Dragon Ball is an incredibly popular franchise, dating back to 1984, with Dragon Ball Z being perhaps its most popular series within. If you are unfamiliar with Dragon Ball in any way, I would highly, highly encourage you to start with its origins - a fantastic tale of a boy on a journey; in fact it's very heavily based on the famous 16th Century novel, Journey to the West. It's a wonderful look at how our protagonist - Goku, grows over time, establishes new friendships, lifetime bonds, and faces off against impressive foes. It's my favourite entry point into the series as a whole, as its successor, Dragon Ball Z really takes things to otherworldly levels of action and strength.
It was around the conclusion of Dragon Ball Z where series creator, Akira Toriyama expressed a want to take a break as these two series' spanning approximately 450 episodes and about 520 chapters in the original manga left him exhausted. Bandai and Toei were still interested in continuing the franchise even further, and with the help of Toriyama who aided in the initial character designs and approved the story elements, they released Dragon Ball GT which would be the first Dragon Ball anime that wasn't based on a manga. The series was short-lived however due to a number of factors and lasted only 64 episodes, ending in 1997. After 18 years, Toriyama returned to write the overall plot for Dragon Ball Super, an all new series that took place after the events of Dragon Ball Z.
With a franchise that has lasted over the decades, especially one with it's worldwide popularity, it's expected that its commercial reach is seemingly endless, with products dipping into every conceivable industry. Dragon Ball video games are among the most popular, especially with the recent release of Dragon Ball FighterZ.
TCGs, or trading card games, are an industry that can be quite hard to break into. As it is currently, Magic: the Gathering is by and large the most popular card game to date, but that didn't stop established franchises like Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokemon from entering the scene in their own way. In fact those are also incredibly popular games and are still played to this day. Dragon Ball is no stranger either, beginning with the original TCG back in 2000, another attempt at a card game in 2008 and again in 2014. All seemed to have dwindled away, but with ever-growing popularity in Dragon Ball Super, Bandai has released a brand new card game, aptly called Dragon Ball Super Card Game.
The basic rules of the game as as follows: players construct a deck of 50 cards, with 1 additional card as their Leader. Leaders are famous characters throughout each of the different Dragon Ball series' all with different abilities that deckbuilders seek to build around to get the most value out of them. All Leaders have an "Awakened" side, whereby, if you should be at X life, you flip your card over to its more powerful version. The structure to me most resembles Magic's EDH/Commander format, though it operates with half the deck capacity and doesn't restrict you to singletons of cards. You may have a maximum of four of any one card, unless a certain card is printed otherwise. To begin a game, players shuffle their decks, draw six cards, and are allowed a one time mulligan of discarding any number of cards from their opening hand, shuffling their library and drawing that many. Once opening hands are resolved, players then place the top eight cards of their library into a zone to indicate your life total. Any one damage dealt to you takes one card from your life and is added to your hand; therefore effects like double-damage would then inflict two to you, placing two cards into your hand. A game loss occurs when you either have no cards in your deck, or have no cards in your life zone.
One of the most interesting things about the Dragon Ball Card game is also one of my biggest frustrations with Magic: the Gathering. Being 'landscrewed' is a common phrase among the community, for far too many know all too well when they're down on lands that produce the mana to cast the spells they need, and unfortunately draw more spells from their top-deck. With Dragon Ball, that concept is null and void, as every printed card can act as an "Energy Card" as it is referred to. The game's flow can be broken down into three essential phases: Charge, Main, and End.
At the beginning of each turn, our charge phase involves use switching all cards in "Rest" mode (tapped for Magic players) to Active (untapped). The act of charging is when you place a card from your hand, into your energy zone so that you may use it to play other cards. The stipulation is that cards only produce an energy colour that they belong to, and you can note which colour a card is by looking at the top left corner of the card. It will display a card's total converted energy cost, along with smaller coloured bubbles - indicating this card requires X number of certain coloured energy within the total energy cost. So a card that has an energy cost of 4, but has 2 red bubbles would mean I need 2 red energy sources needed.
