Saturday 25 October 2014

The Retronaut: X-Men Trading Card Game

The Retronaut is a new section that looks at games from the past, from board games to CCGs. 

Back in 2000, Marvel was yet to become the movie powerhouse that it is today. Their previous efforts had been largely unsuccessful and superheroes were still solely in the realm of the comic enthusiast. Then X-Men the movie came on to the scene and single-handedly sparked a new generation of comic book films, with its deft writing, slick design and high-calibre actors. So Wizards of the Coast were quick to snap up the license from 20th Century Fox to produce a brand new X-Men movie trading card game to monopolise on the film's sudden success.

I fondly remember picking up the large rectangular box from my local comic book store and hurrying
home to play a few rounds with my friend. Not that the box was much to look at - it was an incredibly dull design, with just a silver X as artwork. Still, that didn't matter much to me because I loved the film and I couldn't wait to play as my favourite characters. Plus, it contained a promotional comic inside, which turned out to be terrible. Go figure.

The set-up was fairly straightforward. Each player had a squad of three X-Men and four villain cards were placed in the centre. The objective was to be the first to take out two villains or to be the last one with any X-Men on the table. The idea would be that you attack the villains in the middle with your X-Men and then in turn attack your opponent's X-Men with the villains. Each attack was assigned a different colour and to begin your turn you had to play a coloured Mission card. This would determine the colour of your attack, while Momentum cards could be used to augment your attack strength. The villain's strength would be subtracted from the total X-Men strength to determine how many dice to roll. The dice results could mean that you do damage, or perhaps yours or the villain's mutant powers would be activated.

Having written that down, it does sound like a pretty drawn out process, and it kind of is. Couple that with an ever-increasing Danger Room score which restricts the types of cards that can be played, it wasn't the most user-friendly game ever, but I enjoyed it a hell of a lot back in the day.

Despite having such a huge license, the X-Men TCG eventually fizzled into nothingness. There was a small amount of tie-in promotion around the movie itself, with Hugh Jackman Wolverine and Halle Berry promotional cards handed out at cinemas and hobby stores respectively, but marketing for the game was on the slim side. Other promotional cards were to be pitched as prizes for tournaments and events that never transpired.

Another big problem, and essentially the nail in the game's coffin was the delay between the release of the starter set and booster packs. For a card game to be collectable, you need some element of randomness, and for it to be competitive you need to be able to create your own decks off the back. But due to delays in Marvel's art department booster packs were release months after the starter set hit the shelves in the Summer of 2000, meaning players had to put up with just having the starter set.

To top it all, the art wasn't up to snuff. Artists' credits were simply left off many cards, replacing them with the words 'Marvel staff', which really just added insult to injury. People simply didn't want to put their names to this project. The result was the game falling into obscurity and becoming the favourites of bargain bins across comic stores worldwide.

While there were plans and mock-ups for a new set called 'Generations', the poor marketing and delays forced Wizards of the Coast to drop the game entirely.

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