PAX Unplugged: Indie TCGs

Two interesting indie TCG’s from PAX Unplugged this year were Genesis and Gem Blenders. Here’s my general thoughts on the two.

TCGs are a complex subject. There’s the supply chain. There’s the fact that printing booster packs is expensive. There’s the fact that the space of trