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Subject: A horribly failed attempt rss

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Beau Bailey
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Introduction: Occasionally I will pick up a couple of boxes of a dead CCG and see how it plays. Most of the time I find they are deservingly dead (I only buy ones that are really, really cheap), but many times there is at least some small glimmer of hope within the game. I think Spellfire is one of those games.

Components:
Okay, this is where the game is seriously lacking. The card quality is absolute crap. These are by far the cheapest cards I have ever handled. To compound that, the artwork is recycled from AD&D sourcebooks. The art, while possible, is obviously not designed for the game and there are several oddly cropped cards. Even worse, there are several cards with different croppings of the same image. That just really shows the small amount of effor that TSR spent on this game.

Rules:
As with most CCGs, there are two parts of the game: deckbuilding and gameplay. Spellfire crashes and burns on the deckbuilding front. The game is flat out broken using the core rules of the game. Cards don't have costs, so there is no internal balancing during gameplay and the deck limits aren't restricting enough. There are many cards that have no abilities and there is absolutely no reason to play those cards when a superior (albeit rarer) card is also present. As all cards have no cost, there is no reason to keep inferior cards in the deck. Menzoberranzan is an example of an exceedingly powerful card (normally you are limited to one realm per play, but Menzoberranzan breaks that rule) that has no balancing.

Okay... assuming you are playing equally balanced decks against each other, the actual game isn't that bad. It shares no similarities with Magic and instead focused on getting six realms into play. Your opponent can only attack your upper realms, so it is possible to block certain realms off. You can use the various champions (in 7 varieties), spells, and artifacts to try and achieve these goals.

Thoughts:
I feel that Spellfire was originally designed as a non-collectible card game. The base mechanics are perfectly sound and given equally balanced decks, the game makes for an interesting multiplayer conflict. However, the broken structure of deckbuilding completely ruins the game as a CCG. With no real limits on a deck, only a few specific power cards will ever actually see competitive play. I think someone could probably turn this into a fun multiplayer game with each deck having a unique play style. But as it is, it's just broken.

4/10
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John "Omega" Williams
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Spellfire was Loraine & the Brothers Blume's stab at cashing in on the CCG craze. Though Loraine was mostly busy funelling funds into her own personal projects like buying out Amazing Stories etc...

I think the card quality is actually dead average for the CCGs of the time. I have some Magic cards and Spellfire cards and they feel much the same.

The Spellfire cards though are slightly prone to warping over time.

The re-tread art though is the true sign of this things production values. But then it was a way to further recoup the costs of the paintings. But re-re-treading some of the art was a seriously ill-informed ploy.

The Nightstalkers set though was a fun little diversion though. I got to design one of the cards for that set. Though to this day I do not know if it was actually used.

Spellfire and SAGA were the nails in TSRs coffin unfortunately. Combined with senseless lawsuits on other companies and trying to distance themselves from the RPG roots this lead to their eventual demise.
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Beau, we're going to scrap now and it isn't going to be pretty. Nah, just kidding...but I think you're badly wrong with many, many of these remarks. That being said, I know you're a cool guy so I'll forgive ya this time!

Anyway it'll just be easier to address your remarks via numbered points to keep things clear:


1. You didn't mention which version of the rules you were running - the game was wonky at first (in the first two editions) until things were tweaked and sorted out in 3rd edition (and the game was still very much financially viable and very popular at that point, so it wasn't a too-late effort).

2.
I've certainly heard people grumble about the card quality over the years and it's a completely unfounded gripe since they base their remarks on thickness and in all actuality these cards hold up insanely well (consider that I played the game from launch in "94" and for many years after with many original cards) - whether that's due to a different coating or whatever, I can't say but they hold up very well after having played literally hundreds of games. Furthermore most people use card condoms anyway so this is such a petty issue that it's just not even worth caring about.

