Image courtesy of bunwells.co.uk

The very first anime convention panel I ever attended was at ACen (Anime Central), and it was called “Your Favorite Anime Sucks”. Name kind of says it all: bunch of dudes taking suggestions and detailing why, exactly, someone’s beloved show was cr*p.

That panel was a riff on one of the most beloved fan pastimes. That is, comparing the characters from one series to another, via the classic “who would win in a fight?” and “what’s the coolest power?” Or, as it usually devolves to, “my waifu could beat up your waifu!” God, I remember when Azumanga Daioh wasn’t a thing. I feel old.

Nowadays, with shows like Death Battle and the various Smash Bros. and Jump Ultimate Stars games, the answers come pretty easily. But just listing off someone’s analysis is boring. You should be able to fight for your series’ supremacy.

Recently, I was introduced to a game that allows you to do just that: Weiß Schwarz.

The hell is this?

It’s a collectible card game similar in scope and layout to Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh, only with cards depicting characters and scenes from popular anime, such as Sword Art Online, Accel World, Fairy Tail, and so on.

Advertisement

What’s up with the name?

The name literally translates from German into “White Black”—the card game shares the first part of its name with a certain ice queen heiress.

It refers to how the series the game uses are split into a White Side, and a Black Side. Supposedly one side has slightly better card effects than the other, but at this point the differences (and what series goes where) seem fairly arbitrary.

Advertisement

As for why it’s in German, from what others have told me, Japan and Germany have had pretty close ties over the years—it’s why so many anime and manga seem to borrow from German literature or culture.

Mainly I think it’s just ‘cause it sounds cool.

You said it’s like Magic. In what way?

Primarily deck limitations and paying costs.

Each player uses a deck of exactly 50 cards; no more, no less. There are also copy restrictions: no more than four cards with the same name. While Magic: The Gathering doesn’t have a max deck size, keeping your deck small increases the odds of drawing that one vital card right when you need it, and keeps the action going by mostly avoiding the dread “draw-sigh-pass” scenario.

Advertisement

The deck size is also the source of Weiss Schwarz’s (I’m getting tired of copy-pasting, and this is a more phonetic spelling) greatest strength: perceived pacing. You tear through your deck fairly quickly in this game. But while other card games do their best to avoid that scenario, in this game it’s a key strategy. But I’ll get back to that.

Each deck is based around a single show. There are three types of card: Character, Event, and Climax (not that kind).

A sample red Character. Note the Strength (5500) at the bottom left, the Level (1) and Cost (0) at the upper left. At the very bottom, the “Police” and “Umbrella” are its Characteristics. Image courtesy of ws-tcg.com

Advertisement

Character cards are self-explanatory. They each have a Strength and many have special abilities. These will be your troops, and the main method of dealing damage to your opponent. Each Character also has two Characteristics; think of these as the Character’s flavor text. Characters also have Levels and Costs, which form part of its summoning conditions. This is similar in execution to MTG’s Land cards and mana costs. More on this in a bit.

A sample blue Event card. Note that it’s a Level 2, with a Cost of 2. This card also references a specific Characteristic: Detective. Image courtesy of ws-tcg.com.

Event cards are basically the same as the Spell cards used in MTG and Yu-Gi-Oh, only not as permanent. Most Events cards in Weiss Schwarz rarely last longer than a single turn. Like Character cards, these have Levels and Costs

Advertisement

A sample red Climax card. Note that Climax cards are oriented sideways compared to Characters and Events. The little door symbol on the upper left indicates its Trigger Effect, which is explained on the bottom left. Image courtesy of ws-tcg.com

Climax cards are also like Spell cards, only much more powerful. You can only have up to eight of them in your deck, but their usefulness both inside and outside battle means you want to hew as close to the limit as possible when building your deck. They depict some of the most memorable scenes in the show—such as when Kuroyukihime kisses Haru the first time in Accel World—and are meant to turn the tide of battle in your favor. Although the ability to boost your Characters would be reason enough to include them, they also possess the capability of reducing the damage you take from combat.

Regardless of type, each card has a color: red, yellow, green, and blue. Just like in MTG, each color has a general strategy associated with it. Yellow cards are usually ones that deal damage quickly, green’s mostly about resource building and management, and so on.

Advertisement

The color is also the final requirement for playing a card. You can’t play a card of a given color unless another card of that color is already on your field. This is another similarity to Magic: if you want to play a blue creature, you need blue Land. While this may seem a bit “chicken-egg”, or like it drives to building a deck of a single color, neither is the case.

