Since the latest board-gaming-to-role-playing crossover article seemed to have at least a moderate amount of drawing power, I figured I’d get more traffic for the HLG corporate behemoth... I... I mean... Since you guys enjoyed the last article so much, I figured I’d keep on your toes with a slight twist on the same aspect!
This is no way a stunt meant only to increase the exposure of the blog or the website as a whole.
Promise. Now put down the pitchforks… and dowse the torches. Speaking of crazed masses, have you guys seen all the acclaim card games in their various incarnations (TCG, CCG, LCG... FFS) get these days?
What’s interesting about card games is that some of them are oozing with role-playing hooks and they don’t even say that on the box! For shame!
That’s where I step in.
Here are 3 card games made of pure role-playing substance & awesome sauce.
1. WARHAMMER INVASION (WHI)
Created by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) around 2008, and part of the LCG genre, WHI saw its fair share of World Championships and tons of expansions only to fizzle out of existence and availability just as I was really getting into it.
At first glance, WHI is your run-of-the-mill 1-v-1 card game in which you’re trying to knock your opponent’s teeth in via destroying (Burning) a certain amount of their base (here, Capital). The way the WH Fantasy theme is transposed into the game’s mechanisms and the way those mechanisms throw a neat and exciting spin on proceedings really shine with this one. Imagine running a sprawling metropolis that needs to withstand the enemy’s attacks and dish out some pain at the same time.
You’ve got 3 areas to worry about: your resources (Kingdom zone), your recruitment/tactics options (Quest zone, where you actually send your units on quests...) and your Battlefield zone (So inspiration, much wow!). You can use your cards to bolster any and each of these zones, and you’ll definitely want to since they’re all important for your logistical well-being. Every card you play in the Kingdom zone gives you resources to pay for cards, with the Quest giving you card draw – simple, yet thematic as funk!
Add to that the fact that each of your zones can be attacked separately by your opponent and the small issue that it normally takes 2 burning zones for you to lose the match, and it’s less a matter of chucking cards down and more a kingly nightmare in which you’re trying to make the best decisions in order to keep your capital living long and prospering. The brimstone-flavoured coup de grace this game serves is an amazing race representation within the cards themselves. The special powers/playstyle of each and every fantasy group contained within WHI is masterfully done and explained… and purdy.
It’s very hard for a card game to relay its theme in such an effective manner and make you feel like you’re commanding an army, taking the fight to your opponent’s capital, looting, pillaging, scheming and planning for dear life. I enjoy being able to get sucked into a universe without knowing more than the broad strokes about it in the first place, and WHI does just that.
The way the cards can be used in either of the three zones in order to bolster your economy/defend the areas allow you to build your decks openly, strictly focusing on the combos you want to add into them, not having to worry about those 15-20 resource-only cards that take up a sizable chunk of your fun factory…
With dragons, ambushes, scouting, raiding, end-of-days-style plays that bring all of your dead units back... you could get lost in this game for battles after battles after more battles, it’s just pure fantasy fun in its best incarnation.
A soon-to-be out of print series, WHI has been grievously overlooked in any and all ‘best card games evah!’ lists I’ve come across so don’t always trust the majority.
Put yer best dwarven beard on and role-play the cards outta this one!
2. LEGEND OF THE FIVE RINGS CCG
Oh, look, another series that’s all but gone, this time belonging to a franchise picked up by FFG who are coming out with an LCG next (2017) GenCon and guess when I jumped in! Yup.
Right at the tail-end of Yojimbo-outta-luck. Le sigh…
L5R, which sounds like either a dumb name for a rapper or a good name for a wrestling finisher, takes place in a pseudo-feudal Japan, taking the best of what history used to offer back in the day – i.e. Samurai, Bushido, bamboo harvesting and whatnot – and melded it with the stuff of legend – i.e. magic, dragons, Oni, undead spirits of long-dead Samurai – the resulting cocktail being as pleasant to watch unfold before you as it is stressful to play.
Each player picks one of the 9 main starting factions with plenty of variety to choose from, be it the Phoenix magix, Spider bad-juju spirit stuff, Lion nobility and military prowess and so on.
The mechanisms here complement a great theme and do a brilliant job at enriching it.
You’ve got 2 decks of a minimum of 40 cards each with which you play: Dynasty and Fate.
Dynasty decks are full of people (personalities) and lands (holdings) that you recruit from a line of 4 provinces, as well as certain events and other twisty stuff to make life more interesting and your opponent want to sepukku. Fate decks are mostly tactics/strategies that you can play in various circumstances or go rummaging through if need be.
