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Subject: CCG Journey Week 23 - Kingdom Hearts rss

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Mike Haverty
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Today's installment in the CCG Journey is a quickie, played over a short lunch at the office. Today's willing victim was Brian (McWookie here), who has the misfortune of always being in the office, but also wanted to be a participant in the official Journey games, heh.

The Game
I don't know why I picked this up initially. I have two starters that I bought maybe two or three years ago but hadn't played yet, probably just to keep around till my kids got older. Since they (were) five or six years away from being able to play a CCG, I guess that makes me overeager.

The game is published by FFG (surprise!) and features characters and art from Disney IPs and the Final Fantasy video games, so it seems like something a lot of kids would like, as far as theme goes. It had a base set and three expansions and, sadly, FFG pulled the plug on it just a couple months ago, citing the inability to compete with Magic and the anime-based games (Pokemon and Yugioh, I assume?).

Anyway, I knew time would be short for lunch today as I was in a meeting till noon and then had to leave early enough to pick up my kid from preschool afterward, so I thought KH looked like a quick game.


The Decks
I have two starter decks from the base set, plus it looks like 1 booster each from base and Darkness Awakens. The starters are playable 41-card decks so we just went with those. Each had one player card and a good mix of friends, magic and attack cards, as well as some basic world cards.


The Play
Each player starts with a Player card that has your base stats -- starting Heart Points (HP, which function just like the other kind of HP in every other adventure game, heh), Attack value (damage dealing), and Magic value (a threshold for playing Magic cards). They also have a level, with the lower level player going first. Both starter decks were Sora (an FF character, I guess -- never played any of the video games); Brian's was level 3 with 6 attack, 1 magic and 4 HP, while mine ws level 1 with only 4 attack but 8 HP, so I went first.

Play is pretty straightforward. You draw up to your hand size (6), then you have an action phase where you play cards and may also move once and battle once. Moving consists simply playing a world card from your hand to the top of your world stack -- there are no restrictions on this other than you can't move if any bad guys are on your current world. That's what battles are for: attacking bad guys on your world. That's also pretty straightforward -- sum the attack value of your player, plus any friends and magic cards you use in support, and apply that total to the bad guys' power rating, discarding each one that you damage sufficiently. There is no risk to you -- surviving baddies simply hang around another turn, preventing you from moving (playing a new world), while all cards used in support (including friends) are discarded. Oh, you also gain 1 HP each time you move, and there are some retreat (escape) rules for ditching a world full of baddies that are too tough for you.

Magic and friends have some simple play requirements -- a single character with sufficient Magic rating allows play of a spell of that level, and any friend you play can be no more than 1 level higher than any other friend you already have in play. You play bad guys onto your opponent's world. There is no cost for this (in fact, there is no resource system in Kingdom Hearts), but you are restricted in both the number of baddies played on a world (the world's level) and the level of those baddies (each cannot exceed the total value of all worlds in the stack).

After the action phase, you also have an optional challenge, in which your player directly attack's your opponent. You can each boost your skills, taking turns, just like in a battle, with the loser taking 1 HP of damage. That's it, and it can lead to one of two victory conditions -- reducing your opponent to 0 HP. The other win condition is getting to 13 or more levels in your world stack.

That's it -- not terribly complicated. So we set off playing. Initially I wasn't getting friends or attack cards, so I just dumped as many bad guys as I could on Brian's world, slowing him down a bit. Conversely, he didn't get any bad guys (actually, I think they are called Dark cards) and so I was able to move twice before any opposition showed up.

Then the tables turned and I just got pummeled. My friends were showing up in the wrong order; I kept drawing level 2 friends, but couldn't play any of them without a level 1 friend on the table, making it hard for me to defeat the Dark cards on my current world. Meanwhile, Brian had a friend factory churning away on his side and made rapid progress moving almost every turn. He also started challenging me every turn, wearing away my HP to add insult to injury. He ended up playing a level 3 world while at 10 levels for the instant win; if that didn't happen, I think he would have won by reducing me to 0 HP within another couple turns anyway.


The Verdict
We both enjoyed the game. I can't help but compare it to Harry Potter: they both have a youth-friendly theme based on a popular IP, are well-produced, and feature relatively simple gameplay. However, they have some distinct differences. For adults and/or experienced CCG players, they feel roughly equivalent in complexity, but it seems (from my limited exposure thus far) that HP has more deck-building options and strategies. I also think KH has a few fiddly rules compared to the very clean HP system. Looking at them as light/introductory CCGs, I might summarize their strengths like so:

Harry Potter
+ very clean, simple rules.
+ more deck-building and play options.
+ less mathy than KH.

Kingdom Hearts
+ visually very appealing, with nice graphic design and terrific Disney/FF art.
+ no resource system, no resources taking up card slots.

I feel like KH misses the mark slightly: the theme is more appealing to younger kids (since I assume a kid must be reading at a certain level to appreciate the Harry Potter books, compared to just watching Disney movies) but is a little more complex, with level-based play restrictions and some light math (there's a lot of adding up of attack value, power, and total levels). For us adults, though, it played just fine and was enjoyable. I expect to weak up my two decks and then put them on the CCG rack, ready to play whenever; I might even buy a box of boosters once they go down in price, but I'm still looking to Harry Potter as my kids' first CCG one day.

PS - this thing only has 26 ratings, really? This game deserve(s/d) more exposure than that.


Notes on the Journey
Total plays (plays since last report). Harry Potter tends to happen multiple times in a sitting, due to its quick play time. We did get to play a 3p game of Jyhad -- I enjoyed that a lot more than 2p, as expected; still want to get some folks together for a 4p or 5p game. John and I made Conan decks, plus we introduced it to a Brian; I've bumped my rating for it up from 7.5 to an even 8.

World of Warcraft = 32
Magic = 15
Game of Thrones = 10
VS = 8
Harry Potter = 7 (+5)
Doomtown = 6
Jyhad = 4 (+1)
City of Heroes = 4
Epic = 4
Conan = 3 (+2)
Warhammer = 3
BattleTech = 3
Legend of the Five Rings = 2
Shadowrun = 2
Star Wars = 2
Kingdom Hearts = 1 (+1)
Lord of the Rings = 1
Echelons = 1
OverPower = 1
Hyborian Gates = 1
Arcadia = 1
Fantasy Adventures = 1
On the Edge = 1
Shadowfist = 1

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