Designer: Josh Lytle & Dylan Mayo
Publisher: Arcane Tinmen
Number of Players: 2 or 4
Playing Time: 40min
Category: Trading Card Game / Collectible Card Game
Mechanics: Hand Management, Variable Player Powers, Customizable
RRP: £7.99 +
The world of trading or collectible card games (TCGs/CCGs) is competitive and almost entirely owned by Wizards of the Coast's indomitable Magic: The Gathering. For the younger age groups there are a variety of games such as Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! but what about older gamers? If you are wanting a game where killer combos can nearly always be prevented what do you do?
The Spoils is another wannabe rival to Magic: The Gathering, joining the ranks of Chaotic, WoW card game, Babylon 5 card game and hundreds of others... never heard of these? That is because there are a lot of CCGs/TCGs that come and go as they attempt to achieve what Magic has. In practice, Magic has such a tight control over the TCG market that there is very little chance of a serious rival appearing. To many who are looking for a good card game, this is a real shame because Magic is not one of these. It has a lot of game breaking combinations that players can do nothing to prevent. Among higher level players there are only two real factors in the game: is the deck good and is your luck in drawing the cards better than that of your opponent. These are the only factors of any importance, with tactical decisions during play usually being minimal.
The Spoils looks to try and redress this issue of unbeatable combinations through the simple addition of reactions that allow players to respond to actions performed by their opponent. It was originally created by Tenacious Games with help from many former Magic Champions, specifically to challenge many of the play issues that can be seen in Magic. Combined with this, The Spoils develops a world of its own, far from the more generic High Fantasy realms of Magic, The Spoils is set in a magical steam punk setting that is totally depraved. The world is run by the trades that players take control of, each looking to see their own faction gain dominance over their rivals; bureaucratic financiers are actually a race of fat cats, machines are fixed by troublesome elves that speak 1337 and Cthulhu-esque gods are worshipped by tribal travellers. This dark imagining that would sit well in a Burton movie is well met by the artwork on the cards, which feature distinctly mature humour that in the case of the violence can be quite graphic (run an image search for “The Spoils Barbaric Rifleman”). There is a clear reason for the game's 13+ rating; this is no Pokémon. The game actually came out in 2006 but was recently resurrected by Arcane Tinmen, who have given the game a second chance.
The Spoils is, on the face of it, simply a Magic clone: there are five trades (colours), there are resources (mana), and depletion and restoring are concepts that will strike a chord with even a casual Magic player. The process of playing cards is also similar, with cards having a cost associated with them that players have to meet through spending resources. There is also a requirement that players have enough affinity to a particular trade, although this can be met using resources that have already been spent. In other words, so long as you have two greed resource cards on the table and enough unused resources overall, you can play any card that requires two greed cards be in play. This means that you don’t have to worry about which resource you have to use in each card play. So long as there is the requisite on the table, all resource cards become effectively generic.
Being a much newer game, the range of cards is much less. There are only about 500 different cards out there, but the real difference becomes apparent when you sit down to a game. For those of you that are not Magic players or are completely new to the world of TCGs, players build their own deck from a selection of cards which they draw from during the game. The cards in a player’s hand can then be put into play by paying the appropriate cost (if applicable). Cards in play may do a variety of different things and this is specified on each card. In the case of The Spoils, each player starts with a faction, which has an impact on the actions they can perform in a turn and dictates the influence (life) of the player. The idea of the game is to use your cards to attack your opponent and reduce his influence to zero. This is done by using your cards to attack your opponent, whilst they can block with their own cards to reduce or prevent damage to themselves. One of the key features of The Spoils is the interrupt. At every stage, once a card is played but before it is resolved, the opponent has a chance to interrupt and the player may respond to the interrupt. Although this may seem like a never ending back and forth that will slow the game to a crawl, in practice it is very effective. Players will seldom take advantage of this ability until a crucial moment, because actions have costs associated with them, so there are only a few occasions when it is really critical that you interrupt. The process of interrupting also does a lot to prevent the killer combos that so often crop up in top level Magic, as players always have the ability to stop a card taking effect (if they have the right cards!).
The game has a few other nice features, such as starting with two resources in play so that the opening phase of the game is a little less arduous, and the ability to play any card face down as a resource ensures players are never ruled out of a game simply for failing to draw the necessary resources.
This is an excellent example of what a TCG ought to be able to achieve, a game where playing involves as much strategy as deck building. However, it has some short comings. The biggest problem with this game is that it isn’t Magic. This is a huge problem for all other games in this sector, and one that The Spoils will struggle to tackle just as so many others have. The solid game play and quirky world will help, but the game needs the support of shops and a well developed tournament scene. They have made a start on this in the US but for the moment the UK lacks both stockists and tournaments and without these, it is unlikely the game has a long term future.