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Bob Swander
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I've actually been quite surprised by the lack of publicity surrounding The Spoils CCG. My first contact with the game came from an absolute chance encounter. I was browsing in a game store while vacationing in Vermont back in November 2006 and noticed the starter and booster boxes out on the counter near the register. I was definitely intrigued as, unlike so many other CCGs (and games in general), these were nearly devoid of any descriptive text or graphics (other than the attractive fleur de lis-esque design that decorates the backs of the cards themselves). Besides an advisory that the game was intended for mature players (ha!), there was little else to tell me what was enclosed.

The clerk raved about the game, however, and it was enough for me and a friend to pick up a starter and two boosters apiece, sight unseen. Well, we were certainly in for a surprise.


Art

The first thing you notice about the cards that make up "The Spoils" is the art. Richly textured and detailed, this is the sort of art that gives card games (like M:tG's famous art) a good name. It's the sort of stuff that makes graphic novels worth reading. You'd be happy to have a print of any given card up on your wall, or set as your wallpaper. Well, if a quarter of it weren't so demented, that is. There's certainly a mature streak (remember the box warning?) that runs through the material. Not nudity, but certainly some violence when called for, so be warned.


Flavor

Next, the part that drives some people to collect: the text. CCG's (think "Deadlands: Doomtown" or "M:tG") can involve some stunningly rich background and lore, bordering on RPG-level depth. With "The Spoils" there's a quick dichotomy that needs to be addressed first. The cards in the game are divided into five different "Trades" (my own description): Banker, Warlord, Rogue, Gearsmith, and Arcanist. Each Trade's cards consist of the people, items, and tactics that typify that Trade's philosophy (Banker: Greed, Warlord: Rage, Rogue: Deception, Gearsmith: Elitism, Arcanist: Obsession). These philosophies are also represented in the form of dedicated Resource cards, which I'll explain a bit more about shortly.

To say the text on these cards, particularly when considered in relation to the extraordinary art, is funny is to understate the situation. You'd have to pretty cut off from popular Gamer/Geek culture to not get a number of the jokes and references, and it would take a fairly stony heart to prevent you from laughing out loud at a good portion of the material. All of it has clearly been lovingly crafted with Gamers at the helm. To provide an example: the Gearsmith lore includes the presumption that elves (mostly squat, blue, centuries-old creatures) have been pressed into servitude by the nominal 'Smiths, balding old white men with beards. These elves "speak" entirely in l33t and harbor considerable animosity towards their masters. And before I turn you off with a mention of elves, let me also mention that there are cat people. Yup, cat people (here called the Mau) who make up the elite of the Banker hierarchy. The inclusion of these elves and cat folk aren't some sort of lame attempt to draw interest from the fantasy quarter, but more like nods to that sector of gamedom; The Spoils requisitions two of the fantasy/sci-fi races most able to be dangerously lame, and makes them its own. Both seem that much cooler by their inclusion in the universe of the game.


Gameplay

The crux of the game. Forget the art and text detail, if it ain't got the gameplay goods...what's the point?

Let me start by saying that my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the eight or so games we played. Enjoyed enough to start talking about finding other players almost immediately, which (at least for us) is a pretty enthusiastic response.

To set the stage, you start the game with a Faction card in play. Currently there's only one Faction card available, so this is an easy choice. Your Faction card card lays out some basic rules/abilities for your turn, including how many Resources you can start with in play (two on this card) and how many cards you start with in your hand (eight if you go first, nine if second). Also, it outlines (for this Faction at least) that you can either draw a card or play a Resource as a free action every turn. Regardless of what you choose to do freely, you can also allocate/deplete/"tap" Resources already in play to draw a card (cost of three) or play a Resource (cost of four). In other words, you have fairly complete control over your hand and Resources, though it'll cost you. Finally, the Faction card sets your Influence total, which acts as your life. Your opponent(s) will be trying to chip away at this total as the game progresses, with a person reaching 0 Influence being eliminated from the game (barring any card effects to the contrary).

The Spoils appears to draw from just about every other popular CCG out there, taking the best gameplay parts and dropping the dud elements. There's resource management, but as is the trend anymore, the dedicated Resource cards mentioned above can be supplemented by any card played face-down from your hand.

