Join me on my quest to eventually review everything I've played. This time? Two card games are on tap. No pun intended.
So here's the deal...I've got a lot of games in my collection or that I've played that I've never done proper reviews for. (Some of the ones I've never done reviews for are a bit shocking, such as A Game of Thrones and Twilight Imperium.)
Since most of them aren't new games, and several of them are what would be considered "known" properties, it would be hard to do a full-blown review and keep it relevant and interesting.
However, I think F:AT is all about promoting games that fall outside the jurisdiction of "The Cult of the New", and giving you the straight scoop on games you might've missed the first time, or games you've been curious about, but weren't sure if you should pull the trigger or not. So while we'll still have plenty of info and reviews on the latest AT games, just consider this a service as it pertains to your potential backlog of titles.
So I've decided periodically, I'm going to hit two games at once with quick, down-n-dirty reviews. Maybe you'll find something that sounds good and it will make you want to get around to trying it. Maybe it's something that's sort of been on your want list for awhile but you'll find out it ain't that hot and you can scratch it off your "Gaming Bucket List". Whatever service these reviews can offer, we aims to please.
So, here we go....
Card Football (CSE Games, 2006)
Card Football is an interesting little thing in that it tries to marry Poker with American Football. Players take turns playing cards to the table, trying to outdo each other in terms of Poker rank. The player that comes up with the higher-valued hand has his card take effect for the current play. You track downs and yards as you go, and for the most part follow the rules of football (touchdown = 6 points, there are PAT tries, field goals, first downs, e.t.c.)
The first thing that hit me when I got the game was how incredible of a production it was coming from such a small company. Seriously, for $20 (from an online retailer), you get a specialized deck of cards, tokens for possession and for each team in the game, a small but mounted fold-out board, special dice, a referee marker that is magnetized and is used to track the position of the ball on the field, and a scoreboard with clicky numbers that allows you to track all the important information in the game. The scoreboard in particular is just a sweet item...it's plastic and stands up, and is pretty much perfect for any football-based game you want to play. You can easily grab this scoreboard and slap it by the field for Pizza Box Football and it would be perfect.
The cards all have a standard value (i.e., Ace of Clubs) and also additional information relating to the offensive and defensive effect that a card has. The cards are not the highest quality stock in the world but they are sturdy enough and don't feel cheap.
These cards determine the results of every snap in the game. What happens is that both players select a card simultaneously and reveal them. The player that has the higher value will have his card take effect. But hold on--if you're losing, you can add a card to try and improve your rank. Let's say you play a 10 but your opponent plays a Jack...ordinarily, you will lose and your opponent's card will take effect. However, if you have another 10 in your hand, you could play it now to improve your poker hand to a pair of 10s, giving you the advantage. Of course, your opponent is free to play another Jack, giving him the edge...this continues until someone doesn't want to play anymore.
Once that's decided, you just consult the winner's card for the effect. If the winner is on offense, you take the offensive result, usually gains in yards by passing or running. If it's the defense, usually the result is a stop, incompletion, or a sack. You track downs just like real football, so if you played a card and gained five yards on first down, the next "snap" will be 2nd and 5. The idea is that the offense will drive downfield and score, just like real football. At the end of each snap, each player draws back up to five, and when the deck runs out, it's the end of the quarter. At the end of four quarters, the winner is the one with the highest score. Pretty simple.
There's one other hitch, and that also leads into my biggest problem with the game. You can play what's called "Power Hands", usually hands that involve all five cards you're holding. So if you have a Straight in your hand (all numbers in consecutive order), you can play them all at once. This can only be trumped by a higher Power Hand. Otherwise, you get a HUGE gamebreaking effect for playing a Power Hand. If you're on offense, it's a monster gain; if you're on defense, it's a turnover.
This is the sort of game I really want to like, as I think the idea of it is pretty awesome. But once you start playing it, the flow of the game just feels off. You can count cards, but really you have little way of knowing that your opponent is holding two 4s and will beat your Ace with it. So you have to guess your way through each play, and winning a hand is often more dumb luck than shrewd strategy. This means that the game has a very stop-and-start feel as it's tough to make consistant gains.
That is...until the Power Hands come in. You see, eventually it becomes apparent that it's hard to make things happen until you put a power hand together. The effects are so drastic that it's in your best interest to be building towards one of these at all times. And once you have it, there's little reason to hold out, as you'd be forced to play a card and break up your hand otherwise.
