Journey Through the CCG Graveyard · Review for Two · Uncategorized

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #5: A Game of Thrones CCG/LCG Review

Welcome to the second review as part of my Journey Through the CCG Graveyard! My first one covered the Tomb Raider CCG, which was a surprising amount of fun in spite of the PS1-era images on the cards. It held some interest as a solo game, and felt like it would be similarly good as a multiplayer game where you could interfere better with your opponents similar to mechanics found in classic CCGs like Middle-Earth and the Lord of the Rings TCG via playing negative cards on them. But this time we’re shifting our focus onto a game known as A Game of Thrones Collectible Card Game. Fear not, if you are interested in how it compares with the later LCG implementations, I’ve got you covered because I have played it in all three formats enough to be able to speak on them all!

The Goal of the Game

Regardless of the number of players involved, the objective for the A Game of Thrones Collectable Card Game is to be the first House to obtain 15 Power. This makes thematic sense for anyone who has read the books or watched the shows, as the central theme is a struggle for power and influence across Westeros, with the Iron Throne being a centerpiece representative of that power struggle. Power is obtained in several ways: via a Power challenge in the Challenge phase, making any challenge that goes undefended, winning Dominance in a round, and on some character or location effects. Once a player reaches 15 Power, the game immediately comes to an end.

Who you are

You are not an individual person in Westeros, but rather your deck represents the locations and forces behind your particular House. Famous Houses such as the Lannisters, Targaryens, and Starks are present alongside others such as Baratheon, Greyjoy, Martell, Tyrells, and the Night’s Watch – among other smaller forces represented as either neutral factions or as allies to a particular House. Most decks will consist of cards aligned with one House and any neutral cards desired, although rules are in existence to have a splash of forces from a second House present in a deck. It is also possible for multiple players to be using the same House during the same game.

The Flow of the Game

Turns follow the same flow through the following steps, some of which are done simultaneously while others are done one player at a time, beginning with the First Player for the round.

Plot – One of the unique things in this game is the Plot deck, which is a set of 7 cards in addition to your main deck. These cards usually have some sort of round-impacting text, tell you how much Gold your House has for the turn, the Initiative value for determining the first player in the round, and the Claim value to tell you how strong your victories will be in the Challenges phase. During this phase of the game, players simultaneously choose and reveal an unplayed Plot card from their deck. This means your Plot card used now cannot be chosen again until you’ve played all 7 Plots, and many plots are restricted in number that can be included in a deck and some are tied to specific houses. Upon reveal, compare the Initiative value and the higher value gets to choose who is the first player for the round – in case of a tie, the player with the most Power chooses. After determining first player, the effects of the Plot cards will resolve beginning with the Starting Player.

Draw – The most straight-forward of the phases is the Draw phase. Both players will draw 2 cards from their deck and place those cards into their hands. Easy, right?

Marshalling – This is the point where the Gold collected is put to use. In the CCG version of the game, nothing can be held over after this phase so there is strong incentive to spend as much as you can (the LCG allows you to save some until the end of the round, when it goes back to the pool if unspent). Starting with the first player, each side will have a chance to pay to recruit Characters, add Locations, put on Attachments, etc. onto the board. There are also event cards that can be played, although not exclusively during the Marshalling phase. Any cards that have text involving the Marshalling phase would also be open to trigger here.

Challenges – The bulk of the game seems to occur during the Challenge phase of the game, and with good reason! Each player has the opportunity to initiate up to three Challenges, one of each type. The challenges are issues in player order, and each player completes all of their desired challenges one-at-a-time before the next player gets to initiate their challenges. Military Challenges, when successful, force the defending player to kill characters from their forces. Intrigue Challenges, when successful, force the defending player to discard cards at random from their hand. And Power Challenges, when successful, steal Power tokens from the defending House card. Character cards can have 0-3 of these icons, and can only participate in a Challenge of the associated type if they possess that icon. Characters participating typically Kneel as a response, making it so they cannot participate in future challenges later this round. If a Challenge of any type is not defended, the attacking player also takes a Power token from the supply and puts it onto their House card in addition to any other effect of the Challenge. The impact of a Challenge is determined by the attacking player’s Plot card, as they have a Claim value (Usually 1, sometimes higher). So if my Claim value is 2, then a successful Military Challenge makes you kill 2 characters, a successful Intrigue Challenge makes you discard 2 random cards, and a successful Power Challenge makes you lose 2 Power from your House card onto mine. A well-timed 2-claim Plot can swing the tide of a game!

Dominance – After the Challenges are completed, players compare the combined strength of their remaining Standing characters – i.e. the ones not Kneeling from being used. The higher strength value wins Dominance, which gains them a Power from the supply onto their House card. Tied? No one wins Dominance for the round.

Standing – All Kneeling characters, locations, and attachments are returned to their Standing position. Yes, it makes sense with characters…not so much with using the Kneeling/Standing terms for the other cards. I mean, how exactly does Winterfell Keep kneel down?

Taxation (LCG Only) – Any money remaining in your pool is returned to the supply. This means you can’t be frugal with your funds to save for bigger board-swinging turns later on. The reason this was added into the LCG? They made some events and card actions cost Gold to trigger, so holding back a few Gold can play even more mind games with your opponent as they try to guess what you are holding up your sleeve.

On Death and Duplicates

It is pretty standard fare for a game to make it so there are unique characters and locations and limit you to just 1 copy in play of said character at a time on your side. What this does differently is makes it so that you have a discard pile and a dead pile. Discarded cards can come back. Dead piles are essentially eliminated from the game. If Robb Stack dies, he can’t come back 2 turns later. He’s dead, meaning that all copies of that card are essentially discard fodder going forward. However, the neat saving grace (and reason you may want to run multiples of characters) is that you can, during the Marshalling phase, put a duplicate of the same character beneath the current character for free. Get 3 copies of Robb Stark into play and suddenly he sticks around a little longer, even in the face of an effect causing him to die, as you simply discard the top copy when they need to die. This is especially important if you have a character with a keyword like Reknown, which has them getting Power tokens placed on the character where they can be removed by eliminating the character.

Plots and Intrigues

As alluded to above, the Plot cards are one of the most unique things the A Game of Thrones CCG/LCG brings to the table. The deck is exactly 7 cards for each player, and one comes into play each round. The power and effectiveness of these cards vary wildly, from having cards with blank text boxes but a higher Claim, Gold, or Initiative value to having effects such as wiping out characters, searching your deck for a card type, or even making it so you cannot defend (usually because you have a higher Initiative and Claim). A well-timed Plot card can alter the course of an entire game or, as I found out, bring things to a premature end (in the 2nd Ed LCG, thanks to my wife having a character who gains Power whenever a Lord or Lady character is killed. Her plot forced me to “save” three characters in play and the others are dead. All 5 of mine were Lords or Ladies, and so my wife went from 13 to 15 Power just from that well-timed Plot which prevented me from getting the few I needed even though I had a better Initiative and a 2 Claim on my Plot…didn’t matter!). Shaping the Plot deck to have ones best to play early (usually searching for cards and/or providing high Gold), ones that are good for mid-game, and a late-game push are the keys to an effective Plot deck, I think.

