I forget when I first heard about Millennium Blades; it probably would have been early 2015, when threads started popping up on the BGG Game Forum lists. The concept of a board game with a collectible card game theme hooked me in right away.
This is because CCG’s blossomed after I finished school and was scrabbling around working multiple jobs and trying to get my band off the ground. I had first read about Magic: the Gathering in GAMES Magazine in 1993 just as White Wizard was releasing it. I’d been a serious hockey-card collector in elementary school, and can still feel the tingle of excitement of opening a pack. (Ohhhh that smell of stale bubble gum…) I was also a D&D fellow-traveller, though I never actually played all that much, spending 90% of my time reading the manuals and official scenarios and designing my own. A game like M:tG, which promised to combine the fanaticism of D&D with the fanaticism of sports-card collecting was like catnip to me.
BUT, since my disposable income was all going to living and band expenses, I knew that if I went down that particular rabbit hole I would never crawl out. So I had to content to watch from the sidelines as the CCG train left the station…with one exception. (Sim City: The Card Game. But that, friends, deserves a tale of its own.)
So here comes Millennium Blades (MB hereinafter), a game where you play a player, a player who plays an ancient and cosmic collectible card game called Millennium Blades (start the meta meter). You and your opponents progress from relative newcomers to superstars through three rounds of Deckbuilding and Tournaments, after which one of you is crowned the victor.
Before the game begins you choose which Sets you want to include in your game. Since the base game comes with 28 regular and 10 “Promo” Sets and you only use 12 of the former and 3 of the latter in any given game, there are clearly squillions of possible configurations. (You can use the great official web-based app to help you randomize, or choose some pre-fab combos.) The Promo Sets are kept aside separately, as prizes for Tournament winners or crafted by CARD FUSION© during Deckbuilding Rounds; the rest are shuffled together with a generic Core Set to make the Store Deck. Leave several minutes for the shuffling, folks.
Then each player gets a character card with a back story and special powers, followed by a unique starting deck (including cards representing your deckbox and card sleeves–that’s how immersive this game wants to be). MB cards have a Star rating denoting their strength (higher is usually better), an element (Fire, Air, Dark, etc.), a Type (Animal, Construct, Mage, etc.), and effect text (with keywords that trigger at various points during a Tournament). Also, irrelevant in terms of gameplay but crucial in terms of theme and enjoyment, each card has a name, illustration, and flavour text. If you don’t find their pop-cultural references amusing you can ignore them and still enjoy the game on its gameplay merits–but if you’re that kind of player then MB probably isn’t for you.
In the centre of the play area are the Store Board (where you buy “boosters”) and the Aftermarket Board, where you buy and sell “used” cards. Booster packs are represented by face-down cards from the Store Deck, which (aside from the Core Deck cards) have icons on the back cluing you in to what you might find “inside”.
Deckbuilding Rounds take up twenty minutes of real time, with everyone frantically playing at once. During this time you have several goals: build a killer Tournament deck, obviously, but amassing “Collections” of cards also nets you VPs–more, especially in early Rounds, than you would get for winning a Tournament. You also get VPs for making favorable trades and saving up money for the end of the game, so you shouldn’t ignore that, either.
Oh, did I mention that MB’s money is actual wads of (fake) cash, which turns out to be a lot more fun to toss around than flimsy little pieces of paper. Mind you, it’s a laborious process to assemble these packets when you get the game, but it is totally worth it, yo.
After Deckbuilding time is up players flip their player-boards over, cash their Collections in for VP, and begin the Tournament. This is turn-based and plays out pretty quickly. The aim is to score as many Rank Points (RP) as possible over the play of (usually) six cards, supplemented by your deckbox and accessories. Cards score RP’s in a variety of ways, both as they are played and at the end of the tournament, so there are many possible deck-building strategies and synergies.
Some strategies are more interactive (ie, mess with other players’ cards) than others. For instance, there are cards that initiate a Clash when played, whereby individual (and sometimes all) players compare the Star value of their cards buffed by a random draw from the Store Deck, The highest value wins, which has different consequences depending on the card that initiated the Clash.
Another mechanic involves Flipping cards, which renders them blank for all game purposes. There are strategies which involve flipping your own cards to net tons of RP’s; flipping opponents’ cards, thus preventing them from scoring, is also tres viable.
At the end of the tournament players win VP based on their RP ranking; the VP rewards ramp up considerably over the three tournaments, so it is totally possible to come back to win the game even if you bomb the first two. The winner of the first two rounds also gets a Bronze or Silver promo card as a reward; it’s rare that the card meshes well with your deck, but it can be sold for some decent dinero.
Once the Tournament is over, players return their cards to their “binders” (ie, hands) and a new Deckbuilding Round begins–except after the Final Round, in which case all the VP are totalled up and an MB Master/Mistress is declared.
MB can be played casually, for larfs, or it can be played quite cut-throat, with players modifying their decks from Tournament to Tournament in light of their opponents’ previously-revealed strategies. It is not and does not try to be a sim (despite the subtitle of “CCG Simulator Card Game”); instead, what it does, and does so well, is immerse you (if you are willing to let it) in the world of collectible card games. The Deckbuilding Rounds are about long-term strategy chock full of hard choices, all happening in real-time as you cobble together a powerful yet flexible enough strategy for your Tournament cards. The Tournaments themselves, meanwhile, put you in the moment where you must make the best short-term tactical decision based on the few cards you brought with you.
In early 2017, the first expansion, Set Rotation came out with even more Sets you can throw into the mix. Plus, publishers Level 99 Games games also released an Art Book (both actual and digital) with (obviously) art from the game, design commentary, and most intriguingly a way to turn your copy of MB into a tabletop RPG experience!! (I’ve read the rules for this but not tried it out yet; anyone who’s ever wanted to game out their Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh obsession could possibly get off on it.)
The only flaw in the game, and it’s really unavoidable, is the setup and takedown time. Like any game in the Legendary series, having to combine, shuffle, and at the end of the game sort cards from many MANY different sets is obviously cumbersome and time-consuming. So, like Legendary, if that doesn’t seem worth the effort, then MB is not for you.
Also, for a game for and about CCGers, the lack of dividers for its many sets of cards is somewhat bewildering and disappointing. Luckily, an industrious fan on BGG made some up you can download here which serve admirably–I know, ‘cos I’ve printed them out and they’re great.
Over the last twenty-odd years, I’ve jonesed after a CCG experience which (a) wasn’t pay-to-play and (b) was completely or relatively self-contained (so that I didn’t have to keep up with endless expansions. A couple of months ago I wrote about a game which came pretty close to the mark, and I have a couple of other favorites (Epic, for instance) that also scratch that itch. But for sheer goofy ambition and play value, it would be hard to beat Millennium Blades.