At Gen Con this year, the biggest hype came from the Ravensburger booth. Each day, massive lines would queue up to get the first crack at buying the pre-release of Disney Lorcana. It’s a collectible card game (CCG) in the same vein as Magic: The Gathering or Pokémon. After some madness the first day (which involved people getting hurt), Gen Con wisely set up a queueing system starting at 6pm the night before (kudos to those dedicated fans that waited in line 14 hours to buy a game). While there was absolutely no way I’d wait in that kind of line, I did still get a chance to check out Lorcana.
On Saturday evening, Ravensburger and Disney held a press launch party at a local bistro. In the spirit of full disclosure, they provided us with a starter deck, 3 booster packs, and a few other branded gifts. They also paid for all the food and drinks (which were Disney-themed) at the event. They had transformed the place into a Lorcana-themed venue and went all out. Wall coverings, tv’s, windows, you name it. It was impressive. Also, a shout-out to the servers and staff at Bodhi in Indianapolis, who were truly amazing. They made everyone feel welcome and were definitely the unsung heroes of the night.
Eventually after some small talk, drink, and nibbles, we got down to the fun part. Everyone opened their decks up to check out what they had. Ravensburger even had a quest mini-game where you needed to trade cards with other players to finish your quest (earning you a signed print). I freely traded things with other players, as I had no idea what was what (all appeared to be commons). But that was a fun little interactive game.
Eventually, I was able to try a couple of games of Lorcana. I spent no time deck building, so I simply stuck with the starter deck. The game plays very similar to many other CCG/TCG games. You start with a hand of 7 cards, and your goal is to be the first player to “Quest” to 20 lore points. Cards are either Characters, Items, or Actions. Characters are about what you expect. They have a cost to play, in Ink, and have an attack value, health value, and sometimes a special ability and/or Quest points. You also can’t do anything with them the turn they come into play.
On future turns, you can exert them to Challenge (attack) another Character or go on a Quest, earning you Lore. Items are permanents that stay in play and give you bonuses or special powers (healing, more card draws, etc..) Action cards are one-time events. Interestingly, there are also Action cards called Songs, these can be played for free by characters of high enough level.
ink is the game’s “mana” system. Each turn you can play a card facedown into your ink well, letting you exert it to play cards. Playing Ink is optional but limited to once per turn. Only certain cards can be played to the ink well.
And that’s mostly it. You’ll have a deck of 60 cards (max of 4 copies of any card) and the first to 20 Lore wins.
I’ve only played the game a couple of times with the cards provided, so I don’t have a ton of experience with it, or with deck crafting. However, CCG players will feel right at home with Lorcana. There are plenty of similarities with any of those types of games (characters have an attack and health, a cost to play, etc…) yet Lorcana does branch out on its own path as well.
The Ink system is kind of interesting and was oddly similar to Star Wars Unlimited (which I also demoed at the convention). Each turn, you can choose to play 1 card to your ink well, but you don’t have to. That means that, unlike a game such as Hearthstone, there is not an even tempo in the game. On turn 5 you can realistically have 5 ink to spend. However, you might also only have 2-3. I kind of feel like hand management and when to play cards is a huge part of the game.
In my first play, I pretty much played an ink and a card every turn. That’s great until you’ve played your whole hand. I didn’t have a ton of ways to draw cards (outside of the 1 at the start of your turn), so I quickly ran out of things to do. I feel like you need to find a healthy balance of playing cards for ink and putting them into play. This doesn’t feel like a game where you should just spray everything out to the board as quickly as possible or you’ll find yourself running out of options. My starter deck also felt like it had a good number of 1-3 ink cost cards, so rushing up to 7 Ink to play Simba was probably not an ideal move.
The other interesting mechanic was the Lore race. Ravensburger was smart in that to help make the game more family-friendly, it’s not about punching your opponent in the face, but beating them to 20 Lore. While challenging your opponent is necessary at times, particularly if they have a good combo going, it also sets you back a little, both in damaging your characters and also stopping you from Questing. In fact, the designer told me that he’s seen games where people didn’t challenge each other the entire time. Just played cards and raced to 20 Lore. The other wrinkle with Challenging is that you can only challenge an exerted character. So, if you have a character with a great passive ability, you can just keep them ready to avoid them being banished.
I’m guessing most gamers will freely attack each other (it’s what we do). However, I could see playing this with non-gamers or family and only challenging their characters occasionally.
Ravensburger also hit a home run with the thematic integration. You can tell that they spent a lot of time watching movies as there are tie-ins all over the place. For example, Ariel can’t play songs in human form (that was a terrible contract she signed). Or the Beast who destroys any item when he’s played (“you must control your temper”). The art of the game is also fantastic. It fits the Disney vibe perfectly and is a joy to look at. Talking with the Ravensburger Creative Director at the event, he told me that every piece of art for the game is brand new, something I’m always a fan of in games.
And the song mechanic was a clever add in. Disney songs are a major part of the movies, and I think they found a clever way to work those in. Being able to play events for free will let players run decks with lower ink wells and just rely on characters to sing.
The elephant in the room is that this game is a CCG, and if you’ve played one before, you know what a money sink they can be. And Lorcana is no exception. There are multiple rarity levels, and you’ll be buying blind boosters to beef up your collection. One clever thing they did was make two versions of every card, a foil, and a non-foil version. Their thought was that the collectors will go after the foil versions, leaving the non-foil versions cheaper for players to put in their decks. Time will tell if this strategy pans out. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the CCG model. I much prefer the Living Card Game model pioneered by Fantasy Flight Games which lets you know what you are buying.
Wrapping it up
It’s too early to tell if Lorcana will be a hit or if it’s just a flash in the pan. Playing only with a starter deck, it’s a bit hard to see all the game has to offer. There are some 200 cards available at launch, and I’ve only experienced a handful of them. They do have an aggressive release schedule though, with expansions coming out every three months or so.
The game is pretty light, at least at this point. So, it should be accessible enough for young kids. If your kid can handle Pokémon, they’ll have no issues picking up Lorcana. For me, I’m still on the fence about how much I want to play it. I enjoy deck construction, but I also need a large collection of cards to have fun tinkering with a deck. And that usually costs a $100+ buy in. For a game I might only casually play, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Lorcana releases at local gaming stores on August 18th and September 1st in mass market retailers.