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Card Critic #8 - ARC System Games

14. 09. 13
posted by: Super User
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Click Below to Watch the Video Review

Games That Could have been Good But Were Not…At All!

This is a new feature that I would like to call Games that could have been good but were not…at all! This feature will cover games that came out and were promptly forgotten as soon as they entered the market. We will discuss why they did not succeed and the circumstances that lead to their creation. This feature is not limited to just card games, however. I am the card critic, so it will at least have cards in it wouldn’t it?

As I talk about this game, if you follow any of my games including the Universal Card Game (UCG), you are going to see some similarities. This game has inspired much of my work and I felt it to be fitting it should be on the first episode of my Games that could have been good but were not…at all.

Let us go on a nostalgic journey lurk into the world of 1998 where trading card games are the new thing. In a market where they are being created as fast as used car commercials, many of which did not need to exist. One of these is The ARC System by Wizards of the Coast. Before I get started, allow me to state that this review is not about ARC System Works, the company that created Guilty Gear and Blazblue.

What is the ARC System?

“So you just bought your first starter deck…” Yeah, your first starter deck of a horrible game. The ARC System is a trading card game system developed by Wizards of the Coast in the late 1990’s to help new players get into trading card games. These games were very similar to their Magic the Gathering trading card game which is still to this day massively successful and started the trading card game genre. The ARC System is the first member of this new feature because Wizards of the Coast practically disowned the system as a whole. I could only find entries on BoardGameGeek that even spoke about the gaming system, and there was ONE document that mentioned the game system on the DCI web site for tournaments.

The Rule Sheet from Wizard's DCI Archive

Why was this game left completely off Wizards of the Coast’s website? Was it really that bad? Let’s get into the details, the ARC system had four sets of cards made. These lets were named Jim Lee’s C-23, Xena, The Warrior Princess, Hecules, The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Battle Cry. Each of these sets were based on a popular TV show or other product of its time period. The sets were sold in booster packs each containing about 12 cards each and also in six starter decks. The starter decks were 40 cards and followed a “theme” of play that is commonly found in many card games. You have the swarm deck, slide deck, and control deck variants. These decks were great for giving the players a skeleton of what they would need to make a deck in the card game. However, as with many starter decks they lack the copies of key cards that would make the deck much stronger.

The ARC System had three colors that it used for divide the individual cards in each set, similar to Magic the Gathering. This forces the players to choose a faction with their particular theme/play style they desire or risk splitting their deck and playing two of the factions at once. This was one of the main issues I had with ALL the starter decks with this game, as they are all made of at least two different factions. This makes it mega difficult to play anything that costs more than about five which we will discuss soon enough in the next section.

The red faction (not the video game series) is based on direct damage to other cards in play. The green faction focuses on making characters stronger and/or weaker. The blue faction and in my opinion the best faction focuses on both control and resource generation.

How do you play The ARC System?

The ARC System is basically the poor man’s version of Magic the Gathering. Instead of having the standard five colors that “Magic the Gathering” uses for balancing, there are instead three colors. Players typically start with forty cards in their decks, however the rule book states that you can agree on a deck size and play with that amount instead. This is a large difference from Magic the Gathering as the deck size in that game in minimum seven with no limit on the deck size after that.

One major contrast with the ARC System compared to “Magic the Gathering” is how the cards deal damage to players. In “Magic the Gathering” players have a starting twenty life points that players use creature cards and spells to reduce this amount to zero for victory. In the ARC System characters and actions cards are used to reduce a player’s deck down to less than zero. This concept is similar to Starcat’s own Universal Card Game (UCG). Character cards, unlike their “Magic the Gathering” counterparts, only have one stat merely named Power. “Magic the Gathering” cards have both an attack stat called Power and a defensive stat called Toughness. These two stats are combined on the character card and equals to the total amount of damage a card at both deal or receive.

In “Magic the Gathering”, there are cards called spells and have various speeds associated with them. The Sorcery card is a spell card that can only be played on your turn on each of the two granted main phases in the turn. Instant cards, in contrast to Sorcery cards, can be played at any time during either player’s turn unless otherwise stated in the rules text of the card. This concept is much simpler in The ARC System games as the cards have only two speeds; Action and Combat. The two phases during each of these cards can be played is similar to the names of the cards. The action cards can only be played during its controller’s main phase while the combat cards can only be played during combat phases.

