We Still Need To Love All the Broken Ponies – Hands On Critique: The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Collectable Card Game

66_46_mylittleponyccg Note: this article contains much hyperbole & such personal views. Wow.

Generally speaking, there are two ways that you can release a Collectable Card Game (CCG, another name for a Trading Card Game/TCG). The 1st is by going up with a fairly new & unique idea and then thoroughly play testing a new game; seeing how to break certain mechanics or cards, checking if any decks/cards/builds are completely OP & pretty much ensuring there is some semblance of balance before you release it.

The 2nd way is to find a popular media franchise, see how you can base a game around it & rush it out to capitalise on the popularity without putting it through play test, usually meaning the game is broken with poorly conceptualised rules & cards contradicting how things are meant to be played.

How the game is set up on the play field/mat.

Unfortunately, the official CCG for the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise is of the 2nd school of CCG creation & releases.

The game is more broken the promises of your ex-boyfriend & not so much bent as it is a spiral.

OK, calling it broken is unfair. It is more that it is poorly balanced & not optimised to it’s full potential but these issues are being addressed by the makers with each new expansion release & the makers are working with the player community to address any questions or issues there are with the rules.

Many of the ideas the game are pretty much unique to it -such as Faceoffs & Troublemakers– yet they are so poorly optimised & explained that they are constant sources of argument & contention. The text on the cards are often poorly written, with no clarity as to how some of them are used or what their triggering conditions are (especially for some of the Mane character cards). They are plenty of screwy rules & confusing set ups in this game -so much so that many ex-players (& some heavily invested franchise fans) claim that these “broken” rules & mechanics began to drive players away from the game. Such people also claim that this was more so because the game wasn’t produced by fans (AKA Bronies) but rather by game makers not invested in the characters or morals of the cartoon.  Upon being pointed to better research, I stand corrected in the creators not being part of the fandom but it still means people won’t stop using the whole “evil corporation wants to take fans money” argument spilling out of so many mouths.

Yet, despite all of those faults, I do actually really enjoy the game. I enjoy playing (the rare chances I can find someone to verse), I enjoy collecting the cards & I really enjoy the deck building. All because it’s so unlike any other game that I play (with the possibly exception of Legend of the 5 Rings) & it forces me to think differently to how I play it. It’s too difficult to explain how to play, so shall let this video do it for me.

As you can, it’s a pretty odd & complex game, but that is one of the reasons that I really do enjoy playing. First off, let’s look at the Problem cards.

Since unlike games such as Magic the Gathering or Cardfight Vanguard, you don’t actually engage in combat, Problem cards are your means to setting up your Win Conditions (basically: reaching 15 points before your opponent does). Yet how you Confront a Problem can becoming confusing when it leads into the Faceoff & Double Faceoff turns. You score points for reaching the requirements printed on the card, which are the numbers on either side of it, as in the below example.

The dual colour symbols on the bottom represents what the cost is to the player whose card it is. Decks are almost always two colours (being based on the colours of the Mane 6 from the series: purple, pink, yellow, white, orange & blue), so by playing/setting or moving Mane or Friend cards who match the colour requirement, you can score 1 point. Whilst the opposing player just has to met the Power requirements equal or above the upside down number on the top of the card. If you are the 1st player to Confront the problem, you score the Bonus Points written on the card. The more difficult it is the for players to meet the requirements or beat the Problem card’s active abilities, the higher the Bonus you score.

Now, here is where it gets fairly frustrating for some players.

If you’ve Confronted a Problem, you supposedly garner 1 point for every turn that your opponent is unable to Confront it post the initial confrontation but if you Confront both Problems without your opponent being able to Confront them, you can initiate a Double Faceoff -as opposed to a regular Faceoff, which requires your opponent to also be able to Confront the same Problem as you. Double Faceoffs are handy for scoring more points, as you get a point for each Problem plus the larger of the two Bonus points. It’s just the explanation for triggering them is really, really (reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaally) confusingly (really) explained in the manual.

At least the method for resolving the Faceoffs themselves are very straight froward. You add up the total Power (the coloured numbers in the top right of the cards) of all of your cards facing both Problems before you Flip the top card of your deck. The term ‘Flip’ is rather useless & confusing. It would’ve been better if they just said “reveal the top card of your deck” instead. You add the Power from the Flipped card to the total of your cards on field & if you have a higher number than your opponent, you win. There are of course cards & abilities that grant you more power or other bonuses; such as scoring extra points, Flipping additional cards, dismissing or discarding opponent’s cards & so on & so forth. The scoring it all pretty straight forward for the most part & it also ties into how the turns are performed.

