Do you love Final Fantasy-style JRPGs (Japanese Roleplaying Games)? Who doesn’t! Would you like to play a JRPG as a card game, moving your party from region to region, encountering enemies and events along the way in the search of getting stronger to defeat a final evil?
Anima: The Card Game is a trilogy of stand-alone anime, dark fantasy, adventure expandable card game sets within the same universe as the Anima: Beyond Fantasy roleplaying game. There are currently 3 available sets: Shadow of Omega (core set), Beyond Good and Evil, and Twilight of the Gods. Each set brings new adventures, characters, and enemies to this fantasy world.
Anima: The Card Game is designed to be played with 2-5 players with each player attempting to build a party of adventurers that will take on Omega and other forces of darkness. We’ll cover all three games in this review, as the mechanics remain the same throughout with some minor changes and additions in the stand-alone expansions. The gameplay is simple and has a lot of similarities to Talisman, but without the board.
Is Anima: The Card Game worthy of your time? Read on to find out…
Anima: Shadow of Omega is the main name given to all three games in the series, but they are also all individually titled. This helps separate the core set from the expansions. The gameplay is the same with each expansion after the core set, and the sets can be combined to enable wider options in the course of gameplay that will create a multitude of different adventures. I like the fact that the sets can be mixed, as this always increases the enjoyment and allows the players to set the complexity level of the game.
There are no game boards, but there is some basic setup of draw decks, assigning your starting character, and missions. The draw decks consist of Area, Encounter, Character, and Advantage cards. Each player is dealt two character cards and must choose one as their starting character with the remainder being discarded. You’ll grow the rest of your party organically through the course of the game itself.
All players are also dealt two basic mission cards that remain hidden until they are attempted by the player. Advantage cards are dealt at 4 per player with them then choosing to keep 3 and discard 1. That’s it for the basic setup, and you are now ready to begin your adventures.
Characters make up your entire party and are acquired through further gameplay. If you successfully explore an area, you can pick one of its rewards as a prize. Some areas have the Recruit keyword as a reward, and as such, you can pick one card from the Character deck to add to your party. The only restriction is that you cannot have more than 4 Characters in your party. It’s hard work trying to keep people happy all the time – best to limit the numbers!
Play is almost simultaneous in that all players go through the phases together. The turn order as to who performs their actions first is determined by the Speed value of their entire party – if tied, a die roll will determine the starting player for that round. There are no penalties to starting the game first, as all players can perform their actions in the same turn. I’m a huge fan for not imposing penalties on players for going first, as finding the right balance is almost impossible and the starting player usually starts at a huge disadvantage.
The phases are easy to follow and have seamless transitions that actually make sense. The thing it does lack is a sense of urgency or danger as players can choose what to do in each turn. You’ll often opt for the path with the least resistance despite the rewards being fewer. However, you will need to take risks later in the game by either taking on harder areas, engaging in some PvP action, or attempting the game’s final mission. Playing it safe is not an option at the end of the game – so you will need to be prepared. Once a player completes their first basic mission, the final mission can be revealed and this will add a sense of urgency to the whole game. Players who haven’t finished a basic mission by the end of this timer will be eliminated from the game. Ouch!
Each turn you can move the party to a new or current area. Every new area comes with one preliminary encounter that is drawn from the encounter deck, which can either be a monster or an event card. Areas have levels and if the level of the encounter is higher than the level of the Area, it is discarded and you can get your reward for free. This means in a Level 1 area you will never have to face a level 2 or 3 encounter. This safeguards the players in the early stages of the game from losing their only character (as characters can die if they lose by more than a 5 point difference in Combat) and thus being eliminated from the game too soon.
All combat within Anima is decided with a modifier of dice rolls. You first combine the total Combat Ability of your party against the enemy’s (or opposing Party, if you’re attacking another player!). Add in any modifiers from rewards, Advantage cards, and other sources to this base value. A die is then rolled which is added to make a final total. The enemy/opponent also rolls a die and adds it to their total — highest wins the combat. Again, if you lose by more than 5, one of your characters must die. If it is your only character, then you are out of the game. I’m not usually a fan of player elimination in any game, as I feel it’s an outdated design concept — however, here it adds to the sense of danger and urgency in the world, and I feel it’s not only justified but enhances the overall gameplay.
If you find yourself at the same area, then you can interact with other players’ Parties. This can involve friendly trades (swapping of Advantage cards) or engaging in a PvP battle, if you’re feeling nasty! A PvP battle follows the same rules as an encounter, with the winner gaining Advantage cards from the loser.
The final phase is Exploration, and this is where you can engage in more encounters and earn rewards. Successful exploration of an area lets you choose from any of the area’s Rewards (while losing means expulsion from the area, with no reward). Your mission cards often refer to areas needed to complete them. Some areas have special effects that can be triggered instead. The area rewards are your main source of game interactions and card acquisition, and as such they are the primary focus for most of the game. I love the unique identities and flavors that each of the areas have. Exploring areas is my favorite thing about this game, for sure.
