Introduction to the game.
Before I dive into my impressions of the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, I thought I would give a brief description of how I got into it. Not counting the Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon ?battles? played with my young son, it has been several years since I?ve picked up any CCG/TCG for a reason other than the art.
When the World of Warcraft TCG was released, the group of people I play games with was heavily into board games. Because of this, it wasn?t until I received the Onyxia Raid deck as a Christmas gift that I really saw and got interested in the game. At the time, the three gamers present were very impressed with the quality and concept of the Onyxia deck, but no one seemed inclined to pick up starter decks to give the game a try.
I later went to the Upper Deck Entertainment web site and read through the online tour in one sitting. It wasn?t too long, made a lot of sense and made me want to try the game even more. There are links to PDF files of demo decks on the same page, but I already knew that I?d want at least a starter deck so I didn?t download them. When I got to the store, I spent a few minutes weighing the choice of two starter decks against one starter and some boosters; I decided that there was a greater chance of getting a variety of rare and uncommon cards with the boosters. So, I bought a starter deck and four boosters, and was pleasantly surprised when there were 2 more boosters in the starter box!
Now that I had a good variety of cards and an actual deck ready to go, it wasn?t long until other people in the gaming group finally picked up starter decks of their own.
Breaking down the game elements
In many ways, this TCG is similar to ones you may have played before, but there are some excellent exceptions to this statement. One basic example is in regard to the idea of resources. Each card has a resource cost to play, but instead of needing to draw a specific resource card, any card can be played as a resource and every turn you can play one so you don?t wind up ?short? like you might in other CCGs.
Taking the resource example further, there are Quest cards that can be played for resources which have a cost to ?complete? and a wide variety of results; from drawing cards to returning cards to play from the graveyard. What this mechanic does in many games is create yet another level of decision making every turn. If you don?t have a quest to play, what card do you choose to play as a resource?
One of the most obvious refined TCG features is the Hero that each deck is built around. The heroes reflect some of the race and class options from the video game, and each has a unique ability which can be used once per game. More importantly, each one has a set of abilities that can only be used by that class. This is where another layer of strategic decision making gets made before you?ve ever played a card. What class specific abilities are you going to want? How many turns before you?ll have enough resources to use them?
The other important element for your Hero is the equipment they have; many Heroes don?t have any attack value until you give them some gear! There are several kinds of equipment cards; weapons, armor, rings and some others. Some are generic to all classes, but like abilities some are usable only by certain ones.
I should take the chance to point out that all of the matching between card types to Hero classes is very easily done. The symbol system used in the WoW TCG is very clear and nicely handled. Though it sounds like there are a lot to keep track of, all of the symbols are on the upper and right edges, making it very easy to quickly sort through cards and pick what you want for building a deck.
The last major element is the Allies that your Hero will need to win the fight. Again, the symbol system comes into use as there are Alliance, Horde and Neutral Allies for you to choose from. There are very few that are simple ?blocker? types; the strategy of this TCG goes deeper still as Allies can have their own abilities to use in the game.
Putting it into Play
The WoW TCG plays a lot like many other CCGs. You use resources to bring out your Ally cards to fight, to cast your Hero?s abilities, to attach equipment cards to use and lastly work to get any combos you planned while deck building actually into play. In other words, it can be a really deep, strategic game if that?s the way you want to play; it can also be relatively simple if you?re using the 30 card starter decks without any changes.
One of the impressive things about this TCG is how well balanced the starter decks are. There may appear to be a big spread on how may points the heroes have, but each deck has its strengths and weaknesses and in my experience all the decks play well and are fun. So, while it can be a complex game, it is also a very accessible game. One of our regular players has no previous TCG / CCG experience at all and has had no trouble picking the game up and doing well. My suggestion for beginners is to play with the 30 card Starter Decks for a while until you?re comfortable with the rules.
Though I haven?t played enough games to offer any serious strategies, there are some general impressions I can share. Some games can start off slow, with not much happening for the first 3 turns or so; usually at that point someone will start getting some offensive cards out and the game heats up quickly. Multiplayer games can also go a bit slowly; playing with 4 people we usually aren?t able to finish completely in an hour. When playing one on one, a game can pretty easily be finished up in 30 minutes.
Through the Dark Portal
One of the first things I noticed is that the Dark Portal Expansion to the World of Warcraft TCG is that it has almost as many cards as the Heroes of Azeroth initial release. There are 319 standard cards and 3 legendary in Dark Portal versus 361 standard and 3 legendary in Heroes of Azeroth. Several people in the group I play with were very happy with the fact that the DP set includes 18 new Heroes, 2 more than are in HoA.
Beyond the extra heroes, the cards fall into the same categories and from looking at card list the ratios of abilities, equipment, etc. seem to be roughly the same as in Heroes of Azeroth. Based on the cards I?ve received in the 8 DP booster packs I?ve purchased so far, there are a few things I feel comfortable saying about the expansion.
First, it successfully begins to expand on the potential of the first set. There are abilities specific to the type of specialization your hero has, such as Paladin abilities that require a ?Holy? hero and Shaman abilities that require a ?Restoration? Hero. There is at least one race-specific card I?ve seen, that being Cannibalize for the Undead Hero.
Second, there are a wider variety of neutral abilities, which you could relate to potions and spells in the game if you like. ?Lessons in Lurking? (card #146) gives Stealth, and ?Furious Resolve? (card #144) gives a plus to both attack and strength values.
My last impression is one that I think really sets this game apart from others, and is more generic to the entire TCG. One of the Dark Portal cards I got in a booster is ?Conjured Sparkling Water? (card #47) and it is clearly meant to help another player more than the person putting the card in play. While there are a couple of play formats where this would be useful (teams, arena) the one that first came to mind was playing a Raid Deck.
Raid Decks are a really great feature of the WoW TCG, and in some ways give it more of a board game feel. One person controls the Raid, and the others form a group to try and win the encounter. In the case of the Onyxia Raid Deck, the Dragon Onyxia actually has 3 stages she goes through with each one allowing for a specific special ability. As I mentioned earlier, the Dark Portal seems to have the potential to make this particular play format much more collaborative than if the group were going at the dragon with only their own abilities.
I mentioned in the introduction that I have purchased some TCG / CCG?s in the past just for the artwork and this one also would have fit into that group even if it hadn?t turned out to be fun to play. The quality of the cardstock and printing is what I expect from a good manufacturer and the size of the art is also standard; though the Heroes have larger art on the reverse instead of the standard card back. I do like that there were a variety of artists and styles commissioned; while I like some better than others, all of them are high quality art.
The box that the Starter Decks come in is nice, it holds 70 ? 90 cards not in sleeves but only around 60 with sleeves. It stays closed well, I have had no accidents just dropping it in a bag and taking it along. A side note here is that if you use card sleeves with a logo in the corner, you may find it covers up some of the card information. I used some spare clear sleeves I had and put the cards in with the sleeve logo on the back of the card which solved the problem.
With the Dark Portal release beginning to touch on some of the unused aspects of the Hero cards, it?s easy to see that future releases will have plenty to build on without repeating what?s been done so far. There is already one more Raid Deck scheduled for release (Molten Core, May 2007) and some online stores are showing a ?Fires of Outland? release and ?Magtheridaon?s Lair? Raid Deck as well, although without release dates.
The game is already well balanced and robust, and if the upcoming releases are as well thought out as the current sets, this TCG could be around for quite a while continuing to engage players in new and interesting ways. If you?re a TCG / CCG player, this one is worth picking up.
Brahma is a level 70 Tauren Druid on US Bloodscalp