Is Millennium Blades Too Clever For Its Own Good?

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Millennium Blades, a new tabletop game just released by Level 99 Games, has a lot going for it and a theme most hardcore gaming geeks will love. Players take on the roles of competitive card game players vying in a tournament structure. The game they’re playing? A collectible card game called Millennium Blades. So it’s a game about competitive card gaming. Millennium Blades has frenetic real-time deck-building, an absurd cache of high-quality components, and marries resource management with interactive tournament play. The effect is a fun sprawling machine of a game where many of its strengths are also its weaknesses. Is Millennium Blades the game for your group? Let’s find out.

Every aspect of the competitive CCG world can be found in Millennium Blades. You make decks, chase rare cards, build collections, try to profit on the secondary market, react to changing metas, trade cards with your opponents, and eventually sit down in a multiplayer tournament to let your customized deck loose. The game is divided into two halves. First, players start with asymmetrical starter decks and a pile of money. When I say a pile of money, I mean the money comes in bails, fat stacks of bound bills which are my new favorite game components as of this year.

During the deck-building phase, players pay money to add cards to their pool. They can buy face-down cards or buy face-up cards that other players are selling in the market. Players can also build collections of cards to turn in for points, and cash-in large quantities of cards for other face-down promo cards. Players all take their turns concurrently, in real time, and so there is an enjoyable panic of trying to get a deck together while making your economy work. As you’re building your decks, different meta-cards are flipped surging the value of some types of playing cards.

The second half of the game is a multiplayer tournament. Players build a small deck from the ever-growing mess of cards they have collected in the deck-building phase. They then, in turn, place one card at a time in a tableau on their player mats. Cards played will score points or have an interactive effect. After players each play 6 cards, the score is tallied. A session goes through some iterations of deck-building then tournament play with the total accumulated points at the end determining the winner.

The Pros

Millennium Blades really nails every aspect of the CCG tournament world. The deck building, collection development, and mastering of the secondary market all feel like authentic representations. The way the theme is borne out by the game mechanics totally works, and is clearly not tacked on arbitrarily.

Of the two halves, the resource management part is the most fun. The concurrent player turns means there is no waiting around, and if you feel like working under a clock would be too stressful to be fun, you are provided with enough time to make your decisions–you just can dawdle interminably. The resource management of changing cash into cards into points is a good puzzle. There is a bunch of luck and unknown information floating in the game, so if you are used to perfect-information Euro-games to get your resource management fix, this would be a very exotic flavor for you.

The amount of variety of the cards is just nuts. The games publisher, Level 99 Games, is known for stuffing their boxes full, and Millennium Blades lives up to this legacy. The picture to the right is just some of the cards you would use as the communal stack during the game. For scale we used Rex from Super Dungeon Explorer. So yeah, you will see different cards each game which will add to its re-playability.

The Cons

There’s a lot to like in the Millennium Blades, though many of the game’s strengths are also in some ways weaknesses as well. To begin with, the meta-game theme of the game is AWESOME… if you are a gaming geek. If you are not, the theme can run from meaningless to being a definite turn off. Playing a game about being a competitive collectible card gamer is just not something that will quicken the pulse if you are not already into that sort of thing.

There is also a ton of front-loaded public information on the table during deck construction. In a way, the theme helps a bit with this information overload. Unless this game has been foisted on you by a pushy friend who didn’t see your eye-rolls when she was describing the game to you, then you probably are no spring chicken to gaming if you find yourself playing Millennium Blades. As such, you certainly have the necessary skills to figure out how to triage the information and not feel overwhelmed. As someone into the theme, I felt the information was totally manageable. But if you try to pull out Millennium Blades as a gateway game, you are asking for trouble.

The biggest shortcoming of the game is the tournament play. Millennium Blades has to have some simple parts, it can’t all be turned up to 11 all the time, or it would definitely be overwhelming. To preserve all the great elements in the deck-building phase means that the tournaments have to run pretty simply. The play runs like a simplified version of Libertalia, but without the iterative deduction that really ties that game together. Because the Millennium Blades’s tempo culminates with success in the tournament, the simple gameplay at the end is hard not to notice. One popular aesthetic in game-design is “simple but deep,” and the ways in which Millennium Blades portions out its complexity, the game feels more “complex yet shallow.” I admit that this is the natural outcome of preserving what’s great about the deck-building with not making the game too complex, but that’s the experience that shakes out. No one said the universe was fair.

So What?

So is Millennium Blades the right game for your group? As its jam packed with hundreds of cards, the game costs $65-$80. That’s a lot, especially if you consider this is a game you won’t be able to pull out with every group. If you are a hardcore gamer that’s pretty free with your spending and you want to play this unique meta-game theme, then Millennium Blades is the game for you. If any of  those characteristics don’t describe you, you would probably be better served looking elsewhere. Hopefully, you can get your gaming buddy to buy it for your group, and with any luck he will have the considerable setup all done by the time you come over. If I could buy just the bundled stacks of money, I definitely would, and then insist their use them in every other game, even if they don’t use currency..

Have you played Millennium Blades? What did you think? What are some other great games that just came out that everyone should know about? Tell us in the comments.

Featured Image Credit: Level 99 Games

Image Credits: Ben Drain

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