Adventure Time’s Card Wars is silly, surreal fun

Could a card game introduced by a cartoon dog actually be fun in the real world? When that game is Card Wars (about $20), based on the eponymous episode of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, the answer is “yes.”

Card Wars by Cryptozoic Entertainment is a two-player, collectible card game that embraces the surreal, absurdist humor of Adventure Time. It’s meant for players aged 10 and up and takes about 30 minutes from start to finish.

Game Overview

The goal of Card Wars is to reduce your opponent’s 25 hit points to zero and be declared the “Cool Guy” (the losing player is “The Dweeb”). Each player begins by selecting four landscapes, which are used to deploy spells, attack- or defense-enhancing buildings, and creatures. Once the selections have been made the fighting begins, and either the creatures sent forth or the players themselves take damage (sometimes both). Players can, through careful spell casting and planning, gain the advantage or avoid a mighty blow. A creature that suffers more damage that its hit points allow is removed from the game, and when the player herself takes more than 25 total damage, she loses and is declared The Dweeb.

With cards like “Cerebral Bloodstorm,” “Punk Cat” and “Phyllis,” the elderly woman who does two damage with her purse, what’s not to love?

Those familiar with collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon and YU-GI-OH! will find familiar elements in Card Wars.

Components

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Card War’s cute box contains a modest amount of decent components, including two 40-card decks.The decks you get depend on which box you purchase. I tested the “Finn vs. Jake” set, as it contains the decks featured on the show. There’s also a “BMO vs. Lady Rainicorn” set available, with its own unique decks. A third box, Princess Bubblegum vs. Lumpy Space Princess, is set to debut soon.

The box also contains six landscape cards, with four of each type: Blue Plains and Cornfields. They’re roughly 3“ x 5.5”, made of sturdy cardboard and feature cute artwork on one side, and the “CW” logo on the back. Note that these must be punched out before use. I tore one while freeing it, but that was totally my fault.

You’ll also find 94 hit point tokes (also need to be punched out) with a “1” on one side and a “3” on the other, which you’ll use to keep track of your creatures’ and your own hit points. Finally, a 10-page rule book explains what it calls “four hours of brain-melting rules.”

It’s not that hard.

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Overall, I like the components. The artwork is in the spirit of the show and the hit point counters are especially sturdy. The cards are the same size as standard playing cards and feature a glossy finish on both sides.

Packing it all back up is simple. There are two recessed areas in the box to accommodate the decks, and everything else lays flat on top. I recommend bagging the hit point tokens or you’ll have a mess on your hands. Additionally, sleeving the cards will make your decks too bulky for the box. If you intend to sleeve them, have deck boxes on hand.

Playing Card Wars

If you’re going for ultimate authenticity, a game of Card Wars beings by shouting, “For the glory!”

This is not a requirement.

Setup

Players begin by selecting four landscapes to lay out in front of them, side by side. Certain cards require certain landscapes, so know what’s in your deck before making your selection. For the Finn vs. Jake set, it’s best for each player to have two Cornfields and two Blue Plains. Next, each player receives 25 hit point tokens, and the rest go into a communal pool. Finally, each player draws five cards.

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If your initial hand doesn’t contain any creature cards, you may (and should) take a “mulligan”: shuffle your hand back into your deck and draw again. You may only do this one.

Finally, the first player is whoever suggested the game.

Turn sequence

Each turn has six phases:

  1. Ready your cards. If you played your cards in a previous turn, you will have turned them to a horizontal orientation (Magic players, think “tapping”). To “ready” a card is to return it to a vertical orientation.
  2. Draw a card. Take the top card from your deck.
  3. Spend your two actions. You spend actions to play creatures, buildings or spells. You may also use an action to draw an additional card. Each card’s action cost – and the landscape it requires – appears in its upper left- and right-hand corner, respectively.
  4. FloopTo “floop” a creature or a building is to activate its special ability. A flooped card may give you an advantage, hinder an opponent or even render one of his landscapes useless. Flooping does not count as an action and can be done before spending actions, after spending actions or after spending one action only. A well-timed floop, played in conjunction with supporting creatures or spells, can turn a game around.
  5. Fight. Finally, the battle phase! Attacking creatures with an opponent’s creature in the adjacent landscape deal damage to each other, according to their ATK (attack) rating vs. the opponent’s DEF (defense) rating. Hit point markers are placed on each card accordingly. If there is no creature in the adjacent landscape, that damage affects the player directly.
  6. Pass. When combat is over, you pass the turn to the next player and the process repeats.

The Card Wars experience

Those who embrace the silliness of Card Wars will love it. Playing cards like “Embarrassing Bard” (draw a card for each flooped creature you control), “Cool Dog” (your creatures in adjacent landscapes may not be attacked) and “Phyllis,” who does two damage by striking foes with her purse, is just fun. My nine-year-old understood the rules in just a few turns. That, combined with goofy art and action make this a great family game (though it is limited to two players).

But I don’t what you to think that Card Wars is a throw-away promo for a TV show. Deck customization is possible, as Cryptozoic sells booster packs for four bucks each. Even the with the factory decks, you can create fun combos and strategies. Unlike similar card-battle games, Card Wars features an opportunity for fighting on every turn, so there’s always something to “do,” especially in a younger player’s mind.

There are some flaws. The factory Finn deck has a card – The Pig – that renders an opponent’s adjacent landscape useless. Unfortunately, the Jake deck only comes with one card that re-activates that landscape. If The Pig is flooped on turn one or two, it can be frustrating for the opponent. Also, playing the game over and over creates a certain familiarity with the decks, so you basically know what the opponent can and likely will, do. But that’s what expansions are for, right?

Conclusion

Card Wars will appeal to fans of Adventure Time, without question. Those who like collectible, deck-building card games should enjoy it, too, though they should’t expect the level of card synergy or super-meta combos that are a part of Magic: The Gathering, for instance. The art and silly names and descriptions are fun to see and laugh about. I’ve played half a dozen times and am ready to crack a booster pack. That says something, right?

Pros

  • Simple to learn
  • Rapid game play
  • Fun, clever cards
  • Decent stragey
  • Average to above-average components
  • Nice family game

Cons

  • Finn vs. Jake decks are slightly skewed in Jake’s favor
  • Hit point tokes are small and easy to lose
  • Basic decks are easily memorized
  • Limited appeal for hard-core deck-building fans

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