3. The art thing. Really? Again? This has always struck me as the worst, most pointless gripe of them all. When you consider the quality of most of the early sets of Magic, I'd take recycled TSR art from the GREAT fantasy artists of the day anytime and twice on Sundays. Some sets showcased original art, too, but didn't receive a lot of notice from the naysayers (Underdark, Powers, Draconomicon, Birthright, Dungeons, 4th Edition to name most of 'em). As long as the art is good, this is by far a secondary concern to gameplay. As a sidenote, the great Brom was once asked a leading question by the late, crappy InQuest magazine (now defunct, thankfully, LOL) about the reused art in Spellfire and he just slammed them saying, "They paid enough for the art, why should it just sit in a drawer after one usage?"

4. The deck-building thing is another gripe frequently heard and this is probably the most egregiously wrong complaint about the game. Unlike games such as Magic, which uses card costs to control the pace and balance of the game, Spellfire is governed in this regard at the deck-building level by limits on number of cards per type and power levels of Champions. The cards with no abilities were from the first set as one of the original designers, Bruce Neismith notoriously and incorrectly thought that blank cards would be necessary to make powered cards worthwhile. By 3rd Edition (and second edition was nothing more than a quick reprint since the 1st ed. of Spellfire sold out) blank cards were a thing of the past. Since Spellfire, impressively, never banned any cards (for good or ill - mostly for good in my experience), there was a plethora of different choices that could be used for different card types. The deck-building guidelines were every bit as restrictive and helpful for game-balance as Magic's cost-balancing mechanic (a mechanic that myself and plenty of other gamers didn't much care for back in the day as it meant that all too often you'd have a great card in your deck that would never get played, ugh). I've also heard the patently FALSE remark that since cards didn't have costs to play, that everyone would just use the biggest creatures - usually this is from some bozo who didn't even bother to read the rules and completely missed the fact that there are limit on both the # of champions in a deck and their levels. If you build a deck with nothing but high-level dragons, you're going to be in trouble against a deck with a ton of smaller-leveled creatures buffed up with magic items and/or artifacts.

5.
Spellfire, to this day, remains the best example of a fantastic multiplayer card-game - since players could never actually LOSE the game (at the worst you got beat down to keep you from getting the 6 realms needed to win and had to start rebuilding from scratch while beating down the next guy in the lead), the usual problems of ganging up and then getting knocked out of the game didn't apply. Other games tried to corner the market on this niche but in my experience (played a bit of pretty much every CCG, I swear, LOL) none EVER matched Spellfire's capabilities as a great multiplayer game.

6. Was it perfect? No way - any Spellfire fan will admit that. But the complaints listed above have never seemed particularly applicable, imho. The main issues I had with it were that at the tournament levels (and at GenCon the tournaments had very good turn-out, rivaling Magic tourneys back in the day for size, surprisingly, at least at GenCon) you would see too many similar decks. This was related more to Spellfire's rule that you can only have ONE of any given card in a deck than anything else. Were there some broken cards? Oh man, yes and since the powers that be were stubbornly against banning any card, these usually had to be errata-ed to keep them in check OR cards would be created in later sets to limit the originally over-powered cards.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is that people will toss out the popularity factor when trying to prove whether a game is good or not. With any debate/discussion/argument over Spellfire, I love to see that brought up because Spellfire was one of the all-time most popular CCGs ever made - it had 5 Editions (0 edition thru 4th), created in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French, and had 11 Expansions released. Clearly people saw good things in the game's design and what they saw were different things that made it unique and fun. Not to mention that it STILL has high-selling cards on eBay while nearly every other CCG other than Magic, has died out that way. I recently (8 months ago) sold a card for $265, for example. A single Spellfire card.

I'm not disagreeing that it didn't have issues, Beau, but I'm definitely taking exception to the things you had issues with - they really don't seem to be issues that really exist if you take a closer look. In all fairness to you, you may have played an earlier edition of the game, and that would definitely explain your balance concerns.
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Side comment to John W., the Saga rules system was one of the most unique and interesting (and innovative) systems to ever grace Role-playing games. If it contributed to TSR's demise it was due to the inability for monolithic RPG fans to accept or welcome these different systems. The Marvel Saga system was easily the best Marvel RPG ever created. I doubt anything will top it, actually.
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Beau Bailey
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wytefang wrote:
Beau, we're going to scrap now and it isn't going to be pretty. Nah, just kidding...but I think you're badly wrong with many, many of these remarks. That being said, I know you're a cool guy so I'll forgive ya this time!