If you watched the video a few paragraphs above, you may remember it talking about how you Action Points. AP acts like your Mana if you were playing MtG but unlike Mana, your AP returns at the start of each turn & increases as you score more points. They also roll over each turn. So if you have 1 point left over & you get 2 AP at the start of your next turn, you’ll have 3 AP & so on. In an odd bit of balancing & forethought, your opponent will always have the same amount as AP as you, regardless of their actually score. So if one of you is ahead, the ability to play cards is always equal. This means you can get in some nice last game volleys by storing points & then playing lots of high cost cards, Troublemakers to prevent your opponent from Confronting problems or using your AP to draw a few more cards per turn.

The challenge of the game lies in anticipating what your opponent may do as well as trying to lay down a good opening gambit with the limited resources that you have. Because cards such as Troublemakers are played face down & stay that way for your turn (unless you have other cards or abilities to let them be flipped right away), you can set up strategies well ahead of turns to hinder or shatter your opponent whilst they try to do the same to you. The fact that you can stack Troublemakers also leads to some pretty far thinking strategies.

How you build & balance your deck is also vitally important.

You need a minimum of 45 deck cards (Problems are always limited to 10 & have their own deck & you’re only allowed to have a maximum of 3 of the same card in either decks) to play but if you run anything past 70 or so cards, you run into the standard issue of inconsistent draws & having to discard cards from your hand once you go over the 8 card limit. You also need a balance of 2 colours, with one colour leading towards which ever Mane you prefer to use. The pre-built Starter Decks tend to come with two Manes with similar abilities that represent each colour of the SD’s theme but sometimes it’s better to build your own decks so you get a better feel for the game.

I’m currently running 3 decks: A modified Special Delivery theme deck (because Derpy is your cross-eyed muffin eating goddess!), one of the new Unlike Duo decks (because Fluttershy is the best waifu) & I’ve got a self made Purple/White deck based around the giant Twilight Sparkle: Friendship is Magic card that came with the Fat Pack. The latter deck is my most played because the Twilight Mane card is so easy to flip (play two different colours on a Problem & she flips) but her Flipped ability is pretty useless for the most part. My Derpy deck is a great one because of how it juggles the yellow Critter Friend type with a card that allows for unlimited Critters on the Home space (where cards go once Problems have been resolved with Faceoffs & are limited to X number of cards based upon your Mane’s unflipped/flipped state) but getting Derpy into her Flipped state is a confusing mess, taking ages to get done.

Compared to the other dozen TCG stuff that I play, my win/loss ratio in the MLP CCG is stacked more on the win side but, I have to be honest, most of them are chalked up to exploiting dodgy & ill-written rules & general confusion of what we had to do. Still, it’s a game that keeps me playing & genuinely keeps me interested.

As I’ve harped on throughout this Hands On Critique, this is a very unbalanced game but that doesn’t stop it being fun. In fact, the latest expansion, Absolute Discord, relies on the fact that much of the game is broken & exploits it even further with wacky card effects & abilities -which I think is a nice touch but doesn’t get them out of fixing the balance for all future releases.

In the end, I play this game because it is so different from the combat driving styles of other TCGs. It appeals to my more cunning &, frankly, underhanded nature to use cards to completely throw off my opponent’s game but at the same time help them with mechanics & understanding the rules so we can both enjoy the game more.

It’s far from perfect but the pre-built decks are very affordable & once you get the complex basics under your belt, the bouts go along at a good pace.

We also have regional matches coming up soon, so I hope that I’ll be in town for the local ones where I currently am. Last year only one person attended, so she got all of the prizes. So, if I slash a few tires, I might walk out a State Champion! Because prizes are better than friendship!

Article: My Glorious Return to the World of TCGs

mtglogo    It was 1994, when I was 14, that I first heard about a new game called Magic: the Gathering. It was like an old Pen & Paper RPG but without the characters or involved game play; it was also like a video game but expansive multiplayer (these were the days before good networking or many PVP games & only consoles had dedicated multiplayer). So I went to my local gaming store -The Games Cupboard in Woden Plaza- & brought a starter pack so I could play with people I knew at school (wouldn’t call them friends because I was basically the social outcast amongst the social outcasts). I enjoyed playing, got more boosters & other singles & played for a while but then I just got bored with the whole TCG thing. Too many competition players with their Uber Decks killing all the fun, less casual players in my social circles & I was doing other things with my time that I found more rewarding. Not to mention the sudden glut of other TCG games appearing on the market that vied for attention & money. After holding onto it for years, I ended up selling my collection to a friend for a decent price (even though I had some very rare cards) & didn’t really think about TCGs for a long while.

