CardCraft Game Review

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The Basics:

  • For ages 9 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 1 to 2 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Gather your party and explore a dungeon!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek mixed!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

One of my early childhood memories is running around the backyard with a stick and smacking the bejesus out of trees that I pretended were dragons. I was playing a knight or a great swordsman looking for an adventure. There might have been a princes involved, but I doubt that was a motivator. I was, after all, only about 8-years-old and girls were a nuisance. I am now older, wiser, and still love fantasy themed games and stories. My wife tells me that I am now the nuisance. In this game, we get to build an adventuring party and raid a dungeon. That’s it, but it’s enough to make this old adventurer smile.

CardCraft, designed by Jeff Torres and self-published through the Game Crafter, is comprised of 24 Party Member cards, 20 Item cards, 16 Equipment cards, 18 Monster cards, 2 Dungeon cards, and 1 Crystal Keeper card. The cards are durable and as thick as your standard playing card. The artwork on all the cards is a throwback to the days of 8-bit and 16-bit video game wonder. Each background, monster, item, and party member is detailed to look like it was captured from video games such as Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, or Secret of Mana.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first find and separate all the Item, Equipment, and Party Member cards to create the Shop. Give theses cards a shuffle and place the deck-face down in the middle of the playing area.

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Second, create each player’s starting hand of cards by giving them 8 “Adventurer” Party Members and 4 “Short Dagger” Equipment cards. These cards DO NOT Have the shop background. Instead, these depict an outdoor background. Players should shuffle their hand and place the deck of cards face-down in front of them. If playing solo, discard any unused “Adventurer” Party Member cards and “Short Dagger” Equipment cards.

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Third, shuffle the Monster cards together. Then place the Crystal Keeper face-down and deal 6 Monster cards face-down on top of it in a pile, placing 1 Dungeon card face-down on top as the last card. Deal another 6 Dungeon cards on top of this pile, followed by another Dungeon card. Place the remaining 6 Monster cards on top of the last played Dungeon card. This is the Dungeon deck for the game.

Fourth, draw the top 6 Shop cards and place them in a row, face-up, next to the Shop deck. These represent the initial items, equipment, and party members the players can purchase. Draw the top 3 Monster cards and place them in a row, face-up, next to the Dungeon deck. These represent the visible (or “known”) monsters that the players will have to encounter. Arrange the two decks and their rows however you like and works best for your playing space. The following image is the game designer’s suggested layout which worked very well.

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Fifth, each player draws the first six cards from their deck of cards to create their initial hand.

Game set up is now complete. Determine who will go first and begin.

The Art and Science of Adventuring

CardCraft is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. On a player’s turn, they will complete 2 phases out of a possible 3. These phases are summarized here.

Item Phase

If the player has any Item cards (the card will display “Item” and then the name of the item) they want to play, they may select one now and place it face-down. The item card is immediately resolved if possible or the effect is held until triggered during the next phase of the player’s turn. If the Item card is immediately resolved, it’s placed in a discard pile next to the player’s deck. If the Item card allows the player to play another Item card or draw more cards, they may do so now.

The player now visits the Shop (Shop Phase) or the Dungeon (Dungeon Phase). NOT BOTH. The player can, if they so choose, skip directly to the Cleanup Phase.

Shop Phase

The Shop cards that are face-up are available for the player to purchase. Each Shop card has a cost value that must be paid using the cards in the player’s hand. A player can only buy 1 card from the Shop unless they have used an Item card that states otherwise.

To pay for a card from the Shop, the player puts down any number of cards from their hand that have a combined gold total that matches the item in the shop’s value (or more). Some Monster cards allow the player to “exile” it to get more gold. The rules a bit unclear about what “exile” means, but after playing the game several times, we have decided it means “trashing” the card (removing it from play). Once a card is purchased from the Shop, it’s placed in the player’s discard pile and a new Shop card is drawn from the Shop deck to replace it.

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The player now goes to the Cleanup Phase.

