Card Game Review - Warlord CCG Learn-to-Play

Let me start off this review by calling some attention to the title. This is not a review of the Warlord CCG, because I don't actually have enough of the Warlord CCG to tell you enough about it to be useful. I have a Learn-to-Play set, which includes two pre-built decks and a twenty-sided die. So rather than try to tell you if the Warlord CCG is worth your money, I'll try to help you decide if you want to spend twenty bucks on 100 cards, and then you can find out yourself if you want to play Warlord. If that seems a little convoluted to you, then you're not as dumb as you look.

I like collectible card games. I admit to being a sucker for Magic when it first came out, then Doomtown, and now I get a huge kick out of the World of Warcraft card game (despite the fact that we never use the cards for character classes we don't play). So when I talked with the guys at Phoenix Interactive at GenCon, and saw their game, I wanted to try it. It has fantastic art (though that sort of goes without saying - collectible card games without great art tend to die faster than compact cars at a monster truck rally). It has a cool, fast play style that lets it move quickly and keep the action at a breakneck speed the whole time.

But I didn't know how to play, which is a common problem with CCGs. You usually have to wade through a rulebook thicker than the NFL bylaws before you can build your first deck, and then you have to actually build a deck, and you probably don't have anything worth playing because you probably just got a starter and a couple boosters and everyone knows you can't build a deck out of that.

Of course, lots of CCGs have an intro deck, and Warlord is no exception. This Learn-to-Play box has two decks with 50 cards each - one player is the elves, who are bad guys, and one player gets the monsters, who are also bad guys. My wife was a little irritated when she discovered that the elves are bad, because she doesn't like to play bad guys. I don't care, though, so I took the monsters and she pretended her elves weren't necromantic supervillains (no, that does not mean they do the nasty with corpses, it means they RAISE corpses to do their killing for them. Whether they get horizontal with the corpses after the fight is entirely up to your imagination, you sick freak).

Unlike a lot of collectible games, though, the rules for Warlord are fairly easy to grasp, and pretty darn straightforward. There aren't all the 'if this happens, that happens, unless this other thing happens, in which case the universe spirals into a massive paradox and the game ends on account of galactic apocalypse' scenarios. In fact, the rules for the starter are printed on one sheet of paper, and the rules for the full game aren't all that much longer (I downloaded them to see what a critical failure meant).

The goal is pretty simple - you each have a warlord, and you each have to kill the other player's warlord. The warlord tends to be a total bad-ass, but he starts at the back of the pack, so he's probably not good for much right off the bat. In front of him you have some second-stringers with some decent chops, and in front of them there are a bunch of cannon fodder guys who fall down more than a brain-damaged cat on hallucinogenic kibble.

As the game progresses, the body count escalates really fast. You try to bring out new guys, but the best fighters start the game at the back, and then get sleepy as they make their way forward. So you have to balance your desire to grab every hardened killer you can find and your need to have some meat shields out front.

The game goes really fast - like, faster than most CCGs. You stack up bodies like cordwood, and then someone runs out and gets killed. There's more to it than that - action cards and items, for instance - but eventually it comes down to one guy getting a face full of kitchen knife and the game ends.

From what I've seen of it so far, Warlord is a lot of fun. I mean, there's a lot I'm missing - like I have a wizard, but no spells, and some of the text on the cards refers to stuff I can't find in the single page of rules - but it is a pretty cool little skirmish card game. It's over before a whole lot happens, but there are some cool chained moves and tricky plays that make it a more intelligent game than, say, YuGiOh (feel free to throw a fit, YuGiOh players - your game sucks. Nothing I can do about that).

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks, but I think the drawbacks have more to do with the starter set than the game itself. For one thing, the decks don't seem to be very balanced. We played six games, and the monsters flat-out ate the elves like fruit jerky every single time. I mean, it was never even close. Floods of tough melee fighters chewed through those tree-hugging Robin-Hood-wannabes so fast they couldn't blink. I had guys in my front row with some good staying power, which let me bring in my really tough killers from the back. It stopped being fun after like the fourth time I just stomped a mudhole in my wife's elven punching bags.

And talk about luck! Every time you swing, or shoot, or even just try to avoid getting poisoned, you're rolling the d20. What that means is if you're rolling for crap that day, you're not going to be able to hit the marksmanship roll, so you won't be able to target one row deeper, and you're probably going to miss anyway because the dice gods hate you. One of the reasons the games weren't closer is that my wife apparently sucks at rolling dice, and would miss time after time, until she claimed the die was rigged. I pointed out that I was rolling the same die, and doing pretty well, and she threw it at me. So that didn't work out very well.

The die-rolling luck wouldn't be nearly as bad if you weren't faced with the same problem that plagues nearly any card game - getting screwed by your own cards. If you desperately need a good archer, and you repeatedly draw a hand full of worthless actions, you're going to spend a couple turns with your face in a meat grinder. It doesn't take very many bad draws to get so far behind that your best bet is to tell your warlord to run away, real fast.

So I'm a little on the fence about Warlord, all things considered. The deck balance doesn't bother me - if I get more cards, I can build what I want. But the luck factor can really get old, and I don't like to play a more competitive game and then lose to the whims of a polyhedral hunk of plastic. Of course, I don't actually know if all this stuff works out, because like I said, I only have the Learn-to-Play deck. I can't try any deck-building with this starter set, which is kind of a bummer because I really want to tweak both decks. I think the elves could be a lot tougher with more front-row cannon fodder, and I think the monsters could do better with a different set of weapons. Plus I would love to see what happens with the spells.

My hesitant verdict is that Warlord is a lot of fun. In fact, it's fun enough that I'm going to do what I always do when I want a game - go find the publishers and beg for more like a bum in a bus station, only instead of saying, 'Gimme a dollar!' I'm going to pretend I'm actually professional. Hopefully they won't read this review first.


Easy to learn
Gets you into the game after just a few minutes
Plays fast, so you can try it a few times
Really gorgeous art
Lots of tricky maneuvers, long-range planning and difficult decisions

These decks don't seem balanced at all
The luck factor is higher than I dig in a card game

If you want to see if the Warlord CCG is up your alley, you can get a Learn-to-Play set right here: