Have you notice there has been a Dragonball renaissance in the last couple of years? What started with ‘Dragonball Z Kai’ editing the classic episodes to remove all the fluff lead to brand new movies which finally lead to a brand new anime series. In the midst of this little franchise rebirth, the Dragonball Z TCG was launched in 2014 by Panini.
Overview of the gameplay
To build a deck in Dragonball Z TCG, you must first choose a personality stack of 4 cards representing your chosen Dragonball Z character. Some of the more popular characters like Goku and Piccolo now have multiple personality stacks and you can mix and match the cards as long as your personality stack is made up of level 1 to 4 of the same character. Then you choose a mastery your character can access. The game launched with six masteries. The four colours made up of red, black, orange, and blue are available to all characters. Saiyan and Namekian, are limited to the characters of that race of trained by that race. The new set also brought a second lot of masteries for all six different types. opening up the deck building options significantly. To finish it off, you must build a 60 cards deck out of cards that belong to your chosen mastery type, neutral cards, allies, Dragonballs and cards exclusive to your character.
The new Goku personality set interact with the ‘ally’ card type while the old ones interact with ‘drill’ card type.
The gameplay loop is simple enough to learn. The players take turn going through 5 steps; draw, plan, combat, discard and rejuvenate. You draw 3 cards during the draw step and play cards during the plan step. You can then opt to enter combat or not during the combat step. You then discard down to 1 card during the discard step. If you opted not to enter combat, you can rejuvenate a card, meaning you take the top card of the discard pile and add it to the bottom of your deck. The main strategic decisions of the game revolves around when you should enter or avoid combat with cards divided into those that can only be played in combat or those that can only be played out of combat (but have effects that can be triggered in combat). Ideally you only want to enter combat when the three cards you drew and the card you held on to from the last turn are all cards that can be used in combat. When a player chooses to enter combat, the other player draws three cards and they take turn playing cards and triggering effects until both players pass consecutively.
This card and its ‘Heroic’ counterpart are the two most expensive cards in the game, going at around AU$150. And no, you don’t need to get one.
In this game your deck doubles as your life points and when your opponent’s attack and effects do an amount of damage, you must discard that amount of cards from your deck. The primary win condition is to reduce the opponent’s life deck to 0. There are also 2 other win conditions referred to as ‘most powerful personality victory’ and ‘Dragonball victory’. In this game there are cards and effects which give your main personality, ‘anger’. Once you gain 5 anger you advance to the next level of your personality stack. When you are at level 4, the last card in the personality stack, and gain 5 anger you achieve the ‘most powerful personality victory’. The game also contains Dragonball cards, which currently only consist of 7 Namek Dragonballs. You are allowed to add any of the Dragonballs to your deck, though you are limited to 1 copy of each. When you manage to get all 7 Dragonballs under your control, you achieve the ‘Dragonball Victory’.
Set 4: Dragonball Z Evolution
Firstly, I feel the need to assure you that this set has nothing to do with the colossal Hollywood failure that is the live action ‘Dragon Ball Evolution’ movie. Considering how universally reviled that movie is, I have no idea why the Panini marketing team didn’t avoid the word ‘Evolution’ as poison to the brand.
This new set brings with it a massive shake up to the game, with its six starter decks and a full-sized set. The Evolution starter decks are definitely the main star of this new set. While the first set released for the game included starter decks, they were ‘decks’ in name only as the cards contained do not make a legal deck. Panini has taken fan criticism of this to heart and the new Evolution starter decks contain a legal 60 cards deck. The cards in the prebuilt 60 card decks are all reprints of old cards from the first 3 sets. While this is disappointing to veteran players, it actually makes it a great value proposition for new comers as a good way to start your collection. The starter decks also come with personality stacks for the main characters in the Android Saga, the portion of Dragonball Z this set is based on. The set also introduced a new Mastery for each Mastery type so the six new characters are paired up to a new Mastery each. Android 18 is paired with Black Perceptive Mastery. Android 17 is paired with Red Ruthless Mastery. Vegeta is paired with Orange Adept Mastery. Goku is paired with Blue Tag Team Mastery. Trunks is paired with Saiyan Rampaging Mastery. And finally Piccolo is paired with Namekian Restored Mastery. All of these Personality and Mastery cards are exclusive to the starter decks and are printed on thick glossy card stock akin to a credit card. The starter decks also contain 1 random rainbow version of a master or personality card available in these starter decks as well as 4 foils of cards included in your deck. It should also be noted here that while the starter decks contain pre-built complete decks, you will still be unable to choose which deck you want. For the purpose of it being usable in sealed events, the decks remain a blind box where you won’t know which deck you will get until you open it. So if you are after a particular personality, you might have to purchase, or trade for, the one you want.
