I played Legendary solo last night. It was my first time playing the game. I was excited about how different hero and villain superpowers would be expressed via the card mechanics. However, like many deck builders I’ve played, it was more of the same.
You can break most cards down into:
- The cost to acquire
- The amount the card is “worth” as currency to acquire cards
- The damage that can be inflicted
- The damage that can be sustained
- Special ability or abilities in the form of text
Regardless of theme, every deck builder I’ve played uses this card structure.
The mechanics include drawing a hand, playing cards as currency to acquire cards, playing cards to use abilities and/or attack, “activating” cards (tapping/booting/kneeling/etc), attacking (using core attack or special abilities) to remove opponent cards, and finally discarding versus removing cards from play.
There’s nothing wrong this this core foundation — but I wanted more of Legendary than this. Why does Great Responsibility, Spider-Man cost 2, have 1 attack, and have this special ability:
Reveal the top card of your deck. If that card costs 2 or less, draw it.
This is the problem with deck builders. You can end up skinning the same abilities — drawing cards, discarding cards, “destroying cards”.
For Optic Blast, Cyclops, why does this ability make sense:
To play this card, you must discard a card from your hand.
Further, there are team and hero icons that end up being nothing more that ability modifiers, for the most part.
I know it must be hard to balance LCGs. You want to have a core rule system work while adding variability and good card interaction with expansions.
Though I’m very new to Sentinels of the Multiverse, it’s pretty easy to pick out some more creative and thematic implementations of the Deck Building mechanic. For instance, Hostage Situation:
Hero cards cannot be played. At the start of the environment turn, each player may discard 1 card each to destroy this card.
But I realized that even that isn’t enough to get me excited about Deck Builders. I don’t want it to be just another variation of managing what cards I’m likely to draw and puzzling out ways to maximize how they are played. This is fun — but if you’ve played one Deck Builder you’ve played them all.
That said, I know I have not played a lot of LCGs and Deck Builders. I have a small and skewed sample. I want to find games that break the mold. Doomtown definitely works to add new ways for cards to interact. There’s quite a bit of interesting innovation there. I don’t think it all totally works well. But I applaud them for innovating.
Star Realms is an interesting anomaly as well. While it doesn’t stray from the formula from a card perspective it does provide a very quick and fun head to head interaction between players. You have to choose between ships and stations, trashing a card for bonus effects (or trimming a deck), and which Factions to stack based on your opponent draws and whether it’s early or late game.
Star Realms strips everything down to a deck of cards and super fast play. Unlike Doomtown offering up many new card interactions and mechanics, Star Realms differentiates by eliminating everything but the essential. Due to this simplicity it makes it a heck of a lot easier to startup and play.
So Deck Builders… I’d love to see more meaningful expressions of units/characters in the cards beyond the vanilla buy/attack/discard/draw actions. Create new ways for the cards to interact — and new classes of cards (beyond events, locations, items, etc have all been tried) might breathe new life into the space as well. Finally, if you’re going to create a licensed super hero game — I want the game mechanics to allow for all those myriad of powers and abilities to be expressed.
As with all games, I’m interested in being proven wrong with Deck Builders — and to find those gems of games that break the mold and act as sirens’ calls to be played again and again.