Anyway it'll just be easier to address your remarks via numbered points to keep things clear:


1. You didn't mention which version of the rules you were running - the game was wonky at first (in the first two editions) until things were tweaked and sorted out in 3rd edition (and the game was still very much financially viable and very popular at that point, so it wasn't a too-late effort).

2.
I've certainly heard people grumble about the card quality over the years and it's a completely unfounded gripe since they base their remarks on thickness and in all actuality these cards hold up insanely well (consider that I played the game from launch in "94" and for many years after with many original cards) - whether that's due to a different coating or whatever, I can't say but they hold up very well after having played literally hundreds of games. Furthermore most people use card condoms anyway so this is such a petty issue that it's just not even worth caring about.

3. The art thing. Really? Again? This has always struck me as the worst, most pointless gripe of them all. When you consider the quality of most of the early sets of Magic, I'd take recycled TSR art from the GREAT fantasy artists of the day anytime and twice on Sundays. Some sets showcased original art, too, but didn't receive a lot of notice from the naysayers (Underdark, Powers, Draconomicon, Birthright, Dungeons, 4th Edition to name most of 'em). As long as the art is good, this is by far a secondary concern to gameplay. As a sidenote, the great Brom was once asked a leading question by the late, crappy InQuest magazine (now defunct, thankfully, LOL) about the reused art in Spellfire and he just slammed them saying, "They paid enough for the art, why should it just sit in a drawer after one usage?"

4. The deck-building thing is another gripe frequently heard and this is probably the most egregiously wrong complaint about the game. Unlike games such as Magic, which uses card costs to control the pace and balance of the game, Spellfire is governed in this regard at the deck-building level by limits on number of cards per type and power levels of Champions. The cards with no abilities were from the first set as one of the original designers, Bruce Neismith notoriously and incorrectly thought that blank cards would be necessary to make powered cards worthwhile. By 3rd Edition (and second edition was nothing more than a quick reprint since the 1st ed. of Spellfire sold out) blank cards were a thing of the past. Since Spellfire, impressively, never banned any cards (for good or ill - mostly for good in my experience), there was a plethora of different choices that could be used for different card types. The deck-building guidelines were every bit as restrictive and helpful for game-balance as Magic's cost-balancing mechanic (a mechanic that myself and plenty of other gamers didn't much care for back in the day as it meant that all too often you'd have a great card in your deck that would never get played, ugh). I've also heard the patently FALSE remark that since cards didn't have costs to play, that everyone would just use the biggest creatures - usually this is from some bozo who didn't even bother to read the rules and completely missed the fact that there are limit on both the # of champions in a deck and their levels. If you build a deck with nothing but high-level dragons, you're going to be in trouble against a deck with a ton of smaller-leveled creatures buffed up with magic items and/or artifacts.

5.
Spellfire, to this day, remains the best example of a fantastic multiplayer card-game - since players could never actually LOSE the game (at the worst you got beat down to keep you from getting the 6 realms needed to win and had to start rebuilding from scratch while beating down the next guy in the lead), the usual problems of ganging up and then getting knocked out of the game didn't apply. Other games tried to corner the market on this niche but in my experience (played a bit of pretty much every CCG, I swear, LOL) none EVER matched Spellfire's capabilities as a great multiplayer game.

