I have an interesting history with trading card games. I have significant collections of Pokemon, Neopets, Zatch Bell, Sonic X, and One Piece. Back in Pennsylvania, I was a Pokemon league owner and professor (yes, that’s an actual thing you can be), and I went to at least two pre-release events for Neopets back when that was culturally relevant (awesome card art). Zatch Bell is the thematically coolest TCG ever (you put your deck into a book of sleeves. You literally construct a spell book of cards!). Sonic X I got because I’m a massive Sonic fan, it was really cheap, and I thought it would be an incredibly dumb thing to own. One Piece, pretty much the same reason. It still lists Roronoa as “Zolo.” Bless you, 4kids. Bless your twisted, half-hearted souls.
When Enterplay’s MLP TCG rolled up on the scene, I quickly accepted my inevitable fate. And here we are, two preconstructed decks, starter kit, and booster box later. I’ve only played a few practice rounds of the game against myself, but the experience has made me want to play more. So much like my Pokemon PhD, the lack of opportunity may drive me to make an opportunity. I’ve already contacted Enterplay about becoming an OP organizer locally.
I can’t yet rate the game on a scale of good or bad; I just don’t have enough play experience. But what I can say without hesitation is that the concepts that it’s built on are interesting. You must compete against your rival to prove yourself the most effective social worker, summoning enough horses to throw at an ever changing array of problems. Thematically, it’s pretty impressive. I was baffled how you could turn a decidedly non-combative property into the traditionally confrontational medium of TCGs, but they pulled it off elegantly.
I see several things that set it apart from my (admittedly limited) experience with other TCGs. First, you have two decks: one of the stuff you use, and one of the stuff you react to; you choose your own missions and then provide your own tools to solve them. At first glance, especially in the beginning of the game, you feel like you’re off in your own little corner doing your own little thing, but then you quickly realize that the room is small and you can’t help but bump elbows with your opponent over each precious problem point.
Second, there is a resource system that allows for a surprising amount of choice on your turns. There’s no feeling I savor in a game more than agonizing over a decision. You start with a paltry two action tokens per turn, perhaps enough to move a single character or summon someone weak, but as the game continues, the winning player sets the pace and defines how many actions both players get. This means the trailing player still gains more options if the leading player hits the next threshold.
Third, it has an awesome randomization system. I prefer games that require you to weigh risk rather than simply calculate cold, hard numbers. Pokemon has coin flips. Neopets had dice rolls. In My Little Pony, your randomizer is your own deck. Every face-off you participate in requires you to flip and add the top card of your deck to your total power, then sacrifice it to the bottom of your deck. Deck building demands an additional layer of probability consideration to balance short-term and long-term goals. Everything feels purposeful but not predetermined.
Finally, for a TCG, the parts of the game are just plain cool. Problem cards are printed sideways, giving each player differing objectives on each half. Score is kept with two cards you stack to form a slider. (Protip: stack both in a single card sleeve to secure them and give scoring a more tactile satisfaction.) Main characters are double-sided, and flip to go super saiyan if you complete their little challenge. And to top it all off, Enterplay continues to do what they do best: make awesome flavor text, even when they are building off practically nothing.
All that said, I’m a little more forgiving than I could be with this being the introductory set. Consider this a wishlist for their future endeavors: The game needs more availability, more variety, and clearer directions. Right now, you can only get main characters in preconstructed decks, thus demanding that if you want a Kindness-centric deck, you’re probably going to have to invest in the elusive starter pack. We’re looking at a lot of fodder in the mix too; un-iconic background characters that exist for a fraction of a second, never to return, with anyone you care about marked as rare. It fills out a roster, but I feel like they could be hitting our heartstrings with a bit more fervor, even without draining the cast. Heck, this is a situation where people would be thrilled for different character forms! Power Pony Fluttershy? Cloned Pinkies? Winged Rarity? Alicorn Amulet Trixie? Nervous Breakdown Twilight? Yes, yes, and expletive yes!
Card effects and card art could stand to go a bit crazier. I’d like to see more cards with abilities that require exhausting them in order to achieve some benefit or otherwise have some solid push and pull between cost and reward. Similarly, I acknowledge that they probably don’t have the resources to make a ton of in-house art, but as it stands, there are more venues they could be pulling character art from. The most immediate thing that comes to mind is the comics. The licensing might still be outside their price range, but if sales are as good as availability implies, it’s an option to keep open. At the very least, it’s art that Hasbro has already approved.
And, of course, there needs to be better instructions. The game is bloody complex; you can do a lot of things. Sometimes too many things. Modifiers stack on modifiers, boosts apply to some phases but not others, and calculations get messy. Combine this with a poorly organized instruction book, and you’ve got a game that doesn’t exactly live down to its 10+ age suggestion. Looking back on my first game, I see several things I did completely wrong because a single sentence was tucked away in a non-intuitive section.
As I said, I’m still not sure what to ultimately make of the game, nor is there enough of the game out to predict its direction. But whether I’ll like it or not in the future, I at least like it now, and I like it more each time I’ve played it. It is, much like its source material, trying something different and fresh in the field of TCGs. It’s interesting in ways I hadn’t realized the medium could be, and I look forward to giving it a more thorough shake.