Is it the evil opposite of "Pressed for Time"? It's not THAT evil, really. Join timekiller Adam Gallant as he guides you toward the great epics and steers you away from the tedium. It's all about time well spent with games that take, well, time.
It's In the Cards
Perhaps you need something to do during your school vacation. Or maybe you have a spouse, kids, and a house that's spotless and you're just going out of your mind with nothing to do. Maybe you're a lazy bum with no job, no significant other, and only your console and your TV to guide you. Regardless, I will find a way to fill up those empty hours! I've sacrificed days... nay weeks of my time playing some of the longest, hardest, craziest, and something-else-est games in the whole of Video Gamedom and will pass on the knowledge to you. Just because you have all this time to kill, it doesn't mean you want to waste it on a junk game.
This time through, I want to draw your attention to a genre that's rarely explored as a whole: the Card-RPG. Most people automatically think of the Yu-Gi-Oh games in this regard and throw it out as a 'kiddie' kind of game. However, there is so much more the genre has to offer, and you don't have to be under the age of ten to understand it. Trust me here, pull up a seat and shuffle your deck. We're going to have us some card based fun!
It's 1997 and the "Magic" craze is in full swing. In any comic shop or Sci-Fi specialty shop there are tournaments for Magic: The Gathering every weekend. Companies everywhere are trying to come up with CCG games for their own properties but each fail to leave a mark as big as the one Richard Garfield made. Spectrum Holobyte, wanting to capitalize on their recently acquired license of the game, release a version to be played on the PC.
If you've never played the game and wonder what the hell I'm talking about, the rules of "Magic" go as such: you start with a deck of sixty cards. This deck is comprised of lands and spells. Lands will allow you to gain points of "mana" in one of five different colors (red, blue, black, white, green). These points of mana are then used on the spell cards, each with a different "mana cost". Spells can cause summon creatures, create an instant effect, or a lasting effect which will affect the game until it ends. Each player has 20 points of life, and players attack each other with spells and creatures until one player is reduced to zero, ending the game.
Calling the PC version "Magic: The Gathering" a game is somewhat misleading. A good eighty percent of what you will play is that of a simulation. You start with the choice of flat CCG gameplay, or an adventure mode. The flat CCG mode exactly what you would do if you went to a store and bought yourself a box of cards in real life. You start with a deck editor that allows you to pool in cards from the basic set, along with the first three expansions of the game, to create the deck that you can play against a computer opponent (multiplayer was not initiated for some inexplicable reason). This was most of the game, just building decks and testing them out against a computer deck. When you wanted to see how your new 'Bruise' deck would work against your friend's 'Saproling Massacre' deck it was a great tool. Otherwise you felt like you were sort of tooling around with the cards you could only wish you had, like the Moxes and the Black Lotus. If you had restraint, you could start with a normal deck and see how long it took to make it powerful. However, with the option to grab the cards you want right away, very few could resist creating the ultimate deck and wasting any CPU who dared fight you.
Then there was the adventure mode, a storyline battle mode where you would travel around and fight other wizards in a fantasy realm known as Shandalar. The plot was rather non-existent and there wasn't a lot of variety in the gameplay, but it didn't need it. You started with a basic deck and challenged others in order to strengthen your deck, no 'twinking' or cheating the luck of the draw. The basics laid down in this virtual CCG adventure paved the way for all the others to come. The only issue with this mode was how short it was, most people completed the adventure without gaining many of the popular and powerful rare cards available in the game.
It's not perfect and it's very very dated (any current Magic fan will probably be miffed with the lack of their favorite cards in the game, any card past the 'Legends' expansion doesn't exist here), but it's significant to the genre so I included it here. I haven't seen this game available in stores for a LONG time so if you want to try it out, to eBay you go. While a huge time killer, this would be better suited for those looking to get into the Magic arena for the first time. Anyone who is already familiar with the series would be better off trying the spiritual sequel: "Magic: The Gathering Online". The card list is much more current and gives a much more robust game experience.
Time you can expect to kill: 10-40 hours, depending on how fast you pick up the rules.
I can hear the grumbling already.
Either you consider yourself "too old" to play pokemon, you think that P:TCG is a sad rip-off of "Magic: The Gathering", or you love Pokemon and consider the TCG game to be a hideous mutation of the series. It's seems like this game couldn't win at losing. However, deep down inside it's probably the most solid Card-RPGs out there. It's worth your time, your effort, and the $6 you'll plunk down at your local video game store for it.
