Published by IDW Games in 2018, The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena is a high-speed game that sees players go against each to become Republic City’s Pro-Bending champion. Based on Nickelodeon’s popular series Avatar: The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena brings one of the show’s most exciting aspects to life, letting players experience all the fast-paced fun for themselves. Playing as either the Fire Ferrets or the Wolfbats, players have characters place fire, water, or earth tokens in spaces across the arena, in an attempt to overpower their opponent forcing them back and, eventually, over the end of the arena edge.
Pro-Bending Arena is a relatively simple game to set up with players choosing their team and taking the respective player mat and team’s three benders (earth, water, and fire). Whether you play as Team Avatar’s Fire Ferrets or as the wily Wolfbats is completely up to you. Once you’ve made your selection, take your team’s technique cards and remove the ones showing a number greater than 0 in the top right corner. Shuffle these cards according to elements so you’ve got a stack for each bender to form a strategy deck. These may be purchased throughout the game for Chi, with each player gaining one Chi at the start of each turn. Shuffle and place the remaining cards to the left of your player mat. When you’re both ready, draw three random cards from this pile to place in your hand and you are all set to get bending!
Using well-designed player mats and technique cards, Pro-Bending Arena comprises quality components that are instantly recognisable to fans of the show. The belle of the Pro-Bending Arena ball, however, is the benders themselves. With no two bender miniatures the same, fans will enjoy playing as dynamically cast, powerful benders.
The box contains stand markers in red, blue, and green so that players can quickly recognise the miniatures during gameplay. When putting everything back these have to be taken off to fit in their box, which can make the fire and water benders, as well as the benders themselves, hard to tell apart as it does take a second to recognise Team Avatar, no matter how ardent a fan you are. This minor quibble aside, the figures are well made and a joy to play with.
The other components include 30 elemental tokens, a yellow fan die, 6 yellow fan tokens, daze and hold tokens, Chi markers, and a momentum token. These tokens are all distinct and fit with what fans see on screen. One tiny gripe I have is that the water and fire elemental tokens are the same shape and just differ in colour. While this just seems a bit boring to me, they do the same job and so it isn’t major, however, it would have been nice to see more variety.
Whilst the rule book for this game might take a bit of rereading to get your head around, the mechanics are in reality relatively simple. Taking turns, players move their benders and fire elemental tokens attempting to knock their opponent back while avoiding being stuck or knocked back themselves. Simple as that! The game end is triggered when one player knocks all their opponent’s benders off the end of the arena or if they occupy their opponent’s half of the board when the game end is called.
Fans of the Legend of Korra series will be familiar with the basic principles of the game and it’s great to see Pro-Bending brought to life in this way. As an avid fan of both board games and the Avatar series, I loved getting to play as some of my favourite characters and Pro-Bending Arena brings an element (hehe, element…get it) of the excitement of the on-screen version to your living room. Despite this excitement, however, this game does lack the level of replayability other franchised board games have, as the standard version does only come with two teams: the Wolfbats and the Fire Ferrets. After playing a few times when I first got it, it did feel like the games were blending into one as there aren’t enough cards to make the benders’ moves particularly varied.
How it Plays
IDW Games did a deluxe version for the Kickstarter featuring a whopping nine playable teams, including favourites from the show’s later seasons P’li and Kuvira. Sadly, it seems this version is no longer in production and while Pro-Bending Arena is certainly enjoyable, it feels shadowed by the potential of its own deluxe edition. However, all is not lost! IDW Games did make an expansion to the core game featuring the dastardly Amon and his Equalists, and so you need not be too disappointed.
Despite not being wildly varied, the 36 technique cards used for movement and attack are fairly easy to understand, displaying move and attack icons of different strengths. Some cards display a yellow fan, indicating that this move is illegal. When a player plays one of these cards, they roll the die, if it lands fan side up, that bender receives a yellow fan token. Two of these tokens and a bender is removed from the game, so use them wisely! This illegal move mechanic adds a nice edge to the moves, mixing in an element of chance to it, something that makes each game feel a little move exiting and unique.
The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena is a valued member of my board game collection and it brings one of my favourite aspects of the Legend or Korra series to life. The bender miniatures are great avatars (hehe, avatar…get it) and are dynamic, true to the show and just fun. Once you’ve learned how to play this game is relatively easy to pick up and to teach and so it’s a good game to introduce to other fans of the show, even if their complete board game newbies. It’s a great, fast, fun game that anyone can enjoy.
Unfortunately, I have to mention that due to the repetitive nature of the game, I find that I can’t play it too often or else I just get a bit bored. Given the lack of teams, one player must also be the villainous Wolfbats, and so one player will always miss out on playing as the main characters. Given that the Wolfbats are scarcely seen after the first of Korra’s four seasons, this may leave someone constantly waiting to be the goodie.
With more teams or simply more technique cards, this could have been a real hit, and I believe IDW Games made a mistake not letting the deluxe version reach its full potential. With the expansion, there are more possibilities of excitement and so no one should write this game off by any stretch, and if you aren’t a religious board gamer this is a great game for you!