A Bountiful Start

One of the other things I like about the game is how it handles the opening board. What I mean is, you get to start the game with characters and/or locations in play. Depending on the version you are playing, you get either 5 Gold (CCG/1st Ed) or 8 Gold (2nd Ed LCG, because the cards cost MORE) to deploy secretly to begin the game from your opening hand. The one limitation is that only one of the cards can have the Limited keyword on there. This allows you the chance to get out either a strong unit, a few average ones, or a bunch of smaller things to drop down a numbers advantage. Either way, you get to draw back up to your starting hand size of 7 afterwards. This is a really neat aspect of the game which, while it is only as useful as the cards in your opening hand, definitely helps you to ramp up faster than some of the other CCGs out there.

Starting Experiences

There are three different starting experiences to discuss in passing here, because I’ve done starting experiences for all three versions of the game and found one to be vastly superior to the others. Let’s begin in the order of release. For the CCG side of things, I tried out the Fire & Ice Starter set, which had a deck for the Greyjoy House and one for the Targaryen House. They are completely constructed and run surprisingly well as standalone decks. For instance, the Greyjoy deck has a Plot card to search for a Maester card and put it into play.
Having played previous LCG versions, I was expecting to find 1-2 wimpy Maesters at best, but there were either 5 or 6 of them and one turned out to be a pretty decent Round 1 addition to my forces. Like any CCG, you wouldn’t expect the deck to be tournament-competitive, but it had a surprisingly strong synergy and both decks were capable of winning.
At the price I paid for the starter (a hair over $5), this was a really strong launching point into the game. The 1st Edition Core Set is, easily, the one I am most familiar with and also most disappointed by. Years ago, before I knew really how to shop for used games or even good places to get new games, I ran across that Core Set on Craigslist for $20. And for that price, what I got wasn’t bad. The cards in there were fine, although there was a glaring absence of several Houses. The game came with Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, and Baratheons. Four houses, out of the six that were released with the 1st Edition, meaning you needed expansions – and likely a few of them – before you could build a viable deck with those other houses. It did come with interesting variants for a 3-4 player game but ultimately the decks were underwhelming and it felt like an incomplete package. The 2nd Edition fixed that. All 8 Houses (they added 2 more) have representation in the Core Set, and you can either just splash some neutral cards in to run a thin deck or it has recommendations on how to divide things into 4 decks, each having two Houses featured. Having played those decks, they are really fun to pilot and provide a great way to get a feel for each House, even in complement with another House, to get an idea of where you might want to explore via deck construction in the future. All in all, the $40 value of the 2nd Edition Core Set (and you can probably find it cheaper now) is a great bargain because it provides everything, tokens and all, needed to play the game. If you bought nothing else, it still has a ton of replay value and fun within the box. The CCG starters are a close second, providing strong decks to start with that are going to give you a foundation to expand upon – and most starters I’ve seen tend to run in the $5-20 range depending on the starter. If it included tokens for Power and Gold, or at least the Power, it would be close to equal with the 2nd Edition – but the Starter I got didn’t have any tokens included.

The Rulebook

The rules are extremely well-laid across all editions. One of the strengths, I think, of Fantasy Flight Games is their presentation of rules in a way that allows you to get going. There are some more complex concepts and keywords, but those are put toward the end of the CCG rulebook. And it is surprisingly short in length, considering the thick rulebooks I’ve pulled out from some of the other CCGs I’ve dropped into (I’m looking at you Mythos). Although perhaps my perspective is skewed, since the CCG was like a homecoming party for me since I had played both versions of the LCG years ago. The great thing is that many of the concepts remain the same, or close, across all versions of the game. This makes it easy to transition from one version of the A Game of Thrones game to another. I think the biggest things to pay attention to are the Claim Value idea, along with the multiple Challenges that can be initiated and how those flow. Noting keywords as they come up is also important, and don’t be afraid to ask your opponent to read off what a card says when they bring it into play. Too often have I seen one of us blindly stumbling into a mistake because we didn’t stop to ask what a card does until it is too late.

Expanding beyond the Starters, CCG Edition

There are a lot of expansions for the CCG, and unfortunately it doesn’t get any smaller when looking at either version of the LCG. This is both good and bad, of course. It is good because no matter where you go there are literally thousands of unique cards you can obtain for your collection. It is bad because, well, there are thousands of unique cards to peruse and try to determine what you want, or need, for the House-specific deck you are trying to build up. This can be most frustrating for a CCG player, as you are really at the mercy of random chance. Your booster pack might contain 5 cards for your House, but it could just as easily contain none. It could have a ton of Plot cards, or none. With 17 different sets, 4 Premium Starter Sets, and many standalone starter decks there is plenty of opportunity to dive into the game. This is probably a game where it would be best to choose a cycle, such as the Fire & Ice Edition, and start by expanding into that cycle of cards (so Fire & Ice, Wildling Assault, A Throne of Blades, A Crown of Suns, and the Premium Starter) because, at least theoretically, the cards within a cycle (there are 4 of them from the looks of it) should synergize well together. Boosters for the game seem to be reasonably priced, as do boxes, and I haven’t noticed any one set in particular being more expensive than the others. Admittedly, that might be because things are also easy to lose within the sea of LCG stuff for sale…

Expanding beyond the Starters, LCG Edition

This is the area where expansion is a little more straight-forward. Fans of the 1st Edition might be able to snag some Chapter Packs for cheap along the way, while others might be overpriced due to its out of print nature. Deluxe Boxes, for either edition, are the best path forward if you want House-specific cards in a hurry because each House has a Deluxe box with them as a focal point. For roughly $60 you can snag two Deluxes and really dig in on tailoring the favored House for you and your opponent. The 2nd Edition also has Intro Decks for each House around $15, making that an even easier first stepping stone along the path to boosting the deck construction options for a specific House. A lot of folks will likely preach the need for 3 Core Sets, and I call B.S. on that. I’ve played a handful of LCGs and I’ve never once felt like I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t run 3 copies of card X. I’d rather put that $40 toward a Deluxe and a Chapter Pack, getting new cards to build around, than get extra copies of cards I can’t use only to get an extra of some I may use occasionally. The strongest selling point, of course, for the LCG is the non-random factor. You know exactly what cards are in the package before you buy it, and you get 3 copies of every card in those packs. No chases. No need to buy multiples of a pack unless you really want to have multiple decks all using the maximum number of a specific card – but at least in that situation you know what pack to buy to obtain said cards. The LCGs release following a format of a Deluxe with 6 Chapter Packs to expand the “cycle”, and like the above CCG recommendation it is never a bad idea to start with rounding out a cycle if you aren’t seeking specific cards to build around.

