Well, I’m back. My old readers are likely to be disappointed that this isn’t a new Vampire article, but a discussion of a new game also brings in new readers. To those who are new: welcome! And to those returning: welcome back!
I have a long history with card games that indicates that I have a problem. You see every few years, like clockwork, I dive into a new game. I went through a long period of getting into dead games – Star Trek CCG, Horus Heresy by Sabertooth, the Lord of the Rings by Decipher, Middle-Earth CCG, WARS TCG, the list goes on and on. Getting into these games after they had effectively died meant that they were cheap (which was good!) and that I had nobody to play with (which was bad!). Ultimately, they taught me that a game can only hold your interest so long if you never get a chance to play.
This lead me into a period where I would dive into games that were not dead: Legend of the Five Rings (AEG and FFG versions), Android: Netrunner, and Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, to name a few. The higher cost of an active card game meant that I rarely dove in all the way, but I got to actually play the game, which meant that my interest was held for a longer period of time. And thus, we come to the topic of discussion today. My latest card game fix. The Chrono Clash System.
There are a number of card games that bill themselves as a system upon which many IPs can be grafted. The one that most readily springs to mind is Weiss Schwarz, a single game with many different sets each based around a different anime property. Decks can only be made from cards within a single set, and it allows you to determine which anime character would win in a fight.
The Chrono Clash system is similar, although it’s just getting started. I learned about it when I heard about Evangelion the Card Game (which is the latest sets), which is based on the wildly popular and wildly weird 90’s anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The show features some pretty sweet mech battles, but also uses them as a backdrop to talk about deep seated psychological trauma. It is a distinctly odd show, but it made an impact on me when I saw it in (I was VERY late to the party, so I saw it in the early 2010’s).
So obviously, the theme drew me in, but I’ve been burned by interesting themes enough times to be wary. There were two other factors that cinched the deal for me. The first was the distribution model – the game is sold in fixed sets, two of which will get you a complete play set of all cards currently available in the game. The second was what I was reading about the game play. It really didn’t seem revolutionary (although all card games these days seem to use that word), but it did look FUN.
I decided that it was worth a small financial investment. Now that I’m a dozen or so games in, I really want to do a deep dive into analyzing the cards and strategies. But before I do, I figured it was only fair for me to give my impressions of the game, and to highlight the best and worst aspects of it (for me). And if you haven’t played the game yet, my hope is that this information is useful in deciding whether you want to give it a try yourself. With all that out of the way, let’s dive into the game.
1) The Resource System:
This, I think, is the core selling point. Resources in the game represent time, and you can continue to do things until you run out of time, at which point it is your opponent’s turn. But the real magic here is that your actions determine how much time your opponent has on their turn. You see, the time tracker for each player is actually joined together, with a shared 0 space, as shown above. So if you gain time, you move the token up to a higher number on your track. When you spend time, you move the token to a lower number. At some point, you will spend enough resources that the token has moved past the 0 and into your opponent’s track. At this point, your turn ends.
Let’s say that you start your turn with 2 time, and you play a 5 cost card. The time counter moves 5 spaces down, landing on the 3 space for your opponent. This is then how much time they have to start with. As you might imagine, there are a lot of implications to a system like this. For example, you can focus on playing small cards that have small impact, but which only give your opponent 1 or 2 time to work with. This simultaneously minimizes their chance to fight back and the impact you have on the board state. Alternatively, an expensive card may give you a big tempo boost, but gives your opponent more to work with on their turn.
A consequence that I didn’t immediately appreciate is that it makes the order of events on your turn very significant. You might want to use a buff and then attack, but if your buff makes you run out of time then you lose the opportunity to attack. And the majority of buffs in the game only last a single turn, so there is little point to playing it as your last action.
Ultimately, the idea of paying for cards by giving your opponent resources isn’t truly novel, but I don’t see it used all that much, and it certainly makes the game stand out. The tactical feel of the game is due in no small part to the resource system.
2) Guardians + Guardian Abilities:
You are a squishy human playing in a world of giant robot mechs. As a result, a single attack will finish you off completely. Fortunately, you start the game with 5 Guardians to protect you. Each Guardian will absorb an attack for you, meaning that you have to be attacked 6 times to be defeated.
Alone, that system isn’t terribly interesting. But those 5 Guardian cards you start the game with are random face-down cards from your deck. When a Guardian takes an attack for you the card is flipped up. These cards will have a Strength value, a Guardian Ability, or both.
Strength is how you determine who wins when your units (called Battlers) fight each other. Usually, the battler with the higher strength will always destroy the lower strength battler. For Guardians, it’s not quite that simple. The Guardian card is always going to die, but if its strength is equal to or higher than the attacker’s strength, then the attacker is also destroyed.
Guardian Abilities are usually found on low strength battlers or on cards that have no strength (like the event shown to the left). They trigger when the card is flipped face up and they provide a multitude of useful defensive capabilities – from preventing a battler from attacking this turn, to returning a battler to its owner’s hand.
In both cases, the Guardian cards provide a small tempo hit for the aggressive player, which helps prevent a player from being too dominant. They make games a bit closer than they would have been. The fact that your Guardians are random cards doesn’t sit perfectly with me (as it introduces a bit more luck than I like), but it’s also a deck-building challenge to include enough good Guardian cards that you’re likely to have a few.
