Digimon are back, and they’re ready to rumble in a new trading card game
On the release date of this issue of the magazine into the shops, Digimon returns to the UK. Agumon and friends are back and in the form of a trading card game that uses some smart systems, cool monsters and a whole host of Digimon flavour. We spoke to Kohei Goto (the main designer of the Digimon Card Game in Japan, previously known for Battle Spirits) and Tatsuro Kawashima (the main designer of the English version of the game, as well as the Dragon Ball Super Card Game) from Bandai about the new card game, and where it goes from here.
WATCH: DIGIMON CARD GAME PACK OPENING
In the wilds of the earth’s communication networks, a universe of Digimon live and thrives. These creatures, with the help of their human counterparts can digivolve into wildly powerful creatures, to do battle and occasionally fight evil. These creatures are intelligent and capable of human speech, and as such have their own mythos, will and intention in the Digimon universe. In this new trading card game, players will duel using their Digimon, digivolving them into mega and ultimate forms to secure victory. The paths to doing this are many and varied, but Goto and Kawashima introduce the basic goal of the game, “players digivolve and raise mighty Digimon to attack their opponent’s security stack. The winner is the player who delivers the knockout blow when the opponent’s security area is reduced to zero.”
Many readers’ first introduction to Digimon will be through the virtual pet toy. Much like the infamous Tamagochi, but with the benefit of being able to make your Digimon battle one another by pushing together two of the small, keyring sized devices together. Others may know the universe from the Digimon World videogames from the late 90s-00s games for various incarnations on Nintendo and Sony Playstation consoles. And while there have been various Digimon games released in recent memory, what makes this the moment to release a Digimon Card Game?
“Digimon has always had a passionate and dedicated fanbase, but the timing never felt right,” says Goto and Kawashima, “this year, the new Digimon anime has released in Japan to a massive fan reception. The Digimon video games have also contributed to Digimon being back in the public consciousness, so we figured this was the perfect time to release a trading card game.”
The reaction has been positive around the world. There has been a strong community growing in forums, on social media and on Youtube – many specifically for translating the Japanese cards into English. The amount of work that is being put in by a growing western community can’t be overstated. So when Bandai announced that yes, the game was finally coming to the UK in 2021, the response was huge.
The core system behind the Digimon Card Game is Chrono Clash. It’s an innovative and swingy system, designed to ensure a match is neither a cakewalk for one player with the right ‘mana curve’ nor have a player running out of steam because they’ve not drawn the right cards at the right time.
“The core Chrono Clash cost system hasn’t changed. The memory gauge is an important part of The Digimon Card Game, as it allows players to carefully strategize, plotting the best time to launch their biggest threats. Fans of the cost system that made Chrono Clash unique will definitely enjoy that aspect of The Digimon Card Game as well,” say the designers.
And they’re right. The memory gauge is a numbered track leading from a zero in the centre, to a ten at either end – as seen across the top of this page. When players play a card for the memory cost listed, they move the token toward zero, and potentially into the other players’ side of the memory gauge.
Play a seven cost card? Move the memory seven points towards your opponent. If it passes the zero, the turn swaps to the other player. This means there’s never really a limit on what size of card you can play in your turn, only how much memory you want to give the tamer across the table from you.
“One of the most unique parts of the Chrono Clash system is that players are never drawing dead hands,” explain Goto and Kawashima “due to the way the cost system works, it is always possible to play what is in your hand, which gives the player a tremendous amount of agency.”
The designers have kept this core system straightforward, but added important Digimon features to make the game feel right for fans. “While the base system from Chrono Clash is the same, everything else that surrounds it is different, and very much designed around making fans feel like they are part of the Digimon universe,” they say, “we’ve added elements to this that revolve around the themes of evolution and growth, reflecting the themes of the series. The end result is a game system that gives players considerable depth around deck building and game play decisions.”
A big part of Digimon is raising these creatures and digivoling them into more powerful forms. This is where the Digi-eggs come in. These are the cutest (and sometimes fluffiest) part of a Digimon’s existence. Trainers can create a Digi-egg deck, which is played into the breeding area, separate from their main deck. This raising area is where you can spend your memory to safely digivolve your Digimon. While in this area the Digimon cannot be attacked by the opponent, but equally the powerful effects of evolution are not available.
“Since you spend a lot of time digivolving your Digimon from Digi-eggs to their In-Training, Rookie, Champion, Ultimate, and Mega forms, the game system does a great job of making players feel like they’re raising their favourite Digimon,” the designers say. And because of the free-flowing nature of digivolution – you can transform most Digimon of any matching colour into one of many higher level ones – having this safe breeding area is a key part of building credible threats to your opponent.
“One of the major ways of strategically approaching playing is how you build your decks. The Digi-egg deck gives additional options to players to consider, and can help players use multi-coloured decks.”
