Bandai is launching a brand new card game based on the latest iteration of its wildly popular Dragon Ball franchise and I managed to go to the learn to play event at Good Games Kallangur, as well as play through quite a few matches with proxy decks. Wasn’t there already one of those, you ask. Well, let me explain, gentle reader. You see, Panini Games had a Dragon Ball Z TCG running that had its ups and downs but was more than modestly popular, until early this year when it was abruptly discontinued. That announcement came with a first authoritative mention of Bandai’s new game existing, and they cited ‘to not over-saturate the market with similar products’ as the reason for the discontinuation. Why am I mentioning this? Another great question, imaginary person. The reason is two fold and skip to after Broly’s screaming face if you have no interest in community drama and just want to know how the game plays.
The first reason is that this thing has been such an elephant in the room when it comes to the launch of the new Dragon Ball Super Card Game. The players of the old Panini game, myself included, were understandably upset about the sudden death of the game and there is bitter debate as to who is to blame for this. Half the player base think Panini is to blame and is calling for a boycott of their new game, MetaX. The other half consider Bandai a bully and think players should stick it to them by avoiding this new game. Well, unfortunately we will never know who is to ‘blame’ since they are not telling, because these are massive companies and not bickering children tattling to the teacher. So instead, I propose we consider the idea that no one is to blame. Panini surely had their hands tied because their game was certainly making money and no company would voluntarily stop making money for no reason. On the other hand, Bandai has every right to profit off their popular license and had no obligation to please Panini’s customers. So with that in mind, let’s agree to give this new game a fighting chance and let’s see how it plays and how the organised play is handled before we undeservedly ignore it.
Secondly, I bring up the old game because the new game will undoubtedly be compared to it. The potential audience for the two games are going to overlap significantly and there’s no use in pretending these players will evaluate the new game independently of the old one. So to the players of the Panini game wondering how it compares, let me first give the obvious but true answer of ‘it’s a completely different game.’ That being said, rest assured that I will be evaluating this game, fully aware that it will be compared to the Panini one.
Can we just talk about the damn game! Yes, angry Broly, we can.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s look at the Dragon Ball Super Card Game. It’s roughly a translation of the Japanese Cardass game that has been available for a while now. It dumped the RFID chips of the Japanese versions and supposedly changed some of the rules to make it more complex and balanced. You can see the influence of a lot of Japanese card games like Cardfight Vanguard, Duel Masters, and even Pokemon. Now, I won’t be going through how to play completely so you can watch the quite excellent (the narrator’s weird pronunciation of Saiyan notwithstanding) official tutorial videos instead.
Here’s the basic run down of the game play. Each player plays with a double sided leader card and a 50 card deck that is made out of battle cards and extra cards. When the game begins, after you draw your six card hand, you put eight cards off the top of your deck face down as your life points. During a player’s turn they can play battle cards, attack the opponent’s leader or battle cards, or play extra cards. Battle cards are your characters that will be doing battle for you and will make up the majority of your deck. They can also be played sideways out of your hand onto another attacking or defending character to ‘combo’ and add to the power. If played this way, they are discarded after the attack is over. Extra cards are essentially spell cards, and while you wouldn’t want them flooding your hand, have powerful effects that turn the tide of battle. A lot of these are usually played during your main phase but there are also select powerful ‘counter’ cards that can be played during the opponent’s main phase or when they attack. For resources, you simply put any card from your hand facedown as an energy once per turn so you are never flooded by energy cards. Each time you take damage, you add a card from your life to your hand and when you are down to four or less life cards, your leader card may ‘awaken’ to flip to its more powerful side. When all of your life cards are destroyed you lose the game.
The game should be quite easy to learn, even to those who are not that familiar with collectible card games. With only two card types to explain and a simple win condition, it’s a breeze to teach and learn. It’s a simpler game than Panini’s one and honestly, it’s simply because Bandai has much more financial capacity to polish its mechanics. But don’t let its simplicity fool you, because there is quite a bit of complex tactical decision making required. Having card advantage is quite an important aspect of this game, even more so than usual. This is due to the combo system where all the battle cards can be played side ways to add power to an attacker or a defender. So every card in an opponent’s hand is a potential power up. When you attack, you play all your combo cards you want before passing to the defender to play theirs. This adds an element of bluffing to both players decisions where you have to decide if that low powered attack is simply to fish some combo cards out of your hands or if they are looking to get a cheap hit in out of your fear. Combine this with your ability to play cards and attack in any order means that every single decision during attacking and defending becomes really important.
Another aspect of the gameplay that jumped out at me is that this game has the best comeback mechanic I’ve seen in a long time. One of the worst things about the Panini game is sometimes, if the opponent draws the right cards early game, it feels like there’s nothing you can do to prevent them steamrolling you. But in this game, when you take a damage you put that damage card into your hand and that can be a big thing considering aforementioned importance of card advantage. That combined with being able to ‘awaken’ your leader’s powerful side after four life left means that you need to think twice before hitting too hard too early, lest they crush you with a powerful leader and a handful of cards. This does mean that they need to be sparing and careful with printing cards with the keyword critical, which makes the life card damage taken get trashed instead, since its a very powerful ability.
Another thing I want to discuss is how thematic this game is as a Dragon Ball Z/Super game. One of my favourite things about the Panini game was how thematic it felt. Well, so does Bandai’s game but in a completely different way. Let me explain. The old Panini game felt like you are experiencing a melee between two characters. You square off, powering up and setting up for an opportune moment then you close in and flurries of blows are exchanged and then you break off to ready for the next flurry. The new Bandai game feels like you are coordinating an epic showdown in one of the Dragon Ball Z/Super sagas. You brought all your allies and so did they and everyone is taking their turns in epic fights and a shot at the leader. Characters enter and leave the fray frantically, either sticking around or jumping in for a few punches and kicks. Your favorite characters also evolve to their stronger forms and back, turning the tide of battle. Just explain away all the multiple copies of characters as multi-form technique and Future Trunks’ time travel shenanigans, and you can witness a pretty thematic DBZ brawl in your mind’s eyes.
One of the things this game got 100% right over Panini’s one is its focus on characters. Dragon ball is a character focused property, boasting literally hundreds of characters and most of them having multiple forms being a running joke in the fandom. So it always seems strange to me that Panini kept the focus on characters to a minimum, with allies cards being too situational and specific, easily disposed of, and far and few between. Well, in the Dragon Ball Super Card Game most of your deck is made out of characters so you can load your deck with your favourite characters. And to those who are worried that because of its name, this game will be all about Dragon Ball Super, rest assured we are definitely going to be seeing a lot of beloved DBZ characters that were never in Super. The premier set already features the meathead Broly and the goofy Ginyu Force and, if the Japanese version is any indication, it won’t be long before we have various iteration of Buu and Cells and other fan favourites. The art of all the cards are great as well, and as someone who was continuously disappointed with Panini’s art department, I am enormously glad.
All in all, Super is shaping up to be a great game set in the DBZ universe. Whether or not it compares to Panini’s now defunct game is going to come down to personal taste but I would say noone can claim this new one is objectively inferior. With Starter Decks and Special Packs in bound to ATGN, stay tuned for more early looks. I for one am super (ha!) excited about this exciting new game