I like InuYasha. I mean, I've never really gotten into watching it absolutely every night, but if I happen to catch it I'll usually stick around. I like the characters, I like that the action is impressive and fun without getting into absurd DBZ-levels. So I figured an InuYasha card game would have a lot of potential.
I picked up the learn-to-play 2-player InuYasha starter set, where you get a hero deck and a villain deck. My first impression was that the cards look pretty nice... I like borderless artwork. Although, just like Zatch Bell, they don't make the card types obvious enough. The color of the text box at the bottom of the card indicates character, item, event or location. Identifying character cards is pretty easy because they have additional stats on them, but you need to think a little harder for items and events (there are no location cards in this starter pack.) Also, the rulebook is distressingly tiny... a trifolded rectangle 3.5" by 8". With a panel devoted to a splash of artwork and almost two additional panels for glossary and rules lawyering, that doesn't leave much for actual gameplay explanation.
We gave it a shot at work and it failed miserably. The whole time I'm thinking "I have got to be missing something, because this does not work at all." Stick close on this one, because it's stupid dumb. Each character has three color stats on it, pulled seemingly randomly from five unexplained attack types. So li'l Shippo has 3 in black, 3 in red and 4 in green. Mega-baddie Naraku has 3 in black, 5 in purple and 7 in green. Here's how the starter rulebook explains the attack process:
1. Choose who attacks who. We'll say Shippo attacks Naraku.
2. Choose an attacking color. We'll choose red.
3. Make sure no effects prevent a legal attack. OK, none do.
4. Expend (tap) your attacker if there is a matching color. Tapped, they share black and green.
5. Use any effects blah blah blah. No effects to play in this example.
6. Compare the color values. Shippo has a 3 in red, Naraku has 0 in red.
7. Defeat the defending character if the attacking value meets or beats the depending value. BOO-YAH SHIPPO BEATS NARAKU!!!111!!
8. Steal a shard if defender was defeated. At the beginning of the game, each player antes 5 cards to act as shards and the first to 10 shards wins. Shippo gets a shard!
Each turn you're allowed to play two characters, so in a two-on-two battle phase, it is sadly easy to simply select a color your target doesn't possess and score an instant kill / shard get. Every time. Defeated characters are turned facedown (which the rulebook doesn't mention until you get to the glossary) so whoever goes first each battle phase is going to net one shard (P1C1 defeats P2C1, P2C2 defeats P1C1, P1C2 defeats P2C2), and over the course of the game, that would reduce to the shards equalling out every other turn. Unless one unlucky player gets behind on dropping two characters a turn.
So most games aren't going to win off a shard victory, they're going to end on the secondary victory condition, whoever runs out of cards first loses.
Seems like a flaw, eh? So we made riotous fun of the game and lamented the waste of a cool license like InuYasha.
Then, when I decide I'm going to publicly web-flog the game, I head over to the official site to gauge the level of support the game has... and I find the starter rulebook has things completely backwards. According to the online rulebook, you tap your attacker no matter what to start the attack, and you can only attack a defending character that shares a color with the attacker. So in the above example, Shippo would have to choose black or green... giving Naraku a fighting chance. In this epic Shippo vs. Naraku confrontation, Shippo ought to select black (3 to 3, ties favor attacker), but at least Naraku has a value in black that he could pump with a surprise card play.
What a huge cock-up. Was that intentional to give the starter set gimped rules? As provided, the starter decks are worthless as a game... it's just an exercise in drawing cards and trading jewel shards back and forth. And as a marketing tool, my interest in the game just dropped to a 0 in black.
We may try it again under the more sensical ruleset, but I still don't think this will be the Next Great Trading Card Game. To play cards, you have to pay their cost by discarding cards off the top of your deck. On an average turn, you're drawing three cards but dumping four to five from the deck without even seeing them! That encourages fluffy deck building, because you wouldn't want to lose your few big linchpin cards because you paid two to drop Kagome on the table. Also, at the end of your turn, you "save" any defeated characters by discarding identical character cards from your hand... so, again, your deck is going to be stacked with multiple versions of the characters so you can keep them in play. InuYasha decks are going to be loose and boring, full of duplicates just so your own deck doesn't screw you over.
I've identified a major personal deal-breaker in card games. If a game is based on a license, I want said game to respect the license and treat the characters as important elements of the gameplay. I love licensed games because I want to re-create the action of the show/movie/whatever... so I want the game to duplicate that. So I have a real problem - and I touched on this before when talking about Marvel/DC Vs. - when games turn the licensed characters into mere commodities at the mercy of the game.
My example before was with Batman. A card game about Batman should always have Batman in it. Batman should start the game in play. Batman should never leave play until he has been killed by your opponent, and then he should never return unless something really amazing happens. The game should treat Batman as the main character that he is, not as an interchangeable part of the overall game engine. The way Marvel/DC Vs. works, you can have a Batman deck (the Gotham Knights faction) that may actually never field Batman himself... or at the least, you have to slog through a couple turns of nobodies and second stringers before you can get Batman in play.
In the Case Closed TCG, you don't start with Conan or Rachel or Det. Moore in play... you just have to hope they show up. In fact, the game has an uncountable number of background characters who can investigate crimes just as well as Conan can (Conan just has better stats.) Where's the fun in a Case Closed card game where you're playing with Innocent Suspect #3 from episode four?
In the Lord of the Rings TCG, we have the exact opposite problem: each player can have the same characters in play. Frodos all around! It's the same lack of immersion as having none of the lead characters in play... having too many of them!
And in InuYasha, you just play whoever you have in your hand, picking fights according to color values, tossing the losers at the end of the turn and playing them again a couple turns later... there's no interpretation of the wandering-band-of-heroes-against-the-demon-world like in the cartoon.
In all of these cases, the game violates the atmosphere of the source media. I'm sure most gamers don't care, but it's a huge bugaboo for me. I like to connect with my deck and the personalities in it, because, from my view, the story of the game is just as important as the play of the game. I don't want to wait half the game before Batman shows up and then lightly toss him aside as a meaningless casualty in his first battle. Your average Magic creature sees more play than most Vs. super-heroes.
I suppose my first hard rule would be making characters unique across all players. One person gets Frodo. Player two can have Fatty Bolger. Then I'd want a starting posse of main characters - maybe not all of them - and some pretty strict rules about killing them off. I can only think of a couple games that operated like this, and none of them are still in business (again indicating my minority viewpoint!) Middle Earth had severe uniqueness rules and the posse asthetic. OverPower allowed character dupes across the table, but at least kept your starting heroes in play until your opponent knocked them out. Doomtown and 7th Sea both had highly immersive character-based rules, but of course, didn't use licensed characters. I'm sure there are more games out there that would fit the bill (like the old Decipher Star Trek and Star Wars games, L5R), but the toughest criteria is that it has to fall under a license I already like.
Conversely, if the license allows it, a good game can break my rules. In Pokemon, the card game simulates exactly what happens in the video game. You collect pokemon by drawing them from your deck and send them out to fight each other. By definition, pokemon are not unique, so it doesn't wreck the atmosphere if both players have a Growlithe on the table. And with persistant HP per creature, it feels like you're dealing with actual wounded monsters over time, instead of the once-hit-kills of Vs. or InuYasha. By stepping closer to the first-person storytelling of the Game Boy games and away from the specific story told in the cartoon, the card game avoids any issues of both players having Ash cards in play. It's a good representation of the Pokemon universe, albeit concentrated on the battling/evolving aspect of it. Rather than, say, berry blending or furniture collecting. The crux is that the license works within the game, instead of the game taking liberties with the license.