Deck Construction

Typical decks run exactly 7 Plot cards, and in most cases they are limited to 1 of each card in the Plot deck, and a 60 card standard deck for their House with a maximum of 3 copies of any single card. That 60 doesn’t appear to be a hard cap, so feel free to experiment with a little more in your deck, and 40 is a soft cap (usually for drafts) but functions just fine with something such as the 2nd Edition Core Set when trying to test out a single House on its own with a little splash of Neutral cards to hit that 40 number. So long as both sides hold to the same deck size, it shouldn’t be a negative thing to play with fewer cards as you slowly build up your card pool. For the LCG, you also choose a Faction (main House) and Agenda (oftentimes a Banner, which allows use of non-loyal cards from other Houses in your deck).

My Thoughts

Okay, enough preamble here. Let’s talk about the A Game of Thrones CCG/LCG experience. First things first, I’m personally going to stick to the 2nd Edition of the LCG for my A Game of Thrones Card Game of choice going forward. There isn’t anything inherently bad about the CCG (apart from chasing of cards, like any CCG out there) but it also isn’t inexpensive enough to make it able to offset the value provided by the LCG model and its 3x of the cards in the non-randomized package. And yes, this game is very much a keeper even though it has previously left our collection. You see, this game has sharp elbows. It will have moments where you’ll feel like everything sucks and there isn’t a darn thing you can do to stand a chance of winning. An early board advantage can lead to a game spiraling quickly out of control, and many of the games played never even reach the 7th round to go through an entire Plot deck (I’d say 5-6 is around the average turn of conclusion). Having even one glaring hole in your deck (such as a lack of characters with Intrigue) can lead to a constant loss of resources while your opponent happily plucks up a free Power for your defenseless nature. And the very real possibility of drawing nothing but dead cards – literally, cards in your dead pile and thus unplayable – can make it so that your deck even limits your chance of making a comeback. All of these things can, and will, happen. A few years ago, my wife and I weren’t able to get past that brutality and still find enough enjoyment in the game; when the games flowed well and were even, we loved the game, but when it was lopsided or a devious card’s ability shifted things unexpectedly, there could be bruised feelings.

We’re in a much better place now to where that might make us frustrated briefly in the moment, but we can separate the game experience from our relationship toward each other. And we found, really quickly, that we still enjoy this game a lot. Enough that we played the CCG several times in a day’s span and, the next day, picked up the 2nd Edition Core Set back into our collection and played that later that same night. I’ve also learned that my wife is really, really good at this game – something I should have remembered. There is no going easy, she doesn’t need it. I lose at this game often, and usually lose horribly. And yet I absolutely cannot get enough of the game because of its ties to an IP we both enjoyed watching together, books I’ve enjoyed reading, characters I’ve grown attached to. It has solid mechanics that separate it from any other game we play or own: the Plot deck, three three different Challenges, the gaining of Power to win rather than a need to deplete an opponent’s health, and the free deployment at the start of the game all combine together to make this game stand out in all of the best ways possible.

There is so much tension in your decisions each game, because there are so many limiting factors that affect you. The Plot deck can only have one of each card, and once that card is used you might as well expect to not be able to play it a second time because the game isn’t likely to last long enough. You are always needing more Gold than what you have available, whether because you need a large amount to play a strong character onto the board or because you have too many 2-3 cost units you want to get out and don’t want to spend forever getting them out. In the 2nd Edition of the LCG, there are also hand size limitations to consider based on your Plot card, and the balance of holding back some Gold to play events, trigger abilities, or make your opponent believe you might just have a nasty card to play if the circumstances are right. You cannot hold onto cards for too long, as a well-timed Intrigue Challenge can make you discard that card you hoped to play on the next turn. And then there is the decision of who to use for attacks, making sure you have enough Standing forces to weather a counter-attack when it is their turn to make Challenges as well as claim Dominance.

There are so many things to consider as you play, and yet at its core the game’s turns flow easily and the mechanics stay out of the way. It is a smooth system, with a fair number of Keywords to learn but not to the point where it impedes the enjoyment of the game. You quickly learn to pay special attention to anyone with Reknown or, perhaps worse, Stealth, because they can cause the game to shift if unchecked. The game punishes you for not defending attacks by giving your opponent free Power, and clearly wants both sides to try and be aggressive since ties in combat go to the attacking player. Which means that games are rarely spent “turtling up”, as you want to try and find a way to fire off three successful Challenges rather than holding back to ward off one or two.

All of this helps the game to move forward at a pace that is almost breakneck in speed at times, because you are trying to exploit every opportunity you can to strike knowing that the gap might be closed in the next round. You get the feel of being a general directing the deployment of forces to their maximum effect, rather than some magical wizard hiding behind a line of large units and hoping not to get hit. Games like this are all about tempo, and while it is possible to slow down the tempo of the game (such as the Wildfire Assault Plot, which has each side keep only three of their characters in play), usually the next round sees at least one side rebuilding quickly to begin their furious assault anew. Even the smallest of characters can make a big impact, whether because they have an icon your opponent cannot defend or because they have a keyword like Stealth which makes them hard to defend, and it isn’t about how hard you hit. Just that you hit hard enough to win the challenge – unless you happen to be holding a nice Event that lets you claim extra Power after winning a Challege by X or more.

And the Houses feel different. Yes, there are similarities among them but in general you will find a different playstyle is favored depending on the House you are using. The Lannisters have a lot of ways to generate more income and have sneaky ways of subverting the board state and possess a lot of Intrigue icons. The Starks have very little Intrigue, but have strong units that get even more fearsome when paired with their iconic weapons or direwolves. Baratheons have a multitude of ways to gain extra Power during their turns. Targaryens have dragons, and effects that kill off characters if their strength gets reduced to 0. Even if you know nothing about A Game of Thrones, the Houses offer such vibrant, different strengths that anyone can enjoy exploring what they each have to offer.

So here I am, returning to a game that I owned and sold many years ago. I’ve grown as a person and a player, and can enjoy the game whether in victory (rare as they are) or in crushing defeat. I love the characters and mustering my beloved Starks out to overrun the board with Military challenges that keep my opponent’s board as small as possible. I enjoy the game a lot, and my wife does as well so that makes this an easy keeper and a game I cannot help but recommend strongly to anyone who isn’t afraid of a fast-paced, aggressive gameplay approach. And we’re still waiting on The Winds of Winter to be published, just like we were back when I first found this game. Come on GRRM! I don’t need the final two books to enjoy this game, but enough is enough.

First Impressions · Journey Through the CCG Graveyard

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #4: More Impressions

A few more CCGs have received their first plays by me, so I wanted to collect my thoughts on the three games here. Watch for a board game review to appear very, very soon!

