After a long wait, the Transformers TCG is finally available in Canada! In a market that already has a number of collectible card games vying for your time it makes it challenging for a new product to find footing. Worse, there is always a risk with licenced properties that game design will suffer in hopes that the brand alone will sell the product. Thankfully that’s not the case here. Hasbro owns both the Transformers franchise and Magic: The Gathering and it seems their experience in both areas has produced a solid and fun product.
There are two primary ways to play the Transformers collectible card game. The first it to simply crack open a started set and follow the simplified two player rules. In this case, players each get two characters to use and share a common deck, ignoring the more advanced rules text on the cards. It’s simple, fast and can get you familiar with the game but overall it’s not nearly as rewarding as playing with the advanced rules. With the advanced rules, the game remains fairly quick and, on the surface, appears very simple but deep down requires a lot of planning and strategy both in play and in deck construction.
Players each build a team of characters from their pool of character cards — cards that represent named Transformers characters. The character cards themselves are fairly nice to look at. Each one is a double-sided card that shows the character’s vehicle mode on one side and the robot mode on the other in vibrant foil. Characters have a point cost (defined as a star value) and you can only have 25 stars of character points on your team. Characters also have an attack and defense value, abilities, and attributes (vehicle type, combat role, etc) that can vary depending on weather your character is in robot or vehicle mode. Vehicle types (jet, car, truck, tank, dinosaur, etc) and combat roles (leader, specialist, melee, ranged, etc) can all play a significant role in deck construction as many cards and abilities reference specific roles.
Once your characters are chosen you can build your actual deck (character cards sit separate from your deck). A deck requires a minimum of 40 cards and can consist of action cards and equipment. Equipment can consist of weapons, utilities and armor that you can attach to a character to boost their strength and provide them with additional abilities and only one equipment of each type can be used by a character at a time. Actions can have any number of effects on the game — from allowing you to draw cards to giving characters boosts for their combat. Each card may also have blue, orange or white pips in the upper right hand corner. During combat you will flip two or more cards from your deck and count these pip values to add to your attack or defense. You want to see orange pips if you attack and blue if you are on the defense. The first white pip you see gives you the ability to flip two more cards. Bold and Tough abilities on your characters allow you to flip even more cards getting you more chances to reveal pips.
This is where deck-building gets interesting. You’ll want to build a deck that supports the strengths of your team. If you are running all vehicles or Insecticons, you can build a deck accordingly. Some characters will favor equipment and some will want you to play more action cards. On top of those decisions you also want to be very mindful of the pips on each card. You may find yourself favoring a less powerful card with two pips over a more powerful card with one or no pips in order to improve the results of your attacks and bolster your defense.
For example, lets say you want to use Kickback, Cunning Insecticon. Kickback has a terrible attack value but his ability makes up for it — you can flip two additional cards for each other Insecticon you started the game with. This means you’re going to want a team that consists primarily of Insecticon characters and that runs cards that benefit Insecticons. If you start the game Kickback and three other Insecticons, you’ll get to flip 6 extra cards during combat which should net you with a pretty good attack value if you have a lot of cards with orange pips. If you have very few cards in your deck with orange pips, Kickback could end up with a very low attack value. In one of my games, my opponent’s Kickback was attacking with an attack of 2 or 3 — less than what many characters have as a base attack value — because he didn’t put many cards with orange pips in his deck.
This means that when you build your deck, you can’t just stuff the cards with the best abilities into your deck and call it a day. You really have to put considerable thought into what will happen when you need to start flipping those cards to add to your attack or to your defense. You could easily find yourself doing little damage and taking a lot if you don’t plan accordingly.
Once your deck is build you and your opponent take turns attacking one another. Each round has you drawing a card, transforming a character (which can trigger special abilities), playing an equipment on a character to buff their abilities, playing an action and then finally attacking. When you attack, you turn an upright (untapped) character card sideways (tapped) and select a tapped character your opponent controls to target (unless you go first in which case you get your choice). Since only tapped characters can be attacked you have to put thought into which characters you want to send into battle first as attacking will make them vulnerable. After the attacking player chooses their targets, they flip over two cards from the top of their deck to see how many orange pips they get and add that number to the character’s attack value. A white pip will allow them to flip over two more cards — but only once for the first white pip they reveal. The defending player reveals two cards from their deck and counts up the blue pips (again, flipping more cards if they get a white pip). The players then subtract the attacker’s attack value from the defense value of the defending character to determine the damage. Characters accumulate damage over time and once it exceeds their health, that character is KO’d. Some abilities may guarantee damage or allow more cards to be flipped and some abilities may heal damage or transfer it to other characters. Play continues to the next player until all characters have attacked.
The card design is simple and easy to read though it borders on the bland at times. The art itself also varies. For the most part, the character cards are striking and fun to collect on their own though the character art seems to draw inspiration from various incarnations of the characters over the years leaving the art feeling a bit disjointed between characters. There’s also the fact that the set includes a number of relatively unknown characters like Flamewar and Deadlock while skipping over several more well-known characters which will hopefully show up in future sets. The assumption is that this was likely done to balance the different types of characters and their alt modes.
It won’t take long to play a game of Transformers with a friend and you’ll find yourself quickly wanting to build more decks and try out new characters. This game has legs — it’s a lot of fun, easy to pick up and play and allows for a lot of different deck types and strategies. Hasbro seems to think so too. The next released starter deck features Metroplex — an over-sized “Titan” character — with its own new mechanics and the upcoming Wave 2 of the set will introduce Combiners with even more new mechanics for avid players to consider.
There’s more to this TCG than meets the eye and any transformer fan — young or old — should give it a try.