I am a massive (nerd) card game player. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the bomb (until links lost me fully). Duel Master was a strong child friendly version of Magic. Magic is a classic for a reason. Card Fight Vanguard was under appreciated and had some good ideas. This game is the perfect mix of genius and stupid.
It was designed by Richard Garfield, creator of Magic. It uses some basic mechanics, but it is wholly original and bonkers. It takes the tapping, or exhausting when played for the first time when used. It also has similar battle mechanics where damage is done on both sides when fighting, there are also different factions who have different strategies, and their are base words that explain a longer effect. Those are the only similarities they have.
Not only are those the only similarities, but it diverges hard into something so originals it gets crazy. The main difference this game has is its win condition. Instead of dealing damage or forcing a deck to run out of cards you collect stones, when you have six stones you forge a key (see how clever they are). When you have three keys you win. There are different ways to get the stones, and mess your opponent up by taking them. It is certainly an interesting take. Battles are basically done to retrieve stolen stones by your opponent.
A turn of play is quite different. Each deck has three types or houses. You declare and can only use that one house in your turn. That means you can use any action of creatures of that house, but that is it. After you use your cards you draw to keep 6 cards in your hand.
It is pretty standard sounding, only this game is very counter based, and boy do you have counters. Upon opening the two deck pack you are greeted to two cardboard pages with small tokens to poke out. You really can’t lose any of them either. It is overwhelming to say the least.
None of that is what makes this game bananas. What makes this game bananas vague card effects and the endless amount of possible creatures you can control. The vague effects come into play when what the card says is unclear (obviously), but could be interpreted in different ways. So cards allow a creature to not take damage. It doesn’t say effect or battle so which is it? Or if a card gets a plus 1 boost, do they just increase power or is it a shield buff? Some effects have names but aren’t on the foldable rule sheet. Those questions are not as bad as the fact you can have over a dozen creatures in play and still los easily because creatures don’t dictate play or defense, just ways to stop your opponent from having an advantage.
If it’s unclear the game is actually good. What makes it hard to determine is…
So this is not a deck building game. You buy decks you use. You can’t mix and match so you have to build strategies with the cards you have. That’s what makes this game so interesting and not really money grubbing either. This works in the starter box fine enough because they are from the same set. However, when playing with two decks from different sets. In that case they seem mismatched. One had too many cards that simply had no way to respond so it is treading water and making small moves until you lose. That is bad, and a big thing that needs changing.
It would make sense to not do that from a marketing and economic perspective because having new, better sets is how all card games make money, but the art, style, and ridiculous names are what draws me to the game, and could easily draw others.
If the premise of gaining points over losing health, the different way a turn plays (using only one of the three houses at a time), and fun cartoon art gets you in I have a few very beginner tips.
Tip 1 – Go with your gut on what the cardboard tokens do. They are well designed to give you a good indicator.
Tip 2 – Look up effects as needed. Trying to memorize every effect before you play makes getting in far more difficult. Just know REAP automatically gives you a stone, as does a picture with a stone on it.
Tip 3 – Only deal with chains as needed. It’s a larger mechanic not ever deck uses. So only pay attention if it mentions it.
If none of this is too much, you got $20 and want to change your game night this isn’t a bad choice.