A Game of Thrones CCG

I’ve read all of the main books. I’ve seen all of the episodes of the show. I’ve played a handful of the board games created about this IP. And this weekend I finally got a chance to try out the old Collectible Card Game for A Game of Thrones. And I must say, it was treading into familiar territory for me. Why? Because I have previously played the LCG version of A Game of Thrones, both the core set for 1st edition and 2nd edition (but never anything beyond those core sets). And, well, this first iteration of the game feels and plays pretty darn exactly like the later implementations of the game.

That makes this a good thing, and a bad thing. It is a good thing, because it was a homecoming moment for my wife and I as we pulled these two decks out (The Ice & Fire set starter containing Targaryen and Greyjoy decks). Neither house was our preferred house to play, which was fine. After all, I don’t need to always play as the Starks and she doesn’t always need to be the Lannisters. However, we both agreed mid-game that we wanted to get decks for our favorite houses sometime soon! The bad thing about this CCG being too similar to the LCG is, well, there isn’t much reason to continue down the CCG path for this game. If the cards were dirt cheap, that might be one thing. It doesn’t seem ridiculously overpriced, but for the price of a box of packs I could get a complete “cycle” in the LCG format complete with 3x of every card, good or bad, rather than a varied assortment from a CCG pool. I’m not going to part with these decks anytime soon, and I’d love to find out if there are areas of the CCG that are worth diving into at a good price, because maybe a set or two did something fun that hasn’t appeared in the LCG.

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This particular session was brutal for me. It started with a really solid first two rounds for House Greyjoy, but after that things spiraled out of control. My deck drew into locations, which she managed to clear 2 of them right after that. She got out a good number of characters, and lucked into countering my Wildfire Assault plot card (does the cancelled effect/replaced card then get back into my available Plot pool for the next round? We disagreed, obviously, because I wanted to use it next round and she didn’t want me to be able to balance the board after getting a 7/2 advantage). From that point on I drew exactly one character card, and she never put out any locations – I had cards in hand and in my plot deck just waiting for her to get locations – and so she steamrolled me on her way to a 15-1 victory that wasn’t quite as lopsided as the final score indicates. Had she not hit 15, my counter-assault would have landed me at least 5 Power back onto my side of the board and killed off a few of her characters or discarded cards in the process.

Ultimately, I want a rematch with these decks. They felt pretty well-designed in terms of self-contained decks, at least from the cards I’ve seen so far. For instance, my Plot to search for a Maester was a far better Plot than I had expected, and the deck had 4-5 Maesters to choose from in the deck. And I’d still be okay with getting some cheap cards for the CCG if the right deal came along, but I am instead looking ahead to a hope of some small funds soon to grab the 2nd Edition LCG core again and some additional cards to add in there, giving us several decks to play with and some cards for me to deck construct with. Because I love few things more than building and tweaking decks – something she has absolutely no interest in doing so I’ll even be making the decks that are trying to destroy me. And yes, you can look forward to some more impressions on the LCG version of the game once I get that into my now-impatient hands. We owned it once and parted with it due to some less-than-pleasant emotions that can crop up during the game as the tides of battle ebb and flow. But we’re in a place now where I think we’re able to pull out some ultra-competitive games like this and not end up sleeping in different rooms for the night. Between Harry Potter and this, I’m working hard to get my wife to venture into more of these card-based games (and I absolutely love these kinds of games), even though I know she’d much prefer playing a game with a board.

Traveller Customizable Card Game
This one isn’t a dead CCG, but I’m hardly going to limit my scope here – it still is a CCG in name, although it follows closer to the LCG format for releases having fixed packs of cards. What really interested me in the game, apart from the cool theme, was that it contained rules for playing the game solitaire. I’m all for playing games with others, but sometimes it is a lot easier and faster to bust out a solitaire game or two. When I did my unboxing video for this game, it sure appeared daunting with the amount of iconography present on the cards. The rulebook even goes as far as to mention the card iconography approach was inspired by modern board gaming, where a lot of games take a language independent approach and use game-exclusive iconography. And since most icons merely represent some form of resource or skill, the iconography can really get boiled down (in most instances) to you are searching for a matching symbol to determine success or failure. Which ultimately accomplished two things: it eliminated the need for dozens of keywords (replaced by icons), and made many things easy to tell at a glance what was needed rather than needing to read (and reread) cards searching for the needed lines of text.

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After getting through the rules with only a few minor confusing points (which cleared up quickly as soon as I started playing and seeing how it all worked together), the game flowed really well. Surprisingly so. The iconography turned out to be an asset once you got going, allowing you to quickly find what you needed (or see that a card didn’t have the needed icon) in order to complete objectives. Having limitations on crew size, ship components, etc. helped to prevent any task from being an auto-success, and the hidden information of the face-down cards on each task kept enough tension early in the game. By the late game, it was a pretty easy task to progress forward efficiently, having enough symbols to handle the majority of what might appear. And with a simple task of accomplishing a designated number of points, it became easy to plan out what might be the best risk-reward slot to pursue. As with any starter, there appear to be limitations in there as to how much tension is present – but this is handled within the rules with modifications such as making your deck smaller (a lose condition is running out of cards in your deck), which gives you less time in which to accomplish your objectives.

Overall I genuinely enjoyed the first play, and the subsequent plays won’t be too far off in the future since this is a solitaire-friendly game. I’m hoping to get it played at least once with a friend, and finding one who won’t be scared off by iconography overload. I have a particular person in mind, as a matter of fact. I’ll be interested to try the other preconstructed deck, too, and see how that compares and then start tearing them all apart for some deck construction. And because it comes in non-random packs, I might be looking at expanding this one in the near future as well. All in all, I would recommend this one based on initial impressions, especially if you plan on playing with others, as it seems like that would be an even stronger version of the game.

World of Warcraft TCG
I apparently knew my friend all too well, for I pulled this out and he began to recount tales of his days playing Warcraft, dating all the way back to the original. To my surprise, he used to play this very card game way back when, but it had been a long time since that passed from his collection. So with a quick brushing up on the rules, we were underway in the game with only a few times to pause and get clarification. For instance, the rules aren’t clear that the allies you bring into play cannot attack the same turn, but we found that correction quickly upon noticing the presence of a keyword that allows an ally to attack the same turn they come into play. The artwork and the card names are absolutely delightful, even as someone who never really played World of Warcraft (I dabbled a few times with a low-level character but never lasted long before moving onto a different game). The oversized Hero cards that came in my starter set were a nice touch, too, adding some extra table presence in a completely unnecessary but enjoyable manner.

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The gameplay itself wasn’t too hard to grasp. I like the interplay that a hero can offer, being able to attack and defend with equipment (I don’t think either deck contained armor, which was disappointing) – something that I believe will become an important thing to build around with new decks. That, and adding in Protector allies. Because there isn’t much you can do to stop someone from curb stomping your Hero over and over with a board of small allies until you get the right cards into your hand or into play. I like the resource row, something I saw and enjoyed in Vs System. However while that game felt like it had a good curve of ramp in power between starters, this one felt more random in execution. Granted, that might be primarily a fault of the premade decks and their limitations. I think we’re going to try out a cooperative experience against a Dungeon deck or two to see if this one shines in that area – something I really hope is true because that would give it a strong niche to remain in a collection. Because as a competitive game, it was wholly disappointing from the first two plays.