I was actually quite impressed with the choice of cards for the prebuilt decks, with the majority of the common and uncommon staples making it into the selection. Each of them also contain a single rare that is considered a staple in the game, ‘Confrontation’ for hero characters and ‘Stare down’ for villains. All in all, any of the starter decks should give you the back bone of a decent deck that you can tweak as you familiarise yourself with the game more. That is not to say the starter decks are perfectly balanced. There are some of them clearly more powerful than others, especially in the context of sealed events where player battle it out using just a starter deck and a handful of booster packs. For example Android 18, paired with the new Black Perceptive Mastery seems incredibly difficult to take down in a sealed tournament where as Vegeta’s sealed deck seems to be the red headed step child of this set of starter decks. The Namekian Piccolo deck also seems to inexplicably only include a single Dragonball yet has three cards that require a Dragonball in play to be effective and 3 more cards that require 2 Dragonballs. While adding more Dragonballs to your deck is not a difficult task for new players, this does seem limiting in the context of sealed events. Some of the personality and mastery combos also seem to be paired up simply because they were the odd ones out like Vegeta and Orange and Trunks and Saiyan failing to synergise as well as other. That being said, I am perfectly happy to claim that each of the different starter decks contains the core of a good deck and any new players should be able to tweak past some of the obvious weaknesses quickly.
As for the other part of the set that comes in the form of a booster box, I will keep my impression brief and simple in the interest of new players. Overall, the set is a good one, perhaps even the best since the first one. A lot of the new neutral cards are flexible enough to become staples in multiple decks. Some of new cards such as Tug of War are clearly designed to slot into some of the competitive decks in the meta to fix their weaknesses. The set also carries with it a lot of ways to deal with allies, which seems a deliberate design philosophy to nerf the many variations of Ginyu decks that have been dominating the meta for a while. From the value perspective, it seems like a good set to buy boxes of, with little to no junk rares. As for the ultra rares, it’s a little more divisive. The two main ultra rares, Hidden Power Drill and Defiant Challenge seem to be doing well on the after market and Hidden Power Drill in particular seems to be highly sought after. The other two ultra rares, however, are alternate art versions of Level 4 Goku and Vegeta cards from the starter decks. They are valued far less than most other ultra rares and appeal mostly to collectors. The set also contains Android 19 and 20 personality sets and 20 in particular has been quite popular, at least in the local meta.
There is one weakness of this set I feel I must mention. The quality control applied to the wording of card text in this set was simply terrible. A couple of cards had to be errata-ed even before they were released, not because of balance but simply because of printing errors. A couple of US players have also reported a few errors in distribution of personality cards in the starter sets but I have yet to encounter such an issue in Australia. All in all, this simply means new players should have the ‘Evolution’ portion of the Current Ruling Document handy while getting started with the starter decks. It’s not a big issue in a practical aspect but it’s still annoying for new players to have to deal with. However, Panini is new in the TCG scene, having only dealt with baseball cards before and with the high amount of success of the game catching them off guard, a certain level of growing pains is to be expected.
The Local Organised Play Scene
The game’s distribution in Australia is handled exclusively by TAK games and they also take care of the local organised play program. The main appeal and back bone of TAK games’ organised pay program is the Australian wide league. Any tournament ran by an Australian local game store will reward the players with league point. While the prizes change from league to league, usually there are prizes for top 4 players, 4 lucky draw prizes, and prizes for the top player of each state. The prizes are usually highly sought after event promos and play mats and the lucky draw especially is great at rewarding participation in the local scene. At the end of every league season a select few top scoring members of every state also get an invite to an all-star event held at PAX AUS this year, with everyone invited to the all-star event getting a myriad of rare and expensive promos. As a participant of the all-star event, I can categorically state that it was great fun.
TAK games also took care of the competitive play circuit and held the first Australian Nationals this year in Melbourne as well as the four Regionals that lead up to it. With the runner up and winner getting a comped invite to the Worlds in America, the competition tends to heat up. I participated in the Nationals this year and with 83 participants and numerous side events, I’d say it’s an indication of the local organised play scene going strong. It’s also worth mentioning that the two founders of TAK games Trent and Kristel are also active in the local scene and always happy to be helpful. They are present in most local facebook groups for the scene and are always quick to answer questions or provide rulings. This type of dedication has definitely helped form an active local player scene in Australia.
You don’t need to be a die-hard Dragonball Z fan to enjoy this card game but I am going to find it very hard to recommend it to those who are unaware of or outright dislike Dragonball Z. The appeal of the game is definitely its unique source material and its very thematic feel of an energetic brawl. So if you can tell the difference between a Namekian and a Saiyan, and if you can show a little bit of patience for Panini’s growing pains, you should find the Dragonball Z TCG a fun and unique experience.