Comparing Card Games
I proudly admit to being a Gamer Geek. I play all kinds of games: FRPs, board games, card games, word games, puzzles, and various computer-based entertainments. Today I am going to talk about collectible card games, and especially about Shadowfist, the game of Hong Kong action movies.
I only play two CCGs these days–Magic and Shadowfist. When my son James was a kid (he’s a grown man of 21 now), I also dabbled in Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Digimon, and I have demoed the Naruto game. Now Inner Kingdom Games, the makers of Shadowfist, has done something very unusual. They took their collectible card game and made it non-collectible with their latest release: Combat in Kowloon. Here is the blurb about the game from the Shadowfist.com site.
Shadowfist is the mile-a-minute, sword-clashing, butt-kicking, Uzi-spraying, boat-exploding, car-chasing, monster-crunching, Hong Kong cinematic action card game that is so epic it would take fourteen John Woos to film and a cast the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. And that’s just in the first five minutes!
It’s like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hard Boiled, Drunken Master, Wing Chun, The Killer, Storm Riders, Heroic Trio, Iron Monkey, Supercop, Master Killer, Ballistic Kiss, and the rest of your favorite Hong Kong action films all rolled into one.
Equal opportunity butt kicking, baby!
Daniel Griego is calling his Shadowfist a new type of card game–the dynamic card game. Semantics! I don’t see it as being any more dynamic than Munchkin. Maybe Steve Jackson invented the Dynamic Card Game, and you’re just reinventing the wheel, Daniel in a slightly different venue.
Shadowfist and Magic are a lot alike but also totally different. Shadowfist actions are paid for with Power that is provided by Sites–Magic actions are paid for with Mana that is provided by Lands. Both Shadowfist and Magic use living beings as agents–they may be human or nonhuman (which includes aliens, demons, other types of beings such as elves and each character has its own fighting strength. Shadowfist uses States to provide all kinds of equipment from guns to armor to transportation devices; Magic uses Equipment and various spells to boost the fighting ability of its agents. Shadowfist has Events; Magic has different forms of magic including enchantments, sorceries, and instants. Of the two games, Magic is the more complex. It has more more cards, more different kinds of cards and more different super powers conferred by different cards.
Other comparisons: Magic is mostly swords and sorcery fantasy with some science fictional elements included. It uses all the standard tropes of fantasy including nonhumans such as elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons and alternate planes of reality in conflict ie. alien worlds. Shadowfist is set on Earth and alternate planes strictly connected to Earth such as the Netherworld. There is fantasy involved, but it is more sf-nal in nature, relying on time travel and sci-fic gimmicks. Both game support one on one duels, but are better when played with a group of three or more players. Magic is LORD OF THE RINGS on steroids; Shadowfist is a Hong Kong action movie more like ENTER THE DRAGON where anything goes.
Shadowfist, under the leadership of Daniel Griego who is the owner of Inner Kingdom Games just conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign and is trying to redefine their game into a simpler, non-collectible version that still has all the playability of the original game. I played that simpler version last week. It works. My gaming group had a good time. We have mini-tournaments every 2 weeks for our players (I’m not in charge–I’m just an average gamer in this group.) We had ten players last week and time for just two games. A really good player won both of his matches. I won one of mine (at the last second).
And now I’m going to make some critical statements of opinion. Your mileage may vary as they say.
I don’t know who handles the creative decisions of Inner Kingdom Games. It may just be Daniel Griego and his close associates, or it may widely distributed. I will just say “They”.
They have produced some absolutely brilliant new cards–new sites, new characters, new States and Events. I bought a bunch of them last week and they were fun to discover. The old Shadowfist cards were (mostly) excellent. The new cards kick the quality level up a notch–even better than excellent.
Over a 17 year lifespan since Robin Laws and Jose Garcia first created Shadowfist in 1995 they developed nine factions and thousands of cards, some of which were rare and extremely powerful. The new version has only six factions and a few hundred cards. The old version was collectible with random assortments of cards available in packs. The new version is non-collectible and the packs have exactly the same cards in every pack. The cards they give you in these packs are varied and good, but knowing I’m going to get the same limited assortment whenever I buy new cards is really going to cut down on my desire to buy any more cards.
The new version of the game seems to play a little faster than the old version did. They haven’t changed the rules, but the new cards seem more powerful than the older cards–more high-powered characters and effects. The old version had a lot of low-powered characters and effects that gave more subtle advantages. Playing faster could be a big advantage, but if I have to pay for it by losing variety in the game, it will not be enough to win me over to the new style. Inner Kingdom can fix that by releasing expansions for the new Shadowfist as fast as they can produce them, and we gamers will have to hope that is fast enough to sustain our interest.
By taking the game non-collectible, Griego may be making a bid to enter the mass market. Good luck with that, Daniel! It would be great to see Shadowfist as common as Munchkin or Fluxx or Uno. But the game is more complex than any of those, and I don’t think it will ever reach their levels of saturation in the game-playing public.
Magic changes its “legal” cards every year with a yearly set and quarterly releases of themed cards. Some older cards are reprinted and remain “legal” while others are no longer “fair” in the current version. Magic has variants such as “Unlimited” and “Commander” that allow players to use their old cards, but they emphasize the new cards (and reprints) in most of their sponsored tournaments. I will play the new Shadowfist in the same spirit I play the new Magic–that is, I’m just mixing the new cards in with my old cards and continuing to play unlimited Shadowfist as long as i can find opponents.
Shadowfist is to Magic what Tunnels and Trolls is to Dungeons and Dragons–not well known enough to affect millions of players. I like Shadowfist better than I like Magic. It is, in my opinion, the superior game. (Magic is however an excellent game that I prefer to 95% of all other card games–I just prefer Shadowfist to Magic.) It may be that my sympathies just naturally lie with the underdog in competitions of this nature.
If you have played both games, please leave a comment and express your own opinions about them. For that matter, if you prefer some other dueling card game like Yu-Gi-Oh, you could say something about that too.