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Of course, it wasn’t a bad game by any means. But in a crowded market of games, you need to be able to stand out and do something extraordinary compared to the competition. This one has the strength of its IP. Chasing Loot cards for in-game rewards is a moot point by this stage. So I’m hoping that a dungeon crawl experience awaits us – and maybe we’ll need to try our hand at a Raid or two with a few other friends to see how that plays out. Perhaps that is the unique area of 1 vs many where it can carve its niche. However, based on the prices that folks want for some of these decks…well, it is going to need to overperform in order to get a strong recommendation by the time a review focused around a newcomer circles around. If you can get a small collection for cheap, it might definitely be worth the time. But right now, I’m hesitant to invest much more into a game that I fear is going to be absolutely average overall. I’d love to find an inexpensive deal that could prove my initial impressions wrong, though!

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #2

Welcome to the second installment of Journey Through the CCG Graveyard! Earlier this month I started out by recapping my CCG plays from September, and there will be a post much like that coming at the beginning of November. You’ll still get raw data at the end of this which will show you what I’ve played so far overall and can help you to see where things might be heading for the post and what I might talk about. But today is going to be more of a review for a single CCG. And to kick it all off, I’m going to talk about the Tomb Raider Collectable Card Game. And I am going to operate under the likely assumption that you know absolutely nothing about the game, so there are a few things I will be covering:

 

***Brief shoutout to the folks at Cardgamegeek.com for a great deal on the two starters and a small number of boosters. Check out the website for some CCG Collection tools (not for Tomb Raider yet, unfortunately) and check out his eBay store for a ton of product for sale.

The Goal of the Game

Regardless of the number of players involved, the objective for the Tomb Raider Collectable Card Game is to explore the location until you discover the Treasure Room, and then successfully find and obtain the treasure in that room. This makes thematic sense for anyone who has played any of the Tomb Raider games (regardless of era) or seen any of the Tomb Raider movies. In a solo game (which is what I have played), you are navigating through the chamber until you reach that room and discover the treasure. In a multiplayer game, you are trying to be the first player to accomplish the task.

Who you are

Each player will control an explorer character who has four printed stats: Fight, Move, Search, Think. With the base game, your stats begin as either a 2 or a 3 in each of those, and that value represents the number of 6-sided dice you roll when trying to pass a skill check involving those stats. The Move value is also the number of rooms you can move through during a turn (although hitting an encounter in a new room will end movement, which is usually what happens). The Think value is the number of cards you draw at the end of each turn, and also determines your starting hand size. All players can be the same person, i.e. just because Person A is Lara Croft doesn’t prevent Person B from also being a Lara Croft.

The Flow of the Game

Turns are relatively straight-forward. Most of what you will do is going to involve moving, revealing the new location, and facing obstacles or searching the location. So let’s talk briefly about each of those:

Movement – Imagine, if you will, a grid of cards 3 wide x 6 long. This is the basic idea in Tomb Raider for the layout of your location, and you begin with only an entrance in play at “Depth 1” and you know (roughly) the range of Depth where the Treasure can be found. There’s a nice little Depth measure that comes with the quest box, and the further you go the more dangerous it can be (more on that on Encounters) and it can go all the way up to a Depth of 12 for a longer and more dangerous expedition. Each card has yellow arrows pointing in the directions of travel that the player can go from that chamber, so for instance I might move onto a card that has an arrow at the top of the card and one on the left edge of the card. I move my figure onto that card, orienting it so the bottom edge faces back toward the card I moved from. That then informs me the directions I can move from this location, assuming it fits within the 3 x 6 grid of cards.

Obstacles – When a new location is flipped, your opponent(s) have the opportunity to play an Obstacle card – usually in the form of either Traps of Battles – onto the new location. The left side of the card has a Danger number, which is added to the Danger number printed on the current Depth, and this tells you the value of Obstacle card that can be played onto the location. Each Obstacle card has a numerical value in the corner, so as long as it is equal to or less than that number, you can play it on your opponent. In a solitaire game, you have a separate Obstacle deck that gets shuffled, and every time you move you discard cards until you find a playable card on the location – so you are running into more encounters in a solo game, but the tradeoff is your hand is all cards that can be used to your benefit rather than having some to slow the opponent. Many locations additionally have printed Obstacles on them. Most Obstacles will list two of your traits and a number after each, i.e. Move 9 or Think 11. You choose one to test, and roll dice based on your value. If the sum of the dice is equal to, or greater than, the number for the test you succeed and the Obstacle is discarded. They will have text on the card informing you of the effect should you fail, such as being Stuck for a turn. Enemies will require the Fight skill to be used, and success will deal them 1 hit from their life while failure means you take damage. Lose enough life, and it is Game Over…kinda…

Searching – Various item and equipment cards will be present in your deck as Discovery cards, providing potential benefits such as increasing skill values, adding dice to certain skill checks, increasing damage, drawing more cards, healing wounds, and more. Additionally there are things like secret passages which can add Arrow tokens onto a room, or even Save Points which can return you to life mid-dungeon and keep your saved inventory in tact. Drawing these cards does nothing on its own – to play them you have to successfully Search at a location. You cannot Search a room where you fought that turn, and once you’ve successfully found something at a location you mark it with an X token to indicate it has been Searched already and no future Search actions can be taken there. Like the Encounter cards, these item/equipment cards have a numerical value that you need to meet, or exceed, when rolling on a Search test and you don’t need to announce beforehand what you are searching for, so if you have Magnum Pistols needing a 15 and a Small Med Kit needing a 10, once you see what you roll high enough for you can choose which one thing to bring into play for future use. Many locations also add, or subtract, the number of dice rolled for the Search test so Searching in the right location can make it easier to get a stronger card into play.

On Death and Save Points

The game is very much like a video game. You essentially have infinite lives, and dying simply has you respawn either at the entrance (if you have encountered no Save Points) or at the last Save Point. Any items/equipment in play are discarded when you die EXCEPT any you had out when you used the Save Point, so there is a pretty strong incentive to find and use one. You also lose your entire hand but, thankfully, the cards in your discard pile just shuffle if you ever run out of cards to draw (which can and probably will happen). In a multiplayer game, dying also theoretically will put you behind your opponent in terms of progress, but you are never eliminated. And any advancement they make into new rooms conveniently also opens them up for you to move through encounter-free later.

