16th Jan2020

Retrospective Review: ‘The Spoils’ Collectable Card Game

by Chris Thomas

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Magic: The Gathering is probably the best example of a “collectable card game” (“CCG”) and you have probably heard of it. A CCG is a game where, players typically buy a starter deck, with a fixed set of cards included but are then in the dangerous lottery of buying sealed packs of random cards. If you are trying to buy specific cards you can either keep buying lottery tickets (sealed card packs of approximately 10 random cards) or, nowadays you can go on an online auction site and pay to buy that specific card. Rare Magic: The Gathering cards can sell for many thousands, if rare enough.

As a further way to change the meta and to “gently encourage” players to keep buying new cards, what is tournament legal generally slowly rotates. The CCG space is a very tough one for companies to get into, players are aware that, they require huge and ongoing investment and, if the game goes under the value of their card collection effectively bottoms out. However, if, like Magic: The Gathering, you have a hit game on your hands, then they are extremely profitable. Thus, only the very biggest properties and companies can survive in an industry dominated by Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon and a few others.

There are a few different aspects to a game like this, there is the collecting of the cards, there is then the deck building and the playing. For this there are lots of great articles online about the technique and science of deckbuilding, however I usually hit upon an odd idea and run with it, I play for games to be fun first, then to try to win them second.

Games are typically, fast, 2 player and competitive. Players will play resource cards to allow them to pay for increasingly powerful monster and ability cards. At the most basic level, the player will then use these active cards to attack the other player, once their “health” is reduced to zero a player loses the game.

At school I used to play a bit of Magic: The Gathering. I didn’t have many cards, nor did my friends, but we had a great time. We used to sit on gym mats in the gallery above the squash courts (it was a private school) and do battles with our little cards. After my dalliance with Magic: The Gathering, my card gaming didn’t go any further than this for 20 years. As someone who finds it very easy to get a starter box for a game, then realise that my initially small investment has quickly escalated into a major purchase. Basically, I am a bit stupid. So, it wasn’t until 20 years after playing Magic: The Gathering that I found myself being pulled back in to a card game as if it had a tractor beam.

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That card game was The Spoils. I had heard a little about it, but it was not until Arcane Tinmen gave up on the game (after saving it from failure a few years previously) that I got interested in the game. Basically, the game died for good and I hoovered up a load of cards and packs cheap. It was a game partly created by former Magic players and, in terms of its mechanics and style this is very clear. The game is incredibly fast to learn, in terms of the basic mechanics but very hard to be good at. I was starting to think I was getting decent, then played a few games with my friend who used to be the top ranked “Legend of the 5 rings” player here in Germany, he thrashed me every time.

Without going into lots of detail, the mechanics of The Spoils will be instantly recognizable to players of other CCGs, but The Spoils is an easy game to love. Playing it is extremely fun, the games are slick and fast, so it is easy to play 10 games in a session where you never really meant to. You and your opponent will likely laugh a lot.

Each player has a “Faction Card” which tells them exactly what to do and what special abilities they might have as well as a pre-constructed deck of cards. Much like in Magic: The Gathering, players must play “resource” cards, but other cards can also be played face down (and thus there, potentially powerful abilities lost) to act as an additional basic resource card. Beyond that, cards are sorted into 6, extremely thematic trades (bankers, rogues, warlords, gearsmiths and arcanists).

It was a wonderful, dark, comic fantasy style to it. The artwork is beautiful, and the cards are often extremely funny (even after the 100th time you have played them). There was a universe, and it seems a plot, but we only ever got fragments of story through the cards, the art and the text. It all seemed to be a dark dream of Terry Pratchett, and it is fascinating to try to unpick.

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The Spoils managed to carry on for ten years, but it never reached the critical mass of players that would have made it a financial success. It was derivative of its competitors and yet, despite not being called “Magic,” The Spoils was genuinely enchanting. There was something incredibly special about it. If you have even a passing interest in cards games I would recommend giving The Spoils a try, especially given that the game is dead and thus the cards are cheap and there is no pressure to change the meta or rotate cards. There is still a Facebook community, which includes some of the key people behind the game and they are extremely helpful to new players.

If you are interested in getting into The Spoils, it is super cheap. I would recommend going to Chaos Cards and picking up 2 “Decade of Decadence” boxes for about 20 quid and playing a cube draft format with family and friends – https://www.chaoscards.co.uk/the-spoils-c130

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