So, apropos of nothing, 20 years -December 2014- after I buying my 1st starter deck I decide to get back into not only Magic: the Gathering but also try my hand at a few other TCGs -including Yu-Gi-Oh! & Weiβ (Weiss) Schwarz.

Was lucky that I have a store that deals with all sorts of TCGs there & it was one of their staff members who told me about Weiβ Schwarz as a relatively new game. Unluckily, when I went back to purchase my decks I was served by the grumpy, unhelpful staff member who refused to explain what all the new Magic card packs were.
You see, when I brought my 1st starter deck, that’s all you had. A random deck plus whatever booster packs you wanted to grab. Since then, Wizards of the Coast have released about 137 different flavours of decks -many of them just reusing the same cards with new art &/or flavour text. So you can understand my confusion when I walk into the store & ask for a “starter deck” & the clerk gets uppity about my request. I ended up going for a 2015 edition Core Deck, which would cover everything I needed. The Core Decks also come with 2 booster packs, which gives you random drops & the chance to get some good rares -which I managed to nab in the form of some legendaries & a Planeswalker http://mtgsalvation.gamepedia.com/Planeswalkers in the form of Chandra, the Pyromaster.
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I also got a Yu-Gi-Oh! Space-Time Showdown ‘super starter’ pack, being the most current starter pack available that had the most diverse range of cards within it. Now, I haven’t played Yu-Gi-Oh! In a long, long time & that was using someone else’s deck. Yu-Gi-Oh! has the distinction of being a very easy yet amazingly complex game that has thousands of cards to collect & use. They all fall into Decks and Types that each work to different themes & Styles of Play. This means it has a myriad of combos & constructions & can be daunting to get your head around. It’s something that I had entirely forgotten about until I picked it up again but also means I haven’t been able to get a game in since am still trying to build my perfect decks -which means a lot of side collecting of individual (& rare) cards.
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The 3rd game that I got that day was Weiβ Schwarz (more commonly spelt Weiss Schwarz, which is German for White & Black), which is a fairly unique Japanese TCG that, instead of originating in or having an anime to sell it (like WIXOSS), it uses different anime series or movies (with the exception of the Project Diva deck & the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid characters) as theme for the various decks. Since they didn’t have a great deal of decks to choose from (limited releases in English so far), I went with a Persona 4 themed deck -since my enjoyment of that franchise has been long established on this blog. The game also has an exceptionally complex style of play, so it was hard to get my head around -more so since I came to it solely on recommendation without explanation. I basically had to turn to an online video tutorial to learn how to play but that proved incredibly helpful -so instead of explaining the game, I’ll just post said video instead:

So, I was decked up but didn’t really have anyone to play with, so it was several weeks before I could get a game in.

A friend took me to another Tabletop Games store that had recently opened up for a game of Magic. I just had my starter deck, which didn’t really stack up well against someone’s refined specialist deck but it allowed me to go over the basics again as well as learn all the new stuff that had been placed in the game since I stopped playing (so many new things, so confusing).

That then got me looking into other styles of playing Magic -such as EDH/Commander, Modern & other special Deck Types. The other customers at the store were really helpful, offering advise & explaining new rules & cards to me.

&, although it took me a while, I started playing Weiβ Schwarz with a good group of people at another local store (the one I first got the deck from in December). They taught me all the basics for proper play & were very patient with me learning the ropes. Am lucky that I’m a quick study & had watched the video linked above a couple of times to get my head around things. Once I had a few games under my belt, I found it a very fun experience. There’s a lot to remember & pay attention to but there’s a lot of logic to how the game flows & what you can play at any given time as well as how you play. You really have to know your cards though, what their special functions are as well as the conditions that they can do certain special abilities under. So the more you play, the smoother your deck usage becomes. At the moment, everyone in store seems to be playing either Fairy TailSword Art Online or Nisekoi decks but that’s fine because each series has their own strengths & weaknesses. Some people there are more focussed on tournament play, because every two weeks there is one, but if I can get a cause game in with my non-specialised Persona 4 deck, I’m fine with that.
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So, that pretty much kicked off a new, nerdish addiction.

In order to play the Style that you want or have different Decks for different game types, you need to collect. This either means swapping with other players, buying them individually in store or online (eBay is both a friend & a curse with this) or hoping for random drops from booster packs. Buying or swapping online but with Magic & Yu-Gi-Oh! you literally have tens of thousands of cards to go through, so it can be hard to find the right combos or individual play makers to complete a set or a theme.

