This write up won’t interest everybody. Hell, I honestly believe that most of you will skip straight on by, but that’s OK. Not all games will interest all players, and when the one in question is built around pastel coloured pones… yeah, this won’t be the most read review that’s been posted on Little Metal Dog. Still, as has been said by guest writer The Judge, we play things so you don’t have to. Though in this case, I reckon you should at least give the new My Little Pony Collectible Card Game a go because it’s really rather good. Writer Lauren Faust’s recent reboot of the eighties series has drawn in fans worldwide by moving away from just being focused on selling the toys and actually treating the viewers with a modicum of intelligence. This has led to a growing army of adult fans – the Bronies and Pegasisters that you may have heard of – who are well catered to with well written, entertaining episodes that aren’t afraid to throw in a few geeky references for good measure.
Of course, CCGs pop up and die off on a regular basis. Just because one launches with a well known license behind it, that doesn’t mean that it’ll be any good – in fact, it’s very easy for a publisher to throw together a game that just about functions. After all, you’ve spent all the money on getting the name, so why spend even more on design, especially if you’re confident that the game will sell enough to make you a profit anyway? Thankfully, the folks over at Enterplay have done a lot more than just slap the MLP licence on a crappy game and hope it’ll shift units. They’ve brought in experienced designers like Darrell Hardy (who I was lucky enough to interview on Episode 73 of the podcast) and developed a game that is not only functional but actually fun.
Unlike most games where the focus is on aggression, MLP takes its lead from the show and has players attempting to solve problems. Two separate Problem decks are set up before play begins, and each player starts with a hand of cards drawn from their deck. You also have a double-sided Mane Pony card which is placed in your Home row, representing one of the central six characters from the show and telling you how many Friends you can have there at any given time. Friends will make up the majority of your deck, and each one has a cost that must be paid in order to bring them to the board. Once in play, they’ll contribute their power to bringing out other cards and solving those tricky Problems in the middle of the table. Some Friends also have their own abilities that trigger at different points during play – so far, so traditional.
Rounds are built around the spending of Action Points, the amount you get decided by the highest score – so, even if you’re way behind and your opponent has a healthy score, you’re not penalised in the amount of Action Points you receive. You can even save unspent Points from turn to turn, so even expensive cards can be brought into play pretty quickly. Points can also be spent on adding new cards to your hand, moving Friends around the board and introducing Troublemakers to the proceedings which make life way more difficult for your opponent.
You see, Troublemakers are put in front of Problems. Problems need to be solved by playing Friends that meet the requirements, and doing so brings in the points you need to win. However, with a Troublemaker in play, the Problem can’t be tackled – you have to get rid of the Troublemaker first in what’s called a face-off. The Troublemaker has a strength value, as do your collective Friends that you’ve played to the Problem – both players then flip the top card of their deck, adding the value to the total, and whoever has the highest amount wins. If it’s the Troublemaker, the player must return a Friend home (and possibly be forced to discard if they’re over their home limit), while if it’s the player the Troublemaker is removed from play and bonus points as noted on the card are scored immediately.
The first player to meet a Problem’s requirement again scores a bonus but as long as they’ve got enough Friends in play, they continue to score a point every round. Should both players try to solve the Problem, another face-off occurs, much in the same fashion as you’ll deal with Troublemakers. The only difference is that after a winner is declared, a new Problem is revealed which invariably requires a whole new bunch of cards. Oh, and did I mention the fact that while your requirements are very specific (three Magic and two Honesty, for example), the other side of the card is very general and will only require a total amount of power of any kind? In other words, your problem deck will probably be easier to solve from your opponent’s point of view – they’ll just need a bit more effort from their Friends.
There are also a whole load of Resource cards that can be added to your Friends, boosting their powers and bestowing special abilities, all of which are taken from the show and will be recognisable to anyone who has watched it. Event cards can also be brought out to hopefully skew things in your favour, and as you get deeper and deeper into the game you’ll learn how the various cards interact with each other. All of the Mane Cards also have a requirement that, when reached, let you flip them to introduce more abilities and keywords, meaning that your deckbuilding skills will be pushed if you’re going to boost your Mane as well as solve Problems.
As you’d expect there’s a couple of issues, but nothing too awful. Being a CCG there’s the whole question of Rare and Ultra Rare cards that could be regarded as overpowered, and people who have the most money will undoubtedly be able to build the best decks. There’s been no announcement of tournament play yet, but when it happens (because it’s certainly in the works) this could become something of a problem. There are plenty of good cards in the Common and Uncommon levels though, meaning that even with only a little investment you’ll be able to put together a deck that’s able to put up a decent standing. From a production point of view, the cards are pretty much what you’d expect (and the foil ones are particularly) but I’ve got to level a criticism at the wretched Action Point tokens – they’re thin and crappy and fly away with a sneeze, so replace them with something more sturdy immediately!
If you’re not a fan of the show and give the MLP CCG a go, you’ll find a solid game with some interesting ideas there. A second block of cards has been announced for release in the States around May and will follow in other territories shortly after, so it’s not a game that’s going to be left up in the air. If you’ve got even a passing interest in the cartoon you’ll get a lot more out of it, with background characters finally getting official names and plenty of random quotes being thrown in as flavour text. The developers are working in tandem with the showrunners to ensure that everything in the game fits in with Equestrian lore (though there’ll be no spoilers, we’re told) so you can expect some sort of Twilight Sparkle alicorn set-up pretty soon. Grab yourself a two player starter set or a couple of the theme decks and give it a shot – you may well be pleasantly surprised…
The My Little Pony CCG is available in various forms including a two player starter set, two Theme Decks and 12-card booster packs. Already available in the US, it’s out here in the UK and Europe some time in the next couple of weeks. Watch out for a MLP:CCG giveaway here on littlemetaldog.com later this week!