**Note: The game I played of Millennium Blades was in no way a complete experience, as I only have Set Rotation and a few mini-expansions in my collection so far. No base game was used – but, honestly, the game was able to be played in a complete enough manner to really get a taste for what it offers. I was able to sub in some tokens for the bundles of money and the sell markers and it worked effectively enough to get a taste of the game. There happen to be enough cards in the box to make a full market deck, although I suspect there are a LOT more Core Set cards in the base game that add a lot more accessories.
Magic: The Gathering was one of my first entries into modern board gaming. I had a regular group of guys in high school that I would get together with and we’d spend our weekends playing games of Magic, sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and dump hours into games on the Playstation 2. I loved the thrill of opening packs and seeing what new powerful cards I could build decks around, I loved building new decks to test out against my group, and I loved trying to take under-valued cards and seeing if I could find combinations to make them work. But eventually high school ended, we all went our separate ways, and Magic: The Gathering left my life.
Last year I found myself immersed in Star Wars: Destiny, and it instantly rekindled both the love and hate I have for these styles of games. Love because there is a thrill in opening packs and finding a great new card to build around and to spend time dreaming up possibilities for card/deck pairings. Hate because it becomes both a time and money sink. Eventually the release cycle’s aggressiveness scared me away from the game and I moved on from Star Wars: Destiny. Early in 2018 I fell into that same dance with the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. It was a great game, one I still really enjoy playing, but I found I just can’t justify trying to build a collection to be competitive – and the need for real opponents in order to test decks and get better made my skill progression curve quite glacial. It was hard to play more than once or twice a month, and a CCG really needs at least weekly gaming sessions to test and improve decks, and the ability to buy the latest and greatest sets of cards to keep up with what other players will be playing.
Which is why I absolutely am convinced I am going to fall hard for Millennium Blades because it eliminates virtually everything I hate about the CCG scene while embracing the best aspects of that hobby. The buy-in for everything in this game so far is quite reasonable, even at full MSRP from the publisher ($212 for the base game, Set Rotation, all the mini-expansions, and a playmat), when compared to what I heard of people spending for a single cycle of cards in Star Wars: Destiny ($400) – and there has been a cycle out about every 3-4 months since that. There’s a new expansion planned for Kickstarter in early 2019, and that’s still likely to make this cheaper than a single buy-in for one complete cycle of any CCG out there apart from maybe Dicemasters. To play solo, you really only need just over half of that ($80 base game + $40 Set Rotation expansion) – and you’ll end up with such an incredible amount of card variety that it will make your head spin just thinking about it.
But the buy-in alone isn’t the real reason to be a fan of Millennium Blades after a single play as a solo exercise. Set Rotation adds in four bosses to face, each with their own unique deck containing a deck box, 4 accessories, and 8 cards. They will use 2 of those accessories (randomly chosen) and you’ll slowly get to know what those are and can somewhat plan around their deck’s strategy. You can freely look at their 8 cards, but 2 of them won’t be played and you’ll never know what order they will come out – so you can’t completely plan for that, either. Yet had I looked just a little at the boss’s synergies during my 20 minutes of building, I would have seen that he was almost guaranteed to flip each and every card I would get into play. My initial deck plan went right out the window within 2 cards, and I was left scrambling to make lemonade from the cards I didn’t sell or Fusion during the deckbuilding phase.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because one of the real stars here is that deckbuilding phase! In a non-solo game you’ll do that full phase 3 times, but in the solo game you get just one shot at building that deck (which is broken into two 7-minute phases and a 6-minute phase). This is where you can buy cards (you start with $30, and new cards cost from $3 to $6), sell cards (you can sell at most 4 cards, which are worth from $1 to $9 that I saw, with the average being $4-6) so you can buy around 8-16 cards to add to your starter deck and the other 15 cards you get over the course of the building phases. From all of that you need to figure out what 6 cards you are likely wanting to play, plus a deck box to use and up to 2 accessories to bring, for your match against that boss.
The catch is that cards are blind buys. You know the set they belong to and how much they cost, but you have no idea what cards are underneath. Which is where the longer meta comes in through learning the cards in the sets and where combinations can come from in order to make smarter decisions – which will never come to you in the first play. It is generally a safe bet to buy cards in the same set, as there is often some overarching synergy you can find, but you can also trade 5, 7, or 9 cards of the same “rarity” for a special, powerful promo card that can bring your whole deck together or just provide something powerful to hold back for an emergency.
If this all sounds like a lot – it is. Yet that is what delights me about the game. There is a massive card pool (the base game alone apparently has over 700 cards) of which you’ll use a hefty chunk every time you set up the market. The thrill of the blind buys – and seeing how you can or cannot make that card work with what you’re aiming for – is something close to mimicing that blind buy of packs in a real CCG. The limitation on how much you can purchase, how much time you have to buy and sell, and to piece a deck together is what makes this a crisp package. From setup to teardown (if you maintain the market after the game ends) can be done in under an hour solitaire, and there are ways to string together a gauntlet of boss battles (and a mini expansion that expands those bosses) which will give strong legs to this game.
It scratched every itch I hoped for – and I’ve spent the past 12 hours (apart from when sleeping) constantly thinking back to the game, the clever cards, the decisions I could have made differently, and how to best the boss the next time I face him. The experience has stuck with me ever since the final card was played and the scores tallied, and that is what I want out of a game like this. I want to be theorycrafting card combinations and exploring strategies, finding out how to best make each starter deck work efficiently and analyzing the various sets of cards that can come out. That’s something you don’t get in modern board games very often, but is very much a part of the CCG scene. And so if I can get that CCG experience without breaking the bank account, that is an all-around win.
This might be the best game in the Level 99 Games catalog. It has a good chance of becoming my favorite game in their lineup. It won’t appeal to every gamer, and can’t possibly be recommended for every gaming group or even every solo gamer.
But for those who are seeking a blend of modern with the format of a CCG – and who want their bank account to remain in tact while doing so – this is a game that I think will have a strong appeal, and one I can’t wait to dive back into in order to see if these powerful first impressions hold up after a dozen plays.