This post first appeared with pictures on The Crafty Players.
I like board games. I also like card games. I like a new board game about playing a card game. Confused? You will be!
Recently on our mini podcast we chatted about Millennium Blades from Level 99 – a game that simulates the experience of playing a collectible card game (CCG) in the vein of Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh. In our breathy and giddy rundown we mentioned we’d need to let the experience sink in and then come back to it with our feelings. Well I’ve done just that and I’m ready to cram my opinion down your throat!
Greetings Duel Fans!
At the start of Millennium Blades each of the players chooses a character to play, a deck to be their starter deck, and is given a player board. In your first game it’s recommended to not use the character powers, so the character you play doesn’t really make a difference – the key at the start is the deck you choose. The decks are themed in the trusty old elemental style with fire, ice, and earth all making an appearance alongside the classic “Mine is an evil laugh” dark deck and the righteous fury of the light deck. Being cool and tough, I went with the dark deck. Your deck has nine cards: 7 creatures, themed with the element of your deck; a deck box, which usually gives you a bonus for the number of face up cards of the element of your deck; and an accessory which is usually something like a bog standard “deck protector” which will have a one off ability for you to use (and to keep your precious cards from getting dog eared).
If you go with the recommended setup for first timers, after that it’s straight into the first tournament (a “Pre Release” tournament, which tickles the CCG fan in me). This is where Millennium Blades eases you in and gives you your first hint of deck-building: you have 9 cards and you can only bring 8 to the tournament. This is a relatively straightforward, low pressure decision. A brief scan of your cards and you can quickly pick out a card that isn’t for you. Easy!
During the tournament players have a tableau on the board in front of them with a spot for their deck box, two accessories, and six creatures. The first player plays a creature in the left most position on the upper row and resolves the text; the second player does the same; and on and on around the table until all players have filled their tableaus. Everyone tots up their points and each player scores on the overall league/tournament table depending on where they finished. All seems simple enough right?
You Activated My Trap Card!
Ha! Nope! The next phase is where Millennium Blades ramps up: the drafting and deckbuilding phase. Players flip their boards to the deckbuilding side and add all their cards together, including unused ones. You are then dealt 6 cards from the store and given 30 Millennium Dollars (which incidentally is a way cooler sounding currency than “euro”).
Store cards are revealed and then the deckbuilding begins! This phase happens in real time by the way, which adds another thing for your already frazzled brain to keep track of! You’ll frantically buy, sell, and trade cards, open boosters, fuse cards for special promo packs, and just generally panic and fall over – all in just 7 minutes! And once you recover from that another 7 minute timer starts as you’re dealt 6 more cards and the mayhem happens all over again!
This is simultaneously the most brain frying and glorious part of Millennium Blades. If you’ve ever played a CCG you’ll know the joy of building a deck that flows and crescendos into a beautifully functioning engine used to destroy your opponents. Millennium Blades takes that idea and turns it up to the extreme, condensing and distilling that experience into a panicked, frantic and joyous cocktail. It is exhausting and incredibly rewarding to look at your hand of some 20+ cards and realise that you need to get this to a manageable level where you can only bring 8 of those cards into the next tournament.
And then after that tournament there’s another round of deckbuilding! And then another tournament!
Now Draw 717 Cards
A quick note on the artwork here: This game is gorgeous. It perfectly evokes the source material that it was inspired by and has beautiful anime style artwork throughout. Most of the cards and packs are nods to other properties like Yu-Gi-Oh, MtG, and even Harry Potter. The most mind blowing thing about this is that each card was illustrated by the same artist, Fábio Fontes. And yep, 717 is the number of unique cards in the game (including kickstarter exclusives)! This is a mammoth task for one person to take on but having the same person involved in each piece of art means that the product as a whole sits beautifully together. And there’s an expansion pack coming out! I can only assume Mr. Fontes is some kind of Terminator but with illustrating instead of mudering. Illustratinator?
Let’s End This!
So first impressions?
Short version: I really liked it and I’m looking forward to playing it again.
Long version: Having played a lot of CCGs in my time, and having been a big fan of Yu-Gi-Oh in particular, Millennium Blades was in my good books from the start. It’s such a clever idea to have a board game simulate the experience of playing a tournament level CCG. Level 99, rightly, have been continually complimented and praised for their ingenuity in coming up with the concept. But good ideas are easy to come by, making them work is another matter altogether and Millennium Blades works. It’s a big beautiful beast that will take multiple playthroughs to tame and many more to get it to do what you tell it! It’s one of the most exciting games I’ve played in a while and I’m really looking forward to getting back to the table to d-d-d-d-d-duel!
I can only assume Mr. Fontes is some kind of Terminator but with illustrating instead of mudering. Illustratinator?
I could answer that, but I gotta go for a bit. I'LL BE BACK!
Haha, the man himself! This is the co-author of the above alongside Paddy. I have a friend who is currently illustrating a card game with some 300 different cards. I was using you as an example to make him feel bad about himself
Seriously though, incredible. Genuinely floored by the artwork and the sheer time it must have taken.