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Subject: Buffy CCG Review - 8/10 rss

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Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Customizable Card Game Review

Overall Score – (8/10)

Introduction – I have a great passion for trading card games. I own about fifty different ones. Back in the day, I played Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings competitively and spent a fortune on them. But I also love dead card games, mainly because they’re so affordable to pick up. I wasn’t a Buffy fan when the show was new; rather, I became a fan years later thanks to NetFlix. One of my favorite exhibitors at GenCon are a couple of booths that sell dead trading card games. They’re always ridiculously cheap and it’s a good way to pick up an interesting game that you missed when it was new. I always try to get at least one dead tcg I didn’t have before at one of these booths and this year it was Buffy. My favorite season is the 3rd, so I invested in a Class of ’99 booster box for $8 and the four theme decks from that expansion for another $5. There was just one problem – the theme decks didn’t come with instructions. Fortunately, I knew one of my gaming buddies was a huge Buffy fan and I suspected he might have gotten into this game back in the day. I was right, he still had an instruction book, and he was more than willing to spread the Buffy ccg love and teach me how to play.

Concept (8/10) – Players assume the role of one of the Buffy universe heroes or villains and, together with a cast of supporting characters, complete challenges and fight each other in an effort to accumulate destiny points. The first player to accumulate 10 of these rescues or dominates Sunnydale and wins the game. Of course, the best part of the Buffy universe is its unique and likeable characters and the ccg makes a good decision to focus its gameplay around these guys. Through the use of essence cards, players feel engaged to a specific character in particular but also get the freedom to customize their play experience by enlisting supporting characters to their cause. The game makes another wise decision in allowing players the option to assume the role of villains. Buffy has some of the most likable villains around and it’s a real joy to maneuver those characters to dominance of Sunnydale as well. For the most part, the game does a successful job in realizing its concept. The challenges are a real strength of this game and I believe do a good job of capturing the mystery and tension aspect of the show as players try to bring a certain group of characters together to meet these challenges. The fighting element of the game is less successful. The game tries to put equal emphasis on fighting by both creating a lot of fighting-based cards and by making control of the Sunnydale Park area of the game area a victory condition (control of the park for six consecutive turns, which will usually require fighting to accomplish, equals victory) but, in all my play experience so far, the challenges are a more fun and more bankable method of securing victory. The game is a lot like the old Star Trek: TNG CCG in this respect. The challenges are very similar to the missions in that game and, while fighting was an option in Star Trek, hardly anyone ever did it because it distracted from meeting the mission victory condition. Comparatively, fighting just feels like a distraction in this game as well. I recognize that one could design a competitive deck around that element and strong fighting characters, but since the buttkicking (fighting) skill is also a requirement for many missions, those characters can at least be equally served elsewhere.

Components (9/10) – The Buffy CCG is printed on the typical quality cardstock you’d come to expect from any CCG. One of the things that sets Buffy apart from other CCGs is its inclusion of essence cards, which are thick plastic cards that represent a player’s main character. There are at least one of these for each of the major Buffy characters. There are seven other types of cards. Location cards represent various locales of Sunnydale. Each player places four of these in a square / circle pattern at the beginning of the game. Challenge cards represent the trials, projects, and situations characters must overcome. Each deck is composed of seven of these, but are set aside in a separate “Challenge Deck.” Each challenge card has a list of one or more skills that are needed to accomplish it: Buttkicking, Smarts, Weirdness, and Charm. Each skill has a value assigned to it that represents the total number of that skill needed to accomplish the challenge, as determined amongst the characters at the location. Hero / Villain and Supporting Character / Minion cards represent the characters that populate the Buffy universe. Each of these characters are skilled in the four areas listed above to varying degrees. Item and Skill cards play on characters and, most often, modify their various skills in some way. Event and Episode cards have universal effects and either remain in play or play to the crypt (out of play). Action cards function like Interrupts in Star Trek and have temporary effects. Action cards also have skills modifiers listed and can influence the outcome of challenges and fights. The symbology on each type of card is quick to pick up and visually more appealing than extra text would have been.

