Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Collection Building: Card Games

Since the mid 1990's there have been a slew of Collectible Card games or CCGs as they're commonly referred to.  For awhile, I got in to the Star Trek CCG with my cousins.  That was a fun bonding experience and made for some awesome Friday nights hunting down the Future Enterprise (the first Ultra Rare)

In 2008, things changed.  Two major paths started in gaming. The first, the Limited Card game.  Buy a core set, buy chapter packs as they were released, but nothing is random.  I like the model, since it lets you control your costs.  The second path was the deckbuilding game.  Instead of building a deck outside of the game and playing it, the game was all about building that deck.

Dominion introduced the deckbuilding mechanic.  The base game had everything you needed to play with up to 4 people.  Then there were expansions which added, and added, and added, to the possibilities in any given game.  Now, one would think that with all those expansions Dominion would become impossible to learn.  And they'd be right, if it wasn't for the clever mechanic that there are only ever 10 special cards in any given game.  This keeps the game easy to learn and quick to play.  It also adds near infinite replayabilty, to the point where you could never play every single possible game using all the cards.

Eminent Domain
Eminent Domain added building to the deckbuilding concept.  In Em-Do, players build up an empire of planets.  These planets give bonuses, produce resources, and help with technology.  Speaking of technology, there's an interesting and deep tech tree in the game which gives it added depth.  Em-Do is still simple because there are only 5 things you can possibly do on your turn.  It's also highly interactive because you can do something on other players' turns.

Race for the Galaxy
RftG follows in the shoes of San Juan(the card game, not the place).  Each round, players select an action.  Then all players take each of those actions, with the player who selected the action getting a bonus.  The goal is to gain the most points through colonizing planets, researching developments and selling resources.  The game uses cards for almost everything.  Each card is either a development or a planet.  Players use cards in their hand to pay for the developments and planets.  They place a card facedown from the deck when they produce a resource. When they trade a resource they take cards from the deck.  Using cards for everything, except points, is an interesting feature of the game.  I like that it offers you more choices, even with a limited hand of cards.  It also keeps the extraneous components down, which is a plus when it comes to table space.  The one knock I have on Race for the Galaxy is the lack of interaction.  I know that the 2nd expansion offers rules for takeovers, but it's so limited, the rules are more trouble than they're worth.  The more I played, I tried to anticipate what other players would select for their actions so I could combo off that, but with so few action choices, this rarely made a huge difference to me.

Cue the collective groan in 3,2,1....
Ok, now that you've got that out of the way, let me talk about Fluxx for a minute.  The game is random, it's often crazy, and it can take forever to play, but it is simple to teach, easy for people to get into, and it offers a lot of theme choices.  I personally like Monty Python Fluxx.  I think the trap that many of us fall into with Fluxx is playing with too many expansions mixed together.  You can do it, but what you're really doing is prolonging the game.  What I've done with Fluxx is institute a 1 hour time cap.  If no one has won in one hour, we either end it right away, or do something that everyone can agree on, like one last turn. Typically I go with the person who has the most keepers at that point wins.

Sure, let out another groan. I'll wait.
Better? Good.
Munchkin is a decent game under a couple of circumstances.  1. Do not consult the rulebook other than at the start of the game. 2. Keep things moving.  3. Don't waste cards early, level 3 is not the time to make a stand against someone, level 8 or 9 is.
For those of you who've never heard of or played Munchkin, here's the brief rundown.  You go into a dungeon, fight bad guys, have bad things happen to you, gain treasure and gain levels. First person to level 10 wins.  What frequently occurs is that players get to level 9 and then all the bad cards come out to stop them.  At that point it becomes a game of luck to see who can get a monster to fight when people don't have bad cards to hurt them.  I don't have any great solutions outside of this; it happens, so factor it in to your strategy.  Also, you can clamp down on the hand limit, which should keep things moving as well.

Price Wars

From a pure price standpoint, Fluxx wins out, but you're doing yourself an injustice if you think that's all there is to card games.  Dominion is a good game, but it's not for the budget conscious, because you will want to buy more expansions.  Race for the Galaxy is good, but again, expansions drive the price up.  If you want a relatively cheap card game, go for Eminent Domain.

I personally take Dominion because I have the expansions.  If I only had base Dominion, it wouldn't be my pick.

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