Sep 16, 2015

[Games] Doctor Who: The Card Game

Games that are related to TV or movie franchises are often a mixed bag in terms of quality. You get games that are merely reskins of existing games that do well enough like Star Trek Catan. And you have games that have completely original systems that are hard to measure initially. Some turn out great after repeat plays. Others end up being just okay or quite terrible.

Doctor Who: The Card Game is a bit of a mixed bag as well. It's a franchise property that I really love but the game itself is generally just okay but nothing amazing. It does have some interesting aspects to it that make for clever game play, but there are also other elements of the game that don't seem quite as well thought-out.

I think the biggest challenge for tie-in games like this is the fact that players will always want all aspects to make sense when it comes to the source material. You want to feel that the game follows the "rules" of the franchise and that everything fits in well. And a lot of times, games like this tend to be a little wibbley-wobbly from that perspective.

Synopsis: Doctor Who: The Card Game was created by Martin Wallace and is published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment. The first edition of this game focused more on the adventures of the Eleventh Doctor while the second edition that we purchased covers the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh incarnations of the Doctor. The game supports 3-4 players.

The game has players play the role of the Doctor and his Companions as they try and defend the Earth from a whole range of alien adversaries as seen on the show. All players start with a location card, that represents a place that is in need of defending and each location has a declared point value that will come into play at the end of the game.

Players will have a mix of good and bad cards that can be used to defend your locations or to attack other locations. So while you are focused on playing more valuable locations and seeding them with defense cards, you also have a chance to put rival locations under threat, so in this respect players are also playing the roles of the various adversaries of the Doctor. And this is one of those quirks of the system that weirds me out.

Whenever an Attack card is met with a Defend card (which is played face down initially), players then start comparing the numerical values written on the cards to determine who wins the battle. If the Attacker has a higher value, then he gains control of the location until the player can retake it. If the Defender wins, the attacking card is discarded, but in general so is one of the defense cards. This also gets you a Defended token for the location, which counts towards victory. So you can see you'll constantly need to play defense cards in order to maintain your defenses against other players.

The biggest innovation of the system is the fact that cards sort of go back in time since at the end of your turn you need to be able to pass 3 cards to the player whose turn precedes yours. On average you'll have 5 or more cards in hand during your turn so you'll only really get to play two of them unless you spent your time points to draw additional cards. Tie points are earned through locations and other card effects and are generally used to draw more cards during your turn. The passing of cards does allow you a limited degree of strategy as you'll have some idea what cards that player will have once his turn comes around. But the fact that this process goes backwards in terms of play order makes the potential benefit of this "knowledge" a little limited.

The game's main redeeming value lies in the cards themselves since they feature various notable characters from the series. The second edition is especially squee-worthy since it involves most of the show's recent history since 2005 save for the more recent developments with the Twelfth Doctor. And the various abilities attached to these cards generally fit well with the characters, which does help make things more fun.

It's really the whole PVP aspect of the game that makes things feel a little weird since you are both defending Earth as the Doctor but also attacking it as the aliens. And why this was the final mechanic for the game confuses me a little since you'd think that they could have figured out a way to balance things out better. Plus the fact that the game requires a minimum of 3 players because of the card-passing mechanic does somewhat limit how easy it is to get a game set up.

Doctor Who: The Card Game is not a bad game, but it's also not quite as fantastic as all of us Whovians hoped it to be. You'll still have fun with it though, at least among your fellow Doctor Who loving friends. Thus the game only gets 3.5 dastardly aliens out of a possible 5.


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