The goal of each duel is to reduce your opponents Hit Points (or HP) to 0 before your opponent reduces your HP to 0. You accomplish this by attacking your opponent with the cards in your ring. Your opponent may defend against your attacks by counter-attacking with cards in his ring. You must also use cards in your ring to defend your own life points and prevent your opponent from defeating you. There are a few other methods of directly attacking your opponent's HP through the use of Action cards or Character abilities.
It is important to understand the three different types of abilities that a Character card might have. There are Triangle, Square, and Circle abilities.
- Triangle abilities are automatically activated each time a Character that possesses one is taken out of your hand and entered in to the ring.
- Square abilities are abilities that you activate instead of attacking, and usually have some cost associated with using them. For example, a requirement might be having an Action card in your hand to discard. If you do not have an Action card and the Ability requires that you discard one, then you can not use that ability. Because this ability must be triggered, the character who uses it enters freeze state as soon as the ability is performed; as such, he cannot attack or be backed-up.
- Circle abilities are abilities that are always active for as long as the Character that owns a Circle ability is in the ring. Circle abilities can not be turned off, unless Anakaris is put in play (he possesses a Triangle ability called J.O.T.P., which disables the abilities of all characters currently in the ring).
Each turn, you may take a Character card from your hand and Back up another Character already in the ring, providing the ring Character with 300 extra Battle Points (or BP.) Those extra BP are applied to the ring Character's current BP total, and can exceed that Character's starting BP. Any Character in your ring can be backed up one time each turn. The character that does the backing up does not get to use a Triangle Ability as if they were entering the ring. Nor do you receive Spirit Points (or SP) for playing the back up card. Once the backed up ring Character is defeated, all cards that backed up this character are discarded.
Each Character can only be backed up by a particular set of cards. You can check to see which characters are accepted as back-up by looking at the card data. If your character is an SNK character, then all of the SNK characters that can back this character up will be displayed. Likewise for a Capcom character and its acceptable Capcom back-ups. However, if a character can be backed up by a character from the opposite universe, that character's name will appear as question marks until you discover who that character is and use him or her as back-up for the first time. After that, the name will always be visible to you.
After selecting an opponent to duel against, the scene will switch to the battle ring. A few events will take place that you have no manual control over, such as shuffling your deck and selecting the top five cards. Then Kuroko, the referee that appears in the Samurai Shodown series, will appear between your icon and your opponent's as a cursor alternates stadily between them. This is something of a coin toss to determine who goes first, and you must tap the A or B button to get him to stop and choose a player (which he will do by pointing one of his flags at that player's icon's direction). Once a player is selected, the duel begins.
TIP: With time, as you play further, you might figure a pattern for this "coin toss" and use that to your advantage so you can always get a headstart and further ellaborate on your strategy. A common tactic is to hit the button as soon as you see the cursos leaving your icon.
Activate Phase: Any character in your ring that was previously frozen is now unfrozen. Cards are frozen when they attack or use an ability attack during your turn. In the very first phase, any card in your ring that attacked is free to attack again. Likewise, any character that used a square ability to attack the opponent, or attack his cards, can use that ability once more. Occasionally, your opponent may use an Action card or a Character ability that will prevent some of your cards from unfreezing in this phase. This phase is passive and automatic, requiring no action on the part of the player. Every turn other than the first one starts with this phase - matches start straight from Phase 2.
Draw Phase: After Phase 1 ends, the robot from Capcom's Forgotten Worlds appears to deliver a card from your deck to your hand. Occasionally, your opponent may use an Action card or a Character ability that will prevent you from drawing a card in this phase. If by some misfortune, a player has no more cards at the start of this phase, they automatically forfeit the match and lose. This phase is also passive and automatic, requiring no action on the part of the player.
Main Phase: This is the first phase in which you are given control. You are given the ability to take any of the following actions in any order, but the phase comes to an end once you execute an attack.
- You may select only one Character card from your hand and enter it in to your ring, provided a space is available in your ring. Each ring can hold a maximum of three Character cards, so you can not select another Character if three are already present. Entering a Character in the ring automatically boosts your Spirit Point (or SP) pool by the amount of SP indicated on the card. Additionally, if the Character you are selecting has a Triangle Ability, this ability will automatically activate itself when you place the card in the ring. A Character who just entered the ring may not attack or be backed up by another card.
- You may select a Character card from your hand and add it to an existing Character in your ring as a Back-up Character if and only if the ring Character accepts the Character you are choosing as a Back-up. You may back up each Character in your ring only one time per turn. For more on backing up, read the back up section above.
- You may use a Square Ability possessed by any of the Characters in your ring, provided you can meet the requirements necessary to use that ability. Using a Square Ability will freeze that Character until the next Phase 1 successfully unfreezes the card. For more on abilities, read the ability section above.
- You may play any Action card in your hand, provided you can pay the Spirit Point cost associated with using that Action card. For example, if an Action card requires 5 SP to activate, and you only have 4 SP, you can not use that Action card. A card with a 0 SP cost can always be used. If you can use the Action card, the SP cost is automatically deducted from your SP pool, and the Action card is discarded.
- Lastly, you may attack. Any card that is sent to attack will
become frozen throughout the opponents turn (unless an Action card
or Circle Ability specifies otherwise) and will remain frozen until
your own Phase 1 comes around. A frozen Character may not
counter-attack. There are a couple of way to execute your attack.
- Single card attacks: You may send any unfrozen Character cards in your ring for individual attacks. This means you can send one, two, or three cards to attack your opponent individually. If your opponent wants to counter-attack against all of the attacks, he must have as many unfrozen cards as you are sending individual attacks, or some of the attacks will get through and directly reduce the opponent's HP.
