Saturday, 10 October 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #17


 So, I recently remembered a promotional pack of some weird cards that came with a comic I bought as a kid. The cards had awesome fantasy artwork, and a whole bunch of scratch off panels. After a small amount of investigation, I found the thing for which I was looking: Steve Jackson's Battle Cards, a trading card game that had the incredible bad luck to launch a few months before Magic The Gathering came along and pretty much redefined what a trading card game was. Though Battle Cards did have some strange properties that meant it probably wouldn't have lasted long even without that apocalyptic event.

 


The big problem is that it's a trading card game in which each card can only be used once. It's those scratch-off panels, you see: the ones along the bottom of the card and down the sides represent parts of the character's body. To play, two players each take a character card from their collection, and take turns declaring which of their opponent's body parts they're attacking. The opponent scratches off the panel representing that part, and reveals either nothing (showing that the attack missed) or a drop of blood (showing that it hit). After receiving their second wound, and every wound after that, a player must scratch off one of the life panels along the top of the card. There's three of them, and one of them hides a skull and crossbones, which, when revealed indicates death.

 


Having bought a bunch of packs of Battle Cards from ebay, I played a few rounds with my Dungeons and Dragons group. Despite the mechanics of the game relying entirely on luck, we had a pretty fun time. I think it really relies on the atmosphere; as a silly thing to unwind after a D&D session, it's a lot of fun, but it's not something you could ever play seriously. Especially when you take into account that the actual point of the game has been inaccessible since 1994.

 


The point of the game was to collect the special foil treasure cards. You see, these cards weren't available in the packs themselves. When you defeat another player, you actually take their defeated card, and scratch off the "purse" panel in the top right corner of the card. Then, you have to get a trading post card, and scratch off two of the panels on that card, of your choice. If you revealed a number and the name of the treasure, you could then send the trading post card, along with a bunch of other cards whos purses added up to the number shown on the trading post, and they'd send you the treasure you reveald on the trading post.

 


I can see where the designers were coming from with this gimmick: Pogs were very popular, and that was a game often played for keeps. What Battle Cards did was provide an endgame to aim for when playing for keeps, as opposed to just amassing a gigantic stack of cards. On the other hand, I can't see the scratch-off element as being anything other than a cynical attempt at forcing people to endlessly buy cards by making each one single use. It didn't work, of course, the game was such a massive flop that there's still plenty of unopened booster packs for sale online for next-to-nothing. And like I said, if you pick up a few packs, it's a fun and silly way to pass a few minutes with your friends. Plus, the art on all the cards is great, and each one also has a massive wall of lore text on the back!

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