Dad’s guide to the Pokemon CCG

This game has been around a long time and has survived as a CCG for nearly as long as MTG.    I’ve played it with the kids and it’s actually a fine game but there are traps when buying cards/playing. I’m not going to go into kids scamming cards off each other in kindergarten and grades above, that’s the subject of another post (i.e.: how did my 6  year old get about 60$ worth of EX foils when he had a couple packs of cards to start?).  What I am going to go over is how to save money and have fun with the game while your kids are interested in it (likely age 5-9 or so). While this is potentially a CCG money pit, Pokemon is not a video game or some iOS bullshit, even though it is still an indoor thing for kids, so it should be encouraged over other indoor activities just like pen and paper RPG’s should be.

First, there is a LOT of stuff in the big box stores that kids will want you to buy for them. They will ask for a “TIN” which is a tin box with some cards in it.  They will ask for trainer boxes which are bigger boxes with cards in them.  They will ask you for EX and MEGA EX pokemon cards they see in the store. Expect it, but don’t buckle.

This is because the way kids play in school is to slap down the best pokemon they have and compare it’s damage to another pokemon’s health and call it a day.  The big EX’s and GX’s have large numbers on them (some of them at least) so the kids want those.  They also look cool, foil, distorted hyper anime art, etc.  This is fine and if your kids want to keep doing that, there’s nothing wrong with it, but that means they will only want a few cards (all EX’s) and there’s no point in buying packs — those are VERY rare in the packs.  Buy them singles they want for as cheap as you can and you’re done.

However, if your kids want to actually play the game, there is more to it.  If you’ve played any CCG or even deck builder, it’s pretty simple:

  • decks are 60 cards exactly.
  • You have to attach energy cards to pokemon to get them to fire off their damage powers. These are also uncommon in random packs.
  • You play to 6 points (represented by prize cards). Each point is acquired by destroying enemy pokemon.
  • One pokemon is ‘active’ as in it can attack and up to 6 others are ‘benched.’ Normally only the active pokemon can be attacked or attack.
  • You have to flip a damn coin a LOT during the games.  Little kids can’t physically do this, so use a six sided die instead.

Now, there are a lot of buying options and I flat out recommend not buying Tins, not buying boosters, not buying the “theme” decks and not buying trainer boxes unless your kids get super hardcore and even then, maybe buy singles.  The decks you can build and play using the cards from any one of these sources will suck to play and not be fun for anyone.  I wasted some money there (probably about 30$ all told) before I realized this looking at tournament decks online.  Their composition was VERY different from the Theme deck I have…and very different from what comes in the packs you get.

Instead of all the various stuff on the shelves at Target or Walmart, you want to buy the Battle Arena decks.  These are usually two decks in a pyramid type box that are full on ready to play out of the box.  These is pricey right out of the gate (about 30$), but in contrast to the boring Theme decks or random card packs, each one is tuned up with an economic and combat engine centered around a single EX type pokemon (each deck has two of these cards) that work very well and are fun in play.  While nothing to the level of tournament decks, the Battle Arena decks emulate their structure and solve the critical problem with the “theme’ decks and tins and boosters in that they have WAY too many pokemon compared to other cards.  Perusing actual decks, you need only about 12 pokemon in a 60 card deck, about 12 energy cards to fuel them and the rest are the cards the kids just throw on the ground when they get them out of a pack: Trainer cards.  Trainers are the gasoline that fuels a deck: extra card draws, denial, flipping pokemon from the bench to the active area, moving energy around — all the critical stuff you need to do to make the attacking pokemon effective and the deck efficient.

We have the (above) Keldeo vs Reyquaza deck and it’s a solid competition between them.  There are two other battle arena decks out there (another one coming in a few months) so your kids will have something to select among what looks cool.  While it won’t be easy, it’s possible to switch out the EX and pokemon of specific types with another GX and other pokemons, leaving the trainers in place to support the deck.  If your punk kids have SPECIFIC GX’s they want to run, this may be the only way.

It will take a bit for your kids to grok the combo/engine in each of the battle arena decks, but when they do, they will know how to set it up and then later, how to block the other punk kid’s combos if possible. This leads to a lot of exploration of depth that would take months or years of just playing with stuff out of the tins or theme decks.  Most importantly, it will make you as the parent NOT BORED instead of terribly BORED with the game.  They still may just slap pokemon down on the table when they are at school, but at home you will have fun with the real deal.

Lastly, sleeve the cards.   While this may seem lame to the kids, it helps them shuffle and handle the cards and it keeps what could be a 30-50$ card from being destroyed and driven into the mud on the playground, or lost and spilled upon under a car seat (both of which I’ve seen first hand).

That said, you may have a kid or kids that just do not like the game when actually played for real, but still want the cards to look at.   This is OK too, but due to their desire for ALL GX/EX foils, can get very expensive.

