It's hard to not love the goofy charm that accompanies the average episode of Adventure Time. The Cartoon Network frontrunner has long been a fan favorite of young and old, becoming one of the most popular cartoons to grace TV screens in some time. During the 2012 episode of Adventure Time entitled "Card Wars", Finn the human competes against Jake the dog in a futuristic card game featuring murderous monsters and... a pig. The winner of this match is dubbed the "cool guy", while the loser is doomed to be the "dweeb". Ever since it's premiere, fans of Adventure Time have dreamed of playing a real life version of Card Wars. Thanks to game company Cryptozoic we have finally achieved this dream. But is Card Wars a cool guy or is it simply a dweeb?
The first time I played Card Wars it was against myself. I won! Though... I suppose I also lost. The goal of the game is to break through your opponents creatures and attack them directly. Enough attacks to your opponents direct hit points and you've won the game. It's a very straight forward concept and at first glance it seems like there isn't much strategy involved. I played against my wife next and things got slightly more interesting, since the person playing me wasn't, well, me. Luckily I happened to bring Card Wars along to a local Super Smash Bros tournament where I met up with two of my best buddies (pictured above) who play the Pokemon TCG on a weekly basis. Once they got their paws on the game I saw its true depth. Single rounds involving two moves a piece could last minutes at a time. Spells and buildings made a huge difference and cards that seemed utterly worthless before suddenly made sense. There was much more depth and underlying strategy than I could have ever imagined. It just takes some time to gage how to play the game the right way. Once you get into the swing of things you can really start to enjoy everything Card Wars has to offer.
Each Adventure Time character involved has a deck that represents a different landscape and a different play style. Jake's cornfield set up is the perfect example of a "rush deck", where creatures come in strong right off the bat. BMO's useless swamp deck, on the other hand, is all based around your discard pile and doesn't really start kicking buns until later in the game. It's nice that there is so much variety when it comes to decks and cards. It will certainly make constructing custom decks that much more interesting down the road.
One aspect you may notice about Card Wars is that there are no cards that actually represent anything within the world of Adventure Time. There is no Ice King card or Lumpy Space environment for players to lay down. This is, of course, because Card Wars is a game within the world of Adventure Time. Even though it lacks the well known names and series gags that we all know and love it still has the distinct goofiness of the show. The creatures are bizarre and often hilarious. One of my favorites is a card known as "Sand Witch", which features a witch eating sandwiches on a beach. GET IT?! More on creatures below.
It's simply turning your card sideways on your landscape, but saying "floop" and flooping multiple cards at once can add some serious skill to your game. Plus who doesn't want to shout "I FLOOP THE PIG!"?
Even with it's decently detailed rule book there were still times when I wasn't quite sure if I was playing a card correctly. This only seemed to happen with specific cards with unique abilities, but those tend to pop more often than you'd imagine. It wouldn't kill Cryptozoic to put out a more detailed rule book that could help players out of technical jams during a standard play through.
Each set of decks comes with a buttload (is that one word or two?) of double sided damage counters to use on creatures and for your official opponent hit points. They're made of some kind of thin card board and while they are helpful I found that they were kind of a pain to add to creatures, not to mention clean up and store. You're better off using dice to represent damage. Don't have enough dice? Mix and match like I did above.
It might be hard to come up with card concepts for a game such as Magic the Gathering or other promote card games, but this is Adventure Time: Cards Wars. Literally anything goes. Think of an animal, an item, a fantasy creature - it fits. There's a creature called "Drooling Dude" for Globs sake. I realize that the fine folks at Cryptozoic only had so much of a budget for art and creative development, but they could have done better than this. There are far too many similar creatures with pallet swapped colors who have obviously just been dropped on a different background. Even though these cards have different stats it just seems like a huge lost opportunity to add more wacky Adventure Time flair.
Good luck finding either starter set (Finn and Jake or Lady Rainicorn and BMO) online for a decent price. Despite the fact that Card Wars is based on one of the most popular cartoons of the last few years, there doesn't seem to be many sets in circulation. On sites where the sets are in stock the prices are usually redonkulous. I was lucky enough to picked up both sets for $15 a pop, though even I had to deal with some seriously overblown shipping costs ($12). If you can find Card Wars sets for $20 or less (and with decent shipping) I would highly recommend you snatch them up. It seems Card Wars is destined to become the new Cards Against Humanity in this respect. Grod forbid they ever come out with Card Wars Against Humanity.
Do you love card games? Do you love ridiculous concepts such as fighting wandering bald men with armies of corn dogs? Well then Card Wars is the game for you. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but that doesn't mean you can't. If you think you might not be too good at the strategical aspects just remember what Jake always says - "Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something."