27 Jul 2011

A House of Cards

If you’ve played World of Warcraft for any reasonable length of time you’ll have seen people riding around on giant chickens or single seater rockets. You may even have seen someone mounted on a translucent tiger, proudly showing off in the middle of Stormwind or Orgrimaar.

Ask where any of these come from and the same enigmatic response comes back. “TCG Loot”.

Like many people I dabbled in picking up a few of the Warcraft Trading Card Game packs when they first came out in a search for rare and exclusive items. Alas, my search yielded only the simplest of items. A limitless supply of paper gyrocopters and a small barbecue grill were pretty much my only rewards, apart from the huge stack of cards I was left with.

The funny thing was, I never actually played the game. I just packed away the cards, promising I’d get around to doing something with them at some stage.

That time finally came around. I was invited to a “taster session” at Rules of Play in Cardiff, where I’d get the chance to learn how to play the game part of the TCG. I’d finally find out what the non-loot cards were actually used for.

Getting a Hand

Running the day was a seasoned veteran of the card game. Sometimes known as Bevan, our friendly card shark was a “Champion of the Black Flame”, a volunteer drafted in by Cryptozoic to help promote the game and encourage new players. This arrangement seems to be something new since Cryptozoic took over management of the TCG from Upper Deck last year.

I started out by playing a game using the Priest starter deck, one of ten tailored class-specific packs designed to introduce the game to MMO players in a way that’s intended to feel a little like playing the class in-game. The setup seemed to work with the later games that I played, although some decks felt closer to their inspired classes than others. I found the priest one to be light on healing and more about doing consistent damage. The mage deck was much more to my liking, being all about doing large amounts of damage with the right combination of cards. Fast and frantic, good fun!

Games themselves are based around a hero or champion – a character with a bit of backstory, a special ability and a massive health pool. Your hero is like your character in the MMO – anything you do is done through your hero. Quests can be completed, abilities can be used, allies can be summoned and equipment can be worn, all using your hero as the centre point.

This means that picking a good hero and making sure your deck is loaded with stuff useful to them is pretty crucial. Like all forms of trading card game a solid theme is vital. Luckily the class specific starter decks have this kind of thing built in.

Many TCGs use resource cards and the Warcraft one is no exception. Quest cards form the backbone of resources, and by committing or tapping them you can then summon those allies, don that equipment or use an ability. If you have a bad hand then any card played face down becomes a handy instant resource. It means that games don’t stagnate early on and you’re always left with options.

Ready to Raid

I finished off my taster day with a group session against the Naxxramas raid deck. Normally you’d build a deck to play against other players, but raid decks mix things up by having a group of players take on a single person with the raid deck. It’s a fun concept that works quite well in capturing that group play feel that MMO raids bring, but at a slightly slower pace because of the turn-based nature of the game. You get a much stronger feel of working together to defeat the monsters purely because you’re all there around the same table.

Raid decks aren’t for quick games, taking over two hours to clear two of the four wings. A recent Comic-Con announcement stated that dungeon decks were on the way for Deadmines, Scarlet Monastery and Shadowfang Keep. These decks should be a little shorter, allowing for quicker and more varied group play.

The Warcraft Welcome

As the day came to an end I could see that there were several new converts to the game. Some of these were old hands at TCGs but had never experienced the Warcraft franchise at all. Others were former MMO players that still loved the lore and the world but weren’t interested in restarting their subscription. For players looking for a more laid back Warcraft experience, the TCG does offer a compelling alternative.

I think that Lore hounds are going to be better served by digging into the fiction and roleplay source books. Those looking for some interesting and unique artwork, an alternative way to interact with the Warcraft universe or just a cool game to share with those Real Life friends will find the Warcraft TCG a great thing to get into.

My best suggestion? Dig out all those cards that you silently cursed while hunting for El Pollo Grande or the Spectral Tiger, box them up and go to a local game store. With luck you’ll find someone to help teach you the game and a whole new way of looking at the World of Warcraft.

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