I'm ashamed to admit it. I haven't kept up with collectible/trading card games. The last time I played a TCG other than brief attempts with my sons (read: 2-5 games) at Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Avatar the Airbender, Star Wars, World of Warcraft, Neopets, Bionicle, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Pirates Constructible was in 1993. Yeah, Magic: The Gathering. I didn't even play it when it was popular. I'd quit by then.
What can I say? I'm a girl. A gamer girl, but a girl. I suck.
But, I love Stargate in all its incarnations. And I love not actually having to collect the cards. That's why Sony Denver's Stargate Online: the Trading Card Game has me losing sleep. I'm really tired.
Back in the dark ages when we began GamersInfo.net we covered an original title by a little known company called Nayantara Studios. It was actually an expansion called Incursions to their online trading card game Star Chamber. To this day, it remains one of our most popular reviews. Nayantara went on to become Worlds Apart and created a stunning list of titles in a very short time including Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and Auto Assault Trading Card Games Online. It's an impressive pedigree, but somehow, it seemed as if this niche wasn't really being watched. Or maybe it was?
A few years ago my son found a remarkable constructible card game called Pirates: Constructible Card Game. Someday, I'll write an article about this unto itself. It seems someone was watching…Worlds Apart had begun work creating this fantastic game as an online title (for the first time there would be no cards but actual ships and battles!) and Sony Online took notice. Worlds Apart was soon to become Sony Denver.
PR Manager, Michael Shelling from Sony Online Entertainment knows my passion for all things Stargate. He let me know a few weeks before the beta went live. And I bugged him to play. Bugged him. I think he blocked him from AIM. *waves at Michael* Let me back in now?
You see, I've had two major health crises in two years during which time I watched Stargate SG-1 in it's entirety from episode one to whatever was the current episode at the time. In addition, I watched the shows as they released, re-runs, Atlantis, and well, I own them. I own them all. I'm one of those insane arcane knowledge people.
Normally, this wouldn't be important in a review. If anything, it would be a hindrance. But the design of the game (the cards and strategy) is all about the show. And having six card games under their belt, Sony Denver nйe Worlds Apart nйe Nayantara… they're getting the hang of this whole online thing!
The first part of any TCG is building your deck and SGO: TCG is no different. There's a nifty interface for sorting your cards by type: Team, Adversary, Event, Mission, etc., but it's going to need a little polish before beta is complete. At the moment there's too much "choose an option - close, choose second option - close" but it's pretty minor stuff.
You can view your decks in either 2D pictorial or grid view. This makes it nice when searching by rarity, glyph (mission class modifier), mission class, trait (Jaffa, Ori, Goa'uld) and on and on….
To build your deck, you need a team of four from the core "good guys" of the show. Each have skill in four areas: Culture, Science, Combat and Ingenuity as well as special skills according to the particular character.
What makes it fun is that the characters aren't limited to just the SGC or to the first 8 seasons. You'll find Mitchell and Vala as well as the Tok'ra (including Martouf and Jacob), Thor, Harry Mayborne from the NID, Ishta from the free Jaffa and a few other surprises. The character's skills are balanced against their abilities: for example, Aldwin of the Tok'ra has skills which are rather low at 0 Cult, 2 Sci, 2 Com, and 2 Ingen. However, his special ability allows him to remove cards from his opponent's hand with each successive glyph he earns - cumulatively.
The breadth of the characters is amazing. A surprise entry is the archaeologist Balinsky - wow, can he become an overpowered character quickly! And yet Jonas Quinn and every character from Kelowna are missing! Personally, I think Jonas would be terribly overpowered (they had to tone Carter down) but he's just…not there. It's odd.
Once you've got your team you need to build your Heroes. These are the backup for your team and consist of every conceivable character you can think of from the SG-1 series (minus anyone from Kelowna). Merrin the girl with the nanites in her brain is there; Bra'tac, Teal'c's son; Hemidall the chattering Asgard; Oma Desala the Ancient who doesn't follow the rules; the list goes on and on and on.
There there's gear. Staff Weapons, Zats, TERs, MALPs, Hazmat Suits, Asgard Transporters… the list is endless! If they used it in the show, it's here. Gear are items that are permanently assigned to the team and can be used as long as you've enough power in reserve to use it (or unless your Adversary destroys it).
And finally (for the good guys because I haven't even touched on the Adversaries) there are events. These are lovely little "happenings" like Nice Shot: Teal'c clothes-lining an escaping suspect; Special Training: NID training to increase skills; Yeeeehaw!: General Hammond entering the field and rallying his troops! You get the idea. These play as an advantage much like gear only they don't stick around. More often than not they affect the mission or alter the Adversary you're fighting.
