Autobots Roll Out! Transformers TCG Autobot Starter Pack Review

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.

5 Traveling Tricks I Learned From My First International Trip

Although I consider myself a seasoned road tripper, I’ve only spent a few weeks outside the United States. Those fourteen days were spent traveling Japan with a good friend on my first international trip. Not everything went as well as we had planned, but it was a life-enriching experience and a lesson in what to do and what not to do while visiting another country with little international experience. Here are just a few of the things I picked up along the way.

Come Hungry

Food is such an essential part of the human experience that it would be a shame to restrict your diet while traveling abroad, but I extend my sympathies to those who have to do so for health reasons. I gave up alcohol just before heading to Japan and was subjected to ordering spiced ginger ale at every bar I ended up in. Other than my dry bar crawls, I made sure to try as much local food as possible, although I admit to going to a McDonalds more than once (they happened to have a Mega Mac burger at the airport a few months before I was able to find it the States.) Of everything I ate in the land of the rising sun, my worst meal was easily my European-themed hotel’s breakfast buffet. Everything of Japanese origin was a unique culinary experience that I hope to repeat soon.


My first uniquely “Japanese” experience after landing at Narita airport was wandering the streets of Itabashi looking for something to eat. My traveling companion and I had booked our AirBNB while waiting for a layover in Chicago and didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. For our first Japanese meal, we ended up stumbling into a small ramen shop with a pullback curtain and a menu sitting out front.

We saw that two other patrons were already enjoying their meal so my friend and I sat patiently for the chef to address us. Before we realized what we needed to do, another couple entered, greeted the chef, and turned to order their food from a vending machine just inside the door. After realizing and correcting our mistake, we handed our receipts to the chef and he began preparing our meals. I ended up eating some of the best ramen I’ve ever had in my life. You don’t know how glad I am that we didn’t just get sandwiches from a Lawson and call it a night.


Plan Only When Necessary

Life is full of surprises and part of traveling is embracing a certain amount of spontaneity. There are obvious necessities that must be planned for, such as passports, visas, and plane tickets, but you should have an open mind towards new opportunities in case you happen to run into them. For example, I had no idea where I was going to spend the night in Tokyo, but ended up thoroughly enjoying spending the night in a neighborhood that I wouldn’t otherwise know anything about. You don’t necessarily need to book your AirBNBs last minute to get the most out of traveling, but you should avoid filling up your itinerary to the brim and making no room for the surprises you’ll find along the way.

Read the Signs

When it comes to visiting a foreign country without much experience speaking or reading the native language, Japan makes things easy. As long as you stick to the popular cities, most important signage will be in both Japanese and English. That didn’t stop a lot of tourists I witnessed purposefully ignoring clearly written instructions, however. Some of them seemed to operate under the assumption that any potential social faux pas would be disregarded by any Japanse onlookers because of their tourist status.


It goes without saying to not be a jerk on your trip, but sometimes the stuff that goes without saying needs to be said anyway. In this case, read the sign. Just do the thing, whatever it is, that keeps you from looking like an ass in public.

In cases when you can’t read the sign, look up traveling tips for the specific country you are visiting. Every culture has its ins and outs, so no one is expecting you to be an expert, but doing the bare minimum will go a long way towards making your trip easier for everyone.

Take Some Time For Yourself

Your first international trip may be exhausting, depending heavily on your target destination and your traveling habits. Since flying to Japan was both my first time ever leaving the country and my first time on a commercial airplane, I was unprepared both physically and mentally for jumping time zones. I was already feeling sick just before departure and the jetlag only made it worse, but once I was able to recover, my next reality set in. I was going to be doing a lot of walking.


I should give myself some credit here as I did purchase a new pair of sneakers just before I left, but no amount of shoe could defend against me hiking up mountain shrines and walking around different Japanese cities for two weeks. The one-two punch of jetlag and physical exhaustion made me realize how important having a few minutes to relax and gather your thoughts can be. Whether I was calling another dry bar crawl early to get some shuteye or taking a walk before breakfast, I made sure to take time for myself when I needed it, rather than try to wring every ounce of enjoyment out of my trip. It always ended up benefitting me in the long run to know my limits.

Make Friends Whenever Possible

My trip to Japan was unique in that I was piggybacking on my companion’s work trip and ended up spending a lot of time meeting other people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I was also fortunate enough to run into other local Japanese people who were willing to help me with directions or with my chopstick etiquette. The language barrier was tough for some, but when I wasn’t struggling with American idioms, most of my acquaintances understood (or at least were polite enough to pretend) what I was talking about.

Some of my best experiences traveling have been because of the people I’ve met and my time spent abroad was no different. The key isn’t necessarily to be the most interesting person in the room, but instead to be willing to listen and learn from others. Once both parties agree to listen to one another, most barriers can be overcome.


