The History of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Board Games

Cage Match! is the newest MMA Board Game on Board Game Geek, and is so far the only one that checks all the boxes of authentic MMA feel, player agency and availability for purchase.  However, it is not the first or only MMA board gameThere have been several MMA or at least MMA-related board games going back to 2009, but it doesn’t look like any of them have taken off and in fact, most don’t show any clear evidence that they were even published, let alone distributed.  I have yet to see any such game in retail distribution, or even with a successful Kickstarter, and I will discuss reasons after reviewing all the MMA games I could find.


2009:  The earliest MMA I could find a listing for on Board Game Geek or have ever heard of, is Extreme Fight Games from 2009 published by Extreme Fight Games Inc.  This one shows some signs of publication, with 28 ratings on Board Game Geek, the most of any MMA game, but only 1 post and 2 videos.  It is still available for purchase on Amazon so I’d say this one was both published and distributed, the first to achieve both.

I’ve played this game.  It is a set collection game where you fill out a card, almost like Bingo, with almost no decision making but with an occasional dice roll that can win the game outright, so there’s almost no player agency.  However, there is heavy MMA theme including large, fully-painted resin fighters, a board with an octagon-shaped track, and a dry erase board with markers.  It is appropriately weighted a 1 out of 5 on BGG and it plays pretty quickly (8 minutes says the box, but it’s probably a bit longer).  You don’t need to know anything about games or MMA to play this game but for anyone who actually plays games, you will probably find this one lacking.  Still, full credit for blazing the trail.



2010:  There’s an interesting looking game called MMA Master by Warcoach Games that mentions a number of expansions.  However, it looks like it never actually got off the ground. It has no official publisher link, no posts, no ratings, nothing besides a single “how to play” video.  “The game allows players to design their own fighter using cards depicting a wide variety of moves, strikes, grappling, and character traits. The cards are compared and a die is rolled to indicate the various outcomes. Damage, KO’s, or submissions are recorded to determine the winner over a number of rounds.”  This sounds like a pretty interesting, authentic MMA game and I’m wondering what happened to it.


2017:  Uncaged: World Fighters published by ZeMind Games had a Kickstarter Campaign in 2018 but didn’t reach its goal and was canceled.  I’m wondering why because it looks like a solid game with a solid campaign, complete with videos, reviews and stretch goals.  The game looks like it has a bit of a WWE flavor, not a bad direction to go in, IMO, but not an authentic MMA game.  “Players will select a fighter from our diverse, international roster of martial artists, each representing a unique fighting style. They can then use the decks out of the box or create their own; filled with punch, kick, takedown and submission cards all designed to reduce their opponent’s HP to 0 and finish the fight!”  It appears available for purchase at The Game Crafter and even has some expansions.  However, there is only a single post and 13 ratings at board game geek, along with 2 videos.  It looks like a prototype got produced, played, and posted at The Game Crafter, but not really more than that.


Also in 2017, Deck Fighters Mixed Martial Arts Card Game was published by Noel Gussen and Panda Hawk Games.  “Deckfighters is the only fast paced single deck, multi-player elimination-style card game based on Mixed Martial Arts. While emulating the best of a real MMA fight, Deckfighters is a highly re-playable game with multiple win conditions, endless strategies and a swift learning curve. No deck building or card collecting allows the action to take affect [sic] immediately at the start of the game. The 54 card deck consists of STRIKING, GRAPPLING, SUBMISSIONS, DEFENSE, HEALTH, FINISH & SPECIALTY cards.” 

However, there’s no activity at Board Game Geek in the form of ratings or reviews or posts, just a couple of preview videos, so it’s not clear that this game actually got published.  As a multiplayer, last man standing game, this is not an authentic MMA game.  I think I heard from a reviewer who played a prototype of this game and he said it was good, but I haven’t seen or played it myself.

Finally in 2017, someone posted a listing for a game called MMA Throwdown, but there’s nothing else, not even an image, let alone a video.

MMA Combat Card Game

2018:  A board game geek listing was created for the MMA Combat Card Game by Champions Cards & Games Publishing.  These are good guys who have been supportive of our game.  They have yet to actually publish their game but it looks really promising.  “Choose from a number of theme decks, including The Brawler, Tap Out Artist, Muay Thai Specialist, and more. When you’ve got a few fights under your belt, customize your own deck. The only thing standing between you and greatness is 3 Five-minute rounds… if you can last that long!”  The publisher wants to use licensed photography and is seeking a licensing arrangement.  I’ve personally looked into that and found it incredibly difficult to get anything going, so we went our own route.  The MMA Combat Card game has variable player powers, even if it doesn’t have unique characters, in favor of generic characters, e.g. “The Brawler”.  As stated, this game has a lot going for it and I hope to see it published sometime soon, but getting a license is a steep hill to climb.

