Published on May 9th, 2016 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Millennium Blades: the CCG Simulator Game
A card game about playing people who play card games.
It’s cards all the way down.
In an alternate universe there is a card game that is more popular than any other game: Millennium Blades. Created by the ancient company, Shamans of the Midwest, Millennium Blades has dominated the alternate game world for over a thousand years and has produced a million expansions. Millennium Blades isn’t just a game, it’s a commodity and a market force that influences the entire world. In reality, Millennium Blades is produced by Level99 Games, makers of Argent: the Consortium, Pixel Tactics and BattleCON.
On first looking through the box and components, I found that I really enjoyed the “booster pack” look of the back of the cards. But when you look at the front of the cards, the graphic design was lackluster and looked old. Really what it looks like is Yu-Gi-Oh, but considering their card design looked dated when it released in 1999, that may not have been the best direction to take things. At the end of the day it’s a minor note because the art itself is good enough to forgive the design.
You take the role of a competitor in a Millennium Blades tournament. Over the course of the game you will buy booster packs, gather collections of cards, and assemble a deck and accessories to take to tournaments. Once you get to the tournament you will compete with all other players for Rank Points in order to win the competition. Only by effectively collecting cards, building decks and running those decks in tournaments will you be able to succeed.
Going into my first game of Millennium Blades, my main question was “how closely does this resemble real CCGs?” and the answer was more complex than I thought it would be. Millennium Blades is not a CCG or an LCG. At no point will you be attacking/blocking with creatures or be worried about a mana drop. In fact, you need absolutely zero knowledge of CCGs in order to play and enjoy Millennium Blades.
That said, Millennium Blades feels a lot like being a CCG player. Specifically, playing Millennium Blades feels like playing in a Sealed Deck tournament (if you have ever gone to a Magic: the Gathering pre-release event, you are familiar with this format). If you aren’t familiar, a sealed format means that players are given a set of unopened, random product and expected to form a small deck from it to play against other decks made that same way. All of this is done with a strict time limit, and only with the cards available from the just-opened packs.
In Millennium Blades you cycle between two separate, yet equally important phases. The Deckbuilding Phase that builds decks and collections, and the Tournament Phase which puts those decks on trial. The Deckbuilding Phase is what really stuck out to me about Millennium Blades. In it you are given a stack of money, a huge set of cards to buy from, and an enormous deck to refill the cards with. The main quirk of the Deckbuilding phase is that there are no turns- everyone’s actions are taken on a “first come, first served” basis. To balance this, there is a time limit on the phase, making indecision impossible if you want to remain competitive.
At the start of the first round of the Deckbuilding phase you are handed a set of six cards which you can add to your collection in order to further customize your deck (there are rules in the book that turn this into a draft, which is also fun). You are then given free reign to buy cards from the stacks, trade cards with other players, sell cards to the store or buy cards from the store. During this time you are not only trying to build your deck for the next Tournament phase, you’re also trying to start a Collection that you can turn in for victory points right before a Tournament.
Doing this all at the same time, knowing that you have to keep an eye out on what the other players are doing to made me feel like I really was getting ready for a tournament. I asked myself the same questions that I would during a pre-release: “What color am I running?”, “Do I have any creature type synergies?”, “What is the engine I’m building my deck around?”, “What is the counter to what my opponent did last tournament?” and so on.
The actual Tournament phase is extremely dissimilar to Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Beyblades or any of the other CCGs that were referenced in Millennium Blades. Unless you have a special ability, you can only bring one deck box, two accessories, and eight playable cards with you to the Tournament. During the Tournament players will generally play six cards, though there are reasons to play less and ways to play more.
This part of Millennium Blades is mostly about your tableau, which consists of six spots on your player board. On your turn you will place a card on the left-most empty spot in the tableau; when all the spots are filled up the tournament is over. A lot of cards have abilities that effect cards in positions relative to them (eg: “Copy the ability of the card to the left of this one”) so the order you choose to play your cards can be very important. Some decks are more bound to this than others, but it’s common throughout the game.
Of course, your opponents aren’t just going to watch you make a pretty little tableau all on your own. There is a common ability called “Score” that gives you points at the end of the tournament, which sounds really cool. The challenge is that abilities only work on face-up cards, and there are a lot of abilities that let you turn cards face-down, oh- and they almost never turn face up again.
While the back-and-forth of the Tournament phase is mechanically nothing at all like Magic the Gathering, I find that the over-all feeling I get while playing much the same. In both I’m trying to implement a pre-made strategy and adapt it to the unexpected maneuvering of my opponents, all while trying to subtly take them down- if possible.
Additionally, the Element system helps the game feel like Magic- as it evokes their color wheel. “Dark” element cards often get bonuses if they flip-down their own cards, and get bonuses during scoring for every face-down card. Air element (whose color is green) typically gets bonuses for having the most powerful cards in play, and adds +1 star tokens to cards to increase their power. Fire/Red does direct damage, Light/White has healing, etc.
All of this together adds up to an amazing card game experience, the likes of which you’ve never experienced out of one box. There is so much replay-ability just in the base box that it’s staggering, and the game launched with an expansion so if you get really into it, there’s a lot to go around.
As an aside: we’ve played Millennium Blades several times now, and a growing concern as we continue to play it is the potential longevity of our cards. There are so many cards in this game that I don’t know of a fast, effective way to shuffle the cards without riffle shuffling. Already this has put some unwanted bend in our cards, and it looks like that may not be the best long-term solution. Just a note to those wanting to make sure their game lasts as long as possible- don’t to riffle shuffle.
If you’ve ever wanted to try Magic the Gathering but didn’t for whatever reason, you should definitely play Millennium Blades. If you enjoy Magic the Gathering, but especially Sealed or Draft formats, you should definitely play Millennium Blades. If you dislike Magic the Gathering on account of its mechanics or collectible nature, you should play Millennium Blades as it features neither of those.