The final piece of this is that your battlers can go on “quests” which mean that you put a card from your hand face-down on top of a battler. This card then acts as a Guardian for that battler. If the Guardian is still there at the start of your next turn, you remove it and score a Quest Point. Accumulate 5 Quest Points and you win! The alternate win condition is less interesting to me than the fact that you can lay traps for your opponent by specifically putting down cards with good Guardian Abilities or strength values.
3) Extra Cards and Paying for them:
So far, I’ve just been talking about normal cards. But the game isn’t content to just let you have normal cards. Each player has a special deck of 6 giant-sized cards called the Extra Deck. Frankly, I kind of hate the size of these cards (imagine having a hard of normal and giant cards), but they play a very interesting role in the game.
First, it’s pretty hard to draw an Extra Card. There is no basic mechanism or rule that allows you to do so, meaning that you have to includes normal cards with abilities that let you draw Extra Cards.
Second, Extra Cards are played differently than normal cards. Rather than spending time, you sacrifice battlers of equivalent value. So, to play a 4 cost Extra Card, you must sacrifice 4 or more cost of battlers. This has some enormous implications because it doesn’t require any time. This fact paired with the ability of Extra Cards to attack the turn they come out means that they can be literal game changers. Paying for them also introduces an interesting push-you-luck mechanic. While you are welcome to sacrifice tapped battlers to pay for Extra Cards, this can be risky. After all, if you attack, you might run into a Guardian that destroys your battler or returns it to hand, thereby preventing you from using it as fodder for your Extra Card.
So far, I’ve heaped tons of praise onto the game, and while I don’t think that it undeserving of praise, the game also has elements that I consider problematic. And if you are considering trying the game out, there are some things you need to know.
1) Text-free cards:
Looking at the cards pictured above, you likely noticed the curious fact that there is no text on them. The card abilities are entirely communicated through symbols. I can understand how this is advantageous for the company – a single set of cards can now be sold in any country, and the box contained ~7 rulebooks written in different languages. But I see no advantage to me as a player (except lower prices due to the above).
Words can convey a lot of nuance that symbols can’t. For instance, there is a suite of “targeting” symbols which tell you what can be targeted by an effect. One symbol limits you to “your battlers” while another tells you to pick “any battler.” So far, so good, right? Well, the “your battler” symbol actually means “one of your other battlers” so a battler couldn’t target itself. The “any battler” symbol doesn’t have that restriction.
The rulebook cheerfully exclaims that “Learning [the symbols] might seem daunting at first, […but] you’ll be surprised how quickly you pick them up!”. While this is true to a certain extent, it presents a new player with a huge obstacle to overcome before they can even play the game correctly. Even after a number of games, I find that I occasionally misplay cards. Given how relatively simple the game is otherwise, the complication of the symbols sticks out like a sore thumb.
2) Sometimes vague rulebook:
The other problem with learning the game is that the rules are sometimes vague and there isn’t an FAQ online. An essential step in the production of ANY game is blind playtesting, where you have somebody learn the game only from the rulebook. You learn some really strange things during blind playtesting, and you find that people interpret your carefully worded messages in odd ways. But you identify problems with the rules and fix them. I don’t get the impression that this was blind playtested.
In the game’s defense, the problems are common, but not pervasive. And they can often be solved with a bit of detective work. An example of this is figuring out which abilities are optional, and which are mandatory. Turns out Guardian Abilities are optional, and everything else is mandatory. Unless you can’t follow one of the symbols, in which case, the entire ability doesn’t trigger.
3) A bit more luck than I’d like:
This one is pretty subjective. Luck is an integral component to all games (it prevents them from simply being puzzles), and different people enjoy different amounts of luck in a game. Personally, I enjoy luck. I think card games have a lot of inherent luck to them (order of the decks being just the first factor!). But I also like to feel that I have enough control over that luck so that I can mitigate bad streaks.
One of the ways this manifests itself in games is that I tend to seek out options like card draw or card filtering (draw + discard) that allow you some ability to influence this inherent source of luck. I don’t want these to be dominant strategies, necessarily, but I like that they are options.
I don’t see many luck mitigation abilities in this game. Card draw is pretty scarce (even I never manage to go through more than 20-ish cards of a 50 card deck). And there is no way to peek at your Guardians or swap Guardians with cards from your hand, both of which could help capitalize on that neat mechanic.
Well, this wasn’t really intended as a game review, but it seems to have gone that way. My hope is that you now have enough information to decide whether the game is worth trying for you.
For me, the game has been quite enjoyable, despite the frequent need to look at the rulebook. It plays pretty quickly and is filled with tough tactical decisions that feel meaningful. Its also given me the opportunity to engage in some deep analysis, which I intend to get into in future articles, which always tickles my fancy. Combined with the low price tag (a whole play set will set you back $70 MSRP) and theme, this has been an extremely enjoyable purchase for me.
If you decide to pick up the game, or already have it, let me know what you think! Next time, I will start looking at the cards themselves and the factions they have been sorted into. Thanks for reading!