Dungeon Phase

Any of the face-up Monster cards can be encountered by the player. Only 1 of the visible Monster cards can be attacked by the player on their turn. To begin the attack, the player places all their Party Member cards they have in their hand face-up in front of them. If the player has any Equipment cards, they can attach 1 Equipment card to each of their played Party Member cards. Each Party Member will contribute either Physical Damage (noted in blue) or Magical Damage (noted in red).

The Monster card being attacked lists a Physical Attack Resistance (in blue) and Magical Attack Resistance (in red). Monsters might also have additional rules that take effect if certain conditions exist during the Dungeon Phase.

To determine if the player has defeated the Monster card, the player adds the total Physical and Magical Attack values provided by their Party Members and attached Equipment. This number is then reduced by the Monster’s total Physical Attack and Magical Attack Resistance total along with any conditional effects. If the resulting value is HIGHER THAN OR EQUAL TO the Monster’s Health Points, the player has defeated the Monster. Defeated Monsters are claimed by the player and a new Monster card is drawn from the Dungeon Deck to replace it.

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The player now goes to the Cleanup Phase.

Cleanup Phase

  • If the player visited the Shop, the purchased cards, all cards played, and any remaining cards in the player’s hand are placed in their discard pile.
  • If the player visited the Dungeon, any defeated monsters, all cards played, and any remaining cards in the player’s hand are placed in their discard pile.
  • If the player skipped directly to the Cleanup Phase, all the cards in their hand are placed in their discard pile.

The player now draws an additional 6 cards from their draw deck. If the player exhausts their draw pile, their discard pile is shuffled and placed face-down to create a new draw deck.

This completes the player’s turn. If playing with 2-players, the next player goes starting with the Item phase. If playing solo, return to the Item phase to continue.

Dungeon Danger

As the game progresses, a Dungeon card will eventually be revealed. When this happens, the Dungeon card is placed below the Dungeon Deck face-up, signifying a new level. Another Dungeon card is immediately drawn and the new Monster card is placed face-up next to the Dungeon card starting a new row. No additional Monster cards are played to the row above it. All new Monster cards are played to the Dungeon card, signifying the next deepest level in the dungeon. The further you go down, however, the stronger the monsters become. The Dungeon card gives each new Monster card played a +2 Physical Attack Resistance, +2 Magical Attack Resistance, and +2 Health Point bonus.

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When the second Dungeon card is revealed, it’s placed below the first Dungeon card and a new Monster card is placed next to it. No additional Monster cards are played to the row above it. The Monster cards in this row use the bonuses provided by this Dungeon card PLUS the Dungeon card that came before it! This means that all monsters in the third (and deepest) level of the dungeon get a +4 Physical Attack Resistance, +4 Magical Attack Resistance, and +4 Health Point bonus.

When a player decides to visit the dungeon, they can decide to attack any visible Monster on any dungeon level.

Ending and Winning the Game

The game continues as described above until the Crystal Keeper (the last monster in dungeon) is defeated.

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All the players now combine their hand, their draw deck, and their discard deck together and look through their cards for crystal shard icons. Each crystal shard icon is worth 1 point except for the Crystal Keeper who is worth 3 points. The player with the most points wins the game. If playing solo, you win by default.

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To learn more about CardCraft, visit the game’s web page.

Prediction

Like most deck-building games, the real challenge is building a deck that works faster and more efficiently than your opponents. Luck can be minimized by logically constructing decks and counting cards. That can be difficult for even gaming elitists at times if the game has a lot of cards and a lot of options.

CardCraft isn’t heavy with options, which should allow for the game to be quickly learned and reduce the complexity of building a deck that performs well. I predict that the Child Geeks will enjoy the game, not only because it looks really cool, but also because the game isn’t that difficult to understand. Equip your guys, go into the dungeon, and fight monsters. Most, if not all, of our Child Geeks will understand the objective and how best to accomplish it. For the Parent Geeks, I think the less experienced and non-gamers will enjoy CardCraft, but I think the more experienced Parent Geeks who already play deck-building games will find CardCraft lacking depth and options. As for the Gamer Geeks, I know they won’t go for it. The game just doesn’t appear to have the level of depth necessary to hook a Gamer Geek and keep them interested.

