“I LIVE! I DIE! I LIVE AGAIN!” – Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)
One down, one to go. Two reviewish things inside of a week. Maybe I should do this more often…
A long time ago I was on a strange camping trip of sorts with my dad, a friend of mine, and some other family. I say “strange” because most things involving my family justify that qualifier. I was probably around 16 or 17 at the time. There’s not much to tell about the camping trip that relates to where I’m going with this save for one thing: I spent a lot of it excruciatingly bored. Okay, that’s not actually the point, but it was the catalyst. During one of the stops in transit, I came across two game displays sitting on the counter of the store we were in. One was a really cool looking game called Spellfire. It had the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons branding, as well as Forgotten Realms. This was going to be awesome. The other one was some thing I’d never heard of called “Magic: The Gathering Unlimited Edition” Pfft. Boooooring. I bought some of the Spellfire cards and never looked back.
I don’t think the Spellfire cards even made the trip back home. Obviously in hindsight, this was a very bad move as Magic went on to be a game with absurdly valuable cards (in addition to simply being a better game.) Those were more innocent times, my dear readers. Well before my foray into the world of CCGs would begin. Which it did with Magic of course, around Fallen Empires. I enjoy Magic as a game, but I have found that I despise most of the player base, at least in the competitive scene. Early on, I was playing with the friend who introduced me to the game at a store when one of the people there proposed a trade to my friend. My friend’s Underground Sea for his Living Wall.
“This is just a land that produces two colors of mana,” the guy said resignedly, “It’s okay. But this what I offer you is a 6 Toughness creature that regenerates for one of any color mana.” Italics are for emphasis in how he presented it. My friend would have to be a moron to not make that trade! Think of all of the things he would block and his wall would never die! Underground Sea can go for as much as $600 nowadays. Living Wall? $0.26. Somewhere, that guy is telling the same story and his dickhead friends are chastising him while lining up for high-fives. Yes, there are plenty of MtG players who aren’t like that guy but there are sooooooo many who are. You don’t have to be a rube to get fleeced by a sharp though, sometimes you fleece yourself! Like I did selling my MtG collection which was chock full of goodies including 4 Force of Will (now valued around $90 per copy) for $125 so I could go play a different CCG…which I will add is currently dead.
Which brings us closer to the point of this whole thing. While games like Magic, Pokemon and Yugioh have weathered the storm of passing gamer fancy as it pertains to CCGs, there are many that have not. Given, a lot of them were bad and Darwinism was going to catch up with them quickly anyway, but there were also some really solid ones that left us too soon. I dabbled in Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, threw down on some Rage, loved me some Doomtown and played the hell out of Warlord: Saga of the Storm. There were also bunches that I never played. One of which was a game called Ophidian 2350.
What It Is and What It Do
Ophidian 2350 takes place, as you may have guessed, in the year 2350. Players assemble teams of gladiators of various types; you’ll have humans, you’ll have demons, you’ll have cyborgs. The narrative of the game takes a departure from a lot of other head to head combat-y games, in that while yes, you are still trying to just murder your opponent to death, it is in the context of gladiatorial combat. Which means that it’s not about just pounding the player across the table into burger, but doing so in a spectacular and sensationalist way in order to entertain the spectators. This plays into the mechanics of the game in an interesting way. Rather than taking turns like most games, one player will act as many times as they like as long as they control the momentum of the crowd. You do this by doing exciting things like attacking other gladiators, and you lose it by doing boring things like bandaging your wounds. Each card has a timing symbol that indicates if you keep Momentum with a + symbol indicating a Positive Action, or if you relinquish it to your opponent with a – symbol indicating a Negative Action. You can keep acting until you take an action that stops your chain at which point your opponent does the same. The flow of combat swings back and forth like this until both players pass which sends the game into the breather phase, where hands are refreshed, gladiators readied for a new round of fighting, etc. There are a few different paths to victory; being the last player with surviving gladiators; reaching 12 VP by defeating opposing gladiators (or having the highest VP total at the end of 4 rounds) or commanding the absolute loyalty of the crowds (a reward for consistently impressing them) I should say at this point that this is an extremely simplified explanation of the game, but in the interest of brevity (because obviously I care about that) it’s time to move on.
Uh…Dude? You have a typo. The title mentions Ophidian 2360, not 2350. Amateur.
When Ophidian 2350 hit the market in the late 1990s, it did so to some pretty strong praise. The developers had a tournament structure in place, story lines in development, the whole nine yards. However, after a very short time it was discontinued because the publisher (Fleer) ran into financial difficulties due to poor sales of their flagship product of sports cards. The game stayed alive on life support through a small fan base until just recently when Hack and Slash Games picked up the rights to it and brought it back to life via Kickstarter as Ophidian 2360 now an ECG rather than a CCG. Their campaign was successful and the official launch of the new sleek and sexy Ophidian 2360 will be happening at Gen Con 2016 next week.
