Filling up the Corners: Millennium Blades

As I am writing this, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear. Though I am new to tabletop gaming in the grand scheme of things (only been 3 years now) I am happy to say the games coming out now are a cut above what even I’m used to. This has caused designers to step up their “game,” if you will, and they have to come up with something truly clever or unique to grab the attention of gamers. A little over a year ago I stumbled upon a kickstarter for a game called Millennium Blades, marketed as a CCG Simulator, and was immediately hooked. Now, the game finally in my hands and a couple of plays under my belt, I am happy to say that Millennium Blades from Lvl99 games is a truly unique and thrilling board game that emulates the fun of playing and collecting a Collectible Card Game. Read on to learn more about this month’s Filling up the Corners:

“A Board Game about Collectible Card Games and the Gamers who Play Them.” These words decorate the top corner of a massive 8 pound box with the title Millennium Blades epically displayed on the lower half of the lid. In the middle of all of this are two characters, drawn in an anime style, in the middle of a heated card game in an image that looks straight out of a show like Yugioh or Duel Master. Open up the lid and you find a mountain of cards with various booster sets, abilities, rarities, and so much more. What does all of this mean? Let’s take a step back real quick.

Millennium Blades is, like the top of the lid suggests, “A Board Game about Collectible Card Games and the Gamers who Play Them.” If you are expecting a game that is going to emulate the complex interactions of Magic: The Gathering or the 1v1 battles of Pokemon then you are going to be misled. To better explain Millennium Blades I will take another step back and go over the theme and presence of the game, as it describes in the opening pages of the rulebooks. Feel free to skip the next paragraph to go right into gameplay.

In the world of Millennium Blades there is a card game of the same name. It has been around for thousands of years and throughout its lifespan has always been in print. There is a core set, a collection of valuable and classic cards that will never go out of print, along with various expansion sets much like Magic the Gathering’s Shadows over Innistrad or Pokemon’s Fossil Set. In this world, Millennium Blades is as much of a game as American Football or European Football/Soccer, if not much more prominent. Players of the game can compete from local events to worldwide tournaments with the dream of earning massive amounts of fame and fortune. In this world Millennium Blades is everything and there is nothing that is going to slow it down, it’s just that integrated into the culture. In this regard it reminds me of my younger days when I watched Yugioh and how entire companies were devoted to a particular card game, whether it was the printing of the actual cards or if it was developing accessories and technology to enhance the gameplay. The world of Yugioh seemed to revolve around this card game more than water or oil. The same can be said about the fictional game of Millennium Blades.

Gameplay:

Winning tournaments, amassing unique collections, trading with friends, and generating wealth from the aftermarket are the four ways to earn victory points in Millennium Blades (referring to the real game in our world from here on, not the fictional one) and after 3 rounds are over the person with the most points is declared the winner. Each round can be divided into 2 very distinct phases: the deckbuilding phase and the tournament phase.

The deckbuilding phase can also be described as the “prep for the tournament phase.” Once the tournament for a round begins there is no more trading, no buying or selling, only battling. So it is during this deckbuilding phase that players will be buying and selling chase singles (rares), fine-tuning their deck, analyzing the meta, and building a collection that can be turned in at the tournament’s start for a nice amount of victory points. This all takes place in 3 key areas: The Store Playmat, The Aftermarket Playmat, and each player’s Personal Tableau.

Store (left) and Aftermarket (right)

Buying and selling of cards is pretty straightfoward. Cards are arrayed in the store in a 3×3 grid with the store deck making up the “10th” slot. This is the Store Playmat. Being facedown, each card (representing a booster pack) shows the set it is from and the price to acquire it in the upper right corner. A player throws down their wad of money, picks up the booster and turns it over to see what they have (this simulates players throwing out the junk cards and keeping the rare). Among the various bits of information on the newly acquired card (rarity, element, type, ability) there is also a number in the upper left corner indicating not only it’s strength but it’s monetary worth. Buy a booster for 3 and open a card worth 5? Sell it to the aftermarket to make a quick profit. Once a card is in the aftermarket other players can choose to pick up your seemingly junk cards to fulfill their collections or their decks. This all happens on the Aftermarket Playmat. Players can also trade amongst themselves using a couple pretty simple rules but I won’t go over them in this review.

Players personal tableau (deckbuilding side faceup)

While all of this chaos is going on, deckbuilding is broken up into several 7 minute real-time rounds, players are worrying about two big things: their deck and their collection. All of these things are built on your own personal tableau. The deck, in concept, is pretty simple. When the timer runs out you need to make sure you have 8 singles, 1 deck box (a card that emulates your mana, uncommons and other non-rare cards in your deck), and 2 accessories (they provide extra effects in the tournament). Collections on the other hand have stricter requirements. Collections are ways to earn victory points outside of the tournament and do so by using set collecting mechanics. In Millennium Blades a collection can consist of 2-8 cards, so long as each subsequent card has a higher number than the previous card and that all X cards share a common element or type. You could have 8 Soldiers of various elements or 7 cards representing animals, people, monsters, etc but all have the Wind Element. So long as there is one constant trait then your collection is legal and you can earn a decent amount of points before the tournament starts.

It is worth noting that there is a “binder” area on your own personal playmat as well. If you are struggling with a certain collection or deck and want to save it for later you can toss it in this area to keep the cards from round to round. I found myself doing this constantly, focusing on building a deck with the useful cards I currently owned while slowly building up more complex decks for later tournaments.

An example of a player’s tableau (tournament side up) during a tournament

Once the tournament starts things slow down a bit and players can breathe a little (possibly literally). Starting with the player who won the last tournament (or who opened a real life booster most recently) a tournament goes in clockwise order with each player playing a card from their hand and maybe using an action (actions are optional). Though this sounds relatively simple and streamlined (which I would argue it still is) so much more can come from this phase. Cards will come down, apply effects that boost future cards as they are played, flip other players cards, change the dynamic of the tournament and other effects that range from practical and subtle to whacky and flashy. All of this is done to earn Ranking Points, abstract points that at the end of the tournament represent how well you did over the course of the event. What I like most about this phase is that the feeling of a tournament can change drastically from round to round. In my first play the first tournament was relatively laid back, with people using decks that kept to themselves. Once strategies were being developed and players were beginning to show their capabilities then cards were being flipped by other players, core mechanics were stalled by enemy effects, and the tournament became more… competitive. On top of that, in every tournament there was a big “reveal” where someone found some amazing strategy or a card that no one knew existed (which is easy given it was our first play). It catered very much to those of us who grew up watching shows like Yugioh during which the main character would pull a brand new, clutch card/combo that would blow the minds of his opponents.

After the tournament phase the rankings will be decided and victory points awarded based on placement. Where creating worthwhile collections is a large part of earning victory points, ranking high in tournaments becomes increasingly more beneficial to winning the game (the awarded points increase each round while those for collections do not). After points are awarded, promo cards are then dealt to each participant and a new deckbuilding phase begins. This continues until the third tournament after which the game ends, points are tallied, and a winner is declared.

Components

Level 99 is definitely known for their quantity as much as their quality when it comes to what comes inside a box with their name slapped on it. Some of their games, like BattleCon for instance, don’t necessarily have bad components but they aren’t top tier either. Again, this is normally acceptable since Level 99 Games stuffs their games full of so much… stuff that it’s easy to understand that they’re just trying to keep costs down. In Millennium Blades, however, the story is a bit different and I was rather impressed with the quality of the player boards, cards, and chits.

Oh man. The cards. The number of unique cards in this game is staggering. There are 20+ sets in the box, you play with approximately 12 sets plus the core set in a game, and each set has 5 singles spread across 12 cards. The core set, which is in every game, has 118 cards. With this amount of content it could’ve been easy for Level 99 to fall victim to their own ambition and the cards would start to blend together, becoming mundane and regular for the sake of quantity. That’s not the case here. Almost every card has a fairly unique effect or is part of a theme of effects/mechanics making each set you choose to include cause a major change to how your next game will play out. Not only that, but several of the cards contain tongue and cheek references to various aspects of our culture from popular T.V. shows to video game tropes and so on. My personal favorite aspect of the cards is in the Core Set. Akin to how the plot of the Yugioh show plays out, there are “hidden gems” in the core set, long forgotten but powerful cards that players can chance upon at any point in the game. This nice flair gives someone the opportunity to live out scenarios only seen on TV. For instance, early on in my first game I came across a card that was basically a nod to Exodia, an all powerful legendary card in the Yugioh universe. It’s Millennium Blades counterpart had a similar, awe-inspiring presence, and I had to keep myself in check as I sneakily built my deck towards a grand reveal. When it finally came down my opponents were shocked to say the least and my one friend in particular, who grew up watching and playing Yugioh with me, was particularly affected by the experience. Now let’s get into one last, major component: The Money.