The way I see it is this: you travel across your provinces, either recruiting important samurai/monks/shugenja/peddlers of random goods to aid in your war effort or ordering your subjects to start working towards sustaining that effort.
While you’re doing this and increasing your clan’s exposure, you’ll be gaining honor, be it via great people you bring to the table (punny, right?), tactics you apply or just by beating the feudal snot out of your opponent
In L5R, winning isn’t straightforward. You’re trying to turn your clan into the most impressive actor in the land, win Imperial Favour, and there are no less than 4 winning conditions for you to aim toward. While I do feel like they missed out on sticking another one in there just for the sake of the name, I’ll let it slide on account of there being 4 separate winning conditions.
You can either knock out your opponent’s provinces, amass a total of 40 honor, cause your opponent to drop to -20 honor, or have all of the five rings in play at the same time, the latter being called an “Enlightenment victory” for which you really need to build your deck accordingly.
All of this is peppered with rules for dishonorable deaths, Samurai sacrificing themselves for the sake of others, shiny swords, ninjas copying other people’s abilities and so many other small bits it took me 3 full games to finally get it all right start to finish.
Domo arigato for keeping it going for over 20 years, AEG.
Domo fuckin’ arigato!
3. ANDROID NETRUNNER
A deliciously furious and asymmetrical mess, Netrunner stands head, shoulders and cybertronic apparatus above the “classical-style” of modern card games.
Drenched in tech-y programs and devices, pseudo-future inter-linked societal ambiance and drenched in bluffing and deduction opportunities, A:N pits a hacker, or Runner, against an evil corporation, or Runner vs. Corp. And currently available for once! On to the dirt!
We’ve got the Corporate agenda-following vile dudes that have all the moneyz and the best in security and trapping mechanisms or programs in order to stop others from venturing in and stealing valuable data.
Even with that, sometimes it feels a little happy-go-lucky to be frank, but the Runners have their own consoles, worms, software, and decoys required in order to break through the Corp defences and make it out alive – because yes, death is a possibility on the Runner’s side.
Don’t go cyber if you’re nothing but a punk!
As cringe-worthy as that sounds, I call trademark!
It boils down to a rush for Agenda points, something that the corporation has to work towards, and the Runner is trying to steal.
Glossing over the fact that the cards look “totes’ amaze”, or whatever the kids call it these days, and again carry the feel of the universe so well, FFG (yes, I’m a fanboy, shush!) went above and beyond with the in-game terms.
The Corporations have R&D. Subsequently, their discard is the Archives.
Runners have a Stack and Heap.
The Corp hand is called HQ, while the Runner has a Grip.
Playing cards? Not so fast Usain! It’s called installing. The Corp does so in Remote Servers protected via Root elements and Ice, and the Runner puts together his Rig with Hardware, Resources and Programs.
Add server firewall subroutines that can only be taken out by certain software, getting Tagged, and losing important items from your Grip and it’s enough to make your gyro-head spin...
Everything is also done within a set number of actions, or Clicks, each turn. The Corp has a more set turn, having 3 clicks at their disposal, with the Runner having 4 to… Pick up and run with. As you’ve probably guessed, this allows for a free-flowing, diverse turn flow rather than draw-play resource-attack-rinse-repeat.
Yes, they did go to all that trouble to make you feel even more a part of the world and the meta for A:N complements it so well you’d think the players were actually living in the damned universe...
The risk FFG took with shoving all these terms in an already heavy game paid off in bringing fiction to life, and also in making players really think about the game at hand 110%, lest they mistakenly read a term.
It’s complex, it’s tense, it can go on for a while, and the uncertainty aspect – with the Runner not knowing if the Corp installed an Agenda or a trap – makes everything hang in such a fine balance that many a game of A:N was decided during a final, all-in Run for glory.
Just take the FFG worlds 2012 Final Game 1 for a heart-stopping finish and a lesson in the amount of counter-bluffing and misdirection that A:N can bring.
A literal “run for your life” game.
Are you not entertained?
Since I’ve enjoyed writing these couple pieces, I might come back with a part 3 once I get to play more of my upcoming, role-playing-oriented board and card games. You can probably see an overarching theme here: rich universe-building, bluffing, backstabbing and risk-taking with varying amounts of strategy spliced in – that’s just how I role.
I feel like anybody with at least a passing interest in role-playing games should give these lists a glance and maybe jump in on some of the games I’ve gone through the trouble of writing about in my very limited, nigh-inexistent free time.
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.