On Anthony Bourdain

When it comes to celebrity chef culture (or celebrity culture in general), you could say I’m pretty out of the loop. I grew up in Emeril Lagasse’s hometown and know Julia Child through cultural osmosis and public television, but god help me if I need to pronounce Guy Fieri’s incredibly fake last name.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was turned on to Anthony Bourdain and his catalog of television shows and books. The rock and roll chef appealed to me immediately. He spoke with the conviction of a man wise beyond his years, but he also knew when to listen and let people from other cultures speak to his audience themselves. Anthony’s kindness, empathy, and ability to connect with people from across the globe through the lens of food made him stand out to me in a sea of unremarkable white people peddling comfort food to middle America. 


Mr. Bourdain’s shows transported me around the world, all from the comfort of my couch, to meet new people and share in their experiences and culture. I’ve loved traveling as long as I can remember, but Parts Unknown gave me a renewed energy and enthusiasm for exploring places that I wouldn’t otherwise visit. Anthony Bourdain was also a large influence in me finally visiting Japan and fulfilling a dream I’d had since middle school. I went in with an open mind and an empty stomach and had a life-enriching experience exploring ramen shops in Itabashi and going bar hopping in Kobe.

My introduction to Anthony Bourdain came around the same time that I was taking a more serious approach to my physical health. This meant giving up a lot of food/vices that I enjoyed regularly, including caffeine (goodbye coffee/chai tea), alcohol (rip beer), and now gluten (peace out nearly everything I used to eat). As someone who was already lactose intolerant in the first place, this felt like hell at first. Thanks to Anthony’s shows, I could enjoy all the flavors of the world despite my newfound dietary restrictions.

IMG_20180606_194825When I heard about Anthony Bourdain’s passing, I was already two days into attending my third Bonnaroo music festival. It was my girlfriend’s first long road trip without her family and we were thoroughly enjoying having time off of work to travel. The news hit me completely off guard, especially given that I felt like I was at least partially living out the dream that Anthony helped inspire.

Although Mr. Bourdain and I did not agree on all topics, his lust for travel and his listen-and-learn attitude have had a lasting impression on me. I don’t presume to know the man based solely on his television shows, but from what I gathered, Anthony stood strongly by his beliefs and was humble enough to recognize his own flaws. He genuinely wanted to learn from other people and let their food take center stage over his celebrity status or television production. I hope that someday I can achieve the same level of success and richness of life experience that he was able to manage during his time with us.

Top 10 Guilds of Ravnica Cards

If Jace is the face of Magic: the Gathering, then the city-plane of Ravnica is its home, despite what veterans of the game may argue. The third and triumphant return to the familiar setting was destined to be a success from the get-go, but it seems that Wizards have outdone themselves this time. Not only does Guilds of Ravnica feel like the two blocks that came before it, but it exemplifies some of the most interests aspects of Magic’s design: the color wheel. Without further adieu, here are some of my favorite cards from the set for both constructed and limited in no particular order.

10. Disinformation Campaign

Although the theme of Ravnica heavily implies that players should choose a side and stick with a particular guild, I’ve always found myself drawn to each color combination individually, depending on my mood. Of all of Ravnica’s guilds, however, Dimir is easily my least favorite. Like most Magic players, I love the color blue only through the lens of what it can do for me as a player. Playing against a blue mage, on the other hand, can be a daunting, often frustrating experience. Add in a little black mana and the Dimir’s newest mechanic, surveil, and you’ve got a recipe for a one-sided match.
Disinformation Campaign is a perfect example of the kind of grindy, resource denial strategy that Dimir is known for. It can take a bit to get going (keeping in mind that you need to survive until turn 4-5 in the first place), but once you start your “lock”, it can be difficult for an opponent to escape your grasps. Is it fun to play without any cards while your opponent has a full hand of 7? Hell no. Is it fun to keep your opponent from playing cards while you durdle around doing nothing, confident that you’ll win by turn 34 eventually? Hell yes! Welcome to the paradox that is blue mana.

9. Sunholme Stalwart

Although it’s become almost the norm as of late, a 2/2 creature for two mana with upside is never going to be a bad card in limited. It could even see play in constructed as a curve filler for a Boros or white weenie strategy. The first strike allows you to attack much more freely, and therefore trigger Mentor on your weaker attacking creatures, but also provides a strong defensive line for the investment as well. Boros Challenger may end up being a better card, but at [W/R] it’s a little more restrictive for my tastes.

8. Murmuring Mystic

Monastery Mentor, this card is not. But with a thicc behind (remember that 4 damage is the magic number for this set) and a potentially game-ending ability tacked on, I don’t know if this mystic needs to be. Murmuring Mystic blocks for days and can completely shut down certain wienie strategies, but should only really be considered if you have enough instants and sorceries to trigger the activated ability. Once you’ve mucked up ground combat enough and have an army of flying illusionary birds at your disposal, it shouldn’t take much to finish off your opponent in limited, even if this creature doesn’t see much play in constructed due to its {3U} mana cost.