The Card “Art”

Do you remember games on the Playstation 1 like Final Fantasy VII and Tomb Raider? Those “3d” models of characters and backgrounds that, at the time, was heralded as revolutionary for what was being done in video games? Well, that hasn’t aged well at all aesthetically and, unfortunately, almost everything you will see in the game comes from the PS1 visuals. It isn’t going to win any artwork awards, but if you don’t mind the graphics of the stills, it doesn’t really impact the gameplay. But still, this isn’t a game you’ll be showing off for how great it looks. A modern reprinting, if one happened, would do well to ditch what is one of the worst aspects of the game.

Starting Experience

The entry point is extremely fixed here for Tomb Raider, because you pretty much will need to pick up at least one of the Quest Decks. For the base set, there are two of them: Into the Caves, and Trapped in the Tombs. Both are very different and each offers a fixed set of cards, a Lara figurine, a pair of dice, a Depth tracker, a sheet of tokens, and a sealed Booster Pack. They are excellent in value, being relatively cheap to pick up both on eBay or other sites. It has your first game be relatively small, and has a great guide to start things out as a 1-player introduction. You even know where the Treasure Room is located, being a face-down card in the center of Depth 4. It allows you to search the same turn as you fight, and has you skip putting an encounter on the Treasure Room card, as you’re likely not overpowered yet in such a small footprint. Having played through them both, there is a little variety between the two sets but most of the reason to get both is having two full sets of room cards to explore which, as you will see, is a really nice thing. It will also increase your collection of some of the key cards that you’ll probably be using early on in your deckbuilding ventures. All in all, these are both EXCELLENT starting points for Tomb Raider, both for a player and for a collector. And if you have them both, you also easily have enough to play this with a second player going forward, although your decks will be a little more restricted trying to make 2 from that pool.

The Rulebook

The rules seemed like a daunting task but I quickly discovered that about half of the book was spent giving various scenarios and providing a card list for the Base Set (always helpful!). What I genuinely appreciated, although it stopped my plan of “I’ll read/learn this during ____”, was that it jumped quickly into telling you to set up for a short demo solitaire game and gave you just enough to go off to learn the basic mechanics. After that it has a handful of pages expanding on some of those concepts, introducing a few new things, and breaking down the entire flow of a turn. The back of the book also has a handy turn structure reference, which is a wonderful thing to have handy. All in all, this game has a very easy barrier to entry in terms of learning how to play and going from new player to being able to at least understand the basics. If you prefer to learn by doing, this game does it right.

Expanding beyond the Starters

There are three different sets that were released for the game: Base Set, Slippery When Wet, and Big Guns. Of the three, the Big Guns set is really rare and difficult/expensive to find. If you are looking at this game as a collector, that is probably where you’ll get the best ROI on the cards because I would imagine those are the expensive Rare/Super Rare cards. There is another Quest deck in the Slippery When Wet set, which is a set that introduced some underwater mechanics that changed the amount of preparation you might need to do before moving too far. The base set has 209 cards, Slippery When Wet has 209 cards, and Big Guns has 159 cards. There are also a handful of promo cards. Overall, the Base Set appears to be very reasonably priced, making it an easy entry point for picking up enough cards to add deck variety. Slippery When Wet also appears to be fine in its pricing, although a little more expensive, but should be easily accessible for anyone wanting to play. If you’re okay with “missing out”, I imagine you could play the game for a long time without needing anything from the pricey Big Guns set.

Deck Construction

There is a very liberal amount of flexibility offered in deck construction, allowing you to make a deck between 30-60 cards. The fewer cards used, the fewer copies of individual cards are allowed in the deck. So essentially at 30 cards you can have at most 2 copies, whereas at 60 you can add a 3rd copy of cards. The Locations themselves are separate from you deck, so what you are building will be a combination of one-time event cards, items/equipment to find via Searching, Obstacles to play on your opponent (or to have played on you in a solo game), and Level Up cards to boost your base stats at a Save Point. Striking a balance between those would be a key to success. Personally, I went with 20 Encounters and 40 split between the rest. See the end for my complete Deck List that I built.

A Variety of Modes

One of the coolest things about the game is that it offers a variety of scenarios to play, most of which being designed for 2+ players. However, it also welcomes players to come up with their own scenarios. There is also a Freestyle Mode, which is the easiest to run with and supports any number of players. Essentially, instead of a specific setting you take all of your locations and shuffle them up. You choose either Power 2 (goes to Depth 6) or Power 3 (goes to Depth 12) to determine the size, as well as the minimum depth where you can see the Treasure room. And then you just go for it, trying to either discover the treasure or be the first to obtain it. If you ever are in a situation where there is only one space left unexplored, it is guaranteed to be a Treasure Room and you would draw cards until you reach your first Treasure Room.

Losing the Game

Honestly, this appears to be a difficult game to lose. From what I can tell, the only way it is possible to lose would be to have no more possible moves to explore further. But with a myriad of cards that can add exits and/or manipulate card orientation there are plenty of ways you can press onward even if it seems like you are running out of options.

My Thoughts

Okay, enough preamble here. Let’s talk about the Tomb Raider CCG. I genuinely enjoy the thematic feel it provides of moving around a “map” and exploring to try and discover treasure. It makes this card game feel closer akin to a board game because of the spatial aspect, and I like the little figurines that come in with the Quest Decks. This part is easily one of the strongest aspects of the game, and it comes through exceptionally well in those Quest Decks which have a fixed set of locations that all make sense together. And even when you mix it all into one massive location deck, it doesn’t bother me to go from a cave location to a temple location to an Atlantean location in the same adventure, and you could easily tailor the deck to include only specific thematic locations if you wanted. I also like how the threats can potentially get bigger as you go deeper, but no matter how far in you go there is still a chance of running into lowly bats, or a pack of wolves, or just a pit of spikes.

The deck construction was a fun aspect, although as a solo play it made a small number of the cards I own unplayable because they interact based on other Tomb Raiders – something that would be really useful and fun to include in a multiplayer game but a dead card if running a solo adventure. But you could easily just have it be discard fodder, as you cycle the deck quickly enough, or you could have a deck for solo and a different one for multiplayer games. The cards themselves are all relatively straightforward to understand, and there are not many keywords to have to remember. It is a quick and easy game to learn with enough interactions and nuances in there to encourage repeated plays for mastery.

A lack of player elimination is something that seems unusual for a CCG like this, and provides what I imagine to be an exciting multiplayer experience as each of you races toward being the one to discover the treasure, playing cards to hinder your opponent while also boosting yourself to make it easier to overcome anything they can throw at you. Trying to decide whether to hold onto a card for later or to discard it now can be a really tricky decision, because you want to strike a balance between those two things but if you can’t help yourself enough, it’ll be Game Over and you’ll have to respawn with a fresh start.

However, in the solitaire game this is also its biggest weakness, because it feels almost impossible to lose the game. Especially once you get a Level Up on your character and a weapon into play, things go down relatively easily and it becomes simpler to discover new items. And I imagine that as you go deeper, the risk of getting overwhelmed only increases. I do plan to go to a full 12 Depth run soon, and that might show a huge difficulty spike, but at 6 Depth it definitely feels like there is a point where you just can’t be stopped and rolling the dice becomes a sense of “going through the motions” in the game.