The ARC System, in contrast to “Magic the Gathering” and even “Yu-Gi-Oh!”, has only one main phase in which players can play resources and play cards from their hand. Many games, such as the two stated, have two main phases which allows players to re-assess their actions based on the outcome of the combat phase they have just experienced. Removing the second main phase form The ARC System forced players to play their cards from their hands sooner and especially before attacking. This made the proper use and timing of the combat cards all the more important as they are the ONLY cards in the game that allow you drastically change the game with little to no warning.

The cards are played with Resource cards that are in three colors Red, Blue, and Green. This is very similar to the elements in the Pokémon trading card game where the appropriate colors would need to be used on the appropriate cards. More appropriately, the colors are a cut down version of the land cards in “Magic the Gathering”. These cards can be played once a turn and can be turned to the side or tapped to generate the resource of its color to play a card of its color. Any players akin to tap based trading cards game will have no issue quickly learning and adapting to The ARC System’s play style.

Two special rules that can be taken into consideration are the Unique Rule and the designs of the cards. The Unique Rule is the older version of “Magic the Gathering’s “Legend Rule” where certain cards can only have one copy of themselves in play at one time. This limits players that would play powerful Meta cards to the first player that would control the card be the only one that could have it in play. This rule states ”If another copy of the Legend were to come into play it would destroy both the copies of the card.”

Lastly there is the design of the cards. Each set in the ARC system was different. This made deck building rather interesting as you would definitely need to own a copy of deck protectors to avoid having marked cards in your deck, similar to Tournament cards in “Pokemon”. I find it to be amazing stupid to change the back of a card in-between sets, especially if they are part of the same game system. This was definitely the most boneheaded move made by the developers of the ARC system.

The C-23 Set

This is quite possibly the last set created for the game, manufactured in 1998. Like the rest of The ARC System’s cards, C-23 was destined for failure.

Let’s talk about something; the first two sets were created off of popular TV shows during the late 90’s. It is hard to find anyone that did not enjoy the Xena and Hercules shows during the time. I remember seeing re-runs of the show long after its demise on the Sci-Fi or SyFy or whatever the heck it is called now. Regardless, let’s talk about the one blaring thing about this set, WHAT THE HECK IS C-23?

Well the COMIC it is based on is called Jim Lee’s C-23. Jim Lee was an awesome comic artist with his own studio, Wildstorm Productions. C-23 was one of the comics published under this name, and similar to the C-23 card set, the comic made zero sense and has fallen under the ravages of time. Why Wizards of the Coast would pick something completely random to base a card game on completely blows my mind. The first two sets make perfect sense and were incarnations of popular intellectual property at the time. C-23 however is just as random as it sounds and the set and the comic flopped, as you might have guessed, in a short amount of time. From what I can gather it involves a dude name Corbin who leads what are called Hypershocks. The Hypershocks are the super soldiers of a colony and they fight against alien dudes and resistance fighters. That is all I know without doing a large amount of research.

The Corbin Promo card from C-23 Issue #3

This set slightly smaller than its Xena and Hercules counterparts with only 163 cards. The rules insert is actually more of a storyboard of the game rather than a rules insert. However, there are two things added to the rules that were not included in the Hercules and Xena sets. Once of these was a keyword called Mobility that was basically the ability flying from “Magic the Gathering”. If you are not familiar with this mechanic it works exactly as it sounds, creatures with flying cannot be blocked by without flying. This ability is massively powerful and appears to be only a part of the Green faction within the game.

Image Reference: http://www.comicartfans.com

The C-23 cards are actually the best looking of all the ARC System game cards. There are no overall bad design decisions on the cards, such as low resolution textures (which are super common on the first two sets). I enjoy the C-23 cards the most because they feel the most like a card game with actual artwork and not cheap screenshots from TV shows. I always hate cards that have a picture of some random extra standing there blank stared and calling it “Imperial Iron Forces.” No game, this is someone’s blown up face staring at the camera as someone is talking to them. They do not have mobility except to make me quickly hate games such as these that use low quality artwork.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

This set has to be the second set created for the ARC System trading card game. There is an advertisement that actually shows “Hercules joins Xena!” The Hercules set has the cheapest looking cards out of the three sets. The back of the card and the deck boxes has this really badly rendered fire texture and it just looks silly. Hercules is, by far, the HARDEST to acquire of the three games. I found ONE and I mean exactly ONE auction on eBay that has some of the decks with some unopened booster packs! Be sure to check out the video review to see what we get from these packs. Just as a spoiler we did get an Ares, from one which is one of the big bad guys. This set similar to Xena: Warrior Princess contains 180 cards divided amongst its three factions.

