Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Collectibles on your game table

I am apparently one of a small group of people in this world who can play a collectible game without getting sucked in. I also have a tendency to be able to wander away from the games and then wander back. This is fine for me, but bad for getting a collectible/constructible game on the table, since my fickle nature has caused me to leave behind groups of players because I became less interested in the game (the only game) they played. I've wandered into and out of Magic: The Gathering multiple times since it's launch, and I still play it with my dad whenever I see him1.

I've played most of the good collectible games2 over the years, either when the came out, or once they were cheap. Here's some mini-reviews on some of my favorites, some of which are odd. I'd love to play these games more often, but the learning curve is high for almost all of them, so even keeping a set of playable decks around doesn't help get them on the table - you really need to commit to playing one game several times with the same group.

It should be noted that with a few exceptions collectible games require player elimination for victory, or encourage player elimination, so... if you didn't know, you've been warned.

Magic: Let's start with the original.
Good Stuff: Huge base of art and styles of play along with easy core concepts so you can get playing quickly. If you want to dabble, this is the game to do it with, since you can have a fun game after a 5-10 minute teaching session. Sadly since the game is older the newer cards require more attention to the rules, so the ease of the core concepts gets hidden by the newer complexities - but at heart it's a very easy game to play.
Bad Stuff: Two player. Multiplayer works okay, but it can bog down into the same traps that occur in multiplayer wargames - "Let's you and him fight so that I win". There's also some attitude in the greater tournament scene, but don't let that worry you. Just play with friends.

Over The Edge: Second/Third game I bought into.
Good Stuff: Quirky. Lots of fun theme3, alternate win conditions and some positional tactics. It's not just about attacking the other players (which is rare), so defensive tactics are possible. Also, dirt cheap these days.
Bad Stuff: Basically just a heavily modified Magic, it's a bit better for multiple players, but a bit more complex. The quirky art and theme isn't for everyone.

Jyhad/Vampire:Jyhad on release, so that's how I always think of it.
Good Stuff: Tied for best multi-player game. This one is all about negotiations and alliances, with a strong set of rules governing when and who you can hassle. A good feeling of running a family of characters (vampires) that then take actions on your behalf. Great costing mechanic that makes you more vulnerable to loss the more resources you put in play. Voting, attacking, etc.
Bad Stuff: Long. Lots of deals, promises and waiting for the most opportune moment (I love it, you may hate it). Very Very hard to teach, with lots of rules and sub-games within the game. I can't comment on the newer sets. At its best with four players.

Good Stuff: Other half of the multi-player tie. Theming is strong4, and winning doesn't require player elimination. As a second generation game5, it pulls mechanics from a bunch of sources, resulting in a more complex feeling than Magic. Less rules than Vampire though.
Bad Stuff: Lots of blowing stuff up. Oh wait, that's a good thing. Still fairly complex to teach, and can run a bit long. Not so great with two.

Good Stuff: Very nifty two player. Feels more unlike other CCGs than most, and has asymmetrical play. Strong fan base among boardgamers.
Bad Stuff: Good Deckbuilding is really hard. It's still not easy to teach and can be very intimidating due to the asymmetrical play. Hard to find.

Good Stuff: Funny. Tactical Board game style movement coupled with some of the best graphic design/art in the genre (That's design from a art perspective, not usability).
Bad Stuff: Light. Hard to find. Very odd.

Good Stuff: Great combat mechanics that use the playing card suit/rank that is built into each card. Good location/character based play that supports the theme (Weird West/Horror). Good for multi-player.
Bad Stuff: A bit overly complex, especially as expansions were added.

Good Stuff: Different. More storytelling than any other collectible, though you still have to send monsters to the other players. Nicely done, and works well with a wide range of number of players. I'm surprised that more eurogamers don't try this game - it's got the blend of story/game that seems to appeal to many.
Bad Stuff: Specificity on the cards is a bit much, making building decks frustrating, if not difficult. There are certainly some solitaire elements to the game that don't always mesh well with the aggressive elements. And you have to like stories and Lovecraft.

As you can see, in general the basic drawback to most collectibles as games is that they are complex. Sometimes in the basic rules, always in the infinite combinations of cards.

I've mostly listed older games. I pay attention to the new games, but none have really grabbed me (and many of the recent ones have been launched on the basis of their tournament support). There's a couple games I left out of the list that deserve some note - Legend of the Five Rings, Game of Thrones, Pokemon - but they never really grabbed me (though I played L5R with a group for over a year)



1He got my cards the first time I wandered away from the game, and proceeded to grow them into a huge collection. He started me on Avalon Hill/SPI, and D&D. I repaid him in kind by introducing him to Magic.

2 Which were of course almost all cards until the appearance of pre-painted miniatures, which I've dabbled in, but since the prepainted games were basically just applying the concept of collectibility to an existing game genre, I was less excited.

3Based on an RPG called On the Edge about tiny Mediterranean island with about 60 different world-domination conspiracies vying for control. An RPG that was light years ahead of it's time.

4 Lots of conspiracies (again) vying for control over the world (again) by using time travel. Cyber-Monkeys with guns. Kung Fu. Think Big Trouble in little China squared.

5I'm generous with my CCG generations, using them to categorize games. In general 1st gen are the games from 1993-1995, while 2nd gen are from 1995-crash 1. Third gen games are clumped around the rise of Pokemon/Yu-gi-oh and stretch into modern times. I haven't decided if the games of the past 2-3 years are sufficiently different from the poke-era games to merit calling them 4th gen. In short: 1st Gen - Magic and games that imitate it directly. 2nd Gen - More complex CCGs, with more rules and targeting a 20+ gamer demographic. 3rd Gen - Simpler CCGs, using licenses and anime art to target a younger demographic. 4th Gen - ??? Some weird blend of the prior generations - I haven't really found a common trend that differs too much from early games. Perhaps the 4th gen is the retro gen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here, here. I've played OTE (excellent, still own tons of cards though they haven't seen daylight in four or five years), Guardians (ditto), Mythos (um, ditto), and Deadlands (well, that one I unloaded because I was ticked off -- I had two friends who swore we'd play endlessly if I just bought cards, and then they dropped out of the game).

I treated most of these as "closed" CCGs -- I would buy a few thousand cards, build 10-15 decks, and just offer them up to play. However, most of my gaming friends now are only boardgamers, so my CCGs languish.