The trick is that the cost of playing any given card contains two components: a Resource COST and a Resource THRESHOLD. The cost is a flat-out number. The threshold is a sequence of Trade icons (tiny Gears for Gearsmiths, for instance). Currently cards only include icons of the Trade to which they belong. The payment works like this: if I wanted to play a card with a cost of 4 and a threshold of two gears, I would need to A) check if I had at least two specifically Gearsmith (Elitism) resource cards out in play (doesn't matter if they themselves are already allocated) and B) allocate four resource cards (of any type) to pay the numerical cost. With that in mind, there's a great deal of give-and-take in how you populate your deck with Resources and how many Trades you concentrate on.

Character cards have three stats: Strength, Life, and Speed. Strength is a measure of how deadly a character is and Life, as you might guess, is a measure of how much damage a character can take. Speed is where it gets interesting as higher Speed characters get to inflict their damage first, potentially killing slower opposing characters before they have a chance to deliver their own damage. There's plenty of opportunity for these stats to be modified, including equipment cards, which can almost always be traded in between characters.

Players can initiate combat and play abilities as many times as they wish and in whatever order they wish; allowing for very variable turn orders. Test an opponent's defenses, play an ability, send another character on the attack.

Locations are another type of playable card. They have a fixed "structure" number that represents the amount of damage required to destroy the location. You can designate either another player's Faction card or any of their Locations when announcing combat.

Conclusion
Well, I hope that wasn't too terrifically complex. I also hope I haven't left anything too critical out (if I have, leave a comment and I'll correct the problem!).

The Spoils is a very fun game that reinvigorated my interest in the CCG genre. Not that I'll be going out and "Collecting Them All." On the contrary, my impression is that the game is meant to be largely devoid of the aggressive collectorship that characterizes so many other CCGs. In fact, sealed deck play seems to be the standard. For those of you interested in competitive play, there seems to be a tremendous amount of involvement on the part of the publisher, Tenacious Games, to make a very engaging tournament scene.

For me, I'll happily play against anyone who suggests a game, laughing away at the text, art, and gameplay that give this game such a fascinating and free-spirited flavor.
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Chris Tannhauser
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Thanks for the great review. You've mirrored a lot of my thoughts on this.

On the surface The Spoils has little to recommend it--it comes off as 'just another Magic: The Gathering clone.'

But when you look deeper, it's apparent that they chose not to reinvent the wheel and instead just stick to mechanics that have been proven to work. But then they went even further than that--they stripped those time-tested mechanics down to their bare essentials, patched the gaps and turned out a more streamlined approach. Call it M:TG 2.0, if you will. I like to think it's what Wizards would do anyway if they were allowed to junk Magic's legacy issues and retool it from the ground up.

The result is a much more obvious set of building blocks with which to construct the various and surprising 'if-then' machines that make CCGs interesting.

The only missing element is soul...

And here's where the game really sucked me in, against my will. The theme is a multilayered satirical farce that is as delightful as it is dark; it raises the stitched-underwear banner of Dada to new heights of hilariously earnest self-referential mockery.

Steampunk? Sure--but that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

The Spoils: it's brilliant, I don't want to like it but I do. Fnord!
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Jeremy Carlson
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Good review Bob! I actually clicked on the ad for this game the other day cause it looked cool. I will definitely check this out. Thanks for the write up.
 
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cvlw Lebron
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Thanks for this review and I'm glad you've liked it. We dont' get to play CCG's as much. We really like the Warcraft CCG. I also ran into The Spoils "by accident" and I also am puzzled as to why this game just can't seem to get the buzz it seems to warrant. I've been buying up the cards and have enough for 2 decks and replacements in case the balancing is off. We just haven't been able to get it to the table but it's good to hear others beginning to trumpet its virtues. Our guess has been that we'll really like it once we sit down to play it. If I had one comment is that the rules aren't written as best as they could be - for instance, the explanation on tokens is a bit obtuse. In any case, hope you continue to enjoy. One of my favorite cards is "Stalwart Soldier: rejecting the moral decay of his brethred."
 
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Ed Bryan
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cvlw wrote:
Thanks for this review and I'm glad you've liked it. We dont' get to play CCG's as much. We really like the Warcraft CCG. I also ran into The Spoils "by accident" and I also am puzzled as to why this game just can't seem to get the buzz it seems to warrant. I've been buying up the cards and have enough for 2 decks and replacements in case the balancing is off. We just haven't been able to get it to the table but it's good to hear others beginning to trumpet its virtues. Our guess has been that we'll really like it once we sit down to play it. If I had one comment is that the rules aren't written as best as they could be - for instance, the explanation on tokens is a bit obtuse. In any case, hope you continue to enjoy. One of my favorite cards is "Stalwart Soldier: rejecting the moral decay of his brethred."