Having playtested the game with a number of decks I've built, I've found this method of resource distribution to be wonderful. With the way this works, you will always be "on curve" with the energy you produce to the turn number you are in. The strategy within this, is knowing what card is feasible to charge, and which cards are important enough to retain. You may draw that crazy, expensive finisher in one of your earlier turns and you may need to come to turns with the idea that it might be better as an energy source so that you can play your cheaper cards for turn.
Within the Main Phase of your turn, you may play Battle Cards from your hand, activate card abilities, Awaken your Leader, and enter the Battle Phase. To battle an opponent, there are few key things to consider. You can only attack opposing Battle Cards that are in Rest Mode, otherwise all damage is toward the Leader. The Flow of the Battle Phase is further broken to the following: Declaring Attacks, Stating Negates, and Adding Cards to Combo with. As an attacker, you must declare what you are attacking, and offer a chance for an opponent to Negate an attack. If the Attack goes through, you then have one chance to combo - whereby you increase the overall damage going through to hopefully succeed. After you have comboing, your opponent is given a similar chance to boost their power to increase their defense. As a rule, if the two powers are identical, the attack is deemed successful, so you will need to make sure to out-combo an attacker by just enough to block the damage.
There's technically no 'Combo' card type; every Battle Card will have, on the left-hand side of the card's border, a numerical line that would look like (0+5,000). This bit of information is the combo line, and tells us what we have to pay to use it as a combo, and what the payload is. So going back to our example, we don't have to pay any additional energy and will beef up our attack (or defense) by 5,000. Alternatively, you will find cards that grant a 10,000 boost for the cost of 1 or 2 energy depending.
Similar to other games, notably Magic, Dragon Ball Super has a colour pie that houses certain characters, to a certain extent, types of gameplay. Dragon Ball's colours are Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and the newly introduced Black. Each colour has what is called a Super Combo, which is a "free" combo that typically has two effects, but granting the card you're targeting +10,000 one of them. These are highly sought after in deck construction, and most if not all decks will run a full 4 of these cards. To keep it balanced, Bandai have released an official errata to the rules of these cards, so that players can only run a maximum of 4 Super Combos period, to avoid abusing future prints of the ability. Leaders also have a specific colour identity, but it is worth noting that you are not restricted to using just their colour, and can splash any of the other four colours if you should wish.
The flow of a game can be very dependent on what style of deck you build, and this is true to any card game. Are you a combo deck, seeking for specific pieces? Or are you an aggressive deck forcing your board presence on to the field as quickly as possible to outpace your opponent? Or are you somewhere in between, pacing yourself as you assemble an ultimate finisher? The game opens up to a myriad of deck strategies and with the release of the newest set - titled Cross Worlds at the beginning of March, we'll see a whole new roster of Leaders that enter the Fray. Cross Worlds seeks to expand upon the Franchise's representation by including Dragon Ball GT, and the Original Dragon Ball. This seems incredibly ambitious, though some have expressed concern that this appears like Bandai are going all out for this next set, and are left wondering what's in store for the future?
It's an interesting question to raise, as longevity can be a card game's ultimate downfall. On paper Dragon Ball Super seems like a wonderful marriage: Trading Card Games are popular, Dragon Ball is Popular. Putting the two together ought to work, and as far as I have seen, it has. I've managed to follow the tournament standings, whenever they happen, and read up on the winning decklists and their variants on popular Leaders in the meta. It seems that DBS is on an upward path, and I hope it continues that way. Basing your product off of a finite source material is risky, because there is an inevitable end; in contrast, Magic succeeds so well because it's invented a way to retain relevancy with having players continually travel to different worlds and planes, meeting new characters with each set is a drive to continue playing. By covering all the series the Dragon Ball franchise has to offer, it's tough wondering how far they can go, and how many iterations of Goku or Vegeta we'll see as Leaders?
