Pick a card, any card.
Once the exclusive domain of cigar-chomping poker players, afternoon gin rummy aficionados and old ladies’ bridge clubs, card games have come a long way from cribbage and pinochle. Since the early 1990s, a growing army of card players has rallied around ever-expanding collections of trading cards, playing games with names such as “Magic: The Gathering,” “Pokémon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!”.
Leaving kings, queens, jacks and jokers behind, the collectible-trading-card world has grown into an elaborate and profitable form of gaming. Since its humble hobby-shop beginnings, “Magic” has launched a global phenomenon and inspired an entire genre of card-collecting and battling fun.
The “Stargate Trading Card Game” is a recent release in the category that provides players with cardboard and online versions of the same game. Whether you choose to visit a local retailer for the joy of ripping the cellophane off a $10.99 box of starter cards or simply to enjoy the game from home, by downloading packs of virtual booster cards for three-and-a-half bucks, the product remains the same.
For your money, you get a fistful of cards decorated with images from the “Stargate” television series and a chance to relive your favorite space-time-warping adventures through an intricate and challenging game.
Two players, head to head, lay out hero cards that depict stars from the show. Mission cards provide goals such as stopping a plague or finding an artifact. Obstacle and adversary cards make it harder to complete missions, while gadget and support cards make it easier. At first, the play seems as simple and obvious as the plotlines of a primetime science-fiction show. But as the game progresses, players figure out that everything gets complicated as more cards come into play, and winning consistency requires an intimate knowledge of the Byzantine rules.
Play that symbiote poison card, and you can take out your opponent’s Jaffa support, helping yourself accomplish the current mission. But that probably won’t leave you with the power you need to take advantage of Teal’c’s combat rating this round.
The mixture of “Stargate” mythos with intricate trading-card-game dynamics can overwhelm the new player. Fortunately, free online tutorials and practice play help bring anyone up to speed quickly.
An investment in a starter deck keeps players busy learning the game and working through the lower-ranked characters. But sooner or later you’ll want more cards. Buying digital packs of cards increases your inventory and lets you customize your deck to produce better hands and stick closer to characters and plotlines you enjoy playing.
And that means buying — or collecting — more cards.
To some, the whole notion of paying money for virtual cards will seem absurd. Then again, it’s really no different from paying for any downloadable object, from MP3s and movies to other video games. In the end, the game matters more than the medium.