I tried to get into WoWCCG, and just couldn't. The game play wasn't that satisfying, and the collecting is a nightmare, 4 rarities, plus the raid decks...plus random promos. So I sold off, for slightly more than I bought it for, and purchased The Spoils. Price point is good, and the game is very neat. I've played with the pre constructs, which give you a nice taste of possibilities, and now I get to try and convince my coworkers to give it shot. It'll be a tough sell as they are all Magic snobs, but hopefully I'll be successful.
 
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Robert Creasman
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Edbryan wrote:
Price point is good, and the game is very neat. I've played with the pre constructs, which give you a nice taste of possibilities, and now I get to try and convince my coworkers to give it shot. It'll be a tough sell as they are all Magic snobs, but hopefully I'll be successful.


My experience has been that Magic snobs can react very positively when introduced to The Spoils. Usually, the more strategic Magic players realize that they can actually do in the Spoils what they have always wanted to do in Magic, become Spoils players, and never look back.
 
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Bob Swander
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haoyong wrote:
My experience has been that Magic snobs can react very positively when introduced to The Spoils. Usually, the more strategic Magic players realize that they can actually do in the Spoils what they have always wanted to do in Magic, become Spoils players, and never look back.


I think that's a very good point. In a way the game almost reminds me of Fluxx in that the basic rules of the game (card draws, for instance) are mutable, something unheard of in Magic (at least when I played it ages ago). It makes the game that much more dynamic and gives anyone who has played other CCGs the feeling that you can really stretch out and experiment.

---

Also, thank you all for the very kind words! It was a pleasure to be able to provide a bit of info on a largely unknown game.
 
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Mark Bigney
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I look forward to seeing you at Pandemonium, Bob. I hope it's as good as you say.
 
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Steve Zamborsky
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Edbryan wrote:
cvlw wrote:
Thanks for this review and I'm glad you've liked it. We dont' get to play CCG's as much. We really like the Warcraft CCG. I also ran into The Spoils "by accident" and I also am puzzled as to why this game just can't seem to get the buzz it seems to warrant. I've been buying up the cards and have enough for 2 decks and replacements in case the balancing is off. We just haven't been able to get it to the table but it's good to hear others beginning to trumpet its virtues. Our guess has been that we'll really like it once we sit down to play it. If I had one comment is that the rules aren't written as best as they could be - for instance, the explanation on tokens is a bit obtuse. In any case, hope you continue to enjoy. One of my favorite cards is "Stalwart Soldier: rejecting the moral decay of his brethred."


I tried to get into WoWCCG, and just couldn't. The game play wasn't that satisfying, and the collecting is a nightmare, 4 rarities, plus the raid decks...plus random promos. So I sold off, for slightly more than I bought it for, and purchased The Spoils. Price point is good, and the game is very neat. I've played with the pre constructs, which give you a nice taste of possibilities, and now I get to try and convince my coworkers to give it shot. It'll be a tough sell as they are all Magic snobs, but hopefully I'll be successful.


Ed: The best way for you to get "Magic snobs" (your terminology, not mine ) to try the game is as follows:

1) Buy one or two booster boxes (you know you were going to anyway).
2) Gather up your "Magic snob" buddies and offer to do a free booster draft tournament with your cards (obviously you get your cards back once it's done).
3) Before the draft, go over basics on how it differs from Magic.
4) Draft and play away.

More likely than not, they'll want to play some more.

Good luck!
-Z
 
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MGS
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deadly_butler wrote:
I've actually been quite surprised by the lack of publicity surrounding The Spoils CCG.


Thank you for the quality review.

About the above comment. I have seen a lot of publicity about this game in one (cover even) or maybe two "Games Quarterly" Magazine (I think this is the name).
 
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Richard Diosi
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Deadly....nice review but I'm still blown away by the fact that you travelled to the future (November 2007). Cool !!
 
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Bob Swander
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DocStryder wrote:
Deadly....nice review but I'm still blown away by the fact that you travelled to the future (November 2007). Cool !!


Corrected!

A quick note about the future: still no hovercars.
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