Card games can be a lot of fun, especially when the theming is good and they're not completely focused on bleeding as much money out of their fan base as possible. Living card games have been a stunningly good idea on that front. They manage to provide the same fun and enjoyment of a collectible card game, with deck-building and a meta-game, but without the level of each player's deck being dependant on how much money they're willing to sink into the game. With a living card game, everyone has roughly the same pool of cards to draw from, meaning deck-building is all about skill. Now the worlds of living card games and Naruto are joining together to bring us Naruto Boruto Card Game, the living card game with the worst possible title imaginable.
Jokes about the title aside Naruto Boruto Card Game brings some interesting ideas to the table. It has giant cards used as standard, there are numerous different ways of winning a game, and, most interestingly, there is very little actual text on the cards. Once you've got the hang of the rules the only text on each card is the name of the character. In place of text explaining what each card does they come with a series of symbols. Once you know what each symbol means you don't have to read at all, and can tell what each card does with a cursory glance over these symbols.
Apart from speeding up gameplay, this is a stunningly good idea which will almost certainly make the game much easier for anyone who suffers from dyslexia or just has a low level of reading comprehension. While it also does speed up learning what new cards will do, it does have it's drawbacks. With this system of symbols, it's impossible for a card to have a unique effect, so all the cards are just slightly different variations on the same mechanics over and over again. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. It's still possible to get some interesting results from playing cards in the right way, just don't expect to be surprised too much by card interactions once you've mastered the game.
Another interesting system introduced by Naruto Boruto Card Game is the Chrono Clash System. Basically the resource used for playing cards on your turn is time. When you spend time points the marker which denotes how much you have swings back to the other player's side. Effectively what this means is that playing a high-cost card will give the other player more time to spend on their own cards. As soon as you play a card which causes your marker to swing past 0 onto the other player's side of the time meter your turn is over, so you cannot perform any more actions.
The Chrono Clash System adds an element of risk and reward to the game. If you play a high-cost card on your turn, not only is your turn immediately over, but the opposing player could potentially play some medium-cost cards and still have the chance to attack or perform other actions. You end up having to weigh up your options between playing powerful cards which gives your opponent more time to act or saving your powerful cards for when you have the most time on your side. Of course, you could also just wait until your opponent plays a powerful card giving you more time to work with. Either way, the pendulum effect of the Chrono Clash System is an interesting new take on resource management in a card game.
Battling in Naruto Boruto Card Game is more standard than a lot of the other mechanics. There are two types of standard-sized cards: Action cards, which perform one-time actions and are then discarded, and Battler cards. The battler cards each have a strength value and as long as it's higher than the card they're attacking then they win the fight. It's really that simple. There are several different forms of combat, however. When attacking the Guardian Stack you don't know the value of your opponent's card, so if you're unlucky you might lose your battler. You can also attack other cards on the field, but only when they're tapped out.
Your main way of winning a game is to attack your opponents Guardian Stack. Basically, at the beginning of a game, each player deals 5 cards face down in front of them, which then becomes their Guardian Stack. Each time you attack this stack the cards on it are destroyed, and once they're all gone a single normal attack will finish your opponent off. Some cards also have guardian abilities which produce different effects if a card is attacked while in the guardian stack. Again the guardian stack is an interesting take on the standard concept of 'life points' or a health counter, but it too comes with its own special problems.
Because you don't get to actually choose your guardian stack, it is entirely possible that you'll end up with a bunch of duds there, making it really easy for your opponent to take you down. While it is possible that your cards are strong enough to destroy your opponents attacking cards, your stack card is destroyed no matter what, so you really have to rely on good guardian abilities to save your hide. What doesn't help is that numerous cards have the ability to attack 2 or 3 cards on the Guardian Stack at a time! Effectively games of Naruto Boruto Card Game can be ended rather abruptly by a card suddenly wiping out most of the stack in a single bound.
There are also some oversized cards used during play. These 'ex' cards are special cards with powerful abilities that can really tip the scales in your favor. A lot of these ex cards have the ability to attack multiple cards at once and can attack as soon as they're summoned, unlike other battlers. Not all of them work this way, but enough of them that it feels like a majority. To summon these cards doesn't even cost any time either, instead, it requires that you destroy cards on your side of the field which add up to their cost. Effectively this means that as long as you have enough cards on field you can summon a powerful card which can attack immediately and usually attacks more than one stack card at a time. As you can probably tell, these ex cards are often the key to winning a game.
In general, there is a slight feeling of needing tweaking behind Naruto Boruto Card Game. The game is a lot of fun in its current state but just feels a little bit...wonky. It feels odd that certain battlers can attack so many cards on the Guardian Stack at once, and that you're allowed to attack as many times a turn as you want, assuming you have cards untapped on the field. While the standard 'summoning sickness' rule helps to mitigate this a little, it just feels like one or the other should be changed. If the cards are going to be able to attack multiple things on the stack at once, maybe only one attack per turn might be a good idea. Or remove the ability to attack more than one card at once.
There is also one final mechanic to mention: questing. Questing is the alternate method of winning a game instead of destroying your opponent. Basically questing means tapping out one of your battlers and putting a card from your hand on top of it. This card acts as a Guardian Protecting your questing ninja and can be attacked like any other guardian card, resolving it's guardian effects. At the beginning of your turn if you have a card on top of any of your questing ninjas then you can discard it to the 'quest' pile. Once you have five of these cards on your quest pile you win the game.
The questing mechanic is interesting enough, but in practical terms is a very difficult victory to actually attain. Since Guardian Stack cards are destroyed regardless of whether they're stronger or not, actually gaining any questing points is pretty difficult. What questing does provide is the perfect way to distract your opponent. While you work at attacking their main stack, you can keep so weak ninja's questing, meaning that either your opponent wastes some of their battlers attacking your questing ninja, or you slowly but surely gain questing points and win. While it's unlikely to happen, it is a good way of figuring out something to do with your crappier cards, and let's face it it's super humiliating for the other person if you do get a questing victory.
A note on "Chrome": The components in Naruto Boruto Card Game are well-produced enough and use good card stock, even if the way the cards are packaged in the box makes them hard to get out. The only real issues with some of the components are that they contain superfluous symbols, such as a 'when destroyed' trigger on a guardian ability which is completely redundant. Also, the starter sets are good for 2 players using out-of-the-box decks, but they're crap for deckbuilding for 2 people. One of you will be left with a crappy deck made of dud cards while the other has a powerhouse. You'll need to buy both sets if you want a decent pool to create two decks of your own from.The Bottom Line:
Naruto Boruto Card Game is a great, face-paced, living card game which brings some interesting new factors to the table. While there is a certain rushed feeling to proceedings due to the way combat works, and the starter set leaves much to be desired for two people playing together, it is a must-have game for any fans of the show. With so many of the different characters covered and such a rapid-pace to the gameplay there's a lot to like about the game, and with the promise of new sets just over the horizon now is the perfect time to get into the game and start building a deck themed around your favorite characters.
Get this game if:
You're a fan of the Naruto or Boruto anime series'
You want a card game which actually tries some new things.
You want a fast-paced card game.
You want a card game which features as little reading as possible.
Avoid this game if:
You like being able to respond to your opponents moves at all.
You don't like Naruto or Boruto at all.
You're looking for a slower, more thoughtful experience.
The copy of Naruto Boruto Card Game was provided by Asmodee UK.
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