6. Was it perfect? No way - any Spellfire fan will admit that. But the complaints listed above have never seemed particularly applicable, imho. The main issues I had with it were that at the tournament levels (and at GenCon the tournaments had very good turn-out, rivaling Magic tourneys back in the day for size, surprisingly, at least at GenCon) you would see too many similar decks. This was related more to Spellfire's rule that you can only have ONE of any given card in a deck than anything else. Were there some broken cards? Oh man, yes and since the powers that be were stubbornly against banning any card, these usually had to be errata-ed to keep them in check OR cards would be created in later sets to limit the originally over-powered cards.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is that people will toss out the popularity factor when trying to prove whether a game is good or not. With any debate/discussion/argument over Spellfire, I love to see that brought up because Spellfire was one of the all-time most popular CCGs ever made - it had 5 Editions (0 edition thru 4th), created in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French, and had 11 Expansions released. Clearly people saw good things in the game's design and what they saw were different things that made it unique and fun. Not to mention that it STILL has high-selling cards on eBay while nearly every other CCG other than Magic, has died out that way. I recently (8 months ago) sold a card for $265, for example. A single Spellfire card.

I'm not disagreeing that it didn't have issues, Beau, but I'm definitely taking exception to the things you had issues with - they really don't seem to be issues that really exist if you take a closer look. In all fairness to you, you may have played an earlier edition of the game, and that would definitely explain your balance concerns.


Okay Tony, I can sum up my response as simply: I have only played with 1st and 2nd edition and Ravenloft. So maybe playing with 3rd edition would alleviate a lot of my complaints. Overall, I do think the base mechanics are fine, my main complaint was against deck building.
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I just took a look at the image gallery, and while I like the art, I agree that it is terribly cropped. Too bad they couldn't photoshop out some of the distracting elements that aren't the subject of the cards, like a random pair of legs that are cut off at the hips, etc. Maybe if it was released today they would've done that, with all the advances in image editing software?
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Beau, I'd agree with your assessment if you only played with 1st and 2nd edition - it was clear, at first, that TSR was trying to figure out how to make their cool seed of a CCG idea into something balanced and solid at first.

Again, I'm not venting at you so much as griping against many mindless review comments against what is, at heart, a very decent game and a highly under-rated game (as one can see by review remarks here at the Geek - they're nearly always full of incorrect info, half-truths and such).

Thanks for the review either way. I also agree JohnnyDollar, I think much of the cropping issues had to do with the lack of good editing ability back in the day - it was virtually a brand-new field at the time.
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Beau Bailey
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wytefang wrote:
Beau, I'd agree with your assessment if you only played with 1st and 2nd edition - it was clear, at first, that TSR was trying to figure out how to make their cool seed of a CCG idea into something balanced and solid at first.

Again, I'm not venting at you so much as griping against many mindless review comments against what is, at heart, a very decent game and a highly under-rated game (as one can see by review remarks here at the Geek - they're nearly always full of incorrect info, half-truths and such).


I agree on the mechanics being relatively solid. I honestly think it would be somewhat successful today if released as a fixed deck game.
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the game was effectively dead in most areas (like a lot of card games, there would be a comic shop or city area that had hardcore loyalists) by the time third edition came out.

additionally, regardless of card limits, lots of cards were strictly and hugely more powerful than others. the original game design was bad, and so was the card balance. they made efforts to help fix the problems, but it was too late for the survival of the game in the mainstream.

i didn't mind the art for the most part, except for the few cards where it was the same picture, shifted 5 millimeters so that it was "centered" on a different person in a group shot... and then the same group shot was used for another card, and a zoomed in version of it used for another. That was kind of weak sauce. but for the most part, i was ok with it.

the card stock was NOT the same as magic, magic uses double-layered playing card stock. however the gloss to the spellfire cards does give them more than adequate resilience for any reasonable level of play.
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John "Omega" Williams
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1: Personally I thought the rules were ok as was and the later refinements covered the problems by the 3rd iteration.

2: As said. I think the card quality was perfectly fine.

3: Retread art is fine. As said, those paintings cost *a-lot*. Badly re-treading or re-retreading is I think what vex people more.

4: Never had a problem with deck building. But then we didnt have players obsessed with min/maxing their decks either.

5: Its also one of the few ever multi-player CCGs too.