Weekend links and Gloomhaven impressions

This was a busy ass week, but I got a game in of Gloomhaven which is… interesting.   It’s definitely not a game I would want to own or try to get people to play (or read the rules) but it was pretty fun.  Gloomhaven is a mash up of Kingdom Death and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition with all the cards-as-actions and tons of counters for everything;  except instead of an RPG, all adventures are pre-codefied in maps that unlock as you play.  Classes unlock as you play as well which is interesting.   While I don’t think it’s especially good after the first play, it’s still worth giving a good college try.

Comparing it to another similar, recent game: The Others, it’s the opposite in that the basic Gloomhaven gameplay is clunky and card driven, while the Others is very smooth and streamlined.  However, the Others has zero as a campaign mode and is replayable only in that you can play through different missions with different hero teams.  The lack of a Campaign mode in The Others really hurts the game, while the campaign mode in Gloomhaven makes a rather lackluster miniatures combat game much more exciting to play.

Anyway, here’s some other interesting stuff from the interweb tubes this week:

New 8th ed 40K FAQ.  I love some of the questions (and answers): basically people are asking if they are planning on AOS’ing 40k.  Seems not.

Freemium ios games are the worst of the worst trash mobile gaming has to offer, but there are exceptions.

An AWESOME rundown of the launch of the original Warhammer 40K.  I read this and then started re-reading it right away.

And another GW-based post about 1989.  That was when I was totally into the Warhammer stuff full bore (as full bore as a highschool kid could be) and it lasted until 1993 or so when we started playing too much Jyhad and MTG (and still a lot of talisman).


Ruminations on the Talisman Bounty Hunter

I did a long write up on the fallen from grace Monk years ago, focusing on the fact that with the new version of Talisman, where your characters can easily gain Craft by sending in trophies, the Monk would either be the most powerful character in the game or, as he is now, one of the worst and just how difficult it must have been to design him so he retained his original flavor but wasn’t totally broken.  Basically he got nerfed so bad no one would ever select him if given a choice, as there are few characters worse than the monk these days.

However, I’ve been really pleased with the FF Talisman design team’s designs. I think Fantasy Flight were AMAZING shepherds of this very difficult brand and game since many of us are utter fanatics and I, for one, had a tough time letting go of 2nd edition.  Fate has won me over, gaining craft from trophies has won me over (not totally…) and even dealing with the Balkanization of players with all the boards is OK if you don’t play with all the boards.

One of the designs I want to discuss is the new Bounty Hunter from the City Expansion; despite the fact that he looks like a gladiator. I’ve been in one game vs him and feel that he is a very strong character, but one that does some things absolutely new to Talisman that especially effect experienced players.

First let’s talk about trophies in 4th edition.  Since your Craft and Strength stacks are extremely vulnerable in the game to Spells and some adventure card effects, it’s best to not have a stack of either until you absolutely need it.  Tactically, this means turning in trophies at the very, very, very last moment to gain the Craft or Strength from them–right before a roll vs a monster where you absolutely need it.  Also, psychologically, the other players are looking at your stacks of chips (you are using poker chips right?) to see how close you are to going for the win.  If they don’t see a stack, they will assume you are weak and fiddle around rather than attacking you or going for the win themselves.  This is crucial, and the designers know this.  It takes a bit of play to know when to turn in your trophy stacks, but the basic concept is simple– don’t walk around with a large stack of craft or strength unless you have to. Turn in trophies as a surprise when attacked or attacking another character FTW!

While the Bounty Hunter seems only slightly annoying to new players,  advanced players quake in fear in that he attacks your trophy stack rather than your Strength and Craft stacks because they will be sitting on as many as possible for as long as possible.  With him on the table you can’t be holding onto a huge pile of trophies because there is always the chance that he will drop on in and help himself to them.  This means players in a game with the bounty hunter will be spending their trophies ASAP, leaving their stacks of craft and strength vulnerable to spells and other effects.  The Bounty Hunter is a very meta-esque card that also can work for noobs that don’t even hoard trophies to protect their (future) stat increases.

The Bounty Hunters other special effects are gold when he wins battles which with the addition of the City board, actually helps rather than gold accumulating uselessly late game.   Note that he also wins stand offs against monsters and other characters, in combat and psychic combat, so his first goal in a game is to get the Full Plate armor.  We don’t play quite enough to determine tiers for characters in 4e like we did in 2e, but I feel the Bounty Hunter is way up there, especially if he can get some sort of mobility control to start grabbing those trophies.

Good iphone game: Kingdoms: New Lands

Pretty much every iphone game is shit; total garbage that should never be bothered with at all. However, with every rule, there are exceptions and while incredibly rare– like one per year, it is possible for there to be a few good iphone games. Dreamquest, SmartGo, Ascension, King of Dragon Pass are the main three, as for the rest I make the mistake of buying and installing, one by one they step down into the darkness before the footlamps, destined for a night that is eternal and without name.