This additional bit of deck building adds a certain depths to the choices you’ll be making away from the gaming table. It’s an often-repeated idea that games of this nature are at their best when they ‘live in your head’ when you’re not playing them. The Digimon Card Game offers us this kind of ‘daydream deckbuilding’ through this optional deck. That’s right, you don’t need to go armed with a Digi-egg deck at all, and you can always play out your Digimon from hand for their full cost.
Digivolution on the field offers more benefits in exchange for the risk of course. Tamers only pay the lower cost to add a colour-matched and legal card to the Digimon in play. The second card gets added on top of the first, with the enhanced effect of the previous card still showing below, and active. While you can’t attack with a Digimon that has been played this turn, you can attack with one played a previous turn and recently digivolved, making for explosive plays chaining a digivolution into a powerful attack.
On top of that, every time you level up a Digimon, you get to draw a card, making evolution part of your deck’s engine too. Not only are simple ‘build it bigger’ plays available, but a more subtle ‘controlled draw’ kind of deck – especially if it includes blocker Digimon – could be viable.
Combat comes in the form of tapping or ‘suspending’ a card. Players then can choose to attack a suspended Digimon (one that attacked last turn for example) or the player themselves.
“Attacking the opponent directly will cause a security check to occur. The top card of your opponent’s security stack is flipped,” explain Goto and Kawashima “if you flip over a Digimon, you fight it. Special security effects can also be triggered by this check. You perform security checks until your opponent has zero cards in their security stack. If you land another attack on your opponent after that, you win the game.”
The security stack, which is randomly drawn from your deck at the start of the game, works as a player’s health. Once all cards in the stack are removed, a single attack will knock the player out. But because each card in the security stack has a chance of swinging the board back in your favour – either through its security effect, or destroying the attacking Digimon – there’s always a risk when someone swings in for the win.
“We believe the random element generated by the security stack lends battles a sense of drama and excitement,” the designers say.
BIGGER IS BETTER
Naturally, things have been difficult in developing the meta for the game with the current Coronavirus outbreak continuing. Mass gatherings like the kind of events that Bandai would usually run alongside a game’s launch have not yet become common again in Japan. Some deck archetypes have emerged however, say the designers, “as far as archetypes go, we’ve seen players in Japan explore ‘big’ Digimon decks, decks revolving around Digimon played from the security stack, and multi-colour decks.”
“However, the most exciting to us is the ‘big’ Digimon deck style where players create really powerful Digimon after several digivolutions,” the pair continue. There’s a natural draw here – get the biggest Digimon in play and you’ll feel like a winner even if you get knocked out. It’s certainly what we’ll be doing in our first games.
“We’ve seen a player be extremely close to losing with a big difference in the size of their Security Stack in comparison to their opponent’s,” say Goto and Kawashima of their favourite swing moments during play “and then a powerful Option Card like Gaia Force is in their Security Stack. Suddenly, the game has turned and what seemed like a sure victory is far less certain. Everybody gets really excited to see the situation get turned around.”
It’s these moments that the game is made for. It’s a high intensity game of chaining out combinations of cards to secure the board, or swing for your opponent’s face. But with it of course, comes the threat that you’re giving your opponent more to play with when the turn switches.
The pair discuss how they’re supporting the competitive scene, “we plan on launching large online events globally and store events will be supported in all regions where it is safe and legal to host events. For stores that are closed due to the pandemic, they will also be able to access promotional materials to support their communities. We’d love it if players can participate in whatever events are available to them.”
We asked whether there will be a different kind of meta developing for the western release. After all, the sets that are being released all at once here were revealed more slowly in Japan. Starting from a full array of tools is likely to remove some of the ‘staples’ that develop
“We believe the English meta will develop a little differently to Japan due to the changed release schedule, and obviously as large-scale events ramp up, that will become more apparent.”
When asked the important question of what the pair’s favourite Digimon is, the chorus is simply “Omnimon,” before continuing, “One of the more exciting cards is Omnimon from the first set. It has a simple design, but its effects are extremely powerful.”
The tutorial app is available in English right now. This app lets players learn the game and uses cut-down versions of starter decks. It’s not a full digital experience, but more of a little taste of how the game plays. Still, this isn’t the best way to get into it, “starter decks are the best way to get your hands on the game and experience it firsthand,” says Goto and Kawashima.
The whole team has put a lot of effort into the upcoming organised play for the game, when it’s allowed to happen.
“We’ve made lots of efforts for organized play for both the Dragon Ball Super Card Game and will be doing so for the Digimon TCG as well. And of course, we plan on doing so in the future.”
“As for what’s next for the Digimon, we’d like to create products with original characters, or perhaps even a board game. Something different from what everyone else is doing. Bandai’s got plenty in the pipeline at the moment, but we hope you’re looking forward to upcoming releases. We can’t wait for players to start playing Digimon from November on.”
For now then, it’s time to get pre-ordering our decks for the next stage in our TCG evolution.
This feature originally appeared in Issue 49 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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