Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WoW, is that a CCG?

I get few requests on this blog, so when I get one from my fan (singular), I find I cannot refuse.

Unfortunately, there isn't that much to tell.

To start with, I try to stay away from CCGs as much as possible. I have a compulsive/addictive personality, fertile ground for CCGs or anything collectible in general (a boardgaming hobby is bad enough), and I find deck building overwhelming. There are published decks for just about any CCG online, and that's great if you have all of the cards from all of the various expansions that come out. WoW is now on it's fifth series, and given that Northrend is due out around the end of the year, I'm guessing we'll be seeing that number approach nine in the next 18 months or so.

Anyway, the main reason I got into WoW (I'll be referring to the CCG throughout this post and will note when I'm talking about other experiences in the franchise) was because I dug the online game so much. Where you have a quest in the game, there's a card that matches it. Same for gear, same for NPCs you run across, same for the talents and skills you accumulate. Playing a gnome rogue deck feels a lot like playing the character, except you can't just wait for your Strength meter to go back up for another Sinister Strike. They do try to put a lot of the other elements of the MMO into the CCG - in the later decks you can choose between Aldor and Scryers cards, you have a specific class that dictates what weapons/armor/skills you can have, there are Horde and Alliance limitations on your deck, etc. I really thought that the limitations would make deck building easier, but not so much.

The other reasons I got into the game were because Jesse ran (note the past tense) a WoW game night at his store. Of course, about the time I moved things got a little compressed, and when I finally got back to play around the holidays I found that the last night I had gone was the last night anyone had shown up. That was a real shame, because the thing that really pushed me into collecting these cards was the idea of a Raid Deck.

The Raid Deck is absolutely brilliant. I don't know if any other CCG has this sort of concept (the rest of WoW seems to be pretty standard fare for a CCG), but if they don't they should. In WoW, like most MMOs, you have tasks to complete that you won't be able to do on your own at the appropriate level, and in fact it's unlikely you'll be able to do it even when all of the critters involved no longer produce any XP for you. The instanced versions of these are called dungeons online, and there are also raids that are similar but generally are only taken on at the endgame when you've hit level 70. Some of these raids involve as many as 40, count 'em, 40 characters to have a decent chance of success.

Raid decks are an attempt, and a good one, to bring this element of the MMO to the CCG world. One player plays the Boss of a given dungeon while the other players, as many as you want to bring but usually four or five, take said boss on. The raid deck is set up so that the players encounter a series of opponents to defeat, all while playing with the single deck they might use for a standard one-on-one game. Different opponents will have different abilities and allies, requiring the other players to adjust as the game goes on. As in the standard game, when your deck runs out you are done, so it's a good idea to stick in at least one Blue Leaf Tubers card that will let you reshuffle your discard pile back into the deck.

The raid can be played casually, with the Boss player picking three or more opponents for the players to take on, or you can go for the full monty and try to take on all ten including the Big Baddie itself. I should note that I've only played one of these raid decks, and it may be that other decks have different circumstances. The raids, of course, match up with dungeons and/or raids in the actual game, and the process by which you progress through the entire series of opponents matches what you'd do in the MMO. The existing decks are for Oxyana's Lair, Molten Core, and Magatherion (I'm sure I'm butchering some of these names, I don't have the decks handy). Oxyana's Lair is out of print and hard to find, but the other two are easily available.

One other thing about the raid decks - they come with Loot cards. These are items that you can only get in the Raid set, and there are ten to a pack (each series has 40 cards total). People often "gamble" when they play a raid deck, with each player getting one random loot card at the end of the game, two if they beat the Boss. Hence five players being a good number. If the Boss player wins, he keeps the remaining cards. I'd want to be the Boss player, although you have the chance of getting nothing while everyone else gets at least something.

It is so that my group can play these raids without having to invest in the game that drives me to buy more cards. So far I've purchased a box of the original set boosters, several of the second set (Through the Dark Portal) starters and some more boosters, about a box worth all told, and now the Shadow of the Betrayer (set five) box of boosters. The starters have a 30 card starter deck tuned for a particular character, plus a couple of boosters to fill things out. In theory you are supposed to play a raid deck with everyone in the same faction (Horde or Alliance), although I suppose you could throw that rule out if you wished.