The rules seem backwards compared to other CCGs. There are three forms of cards, Pokemon (split into basic and evolved forms), Trainer Cards, and Energy. First, you draw your hand and (assuming you have any), place as many creatures as you can down. Your first pokemon is the "Active" while the rest (up to five) sit on the "Bench". Then, the race is on to get energy cards so you can meet the creature's energy cost and actually use it to attack or block. Only one creature can attack or block at any point, but you can change which one is active either through being knocked out of play or by paying an energy cost to retreat the creature and place a fresh one out. Plus, since this is Pokemon, you will have "Evolution" cards. These cards are creatures, but require their pre-evolved form to be in play in order to be used. Spells are handled in the form of "Trainer cards" which have no cost but can only be used once, they're pretty basic but do their job well.
Rather than attack your opponent, you want to knock out your opponent's pokemon in order to win. Before the match, each player puts down a set number of "Prize" cards from their deck (which renders them useless in-game). K.O. one of their pokemon, take one of your prize cards back. Get all your prizes, and you win! Simple.
The rules are very easy to pick up, the game itself is easy to pick up, so there's no excuse to hate it. While Magic may have started it, this game lays down the setup for every CCG game to come with your character walking around a town trying to beat "Gym Leaders" for their badge, trying to get every badge until you gain entry to the final tournament to officially 'beat' the game. Even when you beat the game, you can continue to play to try for a complete set of cards within the game, the true challenge of any Card-RPG.
Seriously, give it a shot as it has a charm that no other Card-RPG will have. You won't regret it.
Time To Kill: 20-50 hours. A really beefy card set makes getting a complete a hard task to get.
Thankfully, I'm not really reviewing these games as much as suggesting what ones are good time-wasters. I'd have a hard time keeping my journalistic integrity when I'm such a fanboy for SNK. I own Neo Geo games, I have a Neo Geo Color Pocket, and I own both the SNK and Capcom versions of CFC. I'm sure that a significant portion of my life was involved in something branded "SNK". However, you don't have to love SNK to enjoy this game. Hell, you don't even have to love Capcom either. All you need is a basic knowledge of how a Collectable Card Game works, and you're off!
If you've played the afore mentioned Pokemon: TCG game, this game won't surprise you with the frontend. You're a young human putzing around looking for people to play Card Fighters Clash with. Defeat five of the 'Boss' card players and you gain access to a tournament to decide just who's the best virtual card player ever. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?
The truly new portion of the game is the CCG rules itself. Magic, Pokemon, and a myriad of other games use the "Put out land/energy/blood/mana card out, gain access to spells/creatures/vampire politics/etc..." method. Card Fighters Clash is different. You start with 2000 life (3000 if playing a 'Boss' character) and five cards drawn from a fifty card deck. On the playing field there are three empty spots, your life counter, and a "SP" counter (which is the closest thing to mana or energy in the game). The game features only two types of cards: fighters and "Action Cards". During your turn you can play one fighter, use another as backup, one Action Card, and then attack. Let me explain these terms a bit so that I don't lose you folk...
Fighters have two stats, their Battle Points (BP) and their SP value. Here is where the game throws a few curveballs: Battle Points are both health and attack. Let's say your 500 BP fighter blocks a 400 BP fighter. You will be left with a 100 BP fighter (500 - 400), while your opponent's fighter is K.O.ed (400 - 500). Another twist is the SP value of each fighter. These are positive values, often adding to your SP pool, not taking it away. In effect, fighters are both creatures and land. For traditional CCG players, this may take a while to cope with. While these people assimilate these rules, keep in the back of your head that before an attack some fighters may receive 'backup', giving a fighter on the field an extra 300 BP by playing a specific fighter card underneath. If this seems hard, imagine you've played a Mega Man card. You have a Roll card in your hand. Mega Man's card states that Roll can give backup, so you play Roll under Mega Man and he gets +300 BP. This makes some weaker fighters much more worthwhile as they can give a boost to others.
Action Cards are the 'spells' of the game, using your SP pool to inflict damage, heal, or any other sort of effect you can think of. They can only be played on your turn, before an attack, and you must have enough SP to use it. Action Cards are much easier to explain than Fighters. So much so that I feel the need to add the totally unnecessary sentence so that this paragraph doesn't seem insignificant compared to the previous one. That, and to prove to all the board members that I can use words longer than five letters.
