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Subject: CCG Journey Week 31 - The Spoils rss

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Mike Haverty
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Ah, the Spoils. You had everything going for you -- rock solid mechanics and gameplay, big marketing and tournament support, and a fresh, mature, humorous theme. What happened to you? Let us turn the lens of the CCG Journey upon thee.


The Game
I can't remember for sure what led me to try out the Spoils. I think it was due to the endorsement of my old BGG friend:

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Way back in my early days on BGG, circa 2005, one Kevin Felker created The Definitive CCG List, which looks like people are still adding to it. Anyway, I went through there and made a few comments on different games and as I went, I noticed this Zambo guy seemed to have similar thoughts on CCGs, so I added him as a Geekbuddy, a feature that I had only just started using. As it happens, he was reading through the geeklist later the same day and added me for the same reason, independently. So, Zambo is one of my oldest GBs and over the years we've chatted on gaming this or that, and he's generally been a good bellwether for me on new games (we have a rating correlation of 0.59). So to make a long story short ("Too late!") Zambo was a fan of the Spoils and said some good things about it that intrigued me, so John and I took the plunge and got some cards, while the game was still alive no less.

The Spoils was created explicitly as a tournament caliber CCG. It cherry-picked existing mechanics and added some new ones into a game with streamlined play on par with Magic and greater player control over certain key elements of gameplay, and wrapped it all in a humorous, dark, violent adult theme with great art and excellent templating. We don't do tournaments, but it seemed apparent that they were pouring money into jumpstarting a tournament scene and using, um, comtemporary marketing techniques to boost their profile (a bus of game babes called the Spoilers touring the country, etc.). It died off, but last year a group called Arcane Tinmen (interestingly enough, it looks like they are the manufacturers of the Dragon Shield line of card sleeves) picked it up from Tenacious Games and has been putting out new cards again, and presumably reviving the tournament scene; from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia wrote:
The game was officially announced dead in the official sites forums after the company could no longer find investors for the product. This occurred in early 2008. However, as of 20th January 2009, the company Arcane Tinmen have purchased the rights to The Spoils, and have hired several members of Tenacious Games to resume production.



The Decks
We both had built decks from the last time we played this. You know, I have no idea why we haven't played it in so long; I suppose just a general casualty of our move away from CCGs until recently.

John had an arcanist deck -- control, card manipulation, covert characters and the like -- with some warlord splashed in for access to specific cards. My deck was tri-color (as a general rule, I just can't stay away from multi-color decks in any game) with banker as the main trade (color) and sizable chunks of warlord and arcanist. It's been so long since we played these decks before that I really can't say what the other two trades were in there for, heh. But away we went.


The Play
The Spoils uses a Faction card to indicate your... faction. There is only one faction card out, that I know of - The Tournament Faction. This defines your starting hand size as well as indicate the way you put resources into play and draw cards, and also your starting Influence, which is analagous to Life in Magic or Endurance in VS.

Each player starts with 2 resource cards of his choice in play (minimizes Magic-like early mana screw). Like Magic or Heresy, you tap these to pay the numeric cost of cards (the rulebook actually says to attach them to your faction card, but in most cases same end result). Like Shadowfist or Heresy, the trade (color) icons of the resource cards act as a threshold requirement to put cards into play. For those who haven't played a threshold-cost system before, it has the very nice effect of allowing the design of low-cost cards that require a color commitment in deck construction. For example, in Magic, if we want a card that requires a red commitment, then we'd put several red mana icons in the cost -- but we can't make it cheap; a 3 red card still costs 3 mana total, in addition to them all being red mana. In a threshold system, we can design cheap cards -- even zero cost! -- but if we give it a 2 or 3 icon requirement we end up with a card that can't be thrown into just any old deck, but can still be quite cheap for a deck focused on that color. It works great in Shadowfist and it works great here. Also, like VS and WoW, any card can be placed as a face-down resource, but in the Spoils it just doesn't provide any icons for threshold.

The Tournament Faction also specifies your Develop Rule. You have a choice: at the start of the round, for free, you can either draw a card or put a resource into play. Then during the turn itself, there are two actions available on the Tournament Faction that you can take any number of times and in any order: Pay 3 to draw a card and Pay 4 to put a resource into play. Again, this works deliciously well. It doesn't have the hard limit of 1 resource per turn as in Magic, WoW or VS, but it is an appropriately costed action, and if you are choosing the free resource play each turn and paying to play more resources, it means you aren't getting the free card draw or paying to draw extra cards. As a standard action, I believe this also means you could use unspent resources at the end of an opponent's turn to draw or play a resource, just like any other effect.