The two most difficult aspects of the game to teach are the deck-building and the math. I suggest you give several examples of how a player can build a good deck by emphasizing that the players should have one or two goals in mind when they build their deck and focus only on those when adding cards. This will make most decks pretty simple to build and maintain. As for the math, that is just something you’ll need to work through. Note that CardCraft does require its players to be able to read, meaning younger Child Geeks won’t be able to play the game by themselves.

And so, after teaching CardCraft to my oldest Child Geek, I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“I really like how the cards are designed and I think I’m going to enjoy the game.” ~ Liam (age 9)

I hope so, too. I’ve been looking for a smaller deck-building game that can be set up, played, and put away in less than an hour. I have high hopes for CardCraft. Let’s play the game and see if my expectations can be met.

Final Word

The Child Geeks enjoyed the game and its easy play style. They have played other deck-building games before and have been left frustrated. Most deck-building games require the players to build a “machine” that gains momentum as the game progresses. The same can be said for CardCraft, but the machine being built is a simple one. This reduced the learning curve and the overall level of frustration, freeing the Child Geeks to build an adventuring party they wanted to create and equip them with the weapons they liked best. As one Child Geek put it, “I feel like I am playing a video game and that’s a lot of fun!” The game does have a Video Game themed look to it, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say CardCraft plays like a video game. When I suggested as much, all the Child Geeks stuck their tongues out at me and gave the game their full endorsement.

After all, what do parents know?

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Our first game of many – My little geek understood how to kick monster butt like a Mini Boss

The Parent Geeks enjoyed playing CardCraft with their Child Geeks, but found the game to be somewhat lacking. What they liked the most was how easy the game was to learn and to teach. In most cases, Parent Geeks and their Child Geeks were playing the game like pros after only 5 minutes of game explanation and a quick demo. What the Parent Geeks didn’t care for was the repetitive nature of the game. According to one Parent Geek, “The game starts out great, but you quickly realize you are only doing two things over and over again – buy stuff or kill stuff. I found that boring.” Another Parent Geek said, “I get what the game is about, but as a Parent Geek, I want to be allowed to explore different ways to win. All I can do here is buy and loot. I want a bit more out of my games.” Some of the non-gamer Parent Geeks thought CardCraft was a truly “unique game and enjoyable experience”, while the more experienced Parent Geeks found CardCraft to be lacking a great deal of what they enjoyed most from deck-building games. When the votes were counted, the Parent Geeks had mixed feelings about the game’s overall level of endorsement.

The Gamer Geeks really liked the game’s theme but didn’t care for the game itself. According to one Gamer Geek, “There is no reason for me to go into the dungeon and kill a monster that doesn’t give me points and why would I want to buy more crap for my deck?” Another Gamer Geek said, “I like how the points are being counted, but it’s painful that each monster is only worth 1 point each. I wish I could trash cards faster and easier.” And finally, another Gamer Geek said, “I don’t think this game is done. It needs a lot more cards and options.” When all the votes were counted, the Gamer Geeks rejected CardCraft.

Personally, I think this is early days for CardCraft. The game felt like a demo to me. There was enough to play the game, but I kept getting this nagging feeling that I was missing half of the game’s components. After playing the game 3 times I realized that I had seen the entire game. I knew exactly what to expect and how to win. That’s not much fun and left little incentive to return to it.

What this game needs is more options and more cards. This will allow an introduction to new tactics and new strategies. But, if the game were to go in this direction, I think it would have to be redesigned. It’s current structure and game play are strongly tethered to the game’s components. This makes for an easy to learn and to play game that sadly suffers depth. Since the game is being pitched as the “base set”, I look forward to seeing what new components will be introduced and how the overall game will change as a result.

I love what this game is about, love the artwork, and love the ease of play, but I wouldn’t recommend CardCraft to players who enjoy deck-building games. For players looking for a true deck-building fantasy themed game, Thundestone is still the way to go. I’ve heard some suggest that CardCraft is Thunderstone “lite”, but that is being generous. CardCraft doesn’t have enough depth to be called as such. I would say that CardCraft is an excellent introduction to deck-building games, but will leave most players wanting more if they are already familiar with the deck-building mechanic.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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