6: Well MtG isnt perfect by far either...

The game has its fans. And I wouldnt have stuck cash into developing an official card if I didnt think it worthwhile.

But the less than auspicious debeaut and the massive competition with other CCGs didnt help. Nor did TSR competing with itself by tossing out Bloodwars and DragonDice on top of this.

wytefang wrote:


1. You didn't mention which version of the rules you were running - the game was wonky at first.

2. I've certainly heard people grumble about the card quality over the years and it's a completely unfounded gripe since they base their remarks on thickness and in all actuality these cards hold up insanely well.

3. The art thing. Really? Again? This has always struck me as the worst, most pointless gripe of them all.

4. The deck-building thing is another gripe frequently heard and this is probably the most egregiously wrong complaint about the game. Unlike games such as Magic, which uses card costs to control the pace and balance of the game, Spellfire is governed in this regard at the deck-building level by limits on number of cards per type and power levels of Champions.

5. Spellfire, to this day, remains the best example of a fantastic multiplayer card-game - since players could never actually LOSE the game.

6. Was it perfect? No way - any Spellfire fan will admit that. But the complaints listed above have never seemed particularly applicable, imho.

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SAGA was ill timed no matter. As a jump start for Dragonlance it failed and both the general gaming populace and a good percentage of the designers agree it wasnt good. Marvel SAGA failed even more miserably, especially as it was soon competing with the Marvel Overpower CCG which trounced it on all fronts (aside from the RPG angle.) And the original Advanced Marvel Superheros RPG by TSR is still superior.

Had TSR tied SAGA into its own unique setting I think it would have fared infinitly better. But thats a tale for another time.

wytefang wrote:
Side comment to John W., the Saga rules system was one of the most unique and interesting (and innovative) systems to ever grace Role-playing games. If it contributed to TSR's demise it was due to the inability for monolithic RPG fans to accept or welcome these different systems. The Marvel Saga system was easily the best Marvel RPG ever created. I doubt anything will top it, actually.
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truekid wrote:
additionally, regardless of card limits, lots of cards were strictly and hugely more powerful than others. the original game design was bad, and so was the card balance.


Agree about some cards being stupidly too powerful - however I'm not sure what you mean by the original game design was bad. I can't agree if you're just referring to the way the game plays - build 6 realms, attack realms, put champions into your pool with items and such. The actual game concept was very good and very different from anything else out there.

Most games focused on beating a single opponent who was defeated when his hit points were gone - in Spellfire you built things and it was a race to keep them built until you could get 6 of them, thus it was beautifully perfect for MP and in fact, when playing MP, those overpowered cards had little real impact as your opponents would easily handle them.

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Omega2064 wrote:
SAGA was ill timed no matter. As a jump start for Dragonlance it failed


In all fairness, Dragonlance had already been run into the ground with too much product being cranked out before the SAGA version was released for the game.

Quote:
and both the general gaming populace and a good percentage of the designers agree it wasnt good.


I can't agree here, having been firmly engrossed in the tabletop gaming scene when this was released, I didn't see a "good percentage" of gamers or game devs calling this system poor. In fact, I read several reviews back in the day that considered it a very good system, so I'm not able to agree with your anecdotal claims here.

Quote:
Marvel SAGA failed even more miserably, especially as it was soon competing with the Marvel Overpower CCG which trounced it on all fronts (aside from the RPG angle.)


Again, anecdotal evidence on your part doesn't prove much. At the time this was released, I was interviewing for a position with TSR and due to my connections there, I'm fully aware of how well it did. Yes, it was competing (foolishly) with other products but by no means did it "fail miserably" - that remark actually made me chuckle - in fact, the sheer lack of SAGA product on eBay proves the lie to that remark.

Quote:
And the original Advanced Marvel Superheros RPG by TSR is still superior.


