A few months back at GenCon, I stumbled across a well-placed demo area with a large cardboard display of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. As a child of the 1980’s, I wasn’t about to miss out on this … my introduction to Wizard of the Coast’s Transformers Trading Card Game.
There are two components to the game: double-sided oversized character cards and battle cards. The character cards are foil cards that represent various Autobot and Decepticon characters with one side having a Bot Mode and the other side having their transformed Alt Mode. The battle cards are a deck of regular-sized cards, consisting of single-use Action cards and Upgrades that can be attached to individual transformers to provide Weapon, Armor, and Utility equipment that (generally) stick with the characters they’re upgrading.
The game plays out as a battle between two teams of Transformers, with victory coming to the player who is able to KO all of their opponents’ characters. Each character card has Attack, Life, and Defense stats, which alternate as you flip between the Modes. Some Modes also have powers of various kinds. Some of the powers activate when you flip the card into that mode. For example, when you flip the Optimus Prime card into its truck Alt Mode, you immediately draw a battle card. Other powers are always active so long as the character is in that Mode.
Each turn you can flip the Mode on one of your character cards, then play a single Action card and a single Upgrade card. One you’ve done that, one of your Transformer characters can declare attack against one of the opposing Transformer characters.
The randomization mechanic of the game comes from the attacker flipping 2 cards from the top of their 40-card battle deck to aid with attack, while the defender flips 2 cards from their battle deck to help with defense. Colored boxes in the top right corners of the card affect the combat outcomes. Orange boxes add to the character’s Attack value. Blue boxes add to the character’s Defense value. And white boxes give you the opportunity to draw 2 more cards. (This only works once per combat, so you can’t just cascade your way through your entire deck in one fight.)
There are two starter boxes for the game and, for some strange reason, they both include characters from the Autobot faction of the game. You can only get Decepticon characters from buying booster packs, which include a single character card and 7 battle cards. The Autobot starter box includes character cards for Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, and Red Alert.
The Metroplex deck starter box is an interesting variant on the basic game. Metroplex is a titan card, about double the size of the regular character cards. If you play with Metroplex, he counts as a full army by himself, but he comes with three sidekick characters that you can deploy to help Metroplex over the course of the game. These cards can also be used as standalone characters on their own, to reach a full point value when building your team.
The team distributions creates something of a thematic issue. Since the starters include only Autobots, players begin with teams of Autobots playing each other. I suppose this motivates playersto buy the boosters, but there are good enough cards in the boosters that people who are interested in the game would buy it anyway. The rules even allow you to mix Autobots and Decepticons together to form teams, which is even more off-brand than two groups of Autobots fighting each other.
That issue aside, the game is fast-paced and a lot of fun. My 9-year-old enjoyed it, although he didn’t immediately warm up to the strategy of how to play Metroplex. Since a Metroplex player begins with only one single character, the first round consists of the entire other team repeatedly attacking Metroplex. Still, he liked the idea of playing a city that transformed into a robot.
Between a promo card from GenCon and two boosters, I ended up with three Insecticon cards, working my way toward building an Insecticon themed deck. The collectible nature of the game is such that I’ll likely stick with it at least until I am able to build a full Dinobot deck, and hopefully by that point they’ll come out with some Decepticon themed boxed sets – maybe even a Constructicon titan to go up against Metroplex – that’ll add new dimensions and options to the game. I’m not entirely convinced what sort of longevity a game like this has, but it’s definitely got enough potential to draw fans of the original series, like me, into it.
You can find out more about the Transformers Trading Card Game at their official website, including lists of cards available in the boosters, access to the full rules, and how to play videos. The game is produced by Wizards of the Coast, makers of Magic: The Gathering and a division of Hasbro, so it is available at an amazing array of stores, including pretty much anyplace that sells Magic cards.