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!


Dragons Unleashed! – event review: Dragons of Tarkir pre-release event.

*disclosure: this writer has no affiliation with Good Games Hobart or the Good Games franchise, nor does he have any association with Wizards of the Coast. What is written below is entirely opinion based upon playing experience & have not been altered or affected by any incentive or association from the store of the makers of Magic the Gathering. If you want to dispute that, then piss off elsewhere to do it.*

Midnight, Friday the 20th of March, Good Games Hobart & the Magic-philes eagerly await the handing out of their special Dragons of Tarkir pre-release packs. The air is tense, silent; everyone is expectant -wishing for the perfect seeded drop or rare rich booster. Sweat pricks brows as the 1st shipping box is opened & the 1st name is called. Possibility is in the air tonight.

Not really.

As we waited for midnight to rock around, we were all talking shit, chilling or, in some cases, people are playing other games -like Magic Modern or Dungeonquest. No one is silent, no one is tense but everyone, in their own way, is excited & expectant. Eager to see what they might get & how the new mechanics play out.

Dragons of Tarkir is the 3rd and final set from Wizards of the Coasts’ latest Magic the Gathering block, Khans of Tarkir. Set in a parallel world from the original Khans (a pseudo Mongolian inspired plane) after the events of Fate Reforged (yes, MtG actually has plots within the blocks/expansions) where the former extinct dragons are now rulers of Tarkir thanks to Sarkhan’s changing of history. The story isn’t really important, the cards & new mechanics are.

If you’ve played any of the Tarkir block you’re already familiar with the mechanics of Manifest, Morph, Delve, etc. DoT adds in new or altered abilities. Most of these abilities tend to be Colour or Clan related, so Blacks & Blues related to Silumgar have Exploit, Dromoka’s Green has Formidable & so on. Abilities such as Megamorph & Dash can go across colours after a fashion but you tend to find them more associated with factions again.

Here are some examples of that which I used or had used against me:

Megamorph, where if you have a creature with this ability & you pay the Morph cost, when you flip it right side up you put a +1/+1 counter on it & usually activate abilities which grant bonuses to either that or other creatures on the field.

The Gudul Lurker may seem weak but if you get its Megamorph in, it becomes a nice creature to wittle down your opponent’s life since it can’t be block (it’s still vulnerable to spells & such though if you don’t have Hex Proof)

When dragons have Megamorph, they tend to booster other dragons, which is a deadly thing to have because dragons are already so powerful. But makes them perfect for a Dragon EDH deck if you’re building one.

Exploit is another new mechanic, where in which if a creature possessing Exploit enters the field, you can sacrifice another creature on your side of the field to trigger an effect. This can often be damaging to your opponents, making them discard cards, lose life or grant bonuses to your side to name but a few of the things that it does. Exploit are great if you have a deck that produces tokens because you can sacrifice them to really screw with your opponents without losing any important creatures on your sides & there are a few heavy hitting creatures in DoT that drop some handy tokens -either when they enter the field or when they do damage.

This is a typical Black sapping skill but one you can cast without spending any mana, so it’s pretty handy to use if you can.

This is one card that I got & he’s really handy because he’s a low cost fetch. If you have a resurrect ability, you can Exploit Sidisi himself, find the card your after, bring Sidisi back again & keep going that way if you can. A nice & handy creature if played right, I think.

These are a few examples & when the block is fully released you’ll be able to see what cards have & do what as well as how these new abilities will effect other meta-games, such as Modern & EDH/Commander.

Since Dragons of Tarkir is chockers full of new dragons (well, duh), you’ll be seeing a lot more dragon decks in play. Mainly because these dragons bolster other cards -mainly other dragons- plus there are more cards which get granted special bonuses if you have a dragon card in hand (you reveal the card to get granted the ability). This seemed to have people fairly divided as to how affective it would be in meta-gaming but since I really want to build an All Colour dragon Commander deck, I’m excited by the possibilities that these new dragons offer -especially the dragon lord ones.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really pull much in the way of dragons from my boosters & no dragon lords.

Actually, my pull from my seeded pack & boosters overall was pretty poor. I went with Silumgar (Black-Blue) because haven’t played those colours in ages. I swapped my Ojutai box for it. It wasn’t a terrible drop that I got, because I wound up with some sweet non-Black-Blue cards but not a lot of good cards in the colours that choose to go with.

What was terrible, however, was my playing.

I really do suck at this game.

One is because I don’t know how to build decks properly, another is that the rules have changed so much since I stopped playing & I’m trying to catch up with it. The last reason is that I always play against people who are really good at the game. That last one isn’t a gripe because I learn so much from them & they always give me good advice on how to play & build decks when I ask; as well as being patient for being so slow on the uptake with various things in game (not to mention getting confused over rules since I play so many different games).

Overall, the pre-release midnight gathering was really fun -even if I did come dead last in everything.

Good Games has the best set up for such events, because it has so much space as well as drinks & food (good when locked in so late & everything else is shut). The staff member we had running the event is also an official MtG judge (meaning that he adjudicates at official tournaments & events), so he handled any confusion over the new rules (& the conflict with some of the old ones too). The space that the store provides is also a boon because it means you can walk around & stretch your legs between rounds.

With the Tarkir block wrapping up & WotC moving onto the next block-expansion, I think I’ll get a lot of use out of collecting the Tarkir stuff, especially the new DoT block. A lot of it sits well with my broken play style & I’m guessing that they’ll bring a few of it’s mechanics into the next block to save time & hassle.

I’m also enjoying these pre-release events & Good Games puts them on well with a fun environment. Though I’ve only attended two re-releases so far & both at the same store, so that may show a limitation in experience & opinion.

At any rate, I look forward to the possibilities that this new set can bring, to both the standard & meta-games & my bank account shall be new empty buying what I can, when I can -as is the way with being a consumer whore.