“Crafting” cards is becoming a new fad in boardgaming, though I think it’s mainly AEG who are doing it.
Games like Mystic Vale, where you can gain cards and then improve them, are starting to become more prominent.
Last night, I got the chance to try one of the latest card-crafting games, Custom Heroes. The game is designed by John D. Clair with art by Matt Paquette and the game is published by AEG.
This is more like a normal trick-taking game than most others in the same genre, in that you are playing cards to the table and trying to “win” the pile (not quite a trick, but I’ll explain), all the while buffing up cards with improvements that will change how they act.
These impressions are based on one play, so please don’t take this as a review. Multiple plays may change my opinion of the game.
But it does include some things to watch out for.
The game comes with 60 cards and 84 “Advancements,” which can be used to modify those cards.
The entire deck is dealt out to players (edit: in a 6-player game, this is the case. There is basically one set of basic 1-10 cards in the deck for each player, so a 5-player game will have 10 cards removed, 4-player 20, etc), and the goal of the hand is to play all your cards. Those who do it first get the most victory points but don’t really get much to help themselves for the next round (only one new advancement). As other players go out, the VP rewards go down but the advancements and power received for next round go up.
Each player also begins with two set card advancements: an advancement that we called beats any cards that are already on the table(we called it “trump” because of that) and a “Kodora” which allows you to bet VP on whether you will be the first to go out this hand. Everybody gets the same for these two, but then each player chooses a random advancement as well.
The first player leads and he can play one card or a set of cards of the same numbers. These cards can be modified, and you can put your own advancements into your cards at any time before you play them, with one caveat. A card cannot have an advancement of the same type put on it (in essence, you can’t override an advancement of that type that’s already there).
If you lay down cards with abilities, many times you’ll have to spend a power token (or two) in order to use the ability. If you don’t use the ability (you just use the number), then you actually get a power token. The power required is in the bottom left of the card/advancement.
You must play a higher value set than the previous played, or you can play exactly the same set (another set of five 8s in the picture above). Doing the latter means the next player is skipped, so there is a bit of “take that” in the game, though most often you don’t have any choice in that so it’s not like it’s “mean.”
How do you win the game?
Once a player has 10 VP chips, they must go out first in a hand. If they do, they win! What can throw a wrench into things is that the player who goes out last loses a VP. If the player with 10+ VP goes out last, then they go back down to 9 VP.
If, after 6 hands, nobody has won, then there will be a final championship hand between the player who won Hand #6 and the player with the most points (unless the player with the most points actually won Hand #6, in which case that player just wins).
So what did I think?
I think the cards in this game are wonderful and I do like the card-crafting mechanism. The art work is Manga-tinged and really nicely-done.
The game play itself can be interesting and there is a lot of laughter when things don’t go somebody’s way and their plan is ruined.
The player screens have the round-winning information on the back, which is very helpful. They also do a good job hiding the advancements you have ready to play if you don’t want to hold them in your hand.
So the materials are really cool.
I’m not quite sure. It’s really interesting how you use the advancements on the cards, because you know that when you use them, the cards will be going into the general pool for future rounds and you may not see that card again. By making a card a 17, you may be giving somebody else help next hand!
I like that.
But in our game, it lasted over 90 minutes. That can happen when the winners of the rounds can change so drastically. We ended up in the 6th round with everybody having 10 VP, so whoever went out was going to win the game.
But it took us a while to get there.
My friends who introduced it to me said that their first game went fairly quickly as one person sort of dominated.
That’s a possibility too.
And there is some AP (Analysis Paralysis, for those of you new to gaming) involved as you try to figure out whether any of your advancements will end up winning the trick.
That can take time.
I would have to play it another time or two just to see how it progressed, but my first impression is that the totally variable time makes this a hard game to really want to play. You truly do have to budget some time for it, and unfortunately the gameplay doesn’t warrant that much of a time investment.
If the really long games are actually an aberration, then that’s fine. Sometimes a game just goes long. It happens.
It is a fun game with some intriguing mechanisms.
Just keep that caveat in mind when you’re considering this one.