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Welcome to Shaman King
By Scott Gerhardt
March 8, 2005

          Hello everyone out there in Pojoland – Scott Gerhardt here giving you the goods on UDE’s latest genius creation:  Shaman King.  This article is intended to give you the answer to questions from a number of perspectives.  As a player, a dealer/retailer, a judge, and a writer, I have the ability to look at this game from a number of rather interesting angles.  So, let’s see what my various visions for the game are.

          Let’s start off from a player perspective.  This game is lead designed by a gentleman named Brian Hacker.  Many of you may not know who Brian is, but you probably should. J  Brian is a old-school Magic professional who made quite a name for himself at the time.  Easily one of the most feared and gifted players, he amassed a fair deal of money at his craft.  Luckily for Upper Deck, they were able to hire him, and Shaman King proves he is worth every penny.  One of the things I have come to like about this game so far is that it is one of those games where the skill level is very subtle.  Basically, the skill is definitely there, but not as “forward” as it might be in other games.  A novice and a pro can play this game, and the novice will feel like he was “in the game” the whole time, while the pro knows otherwise.  Games are not quickly won and lost.  There are relatively few 3-0 blowouts.  It’s easy enough for a novice to play with a bunch of random cards and be able to appear to hold his own for a while.

          The skill levels become evident in deckbuilding.  This is a skill that you absolutely must master in this game.  Knowing what to play and how many of it to play is strictly key.  You cards need to work well together.  You can easily work up a number of good strategies.  You can play the game of attrition, by building up Furyoku and continuing to return fire.  Other decks might go a little more ballsy and try to put in a lot of bigger cards, trying to smash home the points as fast as possible.  Others still might work a series of teamworks and advantages to go turbo-charge on their Shaman and play their signature move as fast as possible to wreck their opponent at a discounted rate.  On top of these, there are a good number of other strategies that are extremely viable in this wide-open game.  The only way is to get into the game.  Get out there and build decks.  Try it out. See what cards work for you and which ones don’t.

          Once you get past deckbuilding, you’re ready to play.  Now this is the time when your skills as a player come into hand.  One thing that is very important in this game is your memory skills.  You need to know what cards you have in your deck and which ones may be coming next.  Based on calculating odds, you’ll know whether or not the play that card, or wait on the next one.  Anyone who enjoys playing Texas Hold ‘Em and figuring out the odds of something after the flop will love this game – it really tests those math and memory skills.

          Parents, if you want your child to build up an amazing memory, have them play this game.  More so than any other TCG I have seen, this game will build up your memory skills, because you have to know what you have, and even what your opponent does/may have to be successful. 

          I’d like to move over a bit and talk a little as a judge.  As a former Magic Level II judge and a current Vs System Level II and a Yu-Gi-Oh! Level I, I like to look at games on the level of complexity.  How easily will the common person be able to pick up the game and play it.  I first demoed the game at GenCon in early December, and played a game.  I picked it back up about 2 weeks ago.  After running though the on-line demo (the demo is amazing, by the way, and probably the best teaching tool I have ever seen for a CCG ever – very very highly recommended for new players of any general skill level), I had very few questions from a rules perspective left.  I will run over a few of these questions.  Now, please note – some of these questions may have easily been answered in the rule book and I didn’t read it.  Then again, I’m not expecting every player to read the rulebook cover-to-cover, so these questions are a good summary of things that might be a little more obscure.  All answers came straight from Mr. Hacker himself (thanks for taking the time to help, Brian!), so I know they’re right. J  Disclaimer:  Answers are not exact quotes.

Q:  I know Advantages are cleaned up at the beginning of each player’s turn.  Does this mean that if my opponent scores on me while I have an advantage out, that I can serve it back into him and the advantage will still work?

A:  No,  As well as the beginning of the turn, Advantages are cleaned up after a point is scored.

Q:  I see the term “Use only once” written on several cards.  Could you please clarify this wording?

A:  Use only once means use only once per attack, not per point or per game.