And there is a lot of dice rolling that will happen in the game. Every turn you’re likely to roll dice, whether to overcome an obstacle or to search for things in the room. Early on it introduces a level of uncertainty that provides a nice tension but, unfortunately, that tension does decrease if you can get some key cards into play early on. Being able to hand-pick your opening hand can easily set you on the path to success if you get a really good search or two at the start.

The game is also exceptionally fiddly with the thin, small tokens that you’re using to track damage, when rooms have been searched, adding new exits, adding Save Points to the map, and more. If I can find a good system for storing them in an organized manner that also is convenient for playing the game, I’ll be very happy about that. Because right now, that is one of my least favorite parts of the game because I’m trying to find the right token to put on the card, and later when picking up they are a bit of a pain to grab because of their size and lack of thickness.

However, this game provides a strong sense of excitement, adventure, and accomplishment as you go through and explore, gain power ups, and discover new secrets. It is a really fun and successful experience that I found myself eager to explore time and again after that first play, and even though I’ve moved on to try other things I am still looking forward to the next play. Even if only as a solitaire experience, this is one I’m happy to not only keep playing, but that I’m willing to expand my collection at least a little – gradually – into the future. This game is so very solidly in the “keep” side of things that I’m genuinely excited to continue exploring more dead CCGs based on the strong success of my first few games that I’ve dabbled into. Is it a perfect game? Show me a game that is. That’s an impossible task, my friend. But this is genuinely a solid game experience that I’ve enjoyed and that is all you can ask from any game out there. I truly do wish there was a stronger threat of failure in the game, but the dungeon crawl exploration nature of the game helps make up for it because things usually remain interesting – as long as you don’t have to explore every single location in the grid.

So far I’ve found Facebook groups specific to a few of the old CCGs I’m enjoying, but I can’t seem to locate one for the Tomb Raider CCG. If you know of one, let me know. But my guess is that I need to play it from my hand and create that group, because this is a game more people can and should get to enjoy.

Notes on the Journey
Total plays (plays since last report).

Tomb Raider = 4 (+4)
MegaMan NT Warrior = 4 (+4)
Harry Potter = 4 (+2)
Final Fantasy = 2
Spellfire = 2

Decklist

Lara Croft, Treasure Hunter
All or Nothing x 2
Atlantean Big Boss x 1
Atlantean Life Amulet x 2
Attack from Behind x 2
Backpack x 1
Bats x 2
Bear x 1
Blinding Flash Trap x 1
Bounty x 1
Compass x 1
Cool Shades x 1
Dark x 2
Dart Trap x 1
Detailed Search x 2
Flare x 1
Flying Atlantean x 1
Gap x 1
Good Shot x 1
Guarded Attack x 2
Hidden Exit x 2
Idol of Life x 1
Improvise x 2
Just Made It x 2
Lara Croft, Adventurer x 2
Leather Jacket x 1
Look Again x 1
Magnum Pistols x 2
Natla x 1
Natla’s Thug x 1
Pit Trap x 3
Pumas x 1
Rough Ground x 1
Rope x 1
Run x 1
Save Point x 2
Small Medi Pack x 2
Snoop Ahead x 1
Spiked Slope x 1
Superior Tactics x 1
Take Aim x 1
The Way Through x 1
Triggered Door x 1
Wolf Pack x 1
Wolves x 1

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #1

Welcome to the first of what promises to be a decently-lengthy series where I’ll be chronicling my ventures into various defunct Collectible Card Games (also interchangable with Trading Card Games). And there are a LOT of them out there, let me tell you. My CCG days began as a child when my parents, because I was really big into Star Wars and used to love collecting and sorting sports cards, got me the 2-player introductory set for the Star Wars CCG. At the time I knew nothing about expanding the game, much less being very good at learning or teaching the rules, but I have extremely fond memories of organizing the cards and attempting to play rounds of the game – and maybe one day I’ll find out my version of playing it wasn’t too far from how the rules are printed. Yes, it will eventually appear in here because that is one of the games I 100% for sure want to explore.

Fast forward to the second half of high school, where I had a group of friends and we’d get together pretty much every weekend to play D&D 2nd Edition, PS2 games, and Magic: The Gathering. I had a blast with the game, and loved constructing new decks to test almost as much as I enjoyed playing the game (something I still enjoy way more than the average player). I was extremely limited in my card pool, and was frequently the player with the weakest overall set of cards to use, and so I had to come up with clever ways of finding combinations to counter what they could build, which is something that also has followed me: I am not big on chasing the expensive, powerful cards nor in “net decking” where I take someone else’s powerful deck and recreate it for my own play. I’m 100% a deckbuilder based on my own instincts based on my own pool of cards and so, as I explore some of these further, you’ll find some interesting decklists might arise (which I will definitely share as I construct decks, when able).

After high school, though, we all went our own ways and the band never got back together and, thus, my Magic cards eventually left my possession. It would be many, many years before I would try another CCG (Star Wars: Destiny), and then another TCG (Final Fantasy) and quit them both for essentially the same reason: an aggressive release module just doesn’t jive with me. I don’t want to chase cards, and I don’t want the game landscape to dramatically change every 2-4 months and require me to invest in a new set in order to remain competitive with other players. Spoiler: I’ve recently picked up some cards again for the Final Fantasy TCG as it is still a smooth, fun game with characters I love from having played most of those video games – but I am restricting myself to getting it more as a way to play with a pair of close friends who also have some cards in the same boat as me rather than try to entrench myself in a competitive meta for the game. And while I know it isn’t a dead game by any means (with the 10th set just about to release and an 11th already announced), it will still get some mention and coverage here in the CCG Graveyard adventure.

About two years ago I discovered a long-dead CCG called Middle-Earth. As a huge fan of Tolkien and a person whose top two board games are War of the Ring and the Lord of the Rings LCG, I needed to try it because I kept hearing it was one of the absolute best Tolkien-inspired games ever made. So I picked up some cards for cheap from a person and made some decks and forced a friend to try the game. Short story long, we both really enjoyed the game and we both have a small but respectable collection in the game, but it is one that simply hasn’t hit my table often enough (and this WILL be motivation to get it out more often, even if only for solitaire play). In the process I learned of a few other CCGs out there, but mostly dismissed them as something I didn’t really want to explore.

So what ultimately led me to the CCG Graveyard as a playground to explore these older games? First, I stumbled across a lot of them this year as I was researching into 2-player only titles. It quickly became a “well, duh” moment of realization that some of these might offer some of the best head-to-head gameplay that can be found. Second, was taking a few of those a step further and seeing what market price was for starter sets and some loose cards or a few random booster packs. Again, I’m not the type of player to chase the expensive and hard-to-find cards. Most of these, I’m not even looking to begin a collection of the game, but rather to explore the game, create some content to benefit the community that either a) already enjoy some of these older games or b) might be considering one of the games but can’t find anything current about how it plays, etc. And that is, primarily, where I want to step in here.

