I got my butt kicked in Disney Lorcana, and it says a lot about the game that I wasn't deflated. Instead, I wanted round two.
That's just as well. Publisher Ravensburger is doing its best to muscle in on territory that's been dominated by household names like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon (which have earned their stripes as some of the best card games) for literal decades. Countless others have tried and failed to get a foothold, so Disney Lorcana needs to capture lightning in a bottle not to join them.
While the jury's still out on whether it'll be able to stand the test of time, the good news is that all the buzz positioning it as one of the most high-profile launches in 2023 doesn't seem misplaced (even if that hype-train has been dampened a little by legal headaches). I've been hands on with the three starter decks ahead of launch, and what I've seen so far makes me think that Disney Lorcana might be able to go the distance.
How far I'll go
If you've been following Disney Lorcana in any capacity, you'll know the basics - that it's a trading card game in the vein of Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon, only staffed by a variety of Disney characters instead. This guest list is a real who's who of the company's last 100 years (ranging from big-hitters like Simba and Moana to lesser-known entries such as Treasure Planet's villain), and 'alternate' versions of them that allow artists to stretch their creative legs are included too. All of the above possess abilities of their own, but they can be powered up with an array of item cards, powers, or, in true Disney fashion, songs.
So far, so TCG.
That's just the surface level, though. Dig deeper and you'll find a much faster game, and although you can blaze through sessions of MTG quickly enough, this seems particularly spritely.
Seeing as it's a Disney game, it's only natural that Lorcana makes use of songs. While there's a wide variety of them, Song cards usually provide a much-needed leg up (especially because they can often be used for free by certain characters). And due to the fact that Songs are attached to specific heroes or villains, it's implied that they're actually singing the musical number as well. That results in some wonderfully ridiculous mashups like Jafar crooning 'Part of Your World' from The Little Mermaid.
A lot of that comes down to the fact that you have slightly less to juggle in terms of effects and conditions, and despite there still being plenty of tactical depth (we'll get to that in a moment), this makes Lorcana a lot more accessible overall.
If you're new to trading card games or are put off by the avalanche of terminology you have to learn in rivals, it'll suit you well. Even I, a near-certified nincompoop, was able to get my head around it within a turn or two and was pulling off strategies that made me feel rather clever by the end of my first game.
However, Lorcana being approachable isn't a revelation - it was to be expected. What I didn't anticipate was how much it differentiates itself from the competition. Most emphasize aggression in one way or another, and tackling your opponent head on with powerful (or insidious) attacks is par for the course. Here, it's more of a defensive play.
That's because destroying rivals won't get you a high score. Instead, you'll use characters to 'Quest' and earn points (known as 'Lore'). Some net you more points at once than others, so taking these characters off the field is a spanner in the works rather than a path to victory. Combine that with abilities used to protect Questing cards, not to mention the fact that attacks confer permanent damage to the perpetrator as well, and you've got a delicate balancing act on your hands.
Another change is the lack of a classic power card, be it MTG's Land or Pokemon's Energy. Disney Lorcana cards are divided into different 'Ink' colors, sure, but there aren't distinct cards for Amethyst, Sapphire, and the rest. Instead, you have to sacrifice characters, actions, items, or songs to turn them into Ink and power your cards. While only some can be turned into Ink this way, and the color used is irrelevant, this creates an interesting dynamic where you've got to weigh up giving away cards or saving them for later.
Amber & Amethyst: This deck (with Moana and Mickey leading it) is a good starting point. It's not overly complicated, introduces you to the mechanics, and has lots of low-level cards to get you building points quickly.
Emerald & Ruby: This Cruella and Aladdin-led deck is perfect for those who like manipulating opponents. It's all about stopping foes in their tracks or forcing them to do something, and multiple cards actually steal points.
Sapphire & Steel: This deck, starring Sleeping Beauty and Simba, has cards that are more expensive to deploy but pack a punch. Low-cost cards deal damage to rivals while you build up enough resources to pay for characters, and some help you gain Ink faster.
That push and pull will weigh on your mind even more when you realize that leaving your opponent to their own devices is a sure-fire way to lose. This isn't a game where you can tackle things at a leisurely pace; in Lorcana, getting a headstart can leave everyone else well and truly in the dust.
Trust me, I speak from experience. I played against Disney Lorcana co-designer Ryan Miller, and he used my reluctance to sacrifice cards to build his lead. You see, he'd put together a deck which championed fragile but cheap characters that could be sent out with very little Ink. This soon gave him an army to send Questing. And even though it didn't feel like an issue at first (the cards only totted up one Lore each per turn), he quickly started earning three or four points a time and I realized that I'd made a mistake. A catastrophic one. Despite pulling off some cool combos, it was much too late; I wasn't able to wipe out his Questing cards and catch him up at the same time.
This is a good example of the robust deck-building system for Disney Lorcana. While many of us will likely opt for the premade Starter Decks, at least to begin with, those who'd prefer to use these as a starting point or construct something from booster packs can clearly whip up wild strategies with which to test their opponents.
As Miller told me during our match, this is also a way of tailoring a deck to your favorite heroes or villains. While you can only have four of a certain card and must build a deck of 60 cards in total, there's no limit on the number of alternate versions of a character you can have. Want a deck composed mostly of Stitch? That's theoretically possible.
In essence, there's a lot left to explore here - I don't feel like I've hit a wall limiting what I can do just yet. That bodes well for one of the most anticipated games of 2023, and while I'll reserve judgment for my full review (coming soon), Disney Lorcana is living up to the hype so far.