August 18, 2018 Author: Lou Federico


If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you know that I have a certain fondness for what I like to call “backpack games”. What pray tell makes a good backpack game? Well for starters, it has to have a couple of things going for it:

A) Portability and Durability – How easy is it to carry, and how well will it hold up to repeated playing.

B) Ease of entry – How easy the game is to learn, without watching a fifty-nine minute YouTube video, and how easily can it be taught to others.

C) Scalability – how many players it can accommodate, and how well it accommodates them. (Because you never know how many people will show up)

D) Replayability – Does it play well? Will it keep everyone at the table?

With these criteria in mind lets take a look at a game I had the good fortune to purchase at last month’s CT Festival of Independent Games (F.I.G.), and see how it stacks up in all those categories.

Shadowstrike Melee is brought to us from the fine folks over at Pure Fun Games ( Shadowstrike Melee is advertised as a 3-9 player game with an average play time of about 10 minutes, a figure I found to be fairly accurate. It’s premise is simple: You are a young ninja, and this is your final exam. So grab your Shiruken’s, Smoke Bomb’s, Energy Bars and get to it!!! And in what has become almost a standard in today’s gaming world, the developers have created a “how to play” YouTube video, so check it out and we can reconvene when you are done.



Everyone good? Well now that we are all on the same page, lets get to the aforementioned criteria to see how Shadowstrike Melee stacks up.

A) Portability and Durability – SSM scores very highly on both fronts, the high quality cardboard box measures 6” L x 4” W x 1.5” T which is more than compact enough to fit in a small pouch in a backpack or a cargo pocket in a pair of pants, and while the cards are not “Bicycle playing card” durable, they will most certainly hold up to repeated playings without showing any major signs of wear. Even if your normal gaming group consists of younger children. I would recommend buying a package or two of the inexpensive card sleeves for an extra layer of protection, but seeing as how I do this with every game that uses cards I’m probably biased on that front. (A-)


The SSM box with my IPhone 8 Plus next to it for scale.


B) Ease of Entry – SSM excells on the Ease of Entry front. As you can probably tell from the above video, it is ridiculously easy to learn, and just as simple to teach. It shouldn’t take more than a hand to two to have everyone at the table up to speed with the games mechanics. The most difficult thing to get a handle on is drawing inward or outward facing fight cards, but after a few games you get into the rhythm of it. Likewise the Item cards are clearly marked, easy to understand and can heavily influence the outcome of a game without being overly cumbersome, it’s a nice balance. (A+)


An example of a hand where the player has taken 1 wound, that means that there is one fight card facing inward, and two facing outward.


Now they player has taken a second wound, notice that there is now only one outward facing card, if this player takes another wound they are out.


C) Scalability – SSM also excells on the scalability front, easily accommodating it’s advertised 3-9 players. Pure Fun Games even had the foresight to include team cards, and suggestions on how to set up the table for team play!!! (Obviously you can tell they had some raucous sessions while playtesting this game) I wouldn’t recommend playing the game as 9 individual players as that would get a bit out of hand, but any combination of 4-9 players can be utilized and the game will play just as well, so fear not if a few extra people show up. (A+)


Here are the pages from the instruction manual detailing team play along with the suggested seating arrangements.


D) Replayability – SSM is the Pringles of card games “Once you pop, you can’t stop”. It plays so fast and smooth that once the games start they just keep on rolling. It’s a rare game that can function as either the appetizer OR the main course, and SSM handles both roles with aplomb. It will never give you the depth of Axis and Allies, but at the same time it won’t scare off your non-gamer friends or be inaccessible to younger players like that game will either. If this is all you bring to a game night take comfort in the fact that all will be fine, and everyone will leave with smiles on their faces. (A+)

Well there you have it, Shadowstrike Melee gets my vote as a top notch “backpack game”  It excells in every category, and at an MSRP of $25 is a hell of a value for the replayability you will get out of it. It is a true “8-80” game that is easy to learn and teach with enough tactical nuance to give it legs, especially with larger groups. If you are in need of an easily portable game to take on a camping trip, a game to bring to a casual game night, or even something to pass the time while you are waiting for the food to show up, in my opinion you can not go wrong with Shadowstrike Melee.

Until Next Time Everyone

Be Good To Your Fellow Nerd!!!






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