get to spread it around killing of extra resource characters and revealing sites. Eagle vs. Snake is a Faceoff that is much better used during your turn, when you will be able to take advantage of the cards you draw (and your opponent less advantage if they somehow win). Spider vs. Mantis is pretty much junk outside a duel -- and even then the effect is marginal enough that you are always playing Tiger vs. Crane over it.
When we take a look at the second round of faceoff cards, we find that they don't fair much better. Kar Fai's Last Stand has a big problem -- for the winner's benefit to be useful, you really want a character of at least 5 fighting (Guts and Toughness:1 don't really work well on characters with less fighting), and almost all Dragon characters that you play in that range will already have one of the two abilities, if not something better. While Death Ring has no bonus for the winner, it's reusable, which is going to make it a formidable threat to your opponent's specialty characters. Not too shabby for a power generating site. The third new faceoff card is is different from the rest -- it doesn't start faceoffs, but benefits from winning them. The Nefarious Master Chin on his own is pretty bad -- a 4cost thug that doesn't win you games. While you can try and play him with the five faceoff events, it's almost impossible to pull off until late game because of the high resource conditions (and if you are spending all your time bringing out resources, you aren't winning). The obvious use for Master Chin is with the Death Ring, which can be okay if you pull it off, but then you aren't taking full advantage of a 7 fighting character (who should be taking sties).
This leaves us with the best all-around Faceoff, Bear vs. Fox. This one you will have lots of opportunities to play. The wording on this card is a little vague, but the intent is to allow you to play an Event from that opponent's Smoked pile at any time during that turn -- not just when the Faceoff resolves and there is a Winner. This gives you a lot of versatility and lets you achieve better timing on the targeted Events like Operation Killdeer. Bear vs. Fox works especially well in multiplayer where you will have a larger assortment of Events to choose from -- your best friend is going to be the Architects with their character removing Events -- a 1 power Neutron Bomb is amazing.
There is a conundrum with Faceoffs -- some of the best character abilities are effectively negated during a Faceoff because they are attack abilities -- these include Tactics, Ambush, Independent, Stealth and Superleap. Any power you spend on these is wasted in a Faceoff. But -- you don't want to load up your deck with basic characters (say Shaolin Masters and 100 Names) just to fuel your Faceoffs -- you will find yourself in lots of situations where a Faceoff is undesirable or unavailable.
The first mistake everyone makes with the Faceoffs is loading a deck up with them. This is a terrible mistake. The Faceoffs do not take the place of the staple Events like Operation Killdeer and Confucian Stability. I recommend a ratio of 1 Faceoff to every 25 cards total -- that means if you are playing a tight 45 card deck, you don't want more than a single Faceoff. If you are playing an average 65 card deck, you can squeeze 2 Faceoffs in, and I recommend a maximum of 3 Faceoffs total in any deck around or under 100 cards. About the only exception is when you are trying to make a Faceoff deck, in which case you want about 5 Faceoffs total in 60 cards.
One thing to think about are cards that interact with Faceoffs, allowing a Winner that is different from a straight up comparison of Fighting scores. The Guiding Hand has the most options with access to healing, damage redirection and toughness. The Ascended has the straight up whup you cards, Operation Killdeer and the always tricky Opium Dem. There are a couple of Feng Shui Sites that that can also help out a little. Pay attention to Festival Circle, as you can use it to cancel your own Faceoffs in a pinch. Here is a partial list of cards to think about including in a deck and to watch out for when playing with Faceoffs:
Path of the Storm
Turtle/Armored in Life/Path of the Raging Bear
And don't forget that often your opponent can use a card against you -- you want to be wary of cards like Opium Den where an opponent seizing it can nullify all of your Faceoffs...
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