You build your Team (of four); then your hero group consisting of at least 20 cards taken from support members, gear and events. Then it's on to the Adversaries. They're my favorite!
You'll also need to build a group of at least 20 villain cards. These are combination of every enemy ever faced in the SG-1 universe. Goa'uld, Ori, Replicator (oh, do these cards rock when used well!), NID and the occasional non-recurring baddy. While there's no gear for the villain player, the Adversaries have fantastic mission-failure conditions. You'll be blasting heroes and removing gear left and right. Whoosh!
Last in your deck are the missions. These come directly from the episodes in the show. Like the Heroes there are four types: Culture, Science, Combat and Ingenuity. You'll need to pick three of each for a total of 12 to complete your deck. Each has a difficulty level; the lower the level, the more likely it has an unfavorable action assigned that must occur before you can attempt a mission. There's nothing like having your opponent block Jackson from a Cultural mission before you've even played!
A unique feature to the missions is glyphs. Glyphs are akin to modifiers to a mission type. Certain characters can make use of certain glyphs to enhance their skills. Each mission is assigned a glyph; by completing a mission, you can assign that glyph to a character used to complete that mission. As the missions are from actual episodes, the characters and their glyphs often have characteristics in common.
It's when you choose your missions that the grid view comes in particularly handy. You're going to want to missions with glyphs that benefit your characters' skills. Trying to match these up can be difficult. Putting the team and missions in grid view is a timesaver.
Did I mention how tired I am?? I had this written then I went and competed in a 7-round sealed deck tournament that lasted 6 hours. Ugh. Even considering my experience with the game, the tournament was a trial by fire! Talk about pulling a horrible deck!
So, actually playing the game…
You've got a team; your opponent has a team. The decks are shuffled and you've each drawn eight cards. You each have the option of re-drawing those eight cards (sometimes they're just an awful balance). The player who leads then waits while their opponent blocks one of their team members. Because the leader has an advantage, a character is blocked. However, you don't actually know what the first mission is so the block can be dire or completely meaningless.
You each begin with 3 power. You use the power to bring out cards that affect the play. In the case of the heroes, you want to boost the effects of the team through gear, events or additional heroes. If you're the Adversary, you want to block the heroes with Obstacles (negative events) and adversaries. If the mission is won by the Heroes, they score the mission and earn a glyph; if the Adversary successfully defeats the Heroes, they can score any Adversaries (if they were used) or move on to the next misson.
The first part of a Turn consists of as many missions as you can complete using the power at hand. In the first turn, this is rarely more than one mission as you've only got three power. By turn seven or eight when you're starting with 5-9 power, you can easily complete three or four missions. When you've decided not to accept another mission, the tables are turned: you now take on the adversarial role, whilst your opponent plays as the hero. Once he has completed his mission phase, cards are redrawn and the cycle continues.
Next: scoring. You've three ways you can win. Accumulation of glyphs, (mission) experience points obtained and adversary points obtained. A glyph win always requires 7 glyphs. Your experience and adversary points are set based upon the deck you build; you may have more or less points to accumulate than your opponent depending upon the difficulties of your team members and missions you choose.
You earn glyphs by completing missions, one per mission - thus 7 completed missions is sufficient to win a round. You also earn experience points by completing missions (but the number earned varies according to the difficulty of the mission. Other cards may also contribute experience points. You earn adversarial points (the way I tend to win) by defeating missions using adversarial characters, then removing the adversary from play. My deck for the tournament included only three adversaries! Once shuffled or removed from play by my opponent I never had the chance to score them! Aaiiyyyeee!
Even lacking a decent deck (quite frankly, mine was horrible), skill will take you a long way. Understanding the cards and how they work really makes a difference. Of course, having good cards helps, but it's not everything. And because your opponent's win conditions are proportional to your deck build, stacking your deck isn't always in your favor.
Over the previous weeks, as I was learning the cards, I felt as if I had an advantage over other new players because the cards are so well designed to match the events in the series. You can actually see exactly why a card has the attributes it does. Yet, several times I was put in my place by people who decided to start watching the show because they liked the cards so much.
I think it was the quotes on the cards that converted them. Who can resist an O'Neill or Teal'c quote?
The UI has undergone three transformations, all improvements, in the time I've been playing and I'm sure will undergo more before the beta is complete. When you build your deck, it opens with the game type filter set to "SG-1", which leads me to believe there will be expansions - but I'll have to save some of that for an interview. Working on that one.
If you like Stargate SG-1, you'll love this game just for the sheer joy of the images, the quotes and how well everything comes together. If you like Trading/Collectible Card Games, this is a well balanced, fun to play game - and you don't have to take your cards with you or worry about losing them anywhere. You don't have to worry about frayed edges. They're always in perfect condition and waiting for you. It's fun!
But, keep the caffeine handy.
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.