Really, the only problem with the Power Hands (and this is a problem that plagued Doomtown, but for different reasons) is that the Flush is one of them. I haven't been counting but I'd say 4 out of the 5 Power Hands played for us have been Flushes. There are just so many ways to make a Flush that it's the easiset thing to go for. It feels cheap when you finally land it too...as your opponent has been grinding it out downfield over the past eight plays, only to have you drop a fistful of clubs and get intercepted. Fun when it happens to you, insanely maddening when you get stuck with it.
Eventually the game becomes a game where spikes of activity really only happen with the Power Hands. It'll be back and forth, back and forth, then suddenly a Power Hand will cause you to throw a Pick Six and you'll be gnashing your teeth at all your work wasted.
I still like the game okay (though I think I'm still more enamoured with the IDEA of the game than the game itself), and it's good to see innovative titles from small publishers. I think the game just needs...something...a little tweak maybe to make this an A-list title. As it is, it's a cool concept that can leave you a little flat come game day.
Camelot Legends (Z-Man Games, 2004)
I've often said that Knizia's Blue Moon is a game that is aimed squarely at ex-CCGers, but if there's a game where that's actually MORE true, it would be Camelot Legends. Right from the get-go it makes little attempt to hide its roots; and the designer of this game, Andrew Parks, went on to design the Nightmare Before Christmas CCG, so it's obvious that this is a genre and gametype where he feels comfortable.
The package is decent, and all the game components are cards. The cards are on decent stock, but I took the liberty of sleeving them anyway. Once sleeved, you'll have to do a little modification on the box to get them to fit, but with a little work you will be able to fit the sleeved cards in there without completely removing the box insert.
Camelot Legends feels in some respects like two CCGs that came before it--Star Wars and Star Trek. The game supports 2-4 players. There are three locations in play that characters move back and forth from, and each location has a "quest" that is flipped up there and must be resolved to score points. These missions are based around things from Authurian legend and require you to amass a given level of multiple skills to overcome them. These skills come from characters that you play and are drawn from a common deck.
That's the gameplay in a nutshell...quests are revealed, you play characters and move them about to try and position them to score points for you. There are also a few VPs that can be earned from certain events, such as attaining Excalibur.
If that was all there was to it, it'd be pretty boring, but thankfully there are plenty of cards and characters that allow you to boost your stats, give you all kinds of cool effects, or screw with your opponent and his attempts to defeat quests. The cards that allow you to do this are helpfully marked with either a rose or a dagger, so you can quickly see which of your characters have such abilities, and also when your opponent has them at his disposal. The only hitch there is that there's really not enough of these characters, so you don't get to screw with your opponent as much as you might like.
Eventually, the "main" quest of the game (placed at or near the bottom of the deck when the game starts) is revealed, and completing that ends the game. Points are tallied, and the winner is the one who has the most VPs.
A very common complaint about this game, and one I can sympathize with, is that each character has a LOT of different stats. Your typical CCG would see characters have maybe 1-3 stats of any importance. Characters in this game have 6! And if that's not enough, each of them have a crest showing their allegiance, and this has gameplay effects as well. Top all of this off with having cards in play that modify these stats for some or all of these characters, and it can become tough to keep up with. It's not so much doing a simple +1 here or there, it's just being able to remember every card in play that's having an effect on your stats right now!
That's a problem for certain CCGs too, so I'm not going to fault the system as much for that. I've played plenty of CCGs where there were so many cards in play, inevitably some bonus or restriction was overlooked and not noticed until two or three turns later, when it was too late to rectify. However, I say that as a former hardcore CCGer; I'm not afraid of cards with a lot of text or numerical values, or having to deal with lots of cards in play that are modifying stats or even the rules of play. For someone who doesn't have that background though, I can imagine this game would be a nightmare, no doubt about it.
Still, it's a decent game with a great theme, that CCG feel that some of us miss even though we've left it far behind, and it plays relatively quickly. To top it off, the designer of the game bends over backwards to support his games and interact with his customers. I realize that part of that is marketing, but being a "nice guy" when it comes to this sort of stuff will earn you a lot of brownie points in my book.
All in all it's good, but not great. If you're a fan of the theme or CCGs in general, it's worth picking up.