So as a brief summary, before this past month the CCGs I have played are:

Star Wars CCG (as a younger person, and I may not have even learned it or played it properly)
Magic: The Gathering (back around 2000-2002)
Star Wars: Destiny (for the first two sets, really)
Final Fantasy TCG
Middle-Earth

And of those, I have to toss out Star Wars since I’m not convinced I knew it or could recall it well enough to rank it. Anyway, enough preamble, onto the real content here:

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In the past month I played three different CCGs, two of which were new dead CCGs: Final Fantasy TCG, Spellfire: Master the Magic, and Harry Potter TCG (the latter of which was played just last night!). Because of the lengthy introduction, most of this discussion will be brief compared to future posts in this series – especially as I get into construction of decks and such. I will opt to take the approach of discussing them in alphabetical order:

Final Fantasy TCG

I played two games of this at my local game store back on 9/12, and had gone that Thursday night strictly with the intention of playing this with the group of local players. Sadly, only one other person came that evening (I think partially due to a shift by the group to trying out tournaments on Tuesday nights as well, which I would assume means most are doing one or the other) but I did get two games in against him with my trusty first deck, which is an Ice/Water summon-based deck. He brought a Final Fantasy Tactics-based deck. Both plays went relatively similar, as neither of us was running a fast deck. In fact, it was a bit of a slog as the first game I kept drawing Backups, and in the second I didn’t get a second Backup in my hand until near the end. So in the first game I lost eventually because I couldn’t maintain any strong board advantage, in spite of getting several early damage on him. Once his engine got started, we stalled and eventually traded damage until he was able to pin me down for a very, very narrow win. In the second game I had great cards, but they were really costly without any backups in play which meant I was typically bringing out only one new card or casting one Summon per turn. Still, I had a chance to win this one with an opportune attack that ended up being cut short by a fortuitous EX Burst in his deck popping to prevent my final damage from being able to drop on him. And that was enough, as I couldn’t get 2 more damage on him before he finished me off in a game that I decidedly should have won if any other card had flipped for his damage that round.

Overall I still enjoyed my plays of the game against him, but it confirmed that my deck, which i built when I had my first handful of cards, is still not very good and should probably be scrapped for now rather than trying to throw duct tape onto it. That deck remains winless, although it has been on the cusp of victory in every game it played – but all of them have been relatively slow which has allowed us both to get set up properly and, at that point, the deck just doesn’t have enough of an aggressive push even if it has tools to answer most situations. Better summons and more summon-focused units will help, and it may be a deck I try to build again later on. A final decklist will be edited in here soon

Harry Potter TCG

This was my most recent game and is, of course, freshest in my mind as a result. I taught this to my wife on October 2nd, and we played two games using the starter decks (Draco Malfoy vs. Hermoine Grainger) since that is all I have for the game right now. The first game I ran Draco and used his attack-oriented spells to put some strong pressure on Hermoine, but her swarm of creatures eventually pushed me into a very narrow loss since a good portion of my blasty spells ended up getting discarded from damage in the early part of the game. We immediately swapped decks and played it again to see how things were different. For a long time I was very much in control with Hermoine, removing Lessons and whittling away on damage. But since my wife wasn’t getting any Creatures into play I had too many unplayable cards that, eventually, she was able to force me to discard with Draco’s ability. My choice to draw cards two different times during the game ultimately led to my demise, as she decked me a turn before my teeny creatures could finish her off and she did a great job of removing my bigger creatures as soon as they arrived – and I was sad to see two of my trolls discarded to damage about halfway through the deck along with my last creature retrieval spell.

Even with just the beginning decks of cards, I was impressed by the difference in approach to the two decklists. One is about getting big creatures out and removing your opponents’ stuff directly, while the other is more about blasting into oblivion. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of variety in either deck, with about half of the 40-card deck being Lessons and the other cards all being repeated in the deck 2-3 times. But I did enjoy the oversized paper playmat that served as a learning guide and the quick, streamlined gameplay offered in this introductory package. It is definitely just a jumping in point, as playing with only these two decks as-is would grow really boring really fast. We may play it another time or two until I can get a smallish set of cards to expand the decks with, but for now this is likely going to sit in idle limbo until I do get said cards – and that’s okay as my wife isn’t likely to get an itch to play a card game with my anytime soon. But I think we’d both be happy to play it again, and the rules are relatively easy so we’ll have no issues picking it back up when it does return to the table.

Spellfire: Master the Magic

This game started as one I was mildly interested in when doing research on the various CCGs that had been produced. I knew I had friends who love D&D and that getting them to play it wouldn’t be difficult, but it was on the higher end of pricing for starter decks and I just wasn’t sold on it being a good game from surface-level research. Thankfully, I happened across a sealed starter deck set locally at an insane deal and picked it up because it was a small risk for trying it out. I played two rounds of Spellfire back on September 5th using those starter decks with a friend. It was a relatively easy teach, but it did not go so smooth as I was mix-up about what a Champion was. In my mind I kept picturing it as the Hero cards with the white helmet icon, so our first failed attempt did not go so well and it was a runway victory for me, as I was the only one consistently drawing Realms to play.

The second game we corrected that ruling, and although it was still pretty lopsided it was far more fun and competitive with some intense battles fought as he decimated my Realms. I spent most of that game without drawing any Champions, and when I finally got some it was too little too late. After the game we were able to better scrutinize the decks and could see the issue: my deck had about half as many champions as the other deck, which was exactly why I couldn’t draw them consistently. However, there was enough fun factor during those skirmishes that we could both see the strong potential in the game and we planned to play it again soon with rebalanced decks.

Well, plans didn’t quite pan out so we’re playing tonight at last and, while those first decks have been rebalanced in terms of composition, I now also have two more decks of cards and a handful of boosters from the Ravenloft set that have been opened so we’ll probably throw two new decks together from that pool of 250-ish cards and test those out to see how it all holds up. Which is where these entries are heading, into being session reports similar to what

Mike Haverty

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did with his “My Journey Back to CCGs” series. Go read them, they are seriously a delight to go through (Geeklist link!). You’ll see a monthly CCG recap like this, and in between some session report/sort review posts that are tailored specifically to one of those old CCGs.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this. I know I am loving this so far. In addition to this, I’ve started making a series of videos on Spellfire over on my YouTube channel to teach the game – look for links to those to appear soon on the Spellfire BGG Page, or find me as Cardboard Clash on YouTube and subscribe! And so tell me, are there specific CCGs you’d love to read or watch more about?

And in following the tradition started by SiddGames, each post will conclude with my updated plays of each game:

Notes on the Journey

Total Plays(plays since last report)

Final Fantasy = 2(+2)

Harry Potter = 2(+2)

Spellfire = 2(+2)