          See?  That’s it!  I had exactly two rules questions.  Any game that has this few rules questions is wonderful from a judging perspective.  There are almost no problems understanding the cards, and most timing issues are incredibly easy to figure out.  Kudos!

          Next I move on to the thing that pays the bills.  Yes, this will be my first gratuitous mention of www.ShuffleAndCut.com, where we have a full line of Shaman King boosters, starters, and singles available for you. J  As a dealer, I actually have a few gripes with the game.  Yeah, it can’t all be wonderful, but why not have a few gripes. J  First of all, the rarities are very hard to read.  The white and the gold mix together too closely and the thin font used for the set number is just all together hard to read.  They had this problem with Vs, then somewhat fixed it.  I’m surprised to see them have the problem again.  My next couple of complaints deal with the chamber cards.  So far, about 15-20% of the chambers I get from packs come out damaged.  Either the glue didn’t stick, or the chamber is coming apart on the sides, or even the slide simply won’t slide out.  This makes it hard to sell when the product comes out damaged, and does so at such a high rare.  Furthermore, the rarities on these are listed on the bottom of the slide.  Why not the top?  At the bottom, I have to pull the slide completely out to see exactly what version that card it.  This leads to more wear and tear on already fragile slides and makes a lot of unnecessary time wastes. 

          This next section kinda runs as a combo player/retailer, and that is sealed deck.  Now, I think there might need to be some revisions on the Sealed Deck rules.  IMHO, there is not enough skill involved with Sealed when it’s 1 Sealed and 2 boosters if you stick to traits and Shaman-specific Spectragrams.  You only get 4 Shaman choices, and some of those might immediately exclude some of your sealed cards no matter what.  That’s a shame.  Brian mentioned playtesting with 2 Sealed Decks  While this would help, you’re looking at a $29.98 MSRP just for the product to play.  This would put entry fee on most tournaments at around $35-$40 – completely unacceptable.  Maybe if they created tournament packs that were simply packs – no DVD, no playmat…just the cards, and it cost between $10-$12, that option might be a little more viable.  I do worry about the sealed costs for this game.  It costs about $17 or so for both Vs and Magic, and even with my suggestion, it would be at least $20, and more likely $23-$24 for a Sealed.  Even now with the current format, it’s $23.  That’s too costly for most people and will hurt the casual sealed tournament.  In my opinion, there are a number of things you can do with Sealed to make it better.  I’ll even outline each with Pros and Cons:

#1 – Do 2 Starters, or 1 Starter and 4 Boosters.

Pros:  Better card pool, more skill in deckbuilding.  Latter give fewer cards but more Shaman choices, which is more acceptable.

Cons:  Expensive.  People will have a hard time being able to pay for it.

#2 – Ignore symbols and card-specific Spectragrams.

Pros:  More choices with what you have.  Decisions more based on what you want to play rather than what you have to play.

Cons:  Against the theme of the cards, and can lead to some distinctively more broken sealed decks.

#3 -  Include anywhere from 1 wildcard trait to 1 wildcard trait per characteristic that can be declared and played by a player.

Pros:  Best balance in the game, allowing players to play the right balance without being able to go hog wild.

Cons:  Still a little against the theme, and confusing as heck – hard to implement in a serious tournament environment.

I can’t say I have all the answers, but I certainly know something needs to be done.  Sealed deck is a popular format in almost any game that is successful, and Upper Deck needs to make sure it is quite viable in this one as well.

One final point I want to briefly touch upon is pack distribution.  Like a lot of other games, these cards, especially the Spectrgrams, come in runs.  In the first 2 boxes I opened, they both has the exact same 4 Spectragrams, and we found similar patterns are more boxes were opened.  As far as commons, uncommons, and rares were concerned, we found nothing we would consider excessively abundant or short printed.  Most things showed up at a reasonable rate of distribution, which is nice to see after dealing in Yu-Gi-Oh! a lot.

That’s about it.  I hope everyone has had a chance to read this and gives the game a go.  It’s a really great game, doesn’t take a lot of time, and is a great game for the mind as well as a lot of good fun.

Until next time, keep playing!!!

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