Combat is Magic-like. You declare one or more characters as an attacking party, which depletes (taps) them, and the opponent declares a blocking party. They then assign damage starting with highest speed to lowest speed. Speed is a third stat on characters in addition to strength (Power in magic) and life (Toughness in Magic). They took First Strike -- which is essentially a 2-speed system -- and fleshed it out so that every character has speed defined and it ranges from 1 to 5 (I think, most of my characters are all 2s and 3s), striking from highest to lowest. Each character can only strike once and an attacker must hit a blocker if any are there, so you can end up with an interesting interplay of strikes, with faster characters able to kill off weaker slower characters before they can act, or fast attackers killing all the blockers and leaving the slower attackers able to hit the opponent for influence loss, etc. Again, not complex but a nicely rounded attack mechanic that uses older methods as the foundation. Unlike Magic, you can attack as often as you want (have untapped characters), and surviving blocking characters tap after combat.

Well, I guess I just covered most of the rules, heh. We were off and running. I got some better characters out initially and was able to whittle John's influence down from 25 to about 15 fairly quickly without getting hit much myself, but he had out an item that let him look at and rearrange the top 5 cards of a deck. He started using this on me and kept pushing down my Greed (banker resource) cards. I wasn't resource hosed in terms of paying numeric costs, but he was keeping me from playing my more powerful banker cards that required 3 or 4 Greed on the table. Then he got some character removal going and then a couple covert guys (sort of like Flying in Magic, except a covert character can only block another covert character -- I'm guessing Magic has something like this that didn't exist back in my day -- phasing? shadow? vogueing?) that starting banging away at my influence. I recovered some influence with one of my favorite bankers, the Nasty Butler (2/4 with speed 2) -- a mid-sized bruiser who gives you 4 influence when you play him.

I was able to send his big "Ominous Oozling" (covert 5/4 with speed 3) back to his hand once, and then keep him tapped with the "Postmortem Debenture" attachment after he came out again, and got a "Skilled Negotiator" out that can tap to give someone -2 strength, which let me nullify another of his covert attackers. But, I was behind the power curve due to that mid-game deck manipulation John pulled on me and couldn't quite control all the rest of his characters, covert or otherwise. After blowing away half his influence in the first half of the game, he ended up putting me at zero while still sitting on 11 influence.


The Verdict
We both thoroughly enjoyed our revisit to this solid, fun game. As if you couldn't tell, I really admire the design. It takes many little things from different games and makes the total greater than the sum of its parts. It puts the player in greater control of card draw and resource deployment and uses very clean templating for cost and effect. The theme, art and flavor text is very well executed, and it looks like one artist did the artwork for all of each trade, so they are consistent within, which is a touch I really like. To reiterate, though, this is a mature theme, with enough innuendo, violence and occasional profanity to put it out of reach of younger gamers (at least in my house).

I find this really intesting in the context of the CCG Journey. Since replaying Magic I've come to (re)appreciate that game, and John and I have both bought precon Magic decks as a result of that. Heck, we played a few games the other night. But replaying the Spoils again just feels so right. I hate to say it, but to me, at this stage of the Journey, I'm not sure I'd ever reach for a Magic deck if the Spoils was an option instead. The Spoils is my Magic 2.0, and I've bumped my rating up from 7.5 to 8.

FOOTNOTE: John did some reading about the fate of the Spoils and Tenacious Games. It sounds like it wasn't the game that failed, but rather the company. It's a sad tale of flaky investors and debt spiral, which you can find online if you look for it. I feel bad for them, since I think the game is great, but I'm happy to see it lives on again, backed by a stable company.


Notes on the Journey
Total plays (plays since last report).

World of Warcraft = 33
Magic = 20
Game of Thrones = 13
VS = 11
Harry Potter = 7
Doomtown = 6
Conan = 4
Jyhad = 4
City of Heroes = 4
Epic = 4
Mystick = 3 (+2)
Lord of the Rings = 3
Warhammer = 3
BattleTech = 3
TMNT = 2
Legend of the Five Rings = 2
Shadowrun = 2
Star Wars = 2
The Spoils = 1 (+1)
Cyberpunk = 1
Gridiron = 1
Wyvern = 1
Spycraft = 1
Kingdom Hearts = 1
Echelons = 1
OverPower = 1
Hyborian Gates = 1
Arcadia = 1
Fantasy Adventures = 1
On the Edge = 1
Shadowfist = 1



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Kerry Harrison
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SiddGames wrote:
The Spoils uses a Faction card to indicate your... faction. There is only one faction card out, that I know of - The Tournament Faction.


Actually there are several other faction cards available now.
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Mike Haverty
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Where can one get those, or in what sets are they? I just ordered a box of Seed starters to split with John, if that matters.
 
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Kerry Harrison
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SiddGames wrote:
Where can one get those, or in what sets are they? I just ordered a box of Seed starters to split with John, if that matters.