That said, Kingdoms: New Lands is pretty great! I finally finished the game last week and even went back to try stuff on various islands for fun. The game is essentially a real time tower defense where you build a town/castle and then try to survive attacks from trolls until you can rebuild your boat and get the fuck off the island you are on before a troll steals your crown. You do this solely by riding around on a horse distributing and collecting gold. You can run your horse, walk your horse, stop for your horse to eat, pick up gold, disburse gold and that’s it! You cannot attack, you can’t shoot a bow, you can’t talk to anyone in the game. Walk, Run, eat, collect, disperse.

One thing the game does is not tell you how or what to do at all. What are the cabins in the woods? What do the different horses do? Why are the trolls attacking and what do they do? I’m going to keep this recommendation very short as to not spoil anything. You can build various stuff and interact with the stuff on the islands in different ways: shrines, trees, horses, portals, etc. Advice: don’t go off at night. Get catapults quick.

Aesthetically the game is fantastic, rendered in a beautifully pixilated side scrolling world with an elegance that approaches Dungeon of The Endless.  The weather effects, change of day, change of seasons (!?) and changes  in light as you run through the woods are worth the purchase of the game alone. While containing some specific elements always, such as a dock and a cliff portal for trolls, each island is somewhat randomly generated.

I was fairly enthralled by this until I was able to finally finish it, and I bet you will be too.


It’s the APRIL LAN. We played a lot of Quake last night and Starcraft (now free with the latest update) which ended in the only outcome that could have happened in a FFA: a zerg rush by scooter.

Today we got in some HELLDIVERS and Ultimate DOOM, which is one of the best FPS games ever STILL for gameplay.

Of course, it’s one of those rare nice April days where everyone in the city is outside: except us who are languishing in a basement for the next 12-14 hours.



DCC magic in LotFP

This is a precursor to a couple of brewing posts about our Scenic Dunnsmouth run about a month ago.  We used the Dungeon Crawl Classics magic system along with LotFP.

First, I recommend trying this out if you don’t mind a bit more chaos in your magic to a more cartoonish, gonzo level. DCC takes the spirit of LotFP’s beloved Summon spell and applies it to everything. The system reminds me fully of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 8th edition’s magic system, which is fantastic and dangerous and explosive.

The biggest differences are:

  1. Spells don’t always work. MU’s have to roll a D20 to cast their spells and then the GM looks at a table to see what happens. It’s about 65% chance that they will work if you have a MU with an INT bonus. Without an INT bonus, you will be suffering as an MU
  2. Unless you fail bad, you keep your spell. So this disrupts Vancian magic completely
  3. You can get REAL fucked up if you fumble your spell rolls, permanent like via corruption and miscasts
  4. MU’s can spell burn their stats to increase their spell rolls. They can loose these stats permanently.
  5. Very high rolls on spell casting of some spells can destroy entire villages and TPK the party.

Good stuff:

  1. Magic users can be badass, or they could be stuck with total shit for spells. The combination of random spell rolling with the mercurial magic from DCC left one of our spellcasters with a light spell that can only be cast in broad daylight and other crap. This is part of DCC’s ‘balance through randomness’ game theory. That sorcerer’s goals will be focused on getting better spells at nearly any cost! What better motivation.
  2. Dice are your friend? My MU used DCC’s flaming hands and always rolled super high (and my character’s version of Flaming Hands caused all animals to flee in terror as well). I burned all the enemies, all the time. While awesome for the party, coming from the LotFP paradigm, the GM was displeased by this.
  3. Spellburn: MU’s can burn their stats to increase their spell rolls. This can leave them puddles of goo that have to be carried around if they burn high. I like this mechanic a lot as you can have a character that is at -2 for every statistic for a period of time. It gives the MU interesting choices before the dice are rolled.
  4. Players don’t have to look up or memorize spell effects.  They just need the name of the spell and then roll for it!

Bad Stuff:

  1. You need the HUGE DCC book handy (or PDF). I had to carry the DCC book on the plane to CO. and it was like it’s own piece of luggage. The rules are only a few pages, but the spell lists are required and take up most of the book.
  2. Clerics. Our GM was not happy about the cleric being able to heal up characters and not losing the spell. I don’t think he will allow DCC Cleric rules again. Having played straight DCC a few times since, the Cleric does get balanced out because each time a roll fails, they increase their chance of fumbling the cast and displeasing their god that gives them spellcasting ability in the first place, which can mean no more cleric…
  3. We couldn’t fit the Summon spell into the DCC paradigm, so we left it as LotFP RAW and during the sessions, and we cast it a LOT.
  4. To fully use the DCC system, you’d have to add a LUCK stat to the stat list, and we just didn’t do that. I think that would get too far away from the current LotFP rules.  You could add it, or use Wisdom, or just tell casters they can only spell burn.
  5. Other classes may feel outclassed.   The Fighters in LotFP won’t get their init bonus for level nor the deed die.  While my character rolled crazy good to destroy nearly all enemies, the fighters could still be marginalized.

Overall, we muddled through and our GM was very enthused about it until there was a Cleric in the party, then Steve was not too happy. It does spin the Gygaxian dislike of spellcasters off into the ether and you have to be cool with that.