We think it’s odd that it’s taken this long for someone to whip up a collectible card game (TCG) based around the setting and characters of the Stargate television series. After all, a show about space-hopping, intergalactic intrigue and high-tech combat seems to be ideal fodder for the intertwined nature of collectible gaming. Fortunately, for fans of the show and TCG players everywhere, Sony Online Entertainment’s online version of the trading card game (which it also created) nails this combination perfectly. So pack up your gear and get ready to jump through the Stargate with us as we reveal what makes this game so enjoyable.
The initial set offers 300 cards focused around the SG-1 series; future releases will bring the Stargate: Atlantis series into the fold while the upcoming August expansion System Lords will offer players further options during the Villain phase of the game. In fact, so many of our favorite characters have already been cleverly translated into the game’s mechanics that it’s hard to imagine what else the developers can add to the mix for future releases – Jack O’Neill, Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, and Teal’C all represent the heart of the show’s cast within the cards, to name but a small selection of Stargate icons available for your card-flopping pleasure.
Good TCG game design offers multiple victory paths and Stargate provides you with three: victory by experience points, glyph acquisition, or villain scoring. You acquire the first two types by undertaking and successfully completing “Missions” with your chosen team of four characters. These characters are rated in each of the game’s primary skills: Culture, Ingenuity, Combat, and Science. Using support characters, gear, events, and a few other tricks, your team will try to surpass the skill score necessary to beat each mission. Success nets you experience points from each Mission card (consider it a measure of that mission’s difficulty) as well as a glyph, which you’re allowed to attach to one of your characters. These glyphs frequently pump up a character’s skills as well as adding to your victory totals, so they’re important to acquire.
We enjoyed the fact that Comic Images created two distinct playing phases that occur simultaneously during missions. The Hero is the player who’s attempting to complete each mission while the Villain player is simultaneously playing cards in a desperate attempt to derail the Hero’s plans. This is where the Villain Score victory condition (the third type) comes into play. At the end of any mission failed by the Hero player, the Villain is allowed to score the Adversary (a card type specifically used while playing as the Villain) he played during that mission. These Villain totals can win the game as easily as gaining experience points or glyphs.
How this translates into an online format is the big question but it’s ably answered by SOE’s game-client. The program’s slick interface offers everything an online TCG gamer could want and then some, including the ability to create and save decks, play a skirmish match versus the AI, a fully-featured collection utility (that enables online trading as well as setting flags for cards you need or can trade), an extremely helpful tutorial to get you playing as soon as possible, and casual as well as tournament play areas.
The key ingredient in this success story is the functional yet informative interface, particularly during match-play. Information is readily available to help you see what’s happening during the match and key decisions are always highlighted. The game-client doesn’t make choices for you but it does ensure that important rules are properly enforced and addressed by players.
Though the gameplay was virtually bug-free, we had our share of minor grumbles. Ranked games are only available through tournament play which costs event tickets (usually at $1 a pop per ticket) and if you end up with the worst record in your tourney, you’ll walk away with nothing to show for it, other than the experience. Most tournaments are Swiss format (pairing similar records against each other) and prizes come in the form of online booster packs or rare cards which aren’t terribly exciting once you’ve completed your set. And as is usually the case, if you can’t find anyone online to play, you’re out of luck unless you’re content to challenge the skirmish AI.
The Stargate Online TCG is primarily 1v1 with optional rules for 3-player matches though the tournament scene focuses only on head-to-head match-ups. Another niggling concern is that this game is online-only; you can’t even play the Skirmish AI without first logging into your SOE account. We were, however, pleased to see Sony’s “Through the Gate” promotion that allows players to cash in their virtual cards for a set of real cards (mailed out in 6-8 weeks).
Most TCGs have a short shelf life, at best, to capture a decent fan-base which in turn stimulates ongoing interest in the game. Stargate TCG Online, with its cool setting, enjoyable gameplay, and fully-featured interface make it extremely likely that it’ll capture a very nice-sized crowd of players and keep them entertained long after the last expansion set is released. What are you waiting for? Jump through the gate and see what’s on the other side!