Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Spoils is not dead and has a cool new beginner box

The Basic Box of Awesomeness
A few weeks back I was approached by John Westcott about The Spoils Trading Card Game. It seems Arcane Tinmen has just released something new they are calling the Basic Box of Awesomeness.

This email surprised me. Why? Well I remember seeing The Spoils, like 8 or so years ago at RIW Hobbies in Livonia. They were doing some kind of demo deal. It looked like a Magic the Gathering clone. I never heard about or saw the game again. I assumed it died the same death that most Magic isotopes died.

I guess I was wrong. Seems the game is still going strong and has a new box out there. So I agreed to check it out. I figured if it lasted the CCG glut there must be something there.

Since receiving my review copy of the box I've brought the game out to a couple different local events and played eight games with four different players all who have a varying level of experience with collectible card games. I wasn't able to find someone locally who had never played Magic though, so that tainted all of our opinions.

So what is The Spoils?


As I noted above it's one of many Magic the Gathering knock offs. I'm sure Arcane Tinmen hate to hear that but I've got to call a spade a spade here. A lot of the game play of The Spoils is identical to Magic but with different names. Magic has flying, The Spoils has Covert. Magic has Mana, The Spoils has Resources. Magic has tapping, The Spoils has Depleting Cards. Etc. That said, there are quite a few things unique to The Spoils and I ended up rather enjoying these differences.

This starter set comes with basic decks for five factions. Each of these factions is very distinct and each plays very differently. I really enjoyed the art on the cards and the flavour text. I loved that the Banker faction were a bunch of Fat Cats, literally: they are all anthropomorphic cats. Each faction deck includes faction specific Resources. These are interesting things like Greed and Deception. Again; very thematic.

After you've got your deck you pick who goes first. Your faction card (in this set each faction had the same faction card, "The Tournament Faction", lame) tells you how many cards you start with which depends on if you play first or second. It also gives you a couple basic abilities and works like a rule summary card. Oh, it also sets your life Influence. You run out of Influence you loose.

You start the game with two Mana Resources in play, and each turn you have to decide if you want to play one more or if you want to draw a card. This rule I liked and did make The Spoils stick out as somewhat unique right from the start. Another neat Spoils deal is that you can play any card in your hand face down as a resource.

To play non-resource cards you 'attach' Resources to your Faction Card based on their cost which is at the top left of the cards. There's another kinda of neat bit where you don't have to spend specific Resources, but have to have a minimum of the right type in play to pay some cards. So if a card shows three Rage symbols, you just have to have three Rage Resources in play. They can be attached already or not spent yet, it doesn't matter. As long as you have them you can play the card.

The cards are Characters, which you use to attack and defend. Tactics which are like instants and do something cool and then are discarded. Items which you attach to characters and locations and modify them in some way. Locations are the one card that is not-quite Magic like. They are like Artificats that have hit points. They go into play and stay there until destroyed. They can be attacked and if they take more damage than their Structure they are removed from play.

There are a ton of keywords in The Spoils. Some which play very similar if not identical to other CCGs. For example Covert characters can only be blocked by other Cover characters. There are some very unique ones too like Flip Up, which lets you take a card you played as a resource and flip it over to the other side and put it in play as if you just played it from your hand.

At this point the game is pretty much like any other CCG. You play your Resources, you spend them to put cards in play. You get Characters and permanents out there and you try to beat the crap out of your opponent. When one of you runs out of life Influence, the game is over.

Combat is probably the thing that's the most different from other card games I've played. You don't only get one attack phase in The Spoils. You can choose to attack with a Character, then play a couple more cards, then attack with two more Characters, then play a Tactic then attack again. This really opens up the strategy of the game. Added to this each Character has a Speed stat in addition to the usual attack/defense (Attack/Life in The Spoils). Speed adds an initiative system to the game. Cards with the same Speed are grouped and cards with higher Speed do damage before cards with lower Speeds. A heavy Magic playing friend of mine called this "multiple First Strikes".

In addition to the five faction decks that came in the box, there was also a selection of Foil cards. One of each of the Resources and then one card for each of the factions. While pretty, I'm just not a fan of the collectible aspect of chase cards like these. I do know some people dig them though.

So what did I think?


I had quite a bit of fun playing The Spoils. While we did have one game where one faction completely destroyed the other, the other games all seemed pretty well balanced. I really dig the factions and the theme of this game. I actually prefer it over the whole Planeswalker thing from Magic the Gathering. I was laughing out loud as I was reading the flavour text. Doing things like playing the Bankers and putting a tax on attacking was awesome.

I was also a fan of some of the new things from The Spoils. Stuff I haven't seen in other card games. Things like being able to play any card in your hand as a resource and the initiative system for combat. The one problem though is that all these new things ads a level of complexity to the game that makes it not only harder to teach but also longer as there is more to consider each turn. While this can appeal at times, sometimes you just want quick and easy.

The big question I kept asking myself was: why not just play Magic?

Magic is quicker and easier with less complexity but still a very satisfying level of strategy. It's less fiddly then The Spoils. Magic is also everywhere. I could jump on facebook right now and be playing with someone local within 10 minutes. I don't know anyone local who plays The Spoils. There's no Friday Night Spoils, but there are five different local stores that do Friday Night Magic. There's a tournament in town every weekend. Magic is everywhere. The Spoils is not.

While I did dig The Big Box of Awesome, and I think The Spoils actually a rather good game, I  just can't see getting into the full game. If you are interested in a solid alternative to Magic The Gathering I think this is worth checking out. I think you will have fun playing with just this box. However I can't see it becoming The CCG for anyone. 

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