Things What I Like About Ophidian 2360.
It’s Purty – The game has a lot of great art. It’s not THE most gorgeous game I’ve ever seen, but the art is pretty fantastic and absolutely warrants mention. Just thumbing through the cards looking at the art is not going to be a bad time.
It’s Functional – This is a compliment I do not find myself giving too often. I don’t know if it’s because it doesn’t come up very often or because it’s something that I didn’t really actively appreciate that much until recently, but the card layout is clear. Everything you need to know about the card are in easy to find places. Good graphic design is sexy, and when I saw the former layout for 2350, I saw that this is a HUGE upgrade.
It’s Deep – I didn’t go into great detail about all of the things going on in this game, but the whole game is taking place over several juggling acts all happening in concert with one another. There’s a lot to think about, in terms of resource management, gladiator positioning and maintaining the ability to play your cards by meeting their skill requirements, ALL while working within the structure of The Momentum. I didn’t actually run into any AP, but there is still a lot of information to be aware of pretty much all the time. While I believe the idea is to make the game fully customizable, I would recommend at least at first sticking with the pre-constructed decks.
It’s Novel – Any game breaking into the scene needs to be able to distinguish itself from its competitors as to avoid being cast as a “worse version of (blank)” The Momentum and Cheer are both neat mechanics that play very well to the theme and do not feel pasted on. It’s not like anything else I have ever come across. The Chain mechanic from Nightfall is the closest similarity that comes to mind without more research, and that’s a stretch. Clever movements within the confines of these rules are absolutely what will separate good players from less talented ones.
The Makers Are Watching – Hack and Slash Games has a lot of interest in seeing their game flourish. Well, duh. Name a publisher that doesn’t. But while every publisher wants to see their games do well, not all of them are promoting tournament and league play (including unique alternate formats) to keep things fresh.
Things I Am Not As Crazy About
Another ECG/LCG: This is in no way a criticism of the game but more a personal gripe. Depending on what your game group looks like, this is one that may not see much table time. There are a number of remarkable games in the ECG model right now; Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, Doomtown: Reloaded…and now Ophidian 2360. As someone with a history of playing games like these, I like them all a lot for their individual merits. As someone whose primary play group does not have these histories, it’s going to be a hard time getting this played. Not because it’s not a solid game, but because games like this are really at their peak when you can really dig in deep with them. And you really dig in deep with them through repeated play. There’s really no workaround for this. People who play Magic regularly will enjoy a night of Magic with friends a lot more than a group who decides that they’ll play some Magic for a change of pace. These games thrive on understanding the card base in order to make good play decisions based on what you know you and your opponent can do, and there are a LOT of cards to have that kind of encyclopedic knowledge of. This game, by the nature of the type of game it is does not lend itself well to casual play. That’s not to say that it’s not enjoyable, but I think it’s safe to say that games are typically more enjoyable the more that you can understand the strategies, and the only way to get there is time investment. Getting this out every now and again can make for a good time, but you are absolutely not getting the full experience, which will greatly limit the appeal.
Thoughts As a Designer
This part is going to be short because I think that designing a game like this is a lot different than a lot of other designs. Certainly the kinds I’ve been involved with. The closest I have come is having some of my submitted ideas turn up in games like this. That is me saying “I think it would be cool to have a card that does this” and is NOT me saying “Is this card appropriately balanced? How will it interact with every other card? Will this lead to some combo that can break the game?” While these are to a degree something that all designers have to keep an eye on, I suspect that is extra true in the case of a game like this. So that having been said, like I mentioned, I’ve played a lot of CCG/LCG/ECG types of games both good and bad. My experience tells me that this is a good one.
I like that this game is a Phoenix. I like that this game did what Firefly (the series, not the game) could not. It’s got an interesting history, and this isn’t a story that you hear too frequently. Most games that die stay dead. As for the game itself, I would say that if you and your group has the kind of history and habits that facilitate this kind of gaming, then you should absolutely look into this. It’s a rising star and I hope that it does extremely well. If your group is more into variety, this is less of a solid choice for you. Which is not to say that this is the fault of the game at all, but buying games that don’t get played is pretty pointless. In this regard, it is similar to BattleCON, another game I absolutely love…and find myself with very few opportunities to play. Buyer beware, but your mileage may vary. Hack and Slash Games will be debuting Ophidian 2360 at Gen Con next week. If you’re there, be sure to swing by Booth 2809 to check it out.