I was lucky that I had a few friends donate to me their old cards (which you can do to if you want, send a Tumblr note or Twitter DM to arrange), which gave me a huge range to look through. Although it did make me wish that I kept my original cards, since some of them were pretty cool & others were worth a heap of money to sell or trade.
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So far I’m finding it the most frustrating trying to build up decks for Yu-Gi-Oh! because there are so many commons & it’s becoming harder & harder to find cheap or free cards from the series that I want (such as Ghostrick). No matter. Once I get the ones that I want, I can sell off the ones that I don’t for a decent price.

I’ll soon be expanding out my collections beyond those three games (as I mentioned in my previous blog post). I’ll be focussing on some of the common TCG, such as Pokèmon TCG but have the advantage of trying the free online version before I sink any money into it.

I also want to try Cardfight!! Vanguard and Future Card Buddyfight. Both of these series come from the same creator as Weiβ Schwarz: Bushiroad. This means that all 3 games share some similarities in play style. I’ll also be boosting my Weiβ Schwarz collection, both extending my Persona 4 collection & trying out some different trail decks (mainly waiting for KanColle in May) but might grab some Japan only decks because they just look cool.

Also, despite not yet (& maybe never) being in English, I’ve found places online where I can grab some WIXOSS starter decks as well as people who’ve translated them & the rules as well. I mainly want to play after seeing the anime (& knowing that my wish can’t be granted &/or twisted).

I’m also thinking of trying the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic TCG because, fuck it, why not. It’s a different sort of TCG that isn’t based upon conflict but rather solving problems & scoring up points. Resolution, not destruction, the the goal of the game & that isn’t a bad thing overall. Plus: PONIES MOTHERFUCKERS! PONIES!!!

There’s also Android: Netrunner, which I saw some people playing the other week. It reminds me a lot of the old D20 Cyberpunk RPGs that I used to play way back in the day. Think it’s actually based a bit on those games & systems but modified to suit cards. Will be interesting to play since the role you take on has different functions & play styles.

Next month, Wizards of the Coast will be releasing the final Block for the Khans of Tarkir set –Dragons of Tarkir– next month, so am hoping to go to one of the pre-release play sessions. Where you pay the money, get a special box with a couple of boosters, some pre-sorted cards, a D20 life counter & a bunch of Basic Land cards. You then do a tournament play & if you win two of three matches against an opponent, you get two free booster packs. You also add to your official tournament ranking (of which mine ranks a single win & many loses), which is transferable to any official Magic tournament across the world. If I do attend, I’ll make sure to write a review up of it & such.

Eventually, I’ll like to get a decent camera to record matches & talk about different Decks & Styles of Play but that is only once I have the money (please remember to donate via the PayPal buttons on the widget menu).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding more articles on TCG related stuff, including talking about matches, Decks, individual cards & so on.

Now, I have to get back to sorting my vast collection.

BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED!!!
BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED!!!

Tweaks, Changes & Updates (plus possible begging for donation)

tamayay

Since am reaching the end of my Masters work & our other contributors are busy, I thought it was time to add a few tweaks to the blog as well as add a new category for reviews & articles.

The latest section is on Trading Card Games (TCG) -which are also referred to as Collectable Card Games.

I’m doing this because I recently got back into playing Magic: The Gathering & Yu-Gi-Oh as well as starting slightly more obscure games like Weiβ Schwarz (Weiss Schwarz -German for White & Black). Soon I’ll be moving into Pokemon TCG & other series like Cardfight!! Vanguard & Future Card BuddyFight because there are enough people were I live who play it regularly. Also want to get WIXOSS cards but they’re still only available in Japanese (but seem to be popular over there).

This will move into reviews of the various TGC, their various flavours/decks/series as well as talking about the different decks & play styles out there. This will lead into recording How To Play guides with other players as well as filming the different types of matches.

For that I was considering setting up either a Patron or other similar donation system so I can afford to buy new cards/decks/booster packs as well as improve software & equipment to record things. I set up a PayPal donation button on the side widget if you care to donate either $1 of $5 USD to me. Every little helps really (since am living hand-to-mouth being a post-grad student & all).

I was also thinking of using this donation system to shift the blog from the free version to the full paid subscription model so can host videos & other things as well as have a customised domain name.

Also: if you have any old TCG stuff lying around that you’re happy to get rid of, please let us know & we’ll arrange compensation & postage stuff.

If any of my readers are interested in helping with this, please leave a comment below.

I’ll also be posting more retro reviews & hopefully finishing up my various manga/comic reviews as well. This is mainly so I can publish the half finish stuff that I have sitting around but also to flesh out the blogs content more.

As always, thanks for reading this tiny corner of the Net’s Geekdom & for your current & future support. Will try to get more regular updates from now on.

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