PAX Unplugged 2018: Battle It Out Transformers Style With A New Trading Card Game from Wizards of the Coast
I grew up with Wizards of the Coast (WotC). My formative years were spent hanging out at my local game store. I loved Pokemon and sometimes dipped into the world of Magic the Gathering. WotC was a staple, and the world of trading card games wouldn’t be the same without them.
Fast-forward to 2018 and I found myself seated across from Drew Nolosco, brand director at WotC. Spread out on the table before us? WotC’s latest trading card game based on the popular Transformers series I’m sure most of us grew up on.
The game centers on beautiful, large-scale cards of our favorite Transformers. Players build decks to support their bots. The point of the game is to obliterate your opponent’s robot defenses.
At PAX Unplugged, Drew pulled out four booster packs and tossed two my way. We played a shorthand version of the game, each with two bots and two sets of seven battle deck cards to defend and buff them.
For the full version, each player would build a deck with 25 stars worth of bots (as shown at the bottom of the card). You can’t have the same character on your team twice, which keeps things interesting.
Game play goes by pretty quickly. Drew explained that when designing the game, WotC took as much complexity out of it as they could. Earlier iterations were far more complicated than the final product we got to play. Each turn consists of:
- One action
- One upgrade
- Flip/convert your character
Each character card has two sides, as any good transformer would. You can have them as their vehicle, or have them in their robot shape. The different sides have different stats, but anything you play on them during your turn carries over no matter what side they’re on when played.
What was really unique about this game for me were the attack action mechanics. I’m used to the usual tit-for-tat, beast versus beast types of trading card games where whatever you’re attacking with is all that matters. With Transformers, you turn to your deck for help during an attack.
Every battle card has a colored symbol on it that determines whether it acts as a defense card, or an attack card. If you’re being attacked, you flip the top two cards on your deck over publicly. You’re hoping to get cards with blue symbols to help bolster your bot’s defenses.
If you’re attacking, then you are looking for orange symbols. Those get added to your bot’s attack. The difference between the attacking bot’s attack and the defending bot’s defense equals the damage dealt. Damage stays on a bot
Rounds continue onward until someone’s characters are completely knocked out.
Impressions of the Game
Over-all I enjoyed the gameplay. It has been a while since I’ve been in the trading card game world, but Transformers seemed approachable enough for someone as out of touch as myself. If I were to commit to Transformers, I’d probably pick up a starter set that has decks and cards for two people to get them started.
Drew shared with me their latest product, too: The Metroplex Deck. It is unique because of the size of the main character’s card. Metroplex is a bot that can turn into a city, and his card is a hefty eight inches tall.
Unlike other games, where strong cards like Metroplex are going to be shuffled into the deck and left to chance, Transformers builds gameplay around known entities. This means they can do ridiculously fun aesthetic things like make Metroplex bigger than his compatriots, just as he would be in the series.
Wizards of the Coast
Perhaps what impressed me most about this game demo was the chance to hear more about WotC’s goals. After we finished our round of Transformers, Drew humored me by answering some questions about the bigger picture for WotC.
With Transformers, WotC is targeting three types of gamers. (1) Transformers fans who may or may not have played trading card games before, (2) tabletop gamers, and (3) the parents, and kids of parents, who grew up with Transformers.
The third point was the reason the game designers shifted the game from a more complex design, to the simpler mechanics demonstrated at PAX Unplugged. They wanted to make the game accessible to kiddos and parents, to bring them both to the table and have a “Transformers game experience without it feeling false.”
With that in mind, I asked about Drew’s perspective on the current rise of tabletop games. He gave a great answer
“You and I sit down at a table. Humans are involved to be so hyperaware of other people’s expressions, body language, and tone of voice…there’s something about our brain that excels at that. We live in a digital world, and I think that people crave pleasant social interaction. That’s one part.
The other part is, we are problem solvers. That’s what games are, right? They are contrived problems with systems that help you solve those problems.
Before I was a brand manager I was a game designer. It is all about what kind of problem would you as a player like to solve? Are you a resource manager type person? Are you a dexterity player? Do you want to be playing Jenga or something like that?
What’s the problem that solving will satisfying that gamer edge? That’s our approach to games.“
He went on to make the point that the game table is a “third space” of life that stands on its own. It isn’t home, it isn’t work, but a wonderful social place somewhere in between. It creates space to be with other people. And at the end of the day, it leaves room to have fun.