For one, Level 0 cards ignore the color requirement. Having multiple colors in a Magic deck isn’t exactly uncommon. And two, the field in Weiss Schwarz is a little different than what you’d think.

Levels, costs, damage, field? Come on, tell us how to play already!

Your arena of glorious combat! Image courtesy of animeyume.com

Advertisement

I’ve played a fair few TCGs over the years, along with some deck-building games like Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. I can genuinely report that Weiss Schwarz has one of the most interesting play mechanics I’ve ever seen. This is one card game where the beginner really benefits from live teaching, not just reading the rules.

The image above is of the deck mat you get in each Trial Deck (the Starter Deck). The field consists of the Center and Back Stages (the red and blue squares), the Climax Zone, the Level Counter, and the Clock. The Waiting Room is essentially the discard pile, and the Memory area is the “removed from play” area. As for the Stock, that’s where you store up the cards which serve as cost payment.

A turn in Weiss Schwarz goes like this:

  1. Stand Up Phase: All tapped (‘resting’) Characters are returned to their upright position.
  2. Draw Phase
  3. Clock Phase: If you want, you may place a card from your hand in the Clock area to draw two more cards from your deck.
  4. Main Phase: Play as many Event and/or Character cards as you can, move your Characters around the Stage as you want, and use a Character’s Activated Ability (denoted with an ACT) if you can pay the cost.
  5. Climax Phase: Play a Climax card into the Climax Zone
  6. Attack Phase
  7. End Phase: Discard your Climax card (and wash your hands after), and if your hand has more than seven cards, discard until you reach that number.

Advertisement

This doesn’t seem majorly complicated. Is there something special about the combat?

Let’s just say that I’m glad for my past Yu-Gi-Oh experience. While the turn layout doesn’t seem complex, there are quite a few additional features that set this game apart from many others I’ve played.

Advertisement

For one, declaring an attack. First, you have to determine what position you’re attacking from. I’ve never had to think about this before; an attack in Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh is an attack regardless of which monster does it. But here, a Character’s position determines not only which opposing Character it’ll be fighting, but also the amount of damage this attack could do.

A populated Weiss Schwarz playing field. Image courtesy of ws-tcg.com

There’s three kinds of attack: Frontal, Side, and Direct. Attacks can only be declared by characters on the Center Stage, and the only valid targets are the opponent’s corresponding Center Stage spaces. So, if you’re starting your Attack Phase with a card in the Center Stage space on your left, that card can only attack your opponent’s right Center space—i.e., the space directly across from your card. Note, there doesn’t have to be another character in those spaces.

Advertisement

Madoka’s got back-up. Image courtesy of ws-tcg.com

The Back Stage is still considered part of the field, it’s just that Characters placed there can’t engage in combat. However, they can still use their Abilities; some Characters have Support Abilities that give Center Stage fighters increased Strength or other capabilities.

Declaring an attack is easy: just tap whatever card you’re attacking with. But figuring out what kind of attack you’re making is just as important.

Advertisement

A Frontal attack is a straight-up brawl between your character and your opponent’s. Highest Strength wins; the losing Character is turned upside down (‘reversed’), and is sent to the Waiting Room after the Attack Phase is over. A Direct attack is just a Frontal attack made against an empty space.

A Side attack is a bit different. Rather than being an attack made by your card against your opponent’s, it’s an attack made by your card against the opponent themselves. So, even if your card has a lower Strength, it can stay on the field. Beyond leaving a card in place as a shield, it also means you can continue to dish out damage.

You keep mentioning damage—how does it work?

While all card games have some kind of life meter, damage works slightly differently in Weiss Schwarz. For one, it’s the only way to actually defeat an opponent. Running out of cards to draw is something that’s expected to happen. In addition, being damaged is how you play your most powerful cards.

Advertisement

A Climax card from the Fate series. Note the two Trigger Icons: the Soul and the Burn. The Burn effect is explained in the lower left. Image courtesy of trollandtoad.com

When you declare an attack, you have to draw a card from your deck to perform a Trigger Check. You check the Trigger card for its Trigger Icon, located on its upper edge. Once you’ve done your Trigger Check, the Trigger card goes into your Stock.

The Trigger effects vary from card to card. They range from adding additional cards to your hand or dealing additional damage. And how do you determine damage dealt? You gotta look inside your Soul...Points.

