Sometimes, not often, I’ll play a game and a mechanic will stand out to me as so brilliant, my only reaction is to wonder why nobody has thought of it in the last 25 years.
And believe me when I say the last place I expected to experience that was when playing Naruto: The Card Game for the first time.
Straight up: You won’t find any IP fanboy bias here- the only thing I know about Naruto is that he’s a ninja in highschool who for some reason wears a lot of orange (which seems counterproductive to being a ninja? Maybe I’m ill-informed).
What I’m getting at is, even though I’ve got no connection to the property it’s based on, playing more of this game is all I’ve been able to think about for the past week.
Naruto: The Card Game, uses Bandai’s “Chrono Clash” system- a unique system where players use and spend the ‘time’ provided by one another in order to play cards from their hand.
It seems that since the release of Magic in the 90’s, every card game that has come after has tried, in some way, to emulate or improve upon the mana/land resource mechanic Richard Garfield pioneered.
Card games have done this to varying success, but Chrono Clash has a unique answer to resource- the aforementioned “time.”
During each game of Naruto, there is a gauge set up between the players counting down from 10, to 0, and then from 0 back up to 10. These gauges are printed on the playmats that come with the game for ease of use.
Each side of the gauge belongs to one player. On your turn, when you play card you move the gauge down a number of points equal to the cost of the card. If the guage ever goes beyond zero and onto your opponent’s side of the gauge (therefore, counting back up from 1), then your turn is over.
Your opponent then has the ‘time’ you spent on your cards to spend on theirs.
It may sound a little confusing (see the image for clear details!), but I promise you it’s more straight forward than it may sound!
On your first turn, there is no reason you can’t drop a 10-cost beast! All it means is that your opponent will have an equal number of points to spend on their own cards.
While the resource mechanic is, in a word, devine, the game is much more than a swinging pendulum of resources.
Like most good games, Naruto has multiple avenues to victory: You can defeat al 5 of your opponent’s “Guardians” (face-down cards set aside at the beginning of the game in a similar fashion to Pokemon); you can send your characters on “Quests” by setting cards from your hand face-down on top of them (creating a fun little psyche-out game where your opponent may be forced to call your bluff); and if you ever run out of cards in your deck, you lose.
During the game, players will use a combination of Battler cards and Action cards to forward their goals.
I like a lot about this game, and besides the masterful resource mechanic, the fact that there is no text on any of the cards outside of the name has got to be my favourite.
That’s right- Naruto: The Card Game, operates entirely with symbols. Which means it has a lot of keywords. Which means the rules are sleek, clear cut, and easy to work with once you learn what each of the symbols mean.
I’ll admit at first I was a little concerned. I’d never seen a card game that had no text, and the thought of learning a whole bunch of symbols wasn’t gonna sit well with me right out of the gate.
What I found was that learning the symbols took a surpringly short amount of time. They’re clear and concise, and once you spend a couple of turns reading through them, it’s very satisfying not to have to check what they do!
As an added bonus, the symbols eliminate the need for foreign language cards, which means that you’ll never have to call judge to get a translation.
I’m especially excited for the Naruto Organised Play Which should be starting soon. Developer Bandai has proven that they know what players want when it comes to tournament support, as seen with the infinitely popular Dragon Ball Super Card Game.
Where Naruto differs from Dragon Ball (besides in the many core aspects of gameplay), is that Naruto is not a Collectible Card Game. There are no random booster packs or rare cards to chase (besides the foil versions only found in tournament packs!).
Naruto currently has two boxes, each of which come with two decks of fixed cards. If you own both boxes, you own the entire game (until inevitable future releases), and can deck build within that card pool to make something unique.
This is reminiscent of the Living Card Game model from Fantasy Flight Games, meaning players are always on an even keel, and are not expected to fork out the big bucks for the strongest cards in the game.
Naruto and the Chrono Clash system are very promising for the future of Bandai’s tabletop card game lines. I can’t wait to get my hands on Godzilla next month- not to mention playing my first Naruto tournament at my local Good Games store!
Naruto: The Card Game is available right now from Good Games. Talk to the staff at your local about upcoming organised play.