After you go through the tournament and 'beat' the game, you've now unlocked most of the extra gameplay. People you couldn't talk to before are now accessible, new people appear out of nowhere, and you still have a long way to go before you've accumulated all 300 cards. Plus, a prize is available to those that get all 300 cards, have a NGPC to Dreamcast link cable, and own either King of Fighters Dream Match '99 or Capcom Vs. SNK on the Dreamcast. I won't spoil that for those that have the ability to access these things, since I don't have the ability to find out what it is anyway. I am however accepting all charitable donations of a NGPC to Dreamcast link cable. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
Time to kill: 40-80 hours. Getting those very last cards can be a pain, but it's oh so worth it.
OK, you mastered Magic. You stomped through Pokemon: TCG and ripped through Snk v. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash. Hell, you've even trounced the Dragonball CCG, every Yu-Gi-Oh game you could find, and even suffered your way through Magic: Battlegrounds. I've shown you the light of the Card-RPG way, and now I show you possibly the greatest entry into the genre. Culdcept has gained acclaim and a huge following in the Asian countries, and thanks to NEC Interchannel we have it in North America. Now, this game won't be the easiest to find in stores as it was released rather quietly with critical acclaim and little hype. But if you can find this gem for the Playstation 2, I recommend you snap it up immediately. You won't be disappointed.
Here's the skinny on the rules, and don't expect a dead repeat of the first two games. The game has two critical parts, the board, and your deck. The board is... a board, like in a board game. There are many different spaces you can encounter in the game, but there are three main ones to worry about. These are regular land (in six different styles, four colors, colorless, and multicolor), forts and castles. Your main objective in the game is to pass all of the forts in the game and reach the castle to make a lap where you get a gold bonus.
So where do the cards come in?
First, you start off with a deck of 50 cards containing creatures, items and spells. You draw five cards and set off on the board. When you land on a 'land' space, you are given the option to end your turn or summon a creature to defend the land as yours. Any land you own gains a toll fee, which raises when you either obtain more lands of the same type or invest in the land to raise it's value. In many ways it's like monopoly, you go around the board gaining land and raising their value trying to get the most gold. Should someone land on your space, they have two choices, pay your fee or gamble by summoning their own creature to try and take your land. This is where items come in handy, as you can give your creature a boost before battle begins. Should the attacker fail to take over the land, they must still pay the fee. Should they win, they've gained a land of their own and diminished your total worth.
Play continues like this until someone reaches a set value (6000-12000 gold) and makes it back to the castle to end the game. The game rules are easy to pick up if you've played any CCG and monopoly, and merge the two concept brilliantly. Plus, just like every other Card-RPG, when you 'beat' the game you can still continue on to get a complete set of cards, or just to whoop people with your insanely powerful deck. You need to come up with multi-faceted strategy, card assembly skills, and a good helping of luck to beat this game but it's worth it in the end. Plus, this game has a solid plot to go along with it! I was a bit shocked by the endgame (you'll see, I won't spoil it here) but it just added to my admiration of this game. Trust me on this, if you've enjoyed ANY Card-RPG in your life, it's worth it to try this game.
Time to kill: 30-90 hours, depending if you go on the complete set or not.
This genre may be relatively new to the video game scene, but there are many different ones out there for you to play! I've done a bit of the research for you, so if you want to try even more games of this type, I've compiled a little list for you:
DragonBall Z: Collectable Card Game (GBA)
Yu-Gi-Oh: 'put any subtitle here' (PC, GBA, PSX versions for the actual card game in video form)
Lost Kingdoms 1, 2 (Gamecube)
Magic: The Gathering Online (PC)
SNK v. Capcom: Card Fighter Clash Expand (NGPC, expensive import)
Phantasy Star Online III: C.A.R.D. (Gamecube, coming soon)
Baten Kaitos (Gamecube, JP only right now, but hopefully seeing a US release)
Next time on "Time To Kill", I'll go back to the classics, a compilation of every game a RPG nut should play. Expect drama and anger as someone will invariably disagree with something I put in, and tell me I should go to hell for not including their favorite game. It'll be fun! Until then, go waste some time why don't you.
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