- United attacks: United attacks are attacks using multiple cards that require SP to activate. Uniting two Characters to attack as one costs 5 SP, and uniting three Characters to attack as one costs 10 SP. (The Tooptadon Action card can be played to reduce those costs by 5 SP, thereby making Unite 2 attacks free.) When cards attack with United attacks, they can only be defended by one counter-attacker. Any damage that the counter-attacker fails to absorb will spill over and directly damage the opponent. This is in contrast to an individual attack where if the attack is counter-attacked, no matter who wins, no damage is dealt to the opponent. United attacks are a powerful tool, but should be used strategically in order to account for the SP consumption.
- Combination: Provided you have three cards and at least 5 SP, you can send one card on an individual attack, and two cards on a united attack, at one time. This is useful when your opponent has only one card to counter-attack with. There is no point wasting 10 SP points to unite three attacks when spending only 5 will accomplish the same thing (provided you unite the right group of cards.)
Counter-attack Phase: When it is your opponent's turn, you will choose which of the unfrozen Character cards in your ring will counter attack your opponents attack cards. You can select one Character card to counter attack a single card attack, and you can only use one Character card to counter attack a united attack, whether the united attack is composed of two or three cards.
- When you counter attack a single card, your card's current BP is subtracted from your opponent's card, and your opponent's card's current BP is subtracted from your card. If the BPs are equal, both cards will be destroyed. If not, the card with less BP will be discarded, and the other will return to the ring with reduced BP.
- When you counter attack a united attack, each member of the
united attack will face your counter attacker one at a time. Your
card's current BP is subtracted from the attacking card's BP, and
the attacking card's current BP is subtracted from your card. If
your card survives the outcome, it goes on to face the next member
of the united attack. The process repeats until either your counter
attacking card is defeated, or all of the members of the united
attack are defeated.
- If your counter attack card is defeated before all of the united attack members are defeating, then the total remaining BP of the united attack members if subtracted from your Hit Points.
You may also choose not to counter attack, but you should only do so if you have any kind of strategy devised (for example, trying to add up SP in order to unleash an Unite Attack powerful enough to wipe away a good amount of the opponent's HP).
When the player ends Phase 4, his/her turn ends and it is passed on to the other player. In three cases may the turn end in Phase 3:
- If there are no attackers and, thus, the other player cannot counter;
- If the player receiving the attack has no characters to counter (because they are either absent or frozen); or
- If the player receiving the attack has only Iori and/or Genjuro available on the ring (both have Circle abilities that prevent them from countering attacks), as well as any other character with a Circle ability that prevents him/her/it from countering if certain circumstances are met.
This is a short example of play between two players. It does not continue to the conclusion of the battle, but does demonstrate some of the common rules of the game.
- On player A's first turn, he draws a card from his deck, and chooses Ken (700 BP, +2 SP) to be placed in his ring. Ken has a Circle Ability (Rage Wave) that prevents him from being frozen after attacking.
- Player B takes his first turn. He draws a card from his deck, and chooses Clark (400 BP, +3 SP) to be placed in his ring, and end's his turn.
- Player A draws another card, and adds Elena (400 BP, +3 SP) to his ring. His SP total is now 5. He chooses to attack Player B with Ken.
- Player B counter-attacks the Ken card with Clark. Ken takes 400 BP damage from Clark, while Clark takes 700 BP damage from Ken, discarding the Clark card from battle. Ken returns to the ring with 300 BP, but is not frozen due to his Circle Ability.
- Player B draws another card, and adds Nakoruru (C) (600 BP, +4 SP) to the ring. His SP total is now 7. Nakoruru (C) has a Triangle Ability (Balm of Nature) that is activated when she enters the ring, and Player B adds 500 to his current HP. Since Player B has no available fighters, he ends his turn.
- Player A draws a card from the deck. It happens to be an action card. Player A decides to use Elena's Healing Square Ability. He discards the action card he just picked up and adds 300 to his current HP. Elena is now frozen. He adds Blanka (400 BP, +1 SP) to the ring. His SP total is now 6. Player A attacks with Ken.
- Player B counter-attacks with Nakoruru (C). Ken takes 600 BP damage from Nakoruru, and Nakoruru takes 300 BP damage from Ken. Ken is discarded and Nakoruru (C) returns to the ring with 300 BP.
- Player B draws a card. He places Hanzo (600 BP, +3 SP) in the ring. His SP total is now 10. Knowing that he needs to defend against the next round of attacks, he chooses not to attack with Nakoruru (C) and ends the turn.
- Player A draws a card, and it happens to be T. Hawk. Elena can accept back up from T. Hawk, so player A backs Elena up with T. Hawk, and her BP rises from 400 to 700. Player A places E. Honda (500 BP, +1 SP) in the ring. His SP total is now 7. Since he has enough for a united attack, he unites Blanka and Elena at the cost of 5 SP, and they attack in that order. Player A now has 2 SP.
- Player B chooses to counter attack the united attack with Hanzo. First, Hanzo faces Blanka. After trading BP damage, Blanka is defeated, and Hanzo is left with 200 BP. Then Hanzo faces the backed up Elena. After trading BP damage, Hanzo is defeated, and Elena is reduced to 500 BP. Because this is a united attack, Elena's attack continues and reduces Player B's HP by 500. Elena is now frozen.
- Player B draws a card and decides that it's time to use that Grenade Action card. He pays the 5 SP needed for Grenade, reducing his SP from 10 to 5, and the card is played, subtracting 300 from Player A's HP.