The renowned shounen classic Dragon Ball served as one of those multimedia cash cows that came a decade before other popular shounens like Naruto, Bleach and One Piece the took the stage. It was also one that made many attempts at having their characters as playable and non-playable collectible cards.
Simply mention this cult retro and some 80s and 90s Singaporean kids will fondly reminisce the time when gacha machines dispensed Carddass randoms of Dragonball characters and scenes, a series made known through its then-airing Mandarin language dub, along with the usually-bootleg gacha capsule machines outside the mamak (local slang for non-franchised provision shops) shops.
Some of the other collectible cards in the Dragon Ball franchise were part of various trading card games (TCGs) with varying degrees of success in the Japanese and Western markets before some eventually lost their popularity. The latest incarnation of the tabletop game in the Dragon Ball franchise is the IC Cardass Dragonball TCG.
Preliminary details of the game were first unveiled in July before its September launch in Japan and on 16th October in Singapore. Perhaps as a means to emulate the formulae of many franchise-adapted TCGs and to ease the entry of non-TCG-players into the game, the gameplay is kept relatively simple, similar to the fast-paced and casual impression a la Weiss Schwarz and Precious Memories.
To publicize the launch of the game in Singapore, teaching sessions held by its official distributor, Bandai Carddass , were held at three hobby stores on 16th October 2015, as announced on the Bandai Carddass Southeast Asia Official FaceBook Page. One of J-Network’s reporters made a trip down to Ani-Nation to learn how to play the game.
Each staff provided individual tutorials for the participants lasting around 15 minutes per person, the average length of a game, and participants were given a Vegeta promo and a giant box-topper Goku. The players borrowed a copy of the game’s first Starter Deck, comprised entirely of vanillas, a TCG slang word used for units used for raw power without any special effects, excluding the Leader card that depicts protagonist Goku.
Emphasized during the tutorial was the major novel feature of the game – the NFC-online capabilities. Each card is embedded with an NFC chip that allows collectors to upload that physical card onto the game’s online version for online play, and this virtual collection can be expanded through a daily distribution of a complimentary card, better known as a gacha roll to mobile gaming initiates.
Gameplay-wise however, virtually all the mechanics of the game are present in other card games without bringing any groundbreaking novelties to the table. IC arguably bears the most resemblance to Cardfight!! Vanguard‘s battle system and its use of disposable units to “guard” attacks during the mid-to-late game states as well as the Hearthstone-esque gain-1-resource-per-turn rate to generate Energy, resources discarded to invoke stronger units and effects.
The life system is also common TCG fare: the onus is on the Warriors (the franchise term for its players) to be the first to deplete the opponent’s starting Life from 7 to 0 through calculated decisions of when and which characters to attack and block with. Life points, which are taken away from each successful strike, is converted into Energy, allowing the opponent to quickly retaliate in the subsequent turns.
The main target to attack is the opponent’s Leader, a double-sided “hero” card represented a character central to the Dragonball plot that stays on the field permanently and is guaranteed a base attack every turn. Depleting its Life to 3 causes the card to flip from its starting side to its more powerful Unleashed state, which buffs it with a retaliative chance fighting back at a higher base Power stat and stronger skills.
Thus far, the game’s starting card pool appears to be a much simpler version of the games it resembles. What would turn down hard-weathered and experienced TCG players is how they will not find anything complex in this game, save the hard decision of which units to scrap when attacking and blocking during late-game when resources and Life are scarce.
Being among the first to try
It is therefore curious: what kind of players would a simple game based on a well-known old-school shonen attract? Such was made apparent through the turnout during the first few hours at Ani-Nation – the curious attendees are males from their mid-20s to their mid-30s but no teenagers.
The demographic was very much expected: nostalgia-seekers who want to relive their childhood superheroes and villains with hyperbolic muscle mass and planet-destroying powers through a casual and straightforward game.
As for the latter, the teaching staff theorized that it is likely that most younger TCG players are currently preoccupied with other games, though there’s a slight chance that they might pick it up out of interest as the current seasons of the Dragonball anime are currently airing online.
“Moreover, IC has the app element that can attract teenagers (of which whom many are into the mobile gaming fad),” a staff member commented. “There is the flexibility of being able to play the game physically and online, the latter in which you can use cards you earn from free daily gacha rolls.”
“We might have tournament support in the future. We are currently working on a mechanism (for it),” announced the staff with regards to keeping the game sustainable long-term through Organized Play.
For the time being, there is a corresponding Facebook fan-group set up on the launch date to facilitate trade, discussion and announcements on the game, as with many other TCGs being played in the country.
What seems to be a setback to everyone handling the TCG in Singapore at the moment appears to be a common problem with most import TCGs without English localization: the need to rely on memorizing card effects written in Japanese. Even though the staff were assigned a special tutorial deck in which many cards had effects, they did not activate them during the tutorial fearing misinterpretation themselves. They did promise that an online translation of the cards is underway, after which many will realize that the effects mostly involve relatively-straightforward boosts to unit stats.
Presently, the MSRP of the products available in Singapore are S$20 for a Starter Deck, which will cost S$40 if it comes as a NFC-card-reader-inclusive package, and S$3 for a 3-card Booster Pack. A pack of 50 “standard” size sleeves and a deck box cost S$8 each. These launch products will be readily available in most hobby stores such as Toy or Game over the coming weeks. The card reader, however, is redundant for players who can otherwise scan their cards using NFC function present in most recent smartphones or wish to put the online version of the game to the back of their heads altogether, so buying just the Starter Deck alone shaves off twenty bucks. These products will be rolled out to most hobby stores island-wide in coming weeks.
So, how worthy would the starting this game be?
Many TCG veterans may not be so fast bet on the sustainability of the game in English-speaking Singapore. That’s a safe stance to go by after we’ve seen how TCG adaptations of specific franchise fizzle out after a few sets or if they exhaust the amount of characters and footage they can convert to card form – before we finally hear the dreaded announcement of official ceasing from the publisher.
This, as with the rest, is not another Pokemon – which I believe is frankly the only TCG adaptation that got it right long-term. And that’s just because those monsters were extremely popular during the days of the Game Boy Color, with the growth of the franchise as well as the updating of old cards which kept players interested with constantly-changing play-styles – even if it meant deploying and evolving roughly the same several-hundred critters over the years.
Our countrymen are generally open to the idea of playing an untranslated game with the albeit-cumbersome reliance on effect memorization, but this has not been the case in the West where a wait-out for an English localization is preferred, which was what had happened for Cardfight!! Vanguard and Weiss Schwarz. Considering how other games bearing the Carddass label are rarely translated into English and how Bandai is selective towards their localization choices, we’d suggest a hesitant wager on IC.
Nevertheless, we’d end off with the “but the fans would always still love it” conclusion: the game is casual and straightforward fun for any Dragon Ball buff as it is casual and simple even for TCG-illiterates, and could spawn a small secondary market for the cards or a niche local community of Dragon Ball get-togethers – but would probably be brushed off as frivolous by tabletoppers weathered by impact of more profound TCGs.
Interested players can check out a fan-run translation site of the cards (which still currently incomplete at the point in time of writing) as well as a FaceBook Group for those residing in Singapore.