I can't argue with your opinion here, of course, but if someone sat down and compared the two, it's no contest. An older, clunkier system (Advanced Marvel Superheroes) but one that uses dice (which I prefer, usually) vs. a newer, more clever and innovative system (SAGA) AND a system that was supported by close ties with Marvel at the time? That one's a no-brainer for me. Heck, I still see tons of the first Marvel game in bargain bins from time to time at stores - I never see SAGA anywhere because no one wants to part with it AND because it basically sold out everywhere.

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Glad to read wytefang's passionate and detailed defense of Spellfire.
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My biggest problem with Spellfire is that it soon became unplayable, due to so many not-in-the-rulebook erratas, rules interpretations, etc.

It had the flaws of:
* novice players not knowing the detailed, advanced rules which addressed many of their complaints about the game (deck restrictions, etc).
* advanced players having to remember SO many niggling rules (that could only be collected via newsgroup or message list) that it collapsed under its own weight.
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Now John is right on the money with his complaints - those were valid gripes that I'd definitely be more agreeable towards.
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We are ganging up on you!

John Ws unite! Get the torches and pitchforks!
Down with trolls!

wytefang wrote:
Now John is right on the money with his complaints - those were valid gripes that I'd definitely be more agreeable towards.
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wytefang wrote:

2.
I've certainly heard people grumble about the card quality over the years and it's a completely unfounded gripe since they base their remarks on thickness and in all actuality these cards hold up insanely well (consider that I played the game from launch in "94" and for many years after with many original cards) - whether that's due to a different coating or whatever, I can't say but they hold up very well after having played literally hundreds of games. Furthermore most people use card condoms anyway so this is such a petty issue that it's just not even worth caring about.


I'll piggy-bag this. I got SF not long after MtG. Wasn't into sleeving back in those days. MtG cards today are in horrible condition (warped, full of unknown spots of gunk on them, etc.). SF? No issues whatsoever. And the amount of play they've seen is about the same.

Quote:
One thing that always sticks in my mind is that people will toss out the popularity factor when trying to prove whether a game is good or not. With any debate/discussion/argument over Spellfire, I love to see that brought up because Spellfire was one of the all-time most popular CCGs ever made - it had 5 Editions (0 edition thru 4th), created in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French, and had 11 Expansions released. Clearly people saw good things in the game's design and what they saw were different things that made it unique and fun.


No mention of online play ?
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I remember playing this game with a group of people back in 1994 and it started out well. The multiplayer part worked great because, as you stated, nobody was ever permanently knocked out. However, I seem to remember that somebody played down some powerful champion or Dragon which was the only card of its power level and the game pretty much went downhill fast as there was just not statistical way any other player could stop that card. The end was inevitable for the other players. After that we stopped playing it because it was kind of like, well, whoever gets that card is GOING to win.
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mjornelles wrote:
I seem to remember that somebody played down some powerful champion or Dragon which was the only card of its power level and the game pretty much went downhill fast as there was just not statistical way any other player could stop that card. The end was inevitable for the other players. After that we stopped playing it because it was kind of like, well, whoever gets that card is GOING to win.


Just played this again with two others and my number 1 deck was twice pulled back by the other players using card play that indirectly attacked me. I had some powerful cards in front of me but they were whittled away by the other two. I eventually won, but it was a close run thing.

You only normally have 8 cards in hand from your 55 cards so you can be weakened by one opponent and finished off by the other.

It's still a great multi-player game that we return to all these years later.
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Michael Ornelles
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I think your arguments for #3 and #4 are bogus. The art is cropped poorly and clearly recycled. It was distracting. And once the Red Dragon or some other totally powerful creature came out pure statistics dictated that the game was over. I wanted to like this game when it came out but it just didn't happen after several plays. Also, why sould someone spend tons on money collecting cards and then have to "BUILD" a smaller "DECK" using only a portion of the cards they purchased? This whole concept seems insane to me.
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John "Omega" Williams
United States
Kentwood
Michigan
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Its called making strategic choices and having more options.
Why have more than one army assembled in any given wargame when you can only use one? More options, More chances to try new ideas the next time. And for some, a way to keep the game fresh and unpredictable for both self and opponent.
 
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