Millennium Blades has paper money. There. It’s out there for all to know and see. I would like to point out that I’m totally on board with this. Instead of fiddling with single sheets of paper that easily wrinkle or get stuck together we are given wads of paper cash. The wads themselves are the currency, so a wad of 1’s is simply 1 dollar and a wad of 5’s is 5 dollars. What this emulates, and was meant to emulate, is a “fat-cat” mentality. Players can plop down huge wads of cash to pick up a chase card they’ve been seeking or can pick up a mini-mountain of dough after selling a high-priced card to the aftermarket. It’s a fun feeling and I am so glad Level 99 Games took the effort (and the risk) to give this a go. Worst case scenario you can always switch out the currency with poker chips or something similar but for now I’m sticking with the wads of cash!

Conclusion
I love this game. I’ve been a big fan of Level 99 Games since I heard about Pixel Tactics and their BattleCon series is one of my favorites in my collection. Level 99 Games is a company that is very ambitious in their approach to design and Millennium Blades is perhaps the flagship of this concept. Millennium Blades does exactly what it sets out to do. If you’ve ever dreamt of feeling like a professional CCG player with an anime flair then you will get a lot of enjoyment out of this game. Discovering new cards, watching your opponents pull off a combo you never saw coming, making loads of cash off of the aftermarket, and more are all there for you to eat up and enjoy.

The only potential downside to Millennium Blades is the very thing that it also excels at and that is its depth. Level 99 Games could’ve easily gone with a streamlined approach, given us one set of cards and said “go play.” Instead they threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Tired of playing with the Looney Tunes, Sailor Moon, and Mad Max themed sets? After several games or just one you can swap those out for the Final Fantasy Themed Set, a Backer Created Set, and a set based around the Firefly universe. There are a lot of knobs and wheels that come along with this game. What’s wrong with that? The only thing I can think of is that there is a lot of logistical work on the back end. Setting up the Store Deck, a 100+ card behemoth stack of cards that contains nearly all of the cards players can buy/sell/trade, takes some time to set up when you are building it for the first time or switching out decks. The caveat is that if you find a combination of cards you enjoy then you can play with the same Store Deck across several games. If you are like me and wish to sleeve your cards then that itself can take a fair bit of time. The stack in the game tends to be quite large and amid all the chaos you have to make sure to not knock it over. I’ve also heard other complaints from people that the depth of the game itself (the various card effects and frantic nature of the deckbuilding phase) keeps it from being a more universally accepted game.

But that is also where I’d like to end my review by saying Millennium Blades will not (and in my opinion should not) be a universally accepted game. In video games and movies there are creators that tire of the polish that makes up so much of their respective mediums, polish that creates something so worn down to be accepted by all that it just falls in line with the rest. It’s a breath of fresh air to come across something that seeks to stand out and impress its audience instead of trying to impress all audiences. If you’re willing to take the dive then Millennium Blades will reward you and more. Millennium Blades is perfect for giving you a fast-paced, thematic, and just a damn good time playing out the CCG fantasies of your childhood.

-The Secondhand Took

REVIEWS

Board Game Brawl (Video)

The Dice Tower (Video)

Rahdo Runs Through (Video)

Undead Viking (Video)

What’s Millennium Blade’s Star Rating (Article)

Sugar & Spice & D20 Dice (Article)

Usher in the New Millennium – Space Biff Review (Article)

WHERE TO FIND

Coolstuff Inc

Level 99 Store

Amazon

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One thought on “Filling up the Corners: Millennium Blades

  1. Pingback: Filling Up the Corners: Took’s Top* Ten – The Secondhand Took

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