I’m a huge sucker for new games. It doesn’t particularly matter whether I am attached to the developer or license. Unsolved games present a dual opportunity for me to explore new puzzles and adopt game design lessons learned to my own projects.
This past September, Wizards of the Coast and their parent company Hasbro released a brand new trading card game based on the Transformers IP. When I heard the news on Mark Rosewater’s podcast, Drive to Work, my ears immediately perked up. Apparently, WotC brought Mr. Rosewater on board because it had been so long since they had released a new TCG that they needed the guidance of someone with enough experience designing collectible games from the ground up.
Like many of WotC’s entries into the genre, The Transformers TCG borrows a lot from Magic the Gathering. Cards tap (turn sideways to signify that something has been done to change them in some way), characters attack one another, items are equipped and spells are cast fairly similarly. Even the namesake mechanic, transforming, was also borrowed wholesale from Magic after the Innistrad expansion proved that two-sided cards could be successful outside of Wizard’s other flagship product, Duel Masters.
That is basically where the similarities end, thankfully. Unlike in Magic, you start a game of Transformers with your favorite set of bots already in play. Players take turns drawing cards, attacking other their characters and upgrading their bots until all of one player’s characters are KO’d. For a game aimed at a younger audience, I was impressed with how much flavor and fun could be packed into a relatively simple design.
A mechanic that I particularly enjoy is the ability for each card in the game to offer bonuses in combat, regardless of whether the card itself affects combat at all. When a Transformer attacks, that player reveals two cards from the top of their deck. If the revealed cards have orange pips in the top left corner, they add +1 damage to the bot’s attack. The same is true with Transformers blocking and blue pips. While I’m sure it will play heavily into deckbuilding, at its bare bones, it acts as a workhorse to keep an otherwise simplistic combat system dynamic and engaging.
My main gripe with Transformers (despite being outside of the target demographic by a significant margin) is that I wonder whether or not the game truly justifies being a trading card game over other popular alternatives. In its current form, players can purchase the Autobot Starter Kit and individual Booster Packs. The Starter Kit comes with enough cards and transformers for one standard deck but also offers an alternative play mode where the deck can be shared with another player for a more simplified version of the game.
While I appreciate the flexibility, a part of me wonders whether the whole package would have been better off as a living card game (LCG) or something similar where the cards are available for purchase, rather than won through what is essentially a lottery. While collecting is an essential part of games like Pokemon or Magic, the same doesn’t seem to be the case with the Transformers intellectual property. For a franchise about selling an endless amount of toys, the roster of bots doesn’t offer much in terms of a roster for people who aren’t diehard fans outside of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, and Bumblebee.
As it stands, I don’t think that I will be purchasing more than the Transformers TCG Starter Kit because I don’t have any interest in chasing rares by buying boosters, a habit that I’ve already had trained out of me in regards to Wizard’s other products. If they end up releasing a more contained product (perhaps a duel deck-style kit with two standard playable decks), then I may be interested in jumping back in to give it a try, but unless I can add it to my growing collection of tabletop games, I don’t think I’ll be participating much in this new trading card economy.
If you’d like to learn more about the Transformers TCG, you can do so at Hasbro’s website here.