Age of Steam

Card games in the Age of Steam

Card games – There are lots of types of card games out there. I learned to play card games with my family; everything ranging from UNO to Canasta. They are simple and straight forward once you learn the rules. And for a young boy, learning the rules and making the most of them was all part of the fun.

I have memories of playing Canasta with my grandmother and learning to play it so well that I managed to defeat my father by 9,000 points after I had set him back minus 2,000 points. One of the first lessons I learned when playing with people that I remember – is they don’t like to be thrashed, and they are less likely to play with you in the future (if you do thrash them).

Boxes of NetRunner

Netrunner, the original game

Once I got into university, I was intrigued by this new type of card game called a Collectible Card Came (CCG). This is where the rules are specific, but each of the cards could break those base rules as they were being played. By being randomized, there was a good chance you would not know what the opponent was going to play and be able to counter it.

These were games like Magic the Gathering, Star Wars and Star Trek, Babylon 5, Vs, Pokemon, and NetRunner (and a heap more I have stashed in draws around my house).

I spent periods of time at uni (when I had no classes) playing card games with friends. Star Trek and Magic the Gathering consumed a lot of my time – Over time I learned the game was more important than winning, as while we played, we were in the game, but once it ended, there was study, or we would have to start a new game and build up our resources again. So there was a little of the draw-out-as-much-as-possible in those games.

Piles of Magic the Gathering cards

Magic, can’t just have one…

Once I moved from uni to a ‘real’ job, I found myself in a workplace where a group of us were very happy to play NetRunner, Vs and Magic the Gathering over lunch. Unlike my time at uni, most of these games were about how many games you could fit into your lunch break than about enjoying the game. Some players were better than others, and I tended to gravitate towards ‘theme’ play over ‘power’ play. Theme play was to see if you could get certain builds out in play, such as the armour set in Mirroden’s Magic expansion, or a set of superheroes for Vs. or a stealth combo for NetRunner. The power play was to have the most powerful cards out the fastest to destroy your opponent before they could stop you. I always expected the maniacal laughter when it happened to me, but I didn’t even get a mustache twirl… I did get a few fist pumps and trash talk thrown my way though.

While they were fun to play, these games became a money sink, where you just wanted one more packet. Then they invented competitions where you had to buy even more packets to join… while it made things even as everyone had to construct their deck out of the new packets, it meant those existing decks you’d built were not as useful.

The box art for the babylon 5 game

There is a hole in your pocket…

My favorite was Babylon 5, though it required 3-4 players to really make use of the mechanics, and then expanded to allow 10+ in the one game. Amazing! It was the first CCG I played that allowed more than two people. And it scaled well.

There is nothing like a diplomacy style game where you have to work together with the other players while opposing and sabotaging them at the same time. Bablyon 5 had a lot of quirks and I’d still say it was the best 3+ player card game out there if you were willing to play for about an hour.

After many years, a new type of card game came out called the Living Card Game (LCG). The main difference between LCG and CCG is that you bought an entire set of cards with each expansion, no more randomised cards, but played the same way when setting up decks.

The sentinals of the multiverse card game box art

Awesome comic book play style

Some of the great games I came across included Lord of the Rings, Sentinals of the Multivese, Pathfinder Card Game, a new Star Wars card game and NetRunner. The LCG model is definitely my first preference as I get to see all the cards, costs are way down, and I’m excited about all the sets that come out. These new cards look better, play better and have the vote from my wallet too.

Of all of these games, Sentinals is my favorite, as it is a cooperative superheo game of you vs the deck. Lord of the Rings and Pathfinder also follow this model and I feel it is a superior playing style for friends and introducing new people to gaming. The Magic style of beat-your-opponent-into-complete-submission, while enjoyable at times, stops being interesting if you’re the one beaten all the time.

Then there are the party style games, designed for a larger group of people, such as Munckin and Lupin which are perfect for party games where you want 6+ players.

munchkin cards

Kill the monsters, steal the treasure, stab your friends – Munchkin advertising

Munchkin is really one game where the rules tell you to stab everyone else in the back, and it’s as harsh as it sounds. The game is really missing that core value of other party games where everyone cooperates as half the cards are about causing grief to another player. So players should be warned, as I have heard stories about couples and friends becoming very upset with each other because of this and rifts in the relationships occurring as a result. It’s not as bad as Diplomacy which has been know to break relationships…

When I play Munchkin I make sure I backstabbed at least one of the other players as soon as possible to provoke return backstabbing, and then laugh when people retaliate causing my character grief, this sets a more congenial tone. I find laughter is the key, and the ability to mock yourself. Munchkin is so much more fun when you know everyone is out to get you, and your out to get them but you’re open about it and prepared to laugh. My favorite games are those when everyone backstabs outrageously, and sometimes with funny voices.

I’ve experienced quite a few types of games here, so I was surprised to find yet another, adult party game. This is where Cards Against Humanity sits. Its a fun game to take out at party nights and you definitely need to make sure the game is limited to 18+ due to some of the content. Though if you’re prepared to explain such cards to a younger audience, that’s your call. We tend to play this game for a couple of hours and it caters best for 4+ players. We have not actually set an upper limit on players, and I have gamed with up to 15 players very successfully.

CardsAgainstHumanity

Example of play, question and four possible answers…

The key to playing Cards Against Humanity is not to read ahead when playing the card czar (person reading the black card). So you read the black card out and flip the white card reading on as appropriate for each player. It just spoils it a little when the czar reads all the responses first. Watching players choke with laughter on the answer is part of the fun. Watching the card czar go pale and stuff the white card back in the box without reading it, not so much…

Lastly, there are electronic card games…. Magic the Gathering makes a reappearance, as new games such as Cards of Fate and Infinity Wars. I have to say that an electronic version of the game is easier to play, you get through so much faster when the rules are coded instead of interpreted. I have understood Magic far better now that I have played it electronically. And I recommend Infinity Wars for those who have not checked it out, it looks great, and with play being done at the same time as your opponent, there’s very little wait time once you’ve done your moves.

I was introduced to Card of Fate back at PAX AU 2013 (they were there again in 2014). It’s an interesting game, but I’ll need to pick up an actual copy of it since my PAX copy was limited to a single version.

Magic is fun, works the same as the Xbox version, but had more graphical glitches due to the hardware I was running at the time. There is also a version of Magic that is like the physical version where you have to buy booster packs, but have a electronic version of the cards instead, I felt like it was too costly a way to play.

Infinity Wars screenshot

Worth trying 🙂

Infinity Wars took a lot of coaxing to get running on my old machine, but once it did it was a good way to spend 30 minutes or so testing your skills against another player. There was no AI for this game, and other players do provide a good example of play (or how not to play).

I’m looking forward to more card games coming to Steam in the future, especially those older games of nostalgic renown. 🙂

So next up is me and board games…

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