2019:  At the end of 2019, along comes Cage Match! The MMA Fight GameCage Match! appears to be the first MMA board game since 2009 to actually reach publication and distribution (beyond The Game Crafter, at least).  At board game geek, it has the most activity among MMA games with 22 ratings, 6 videos and 7 posts — and more to come.  Even if all of the above games were to suddenly be published, it is the only authentic MMA game with unique characters and variable player powers.  You want to control a unique, mixed martial arts fighter in a simulated MMA fight?  This is it.

YearTitleAvailable for PurchasePlayersTime (Minutes)Authentic MMAUnique, Named CharactersVariable Player Powers
2009Extreme Fight GamesYes28YesYesNo
2010MMA MasterNo210YesNoUnknown
2017Uncaged: World FightersYes230-60NoYesYes
2017Deck Fighters Mixed Martial Arts Card GameNo2-85-30NoNoNo
2018MMA Combat Card GameNo210-20YesNoYes
2019Cage Match! The MMA Fight GameYes25-15YesYesYes

 

By “authentic” I mean simulates the actual MMA sport as we see in UFC fights, for example.  Uncaged has both genders and all weight classes thrown together so like I mentioned earlier, has a bit of a WWE feel in that regard.  I also talk about “unique fighters” and by that I mean, ones with names and everything.  You see this in Extreme Fight Games and Uncaged, but not in Deck Fighters or the MMA Combat Card Game.  I also talk about variable player powers. I actually suspect deck games like Uncaged and the MMA Combat Game might have a greater degree of variety among its fighters moves. For example, in Cage Match!, every fighter has the same set of basic moves, even on the ground, and are differentiated just by a set of 4 special moves.  Obviously that’s a conscious choice on our part, whereas those other games might have a more unique set of moves for each fighter (something we discussed).  One other thing worth noting is that we don’t include a round-point system in our game, a notable omission from the MMA sport.  We tried one out, but you get the knock out or submission in this game long before you’ll ever get to a point victory, and the latter is much more of a less fun, dragged out game.  We know from trying it out.

Ok so many have tried before us, but no MMA game has quite broken though.  With the MMA sport growing so fast, why haven’t any MMA games been a big success yet?  Obviously we intend to change that by getting Cage Match! into as many hands and homes as possible, in as many stores and as many countries as well.  However, we think the attempts by other publishers to get a game out there are evidence of interest in the sport, yet their inability to break through suggests there are some obstacles, and this is how I see it:

  • Sports games in general are a tough market.  I think in general it’s the kind of thing where if you really like the sport, such as baseball or basketball, you’d rather just play the sport, or you don’t really like the sport so you don’t want to play a game about it.  We do think MMA is the kind of sport you like but wouldn’t actually be likely to play on your own.
  • Among gamers I’ve discussed this game with, which is hundreds or even thousands, mixed martial arts as a theme can be pretty polarizing.  Many gamers have suggested “I don’t know if there are many gamers who like MMA” (I appreciate the suggestion, but my research assures me that there are plenty of people who like both).  I think we could develop the most interesting fighting game in the world but some people wouldn’t play it strictly because of the theme.  However, I also think we could develop a really marginal game and some would still buy it because of the theme. There are many people around the world who love MMA and I’ve heard from many already asking how and when they can get this game, and they don’t even know anything about it.
  • I suspect the theme is the main reason that big companies have stayed away from MMA games.  It seems risky to support something that was illegal in many states just 10 years ago.  It’s well known to be brutal and violent.  However, UFC, at the very least, has come such a long way into the mainstream.  It is not only legal, but welcome in most states in the U.S., is shown on ESPN (owned by Disney) at times, and is growing.  Plus, it’s an authentic sport and in my opinion, is cleaner than the NFL, with a strong and effective anti-PEDS system that the NFL should adopt.  There is some “fixing” going on in terms of who gets a title shot and maybe even some fixing of those titles, but no more than you see in the NFL or NBA.

This game will sell on its cover and description alone, we’re literally betting on it.  It’s also a great game. I see some wanting a little more depth, but the gaining and spending of focus, and the way you can shift to the ground game, gives enough wrinkles beyond plain rock-paper-scissors to sink your teeth into, but still enough RPS that a beginner can defeat an expert.  More depth starts to alienate the casual gamer, something we want to be careful to avoid.  Do you think we got the balance right?  Play the game and let us know!

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