Anima: The Card Game is won by a player who completes the final mission before others can. You cannot attempt the final mission until you have at least completed one of your basic missions. I found it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared for the final mission, as they are significantly harder than the basic missions.
The cards are amazing quality and are made from linen – one of the finest card stocks available. These have a superb feel to them and the sizing of sleeves required is printed on the back of all game boxes. Each set comes with two six-sided dice and a ten-sided die to act as a countdown timer for the final missions. Colored counters are also included to make moving a party between areas easier than having to move 4+ cards at a time. There are some minor content configuration changes in the expansions, but I’ll go through these in detail in a moment.
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
Anima: The Card Game allows for all three sets to be combined with only one rule: the Area deck must have the corresponding mission cards. Everything else is up to you. You can mix the Advantage, Character, and Encounter decks as you please. Want to face a majority of tough monsters from the encounter deck? Do it! Want to have a mystical theme running through the characters by using only wizards, sorcerers, summoners, and mentalists? Why not! There are no limits on what else can be combined in order to completely change your Anima experience. The more sets you own, the more customization options you will have.
You should be warned that the game can be extremely unfair at times. There is a lot of luck involved because of the use of dice to determine combat. You might be well equipped and have 4 party members, but you can still fail that die roll and lose to one of the tougher creatures you’ll find in the encounter deck. The game is not scaled to allow you to build up your party or Advantage cards early and thus make the late game easy – it is fairly hard throughout, but this makes the replay value much higher, I feel.
As for strategic advice, I can only suggest that you do your best to ensure the survival of your characters. Losing a character can be a big hit in your Party’s stats, especially Combat. Use your Advantage cards if you may lose an encounter by more than 5. Keep a supply of counter cards that can stop your fellow players from making your life harder. In essence you need to be as prepared as any serious adventurer!
Beyond Good and Evil — This was the first expansion after the core set and it introduces two new card types. In addition to the regular character cards, it also has Arcane Characters. These are more powerful characters that have much better effects and with higher Combat, Ability and Speed values than those of the regular characters. The second new card type is Factions, included in the Advantage cards. These provide you with continuous benefits and work in a similar way to the Organisations that are found in the core set (guilds you can join one at a time to gain benefits, but also rivalries with other players!). This allows you to belong to both an Organisation and a Faction, if you combine the sets.
The artwork in this expansion seems a little hit-or-miss, and is definitely not up to the same standard that is seen in the first game. There is less detailing on a majority of the cards, whilst some are more elaborate and pleasing to look at. This game is much harder than the base set, and as such I would suggest you play through the core set a few times before attempting this game on its own.
Twilight of the Gods — The core set and the previous expansion can be played with this one up to 5 players, whilst this expansion alone has a maximum of 4 players. There are more Arcane Characters and some amazing artwork for the creatures in the Encounter deck. You can even face off against Chaos itself. There is a new card type to be found within the Advantage deck in the form of Artifacts. These, just like Guilds and Factions, provide you with permanent effects that will be of benefit throughout the game.
No matter which one you buy, you can play them as a stand-alone game if you wish. Combining them with any of the other products available is going to give you a much more rewarding experience, though. I do suggest picking up the core set first as it is far easier than the two expansions. I feel that if you begin with one of the expansions you may be discouraged by how hard they are.
Anima: The Card Game is one of the few anime-inspired, standalone card games in the tabletop genre. Designers usually opt for a more western approach in artwork and game mechanics, whereas the Asian game developers are very much obsessed with the traditional TCG/CCG distribution model right now.
I can see why Anima might not appeal to a number of seasoned card game players, but I found these games to have their own type of charm. I laughed hard all the way through the first game with my friends due to the ridiculous things that kept happening while playing. It was just downright fun, rather than heavy and serious as these kinds of card games can often be.
These games aren’t going to win any design awards for innovation, as their mechanics are very similar to more popular roleplaying card and board games. However, what it does give you is an enjoyable experience that will leave you wanting to play again right after you finish. Games can be over fairly quickly, or allowed to run into an hour or two if you’re not being too competitive with each other and trying to beat everyone else to the final mission. It all depends on the level of difficulty you want to put into the game if you decide to combine products, and the kind of pacing your group wants to take with the game.
Anima: The Card Game could be a go-to title for a warm-up game on a games night with friends, or as a perfect travel companion. The small box sizes make them incredibly portable, and they can even be put into a larger coat pocket should you want an impromptu game when you go visit friends.
I love these three games. I know a lot of people think there’s too much randomness, but I love embracing the chaos and excitement that comes with not knowing what that next Encounter card is going to be. No other card game before has ever actually given me that Final Fantasy feeling — this one hits the spot nicely without being too long or too short to play. If you’re at all curious, dive in and give it a go!
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