7. Thoughtbound Phantasm

Remember when I said that Dimir wasn’t really my thing before Guilds of Ravnica? Well, here’s the third Dimir card to hit this list. At 1 mana, you can’t really go wrong with a 2/2 with defender in blue. Once you start surveilling, this little guy can become a destructive force, often swinging in for 5+ damage as soon as turn 3 or 4. That’s one helluva investment, even if you don’t particularly like the more durdly strategy of Dimir. I’ve won enough matches by playing one of these guys on turn one and another on turn two, followed by a surveil spell, to know that Thoughtbound Phantasm has legs in limited and (at least casual) constructed.

6. Creeping Chill

Another Dimir card? How dare you, you might say. Here me out! While Creeping Chill works very well with surveil, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is strictly a Dimir card. In fact, I’d venture to say that it’s more of a Golgari card in practice. For 4 mana, dealing 3 damage and healing for 3 isn’t a great rate. For the low-low cost of milling yourself (or being milled by an opponent), you can play this spell for free and, since it’s a triggered ability, it will resolve unattested in limited and standard. While this seems like a great way to keep yourself alive while also milling through your deck, I’m much more interested in developing a black/red burn strategy, utilizing surveil and self-milling, to surprise my opponents with free, uncounterable lightning helixes.

5. Erratic Cyclops

While the price may be limiting, Erratic Cyclops is a ticking time bomb waiting for you to play a big, disruptive spell to provide the gas it needs to smash into your opponent’s health total. With a big butt, it’s not going to die anytime soon, which may provide you enough time to cast your spells and swing in for lethal before your opponent knows what hit em’. Maybe I have a thing for big blockers that eventually smack my opponent for a billion. Who knows?

4. Lava Coil

Whenever a graveyard set releases, it’s good practice to look through the red instants and sorceries for the keyword “exile.” If you find one cheap enough, that deals with enough corner cases, you may be onto something. At 2 mana for 4 damage and an exile clause, Lava Coil checks all the boxes for a limited all-star removal spell. Having a toughness of 5 or greater is a clue that any specific creature will survive longer than most, simply because it won’t die immediately to Lava Coil. These kinds of format warping removal spells are important to keep in mind when drafting, but will also see plenty of sideboard play in Standard to deny graveyard strategies and keep the board clean of those pesky creatures your opponent controls.

3. Risk Factor

I’m a huge fan of the punisher mechanic (i.e. cards that offer your opponent a choice, rather than yourself), but Wizards has proven in the past that punisher-styled cards can be very hit or miss. The general rule of thumb is that if your opponent has a choice, they will always choose the option that is worse for you. Why pay mana for the worst possible iteration of a card when you could just play blue and win the game like a normal person? Well, Risk Factor has the answer: what if both options were great? Ding your opponent for 4 or draw 3 cards! Who could ask for more? For 3 mana at Instant speed, that’s a deal either way you slice it. Now, any seasoned player will see this as {2R} → Deal 4 damage to target player, because allowing a burn deck to draw 3 cards could be much more deadly, but when your opponent is at 4 life, what choice do they really have? Ding ding ding! We have a winner.

2. Pelt Collector

Historically, the problem with 1 mana creatures is that they often do not offer enough value to compensate for them taking up a card slot in your deck, unless you specifically aim to play a lot of them early and win before your opponent can offer a rebuttal. Pelt Collector flips this on its head by offering early game potential without the normal late-game uselessness aftertaste. Even on turn 4 or 5, Pelt Collector can still come onto the battlefield and grow into a relevant size quickly enough, as long as other creatures are dying.
Protip: When evaluating new Magic cards, look for those that benefit you for what some describe as “playing the game of Magic.” That means, if a card offers benefits for behavior that you would be performing anyway (creatures dying, spells going to the graveyard, lands being played/tapped, etc) then it’s not actually much of a hoop to jump through in the first place.

1. Hypothesizzle

In a game where card advantage and value are key, flexibility quickly becomes a commodity. Hypothesizzle lets you draw two cards for five mana. At that rate, it’s a pretty bad Divination. What Divination can’t do, however, is allow you to deal 4 damage to a creature for the cost of a nonland card in your hand. Now, five mana to deal 4 damage to a creature and draw a card isn’t actually that bad. Factor in that the nonland card you discard could have been otherwise useless in your hand (too much mana, too conditional for the situation, etc), meaning that the cost could potentially be very low. While this is just a common in the set (when did commons get so complicated?), it’s also a great example of how deceiving some card designs can be. On its face, Hypothesizzle looks like a bad card draw spell, but in reality, it’s a good removal spell that can also act like a bad Divination if you don’t have a target. Now that’s cooking with gas.