I came very close to buying boxes for the third and fourth sets as well, but at my cost of $72 per I'm probably best off stopping at this point. Having enough cards to flesh out four or five viable decks is tricky, especially if you don't have a lot of the aforementioned Blue Leaf Tuber cards. I guess you can always go buy some from the local card shop, although that just feels like cheating to me for some reason. Another reason I should stay away from this sort of game. At this point, I'm pretty sure I've got everything I need to have some great games, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to sell the idea at the next Sunriver retreat in May. Of course, I'll need to have built some decks by then. One thing about having this many cards - deck building gets a lot harder when you have a lot more choices.

If this sounds interesting to you, but you don't want to make an insane investment, I recommend buying a box or two as a group (probably from two different sets if you can find them - I hear Fires of Outland, set three, is out of print, but March of the Legion, set four, is still available - stick with cards from the first three or the last two as there tend to be similarities between these sets that you can leverage), sorting out the cards using a draft or whatever method you choose, going in together on the raid deck, and going for it.

A few notes about the raid I was involved in. The deck was Molten Core, so all of the opponents we faced were fiery critters, which started to all look the same after a while. I played my gnome rogue (of course), and we also had a mage, a priest, a tank, and a pally (I think). The priest had no ally cards in his deck at all - those are the cards you play in front of you that are persistent and have to match your faction - but he had lots of abilities - the cards that give you a (generally) non-persistent boost, sometimes during other players turns. That's another cool thing about the raids, you play just like you normally do, the only changes are what happens during the Boss' turn.

We played the whole shootin' match, ten critters, which took quite a while (I think total play time was around 4 hours). Unfortunately, I got killed first after I'd pulled a couple of sneaky moves on the Boss player and he decided I was too much trouble to live. Worse, that was about halfway through, and I stuck around hoping the game would end quickly and I could take my loot card and head home. Two hours later, the rest of the party (one other guy had finally gotten killed off about 15 minutes before the end) died on the verge of success - had they been able to survive for one more round they would have won, but the Boss had a card that inflicted 50 points of damage on everyone with no chance to prevent or save the damage. Clearly you want to have killed him before he plays that card. So I waited for two hours to get a loot card.

That *is* a drawback to the game, although you aren't required to play all ten characters, and I think that for most purposes a three critter game is sufficient (plus you don't have to worry about players running out of cards and dying that way). Since most people in my group have played *some* CCG at some point, teaching the game will be very easy to do, and for those that play the MMO it should be a lot of fun. And even for those that don't, although there is definitely something to be said for knowing the milieu.

So, there you have it. Why I Like WoW CCG. While I'm not stupid enough to say that this is the last CCG I'll get involved with, that is my intent. Did I mention I hate deck-building?


Jon said...

Are there any other CCGs that you like?

Dug said...

Are there other CCGs I like? Not really. A friend got me into 7 Seas for a little while, but (again) the deck-building really killed me when I played him. I *did* enjoy Netrunner, mostly because the starter decks were pretty decent. I still have some Illuminati: NWO, X-Files, and original Star Wars cards laying around. I started all three of those because of the themes (I still have an original SJG Illuminati game that came in the plastic box, along with three expansions), but it's clear that theme alone isn't enough for me.

I have also been encouraged to try out Doomtown (undead cowboys, you couldn't engineer a theme less likely to engage my attention), as well as A Game of Thrones.

As you can tell, my enthusiasm for WoW has much more to do with the non-traditional semi-cooperative elements of the Raid deck game rather than the standard one-on-one play. The main appeal of CCGs, aside from the transient thrill of buying more crack, erm, boosters, is the deck building, and I think I've mentioned my skillz in that department.

As a corollary, I'll note that I have now spent more on WoW cards and raid decks than I did on Case Blue. Ironically, Case Blue takes up one large box, and WoW takes up many many little boxes that I really should put in a big box.

Laurent said...

Doug, when do you invite me to give me an introduction to WoW CCG?