Developer: Comic Images/SOE
Release Date: April 18, 2007
I can still recall, through a hazy fog of shame, the time I spent nestled in the sickly bosom of collectible-trading card gaming. Although not as hopelessly addicted as some, I did manage to fall prey to the wiles of that industry enough to finish a complete set of Jyhad (renamed as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) and all but three cards of the Magic: The Gathering expansion known as The Dark. Capricious youth? Perhaps. Much like my dalliance with live-action role playing, it is something I acknowledge only in order to empower myself — confronting past errors in order to learn and grow past them, and all that other self-help-book drek. While I look back on those days with a certain bemused shame, I can still understand quite clearly the allure of a collectible game. With that in mind, we move on to the actual point of today's entry: a fusion of real-world CCG and online digital card-gaming, based on the second longest-running TV science fiction show in history. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Stargate Online Trading Card Game.
SOTCG isn't just based on "Stargate: SG1," it's just starting out that way. I'm getting ahead of myself, though, so let's cover the basics first. SOTCG is going to be a simultaneous release of digital online game and physical hard-copy trading card game. The idea is that you have as much freedom to collect and play as you desire, but also to provide you with a near-limitless number of opponents to play against day or night. Further blurring the lines between which game is which, there are plans in the works to allow you to redeem completed digital sets of cards for real-world "meatspace" sets. (Collecting by proxy?) I wasn't aware of how large the Stargate fan base is, but after some research, there are apparently hundreds of thousands of you. This raises my respect level for Stargate fans — you're quite populous, but you're nowhere near as pushy as Star Trek/Star Wars fans. It's almost like Stargate is the "Canada" of science fiction: polite and passive-aggressive rather than brash and tactless.
The first run of cards is based entirely on the heroes, villains, and mythology concepts of Stargate: SG1, and the basic idea is for you to assemble a team of four characters who are sent on a series of missions. Each individual mission requires one of four strengths to win: Culture, Science, Combat or Ingenuity. Differing team heroes have varying ratings in these areas, so you'll want a good spread of abilities across the board in order to succeed. Meanwhile, the opposing player functions as the villain, attempting to foil your team's success. Play is resolved in turns, with each player assuming the role of adversary while the other is on a mission. In this way, each game doesn't feel quite so "black versus white," as each person alternates as the good guy and the bad guy. My impression of the overall rules structure is that it's easier to understand and pick up than say, Netrunner was, but much less intuitive than Magic: The Gathering. The built-in tutorial is nicely comprehensive, although a calming voiceover would go a long way.
Victory is achieved in one of three ways. The first is the most straightforward: succeed in missions and collect the glyphs rewarded with each task. The first person to seven glyphs wins. Simple enough in theory, right? The second method is through experience. Each glyph is worth a varying amount of experience, and each different game has an experience rating; if you reach that rating before your opponent, you win. As you can see, the glyphs and experience ratings are closely linked, but it is possible to gain more experience than glyphs and win that way. The third path to victory is through scoring Adversaries. This is much more complex to explain, so I won't go into much detail here. The basic gist of it is, when you're through with an adversary character (such as Anubis), you can Score them. Each villain card has a numeric rating in the upper left hand of the card, indicating the number of points you get if it's Scored. If you manage to reach the villain Score rating of the game (listed in the sidebar along with the Glyph and Experience ratings) before your opponent, you win.
SOTCG isn't a graphically potent game, but then again, this genre isn't exactly known for its ground-breaking visuals. The user interface is clean and detailed, and all of the cards use photographs from the show. The end result will appeal to fans, as each card is essentially a snapshot of a fond memory. The quotes are a nice touch too, further tying the card to a particular episode.
If you're keen on trading card gaming and also happen to be a fan of the Stargate universe, then this title will probably be like a chalice of warm liquid gold. Aside from the previously mentioned benefit of more opponents and opportunities to connect with other like-minded people, there's also the card viewer for easy browsing of your collection, the deck manager that makes assembling a selection of cards a snap, and the online trade manager that will help you complete your collection. I may have gotten out of the TCG market years ago, but I sure wish I had the option of a graphical interface like this for organizing my stuff back in the day. It certainly would have spared my wife the frustration of a living room floor covered in cards.