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Blue Dragon - Complete Game Review
Angelo M. D Argenio

Overall Rating = 7.9

Time has shown that [Konami] knows how to make a good role-playing game, so making a card game that is based on role-playing mechanics seems to be right up their alley.

Blue Dragon is another one of those massive franchises that is slowly taking over the geek world, so it's no surprise that it would eventually find its way into collectible gaming as well. The Blue Dragon Role Playing Card Game is spearheaded by Konami, the same people who helped to create the Blue Dragon Xbox 360 Roleplaying Game. Though the title is actually a bit of a misnomer, the Blue Dragon Role Playing Card Game forges a fun little game system out of this Akira Toriyama spawned anime. It's a bit high variance, but forget that… its fun, and that is what games are supposed to be regardless of how complicated their system might be. As of now I only have demo decks and proxies to base this review on, but I have played this game at so many gaming and anime conventions as well as at other generic geeky events you could swear its already been out for months. Think about it, the game has already made a name for itself, and it's barely even out yet. That should tell you something about the game's overall fun factor.

Blue Dragon is a very well put together game that uses aspects of console RPGs to great effect. It seamlessly includes EXP, Levels, and many other console RPG functions into an easily executed card based system. This, primarily, is the part of the game that interests so many gamers. The rules systems in the game parallel most systems you would see in a console RPG, and although the flavor does not perfectly parallel the game or the anime, the feeling of raising a character and strengthening it through experience definitely makes Blue Dragon feel like it is the Xbox game converted into card form, which is exactly the type of feel the design team was going for.

However, before I start singing this game's praises, and trust me I will, let me get one thing straight. Role-Playing is just what it sounds like. It is playing a role, i.e. playing pretend. It was created in old pencil and paper games and was later adapted into a console form which allowed players to follow characters on a linear story. Role-Playing does NOT mean something with levels and stats. The Blue Dragon card game, is not a role-playing card game despite what its name would have you believe. There is in fact no Role-Playing in it. A few gamers at the various conventions Blue Dragon has debuted at have made this mistake out of confusion before, and the sad truth is, if you are looking for something with actual social Role-Playing aspects, you probably should look elsewhere.

However, if you are looking for a game that breaks from the norm of trading card game resource mechanics, then you are in luck. This is how Blue Dragon first mirrors console RPGs, the EXP pool. Blue Dragon's discard pile is actually split up into two separate card pools. When a card is used in any way, unless otherwise stated it goes into the EXP pool. There it gives the player an amount of EXP that is printed on the discarded card.

EXP is used for all sorts of things in Blue Dragon. Some cards require a certain amount of EXP to be in the pool before they are played. Others require you to pay a certain amount of EXP from the pool by sending it to the second discard pile (in many aspects, the “real” discard pile) the “trash”. Of course, certain effects on cards are triggered by paying EXP, certain one shot cards (in this game called skills and commands) manipulate EXP, and there are more beyond that. Some cards even offer you a varying amount of EXP, with other powerful cards not offering you any EXP at all (basically doing nothing but taking up space in the EXP pool).

The EXP mechanic makes Blue Dragon a very aggressive game. Essentially, the quicker you go through your cards, the more powerful cards you will eventually be able to play. However, one thing to keep in mind is that card draw does not accelerate with your EXP. You still only draw one card a turn, so you have to manage your ratio of EXP to cards in hand. You can in fact simply send cards to the EXP pool by discarding them at your main phase, in this case called the Command phase, so you can reach a high EXP level quickly, the question then is will you have any cards left to use those EXP on. This makes card drawing cards much more valuable in Blue Dragon than in other trading card games.

Of course any console RPG fan can tell you the primary reason for EXP is to level up, and in Blue Dragon this rule still holds true. Blue Dragon has avatar cards called shadows which essentially have your base stats, one ability, and an attribute (which affects other cards you play). Unlike other games that start you off with your avatar in play and never have it change, Blue Dragon starts you off with a lvl 1 shadow in play, and has you level it up by gaining EXP and drawing higher leveled shadows. You play a higher leveled shadow by first discarding your original shadow and putting the higher leveled shadow in its place. The requirement for playing a higher level shadow is to gain a certain amount of EXP in the EXP pool. You can also switch your shadow's attribute by spending EXP from the EXP pool.