Aside from merely owning the original 2000 print of the cards, I never did play the Dragon Ball card games; I dabbled in Magic: the Gathering as a kid and abandoned it up until 2014 where I had rediscovered my fondness of the game. Having spent time understanding the rules and mechanics, competing in a few venues, that fondness developed into something more where I found myself reading about the lores of the planes we travel to.
I mention this because the DBS card game is almost the antithesis to that experience; Dragon Ball has been a part of me for the majority of my life, and so coming into the card game I had already known the wealth of information regarding characters and storylines and places and could get a grander sense of appreciation for the familiar as I return to these images printed in card form. That being said, this game definitely doesn't operate under the "members only" mentality where you need to see the show before playing the game. I'd maintain that you may have a greater appreciation for the cards, but the game itself is self-contained and has a relatively easy learning curve. In fact there is a brilliant app that Bandai provides for mobile devices that allows you to learn the basic mechanics and the phase and turn structure of the game.
Another thing this game excels in is the overall flavour of the card compared to what it's trying to represent. My favourite example of this is with the Teen Gohan Leader. As some may know, this transition in Gohan's adolescence was pivotal for him, and one common thing he has always struggled with is holding back his true strength. Goku sacrificed himself as a way to break that barrier and thus aided in the steps leading toward Gohan shattering his shell. For the card, it gives you a power boost of +5000 if it sees that a Goku card is in the Drop Area, or graveyard as some may know it. It's a perfect embodiment of that moment, and as Gohan's Leader awakens, he has an ability that forces you to use all of your resources into this all out attack to ensure that you win that turn, because otherwise it states you will lose the game. This is but one of the many examples of flavourful uses of key moments or character traits that are expressed wonderfully in their card form.
One of the major concerns with regards to a physical card game is how the quality of the card is. Without pointing fingers there are more popular games in the industry that have received flak due to an alarming rate of warping on their printed cards - to the point where you can open a pack and have it already bowing. This process seems to happen to both foil and non-foil cards. I'm happy to report that the cardstock for the Dragon Ball Super Card game is of an impressive quality.
The cards themselves feel far thicker than normal and sturdier as a result. The images are clean and highly defined, and quite busy with action moments. One concern I've noticed with regards to the actual imagery is that they've used cropped images from the anime as a cut-and-paste job rather than producing new art. The Leader Cards seem to be exempt from this process, as they look to be drawn via CG and have a unique look from the other cards.
Unfortunately, the warping effect affects the foiled cards for the game. It's largely due to the humidity, and how one side of a card has a stretchier material than the other, causing it to bow. Like other games, this can be remedied by sleeving cards, flattening then by resting them under flat sided weights or trying to see if they straighten out in a binder.
Overall, the Dragon Ball Super Card Game has been a delightful detour from other trading card games that I partake in. In fact, I've enjoyed the mechanics and deckbuilding so much that I have temporarily departed from other card games and focused most of my attention on it. The battles can be fast paced, the idea of comboing your cards to give that all-in devastating attack is very reminiscent of Dragon Ball, and so far I've seen the wonderful liberties in being able to design multiple different strategies for the same Leader - which is instrumental for a card game's longevity and also a player's freedom of creativity.Dragon Ball Super Card Game was reviewed using a Booster Box provided by Cardass. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|The basic phases and rules of the game are easy to learn, and fun to execute. It's worth noting that it also provides a deeper level of card interactions, if you allow it.|
|The Card Quality is impeccable, with some very thick cardstock and wonderful designs on the images.|
|For a series as reputable as Dragon Ball, Bandai does it a great service in representing key moments in the series, and important characters in clever ways that translate to the game's mechanics.|
|There are some warping issues with regards to the foiled cards.|
|Basing a card game that is intended to last around a finite source material raises some concerns about the game's longevity. But I have high hopes that Bandai will continue to offer intriguing innovations upon their already solid foundation.|