So who is familiar is Kevin Sorbo? Well if don’t know who he is, he is the Hercules from the show created in the late 90’s called Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Captain Dylan Hunt in Andromeda. The show ran for six seasons and absolutely has a cult following. How else can you explain the fact that one of the booster boxes when I found it ran for almost 175 dollars?! The show is loosely based on the stores of Hercules from Greek Mythology and is filmed is the beautiful land of New Zealand. Even though the show is filmed in the great land of New Zealand, the show contains mainly American actors and their accents are in stark contrast to the environment they are trying to portray. I do not mind this aspect at all, except they are trying to tell a story and too much “authenticity” just makes thing confusing and hard to understand.

Although I gave this set the Card Critic Seal of Approval with it’s quality, there are still a few things that confuse me about the set. Why would they go through so much work to make the back of the card for the Xena and C-23 sets look rather decent where Hercules is just a solid black background? Also, why are all the Resource pictures so bad? Some of the resources in this set have Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) looking rather derpy in the scene and we are to believe this is a resource for our armies? Also, it has these cool hand symbols to show that the cards can come back to your hand at the beginning of your turn if they are in your discard pile. Yet, these hands are not seen anywhere on the other sets of cards.

Just one other little thing I noticed as well on the card Possessed Virgins, one of the faces is blurred out? Why is that? Just a random thing I noticed, I guess it was because it was a minor and some draconian law makes it where you cannot show their face without parental consent.

The Xena: Warrior Princess Set

Xena: The Warrior Princess is the first set made for Tthe ARC System trading card game. It contains 180 cards divided amongst its three factions and is based off the spin-off show from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This show similar to the Hercules show ran for six seasons and was filmed in New Zealand. This show starred the very talented actress/singer Lucy Lawless as Xena the Warrior Princess. This show stars an Amazon princess that was set to actually die in the Hercules show after her third appearance. However, the character was wildly popular so the decision was made to keep the character and give it a series of its own. This show is also wildly popular and has a massive cult following. I can find all sorts of trading cards and tat for this show. I saw an auction for several magazines, trading cards, and a full set of the Xena cards on eBay! Although it was tempting, I fought the urge and got the double sided promo card instead.

This set of cards must have done much better than the other ARC System sets as Xena got an expansion set! The set was called Xena: Battle Cry and it only had a measly 75 cards at its disposal. My only guess is that they ran out of bad out-of-focus screenshots from the show to use for the cards. I know it is hard to believe with all the crap that was generated by this game that somehow there was enough popularity to spawn a second set for one of the intellectual properties. I could not really get my hands on any of these as I wanted to show you the game as a whole, however these cards are extremely pricy. My only assumption is that it was created shortly before the game failed and the cards were very short printed. Perhaps in the future the Card Critic we could get ahold of some of these Battle Cry cards for your viewing pleasure.

But whoa is this set the first and quite possibly the worst set to appear in the game. So many of the cards are just out-of-focus and not centered making the game look really cheap. Luckily, this game is not nearly as hard to get cards for as the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. One other aspect I hate about the Xena set is that there is the cards have some weird orange outline on several of the text boxes on the cards. Looks like someone from quality control was not doing a very great job when working on these things. There are so many design flaws I can talk about with this game and this will be discussed in great detail in the next section of this review. I overall just do not like this set, but I have nothing against Xena: The Warrior Princess as a franchise. I find the two female leads to be very interesting and attractive characters. They just slapped this set of cards together in my opinion and the quality and design shows it off greatly.