The rest of the game is pretty self explanatory. Skills and commands are one shot effects that take place either any time or only on your turn, and partners are your basic character/creature/peon card that does the fighting for you (although your shadow avatar can fight as well). Battle is pretty self explanatory as well. You can only attack with one partner or shadow at a time. This partner/shadow compares its attack score with the total defense score of everything on your opponent's field. The player with the higher number wins, and deals the different to the loser's life points. Players can sacrifice their partners to reduce damage dealt by 1 for each partner sacrificed, and you will find yourself doing this quite often, as it not only reduces damage, but it gets rid of obsolete partners and transforms them into EXP. Defense is abundant, but attack is more important, and if you find yourself with a partner that just can't seem to breach your opponent's defensive wall, it is probably a good idea to send him to the pool to save you one LP.

Players both start with 20 life points, and the player who reaches 0 first loses. There is also the good old “lose when your draw deck is depleted” clause in Blue Dragon as well, which makes balance between card draw and EXP that much more important. Although a cool side effect of this is that Blue Dragon is one of the only games where it may be correct to include more than the 40 card minimum deck size, if only to have more draw and EXP buffer.

Cards in Blue Dragon are split up by category and type (for command or skill cards) and attribute and family (for partner and shadow cards, although shadow cards only have an attribute). The game uses these as the base for its card interaction, and each designation operates in a slightly different way with a slightly different strategy. There is only one flavor of resource though and that is EXP and EXP works just as well for any attribute. So other than for card interaction purposes, these designations are mostly a handy tool to tell you what cards have synergy together. Since the game at its lowest level is actually pretty simple, this isn't a bad idea, as it serves as a deck building guide for the game's younger fans.

Games of Blue Dragon tend to be quick, with the beginning of the game tending toward stalemates and the end of the game tending toward massive climactic swings, and the slowly ramping feel of the game is satisfying. There are definitely limited game play options right now, but as I said I have only seen so many cards, and as new expansions are created this will certainly be fixed through expanding card choice. In a sense, the one resource system the game uses actually does free the player up for some deck experimentation, and as newer cards come out gamers will see the deck building system really open up.

The largest complaint I have heard thus far about Blue Dragon is in the amount of variance the game relies on with only one expansion. Without enough card draw, players end up top decking a lot as they burn through their deck for EXP. Once again this is mostly a symptom of a lack of available cards, but still it is worth noting. It is hard to get a bad hand in Blue Dragon since everything can be used for EXP, however I have encountered some extremely crippling draws that never seemed to get better, even when both players were in top decking mode.

I can't comment much on Blue Dragon community or tournament support because the game is still far too young to provide a good measure of quality, however I can comment on rules support, which so far has been quite thorough. Maybe it was because I was a journalist waiting to review their game, but the staff over at Konami at all the events they showed up at were extremely helpful and answered all my questions, and they were even hard at work recording the most frequently asked questions of the day. Unfortunately the official Blue Dragon TCG page is still hidden in the vast internet data-stream, so there hasn't been much in the way of official support, just yet. However, if the official Japanese page is any indication, support for this game will flow out of Konami like a river.

Overall, I have to say that the future looks bright for Blue Dragon. Konami, being officially a videogame company, is still new to getting its feet wet in collectible gaming, but they generally tend to succeed if their projects in the past are any indication. Time has shown that they know how to make a good role-playing game though, so making a card game that is based on role-playing mechanics seems to be right up their alley. Blue Dragon doesn't strike me as the type of TCG that you will see pros coming out in the tens of thousands to play at a national event, but it does strike me as fun, and that is what is important. It's easy, low impact, simple to build, and makes a good game to play on the side. If you are a fan of the Blue Dragon series you might as well check out the card game, if only for the art. If you aren't, you might as well go check out a demonstration at your local gaming store. It's the kind of game everyone can play once or twice just so they can experience the system.

Presentation Rating = 7.2

The presentation unfortunately is where Blue Dragon falls shortest. The art is nice, but it looks almost like it is torn out of the players guide or official art book for the game. I would have liked to see some more original artwork honestly.

Gameplay Rating = 8.2

Blue Dragon plays a lot like other games in the market but with a slightly more flexible and innovative system. There are a couple variance quirks, but overall the immense amount of card interactivity makes up for it. Also the role playing aspects are a lot of fun.

Support Rating = 7.7

Since the game is young is hard to rate it in terms of support, however I'm sure for a casual game, Konami will support it quite thoroughly.

Innovation Rating = 8.5

A friend of mine once said “if you add RPG elements to anything it gets better” and this is no exception.

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