I know the new 2 player starter kits come with several.
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Richard
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Glad to see some activity for this. This is the only CCG to really grab my heart (I discovered it after a friend got me playing WoW:TCG -- my first card game). I've tried nearly all since then and none have the humor/fun/balance/great rules that The Spoils has! (which is fine since I have a rule that I won't play any CCG/LCGs anymore besides Spoils).

Be sure to check out their site for pre-order information with its revival!
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Nathan Trimmer
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sirkerry wrote:
SiddGames wrote:
Where can one get those, or in what sets are they? I just ordered a box of Seed starters to split with John, if that matters.


I know the new 2 player starter kits come with several.


Of all the CCGs you've revisited, Mike, this is the only one to really take root in my home. There's just something really appealing and enjoyable about it. Also, who can resist the Arcanist "Abominable Hamster" card?

I recently purchased a few of the starters to specifically help bolster my available resources and tournament factions for deck building. As Kerry mentioned, with the 2-player starter sets you receive a packet with additional cards (as well as a foil promo). Included in the packet are faction cards for each group in the game (for a total of 5). For some reason though, they only have the standard background as opposed to the nice landscape artwork that graces the ones included with each Seed deck.

Great work by the way! If you keep writing new entries for the CCG journey, I'll keep reading and thumbing. Each one has proven rather interesting. In fact, I'm now interested in giving "Harry Potter" a try despite writing it off years ago.
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Mike Haverty
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sirkerry wrote:
SiddGames wrote:
Where can one get those, or in what sets are they? I just ordered a box of Seed starters to split with John, if that matters.


I know the new 2 player starter kits come with several.


I just got the 2p starter kit and it does not have the new faction cards; it does have a foil Tournament faction in each deck of the 2p starter. The precon Seed decks I got each come with the trade-specific faction card. Is there another 2p starter kit? (Not that I need it since I got all the Seed precons.)

Is it me, or is there no copy of the rules in the 2p starter?? I don't need it, but that seems... not very smart to not include the rules in a 2p starter that is presumably pitched at new players?!

EDIT: Doh! I just opened the "13 Card Bonus Pack" and it does indeed contain foils of the 5 trade-specific faction cards. Still no rules though.
 
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Kerry Harrison
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SiddGames wrote:

Is it me, or is there no copy of the rules in the 2p starter?? I don't need it, but that seems... not very smart to not include the rules in a 2p starter that is presumably pitched at new players?!


No it's just not you, of the 3 starters I opened, 1 didn't have a copy of the rules either.
 
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Josh Lytle
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sirkerry wrote:
SiddGames wrote:

Is it me, or is there no copy of the rules in the 2p starter?? I don't need it, but that seems... not very smart to not include the rules in a 2p starter that is presumably pitched at new players?!


No it's just not you, of the 3 starters I opened, 1 didn't have a copy of the rules either.


I can fill you in on what happened there. The world map sheet and the giant glosary of the world were meant to be printed on one sheet (front and back) and the rules sheet was meant to be included as well. The printing company messed this up though, and since the Starter Kit was the last product made by Tenacious Games there wasn't any time/energy/money to fix it.

One interesting thing is that the printing company also mis-printed the factions to have regular card backs in this set. Wasn't intentional, but they are unique in that way.
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Steve Zamborsky
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Hey Mike!

I'm glad you enjoyed your re-visit to Spoils! I really miss having a regular group to play with; every once in a while my buddy Wayne and I play whenever either of us have a new idea to try out - I think my last idea was to make a deck that capitalized on the new Flip-Up mechanic (as I recall, didn't do too well ).

I'm headed down to Origins next week and Arcane Tinmen have a number of tournaments scheduled; I think I'm going to play in a couple of the sealed deck tournaments to see how I do, maybe take my constructed deck and see how that fares as well.
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Mike Haverty
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You know, John and I have been talking about trying a sealed or draft tournament for Spoils if we ever have an open window for one.

Good luck!
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Steve Zamborsky
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Either format is excellent - much less "lucky" than other CCGs comparably. From experience, I would say that a Spoils booster draft is one of the most skill-based formats I've ever played in any CCG/TCG.

Thanks, Mike! I'll let you know how it went. cool
 
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Mike Haverty
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So, how'd you do?
 
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Steve Zamborsky
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SiddGames wrote:
So, how'd you do?


I really should start subscribing to threads; especially when it comes to follow-ups like this one.

I played in a few different Spoils tournaments at Origins. Won the constructed one (which got me an iPod nano for first place). Made Top 8 in both sealed deck tournaments I played in - but tanked in the quarterfinals in both. The quarterfinal match that I played where the grand prize was an Xbox 360 was one of the best Spoils games I'd ever had, even though I lost. Either of us could have won - I was just outplayed, was all. Very fun.
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