Why it Failed…

Do I really need to go into the details about why this sorry excuse for a game even exists? Let’s take one of the most popular games ever made that is still being made to this day that sells millions each year. Take what many players have grown to love and understand, then dumb it down and then deadlock it with intellectual property that is so aged that some players do not know what it is anymore. That is one of the biggest issues with the game, why were all of the sets advertised as separate games? They say briefly that they are compatible with other ARC System games, but the sets are sold as independent games. Heck, the cards in each of the sets are repeated over and over. I saw in each and every game the same actions cards made over again. Some are similar to the own set they are in and similar cards are either blatantly better than others just because they have a higher “rarity.” Cards in a game that are from the SAME game should have the same card backing! This will allow players to mix the cards up from each set and then make even better decks! You know, sort of like how expansion sets are supposed to work?

As I mentioned briefly before, this game is a dumbed down version of “Magic the Gathering”. This game has colors/factions within the cards that make no sense with some of the abilities they have on their cards. So in one set of the game a red card will cost one and then destroy a character with cost three or less. Where as in another set of the game, that very same card will be made as a green card. The abilities have no need to be made into three colors. Starcat ourselves, with our fan made game Losers Versus Preps, had no colored resources within it. Also, since there would be no color in the game there would be no need for so many bad artwork common cards that do not do anything except be two to play ones. I think among the three sets of cards I have I could make a whole deck with all of the two to play ones I have from all the decks.

In addition to the cards all looking different in the game, why does the layout of the cards have to be different as well? This goes along with what I was talking about earlier where the games were advertised and sold as individual games instead of as expansions for an overall game. The cards when placed next to one another barely look like they belong from the game and this tends to alienate players from the other sets that could very easily allow them to empower their decks. If they wanted to make a game that was for younger and newer gamers, Wizards should have hired some comic artist and DREW Hercules, Xena, and C-23 to look all the same! This would have given a look and feel for the game, sort of how “Magic the Gathering” has going for it? How often to people confuse a “Pokémon”, “Yu-Gi-Oh!”, or “Magic the Gathering” card for one another? They don’t because they all look like they belong in the same game. They have similar art styles that do not clash with one another and a simple card layout that is uniform for all the sets.

The game is overall not a bad experience to play, if you just focus on what the cards do and not imaging the fact that a Hypershock trooper is fighting an amazing princess. The game plays quickly and fluidly. The cards tend to not do enough most of the time, unless you play some of the rarer cards in the game which make me think this game may have a bit of a power creep.

The game was completely removed from Wizards of the Coast’s archive and was only sold for about a year. Somehow this spawns four sets of cards and the short printing of many of these cards makes them worth more than some of the more crap games available in the card game market. There was so much potential, but it was all thrown away with rushed production and lack of card variety.

Did it Deserve Better?

I am going to have to give this one a yes. I, for one as a designer, jumped on this game as the basis for a lot of the work I create. When you remove much of the extra stuff that comes in a complex card game such as “Magic the Gathering” you are left with just pure skill and card playing ability. The ARC System took away much of what made people intimidated by the standard card game and throw in a more friendly tone and familiar characters. However, this was all squandered by just bad marketing and lack of variety in the cards. Card games need to be adaptive and differentiate themselves from their competition. The ARC System had little to offer and was created during a time period when card games were a flooded market. It is unfortunate to see the game the way it is.

However its demise will always lead the way for greater and better things. Some of these better things included “Pokémon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” Both of which were more kid friendly and are excellent introductions to the card game market. One must wonder, were all The ARC System games terminated prematurely due to “Pokémon”, a game which was made by Wizard of the Coast as well? Hmm.

Conclusion

In conclusion the ARC System is a fragment of history that stains the carpet of trading card games. It was almost destined to fail with the low budget artwork and clashing designs. The game had little continuity besides the fact that all the sets had Red, Green, and Blue cards which barely had separation in faction. The game needed a uniform look so players would identify them all as the same game. Making each set act and behave like its own game only made the game parasitic toward itself. The cards needed uniform artwork, card backings, and card layouts.

It upsets me, because Wizards of the Coast had the money for this stuff and they obviously knew what they were doing when they were making “Pokemon”. Why throw something original that would help feed players into their baby “Magic the Gathering” over something they do not fully own? It really is just a shame that the games could not have received the love they needed to flourish in the card game market.

Overall: 4/10