Gameplay (7/10) – Turns alternate between “day” and “night” turns. The only difference between the two is that Vampires are somewhat limited in “daytime” and have certain benefits at “nighttime.” Otherwise, the turns function identically. Each turn is divided into 7 steps, which players alternate play during. During the prologue step, each play places the top challenge of their challenge deck into play. Each location can have one challenge in play for each player. During the Draw step, players discard any cards from their hands they wish and draw up to5. During the Refresh step, any card fatigued (tapped) during the previous turn is refreshed and can be used again this turn. During the Movement step, characters may move from one location to an adjacent one or to or from the Park area in the center of the play area. Vampires cannot move during Daytime but can move twice during Nighttime. During the Resource step, players place characters into play, ascend them if they are able, and attach items and skills to them. There is no limit to the number of cards that can be played in this step so long as they are able to be played from a player’s hand. In the Conflict Step, players can engage in fights and start challenges. Players may choose to skip this step but since both victory conditions derive from this step, it is essentially important. Fights can only occur at a location at which both players have characters and to initiate one, the player whose turn it is simply declares an attack from one of their characters against one of their opponent’s. The defending player can fatigue a different character at the location to have them “stunt double” for the target and fight instead. Both players draw 5 cards to add to their hand and then compare each character’s butt-kicking stat. The player with the lower total has the option to start a talent stack. Talent stacks are used in both fights and challenges and is a method of modifying various skills. In the case of a fight, an action card is played to the talent stack to modify the butt-kicking skill by the printed amount on the action card’s butt-kicking icon. Items and Skills can also be played to a talent stack to modify butt-kicking by +1. As soon as one player plays enough cards to a talent stack to increase his total skill to greater that of his opponent, the opponent gets a chance to do the same. Players alternate playing cards to the talent stack in this manner until one player cannot do so any longer or chooses not to. At this time, the player with the greater butt-kicking skill wins the fight and gains a Destiny Point. The loser loses a Destiny Point if his main character was the one defeated. Both players discard down to five cards and play resumes as normal. Challenges work similarly to fights except that there may be more than one skill on a Challenge card that a player is trying to match total’s towards and all characters at a location have the option to fatigue and contribute. Talent stacks operate the same as a fight with the opponent of the challenger playing cards to a stack to increase the total of the stats necessary to defeat the challenge. Since there are often more than one skill to deal with in this manner, players will find it useful to simply pick one skill to start with, then proceed through the rest one at a time until one skill is not met by the challenger or they all are. If the Challenge is unsuccessful, the Challenge card remains on the location to be attempted another turn if desired. If the challenge is successful, the Challenge card is removed from the location and the challenger scores a number of Destiny Points equal to its value. Play continues in this manner until one player has 10 Destiny Points at the end of a turn. The gameplay is intuitive, quick to fall into the rhythm of, and makes a lot of sense in the context of the Buffy universe. As players build up their Destiny Points, they will find a gradually rising tension building with each turn of night to day. Every card play, movement, and fight or challenge attempt becomes critically important. One of the most interesting parts of the Buffy gameplay is that Action cards especially, though they have their own game text, are more often used and discarded in talent stacks or in the Draw step in an effort to cycle through a deck faster in the search for characters, items, and skills to bring into play quickly.

Complexity (7/10) – I think I’ve discovered why the Buffy rulebook is so difficult to locate online – no one wants to take responsibility for posting something so ridiculous. This is seriously one of the worst rulebooks I’ve ever read. The game is nowhere near as complex as the 50-page rulebook might lead one to believe. The Class of ’99 rulebook I read is needlessly redundant, over-explanatory, and convoluted. For instance, it describes fights and challenges in varying degrees of detail and length four different times. My recommendation for anyone trying to learn the game by reading the rules is to just skip the last half. You’ll be fine with the first 25 pages. Otherwise, try to find someone to teach you. I usually prefer to read rules myself for any game I learn, but in this instance, I think there’s great value in being taught by someone already familiar with the game that can break down in a more approachable way than the rulebook. A demo game will quickly enable novice players to pick up the game. While the Destiny Point victory condition is the safer way to go and plan for, the presence of another victory condition at least gives players multiple strategic options on how to pursue deck-building and gameplay. The cycling of decks and the myriad ways to discard and replace temporarily less useful cards counters much of the luck factor of card draws found in many other CCG’s. The day / night turn sequence further complicates matters and adds an additional layer of strategic complexity to the game.

Fun Factor (8/10) – The focus on characters ensures that Buffy is a fun game to play. The more impersonal skills, items, and action cards are enlivened by creative titles and the presence of enjoyable flavor text. Games don’t typically last more than half an hour and the fast-paced, tension building gameplay makes it unlikely a game becomes bogged down for some reason.

Replay Value (8/10) – Because the game actually lasted a couple of expansions, the presence of a sizable card base ensures a comparatively high replay value for a dead card game. There are plenty of essences to choose from, lots of characters to support them, and a host of other interesting cards to support them. In many CCGs, there are cards that are way more useful than others. But the talent stack mechanic enables even the most worthless action card to provide a positive impact in a game.
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Byron
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I picked up a boatload of these on the cheap a while back. I haven't gotten a chance to play them though. Looks like I should.
 
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Krista Donnelly
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When you get to the highest competitive levels, fight decks have an advantage over decks which only try to solve challenges. But a successful fight deck requires a very careful deck build and aggressive play. I myself prefer to solve the challenges, which might be why I've never been the #1 player of the game.

There's still national rankings, though the pool of players submitting tournament results has dwindled quite a bit over the years. Check out www.buffyccg.com.

 
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