Advertisement

The Japanese version of the card “Silver Crow, Challenging Strong Enemies”. Note the one Soul Point on the bottom (right next to the Strength) and the Trigger Check on the top right. Image courtesy of weissschwarz.wikia.com

The number of fleur-de-lis (Soul icons) on a card indicates its Soul Points. For example, the card pictured on the right has one lily on its bottom, which means it has one Soul Points. This card also has a Soul icon (that one big lily) on its top edge: that means, if drawn during a Trigger Check, it would add another Soul Point to whatever card you’re attacking with. Furthermore, declaring a Direct Attack increases your Soul Points by 1 for the attack, whereas a Character making a Side Attack subtracts the difference between the opposing Character’s Level and its own from its Soul Points. E.g., a Level 1 Character performing a Side Attack opposite a Level 2 would have one less Soul Point.

Damage is calculated from these Soul Points. For every Soul Point, your opponent has to draw a card from their deck, and put them in their Clock. The Clock only holds 6 cards. Once you go over that limit, you have to take one of the Clock cards, and place it in the Level Counter. The rest of the cards in the Clock are sent to the Waiting Room; if you were dealt more damage, that carries over and begins filling your Clock again.

Advertisement

In this match, the player on the right has a full Clock (6 cards), and has 2 cards in their Level Counter. Player on the left is also Level 2, but only has 3 cards in their Clock. Image courtesy of TKWizard.

For every card in your Level Counter, the Level of cards you can play increases. No cards means you can only play Level 0. One card in the Level Area gives you the ability to play Level 1 cards, and so on. The highest you can go is Level 3.

That Level cap is also the defeat condition. Once you’ve been dealt enough damage to force you into putting a fourth card in the Level Counter, you lose.

Advertisement

So you kind of want damage so you can play the baddest cards in your deck. But everyone having to wait until they’re hurting before unleashing their best stuff—sounds like it could cause pacing issues, right?

True, if battle damage was the only way to level up. But there are other mechanics that control the Clock.

At any time, you can put a card from your hand into the Clock in order to draw two more cards from your deck. That’s the Clock Phase, or ‘clocking’, I listed before, and practically the only time players don’t do it is when they can’t afford to take that single point of damage.

Advertisement

There are also some cards that heal the player, removing cards from the Clock. They’re rare, and some decks would actually be negatively affected by their inclusion, but they can be super useful. But better than healing damage is avoiding it all together.

This is where Climax cards reveal their second purpose. Besides potentially having Trigger effects, Climax cards negate damage. During the damage step, if at any point you draw a Climax card, you immediately stop drawing damage, and any cards drawn up to that point go to the Waiting Room, instead of the Clock.

Speaking of the Waiting Room, although it’s nothing special when you run out of cards to draw from your deck, there is a damage penalty. When you need to draw and can’t, all action and damage resolution stops. You then shuffle your Waiting Room, and take one unavoidable point of damage. If you were in the middle of resolving other Clock damage, this then resumes.

Advertisement

Wow, that’s a lot to take in. Is there anything else?

I kind of skipped over it, but the Stock is important as well. In fact, resource management and organization as a whole is a key part of this game.

Remember how each card has a color, and how you can’t play a yellow card if there isn’t already a yellow card on the field? Well, the Clock, Level Counter, and Climax Zone are all considered part of the field. You usually populate your Level Counter and Clock with Level 0 and/or throw-away cards of various colors to make sure you can play with your full arsenal.

Advertisement

Keeping your Stock well...stocked...is vital for maintaining momentum. I haven’t seen a Level 0 card with a Cost—which makes sense, they’re building blocks, in a matter of speaking—but starting with Characters and Events Level 1 and higher, you need to have cards in your Stock in order to summon them. And while some Abilities activate automatically, more powerful ones require paying an additional Cost, usually from the Stock.

Huh, the combat was more complicated than I thought.

The combat system tripped me up the first few times I played, but once you get it down, turns can go super-quick. The game as a whole has a lot to love.

Advertisement

What drew you in?

Originally, I had a coworker who knew I was an anime and card game fan, and he wanted someone else at work to talk to about it. But the game mechanics are really well designed.

The deck size and card number restrictions, as I’ve said, force you to be creative and pare the deck down. It compels optimization, and keeps the action going. The additional complication of color means you have to pay attention to your cards’ strengths and weaknesses, but it also leads to interesting combinations.

Advertisement

The positioning aspect of combat, not to mention the multiple types of attack was something I’d never seen before, but it adds another layer of strategy. Some Characters have methods of escaping combat to fight another day, but that leaves you open for a Direct Attack. Others can shift positions on the fly. There’s even the ‘crash’ option—when a weak Character is chosen for a Frontal Attack with the full knowledge it’s going to be destroyed. This happens a lot when you’ve both got full Clocks and you can’t afford to take another Level.

Speaking of which, that Level system is perhaps the simplest and most effective risk/reward system in any card game I’ve played. Yes, you can draw more cards per turn and summon more powerful Characters, but what happens if you can’t risk even one point of damage getting through? There’s also the very real possibility that by the time you get to Level 3, you may not have a Level 3 Character or Event on hand, or enough Stock to pay for it. There’s a real sense of dynamic tension in this game, and it sucks you in.

The first time I played, I spent about an hour building my deck, and I was playing constantly afterwards. The next time I stepped away from the table, I noticed 3 hours had past.

Advertisement

The Persona 4 deck is available in English, but not the Persona 3 one. Image courtesy of spongejan.

Also, I’m commanding an army made up of characters from one of my favorite animes. How can it not be awesome?

Finally! We get back to the shows! Which ones can I pick from? Can I make, like, a Gurren Lagann & Kill la Kill deck?

Sorry to burst your dreams, but you can’t mix shows in Weiss Schwarz decks. So you won’t be able to have Kamina slashing a path for Ryuko to wreck your opponent’s sh*t.

Advertisement

Also, not every single title is available in English. The full list can be found here.

Oh, that’s lame!

To be fair, I thought the same way at first, but I’ve come around. Each show’s cards really only mesh with and reference other cards from that show. The deck size limit means that if you did build a deck from multiple shows, it’d be nowhere near as cohesive or effective as a deck pulling from a single show. Also, it makes the matches feel like you’re actually fighting for your show’s honor, so to speak. How could I prove Fairy Tail is better than SAO (beyond, I don’t know, simple logic) if I used Attack on Titan cards to help?

Advertisement

These rules also make it a lot easier on players’ wallets. Part of the reason I don’t play Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh that much is because you have to constantly buy new packs to stay competitive. I don’t have the time or money to keep up. With Weiss Schwarz, once a set is released, it’s yours to either pick up or ignore. Don’t like Bakemonogatari? Don’t worry, the Disgaea set kicks just as much ass. You can get even more specific than that. I played against someone who’s entire deck was based around SAO’s Shino. Literally every card had a picture of her. Have a waifu or husbando in mind? You can probably do the same.

It also helps that, although you’re limited to one show, you aren’t limited to only one season of that show. For instance, as I improve my Accel World deck, I can also pull from the newly released Accel World: Infinite Burst set. If you really want a vast arsenal to choose from, the Fate series has four different card lists.

Are more shows going to get releases?

I have the weirdest nerd boner right now. Image courtesy of outakuya.wordpress.com

Advertisement

Definitely. The Infinite Burst set was just released a few weeks ago, and a release for Persona 5 is scheduled for February 2018. Personally, I can’t wait for an English release of the Gurren Lagann cards. I’ve seen photos of the Japanese set, and I must have.

English releases depend on Bushiroad, the company that created Weiss Schwarz, getting the necessary license. You can still use cards that aren’t written in English, so long as you have the translation for the card texts. It’s actually the only way to be able to play certain sets. I have seen a Weiss Schwarz deck based around Star Wars. Freakin’ Star Wars. Can you imagine how many mountains of dollars Bushiroad would have to fork over to get the license to release that deck in the States? But if you can read Japanese, may the Force be with you.

Based on the need to give a long mechanics explanation, I gather the game isn’t exactly in the mainstream?

Partially because of the difficulty in obtaining licensing for some of the most popular series, Weiss Schwarz isn’t exactly a widely-known game. While quite a few shops in the US stock the cards, finding tournaments or organized play will probably be difficult for some time.

Advertisement

That being said, I think its star is on the rise. Several stalls at Youmacon were selling the cards, and the friend who introduced me to the game did so at an (admittedly small) organized tournament.

It’s not as popular as Magic. It isn’t as meme-tacular as Yu-Gi-Oh. But Weiss Schwarz offers immersive, fast-paced strategy without having to shell out big bucks for the latest expansion. Want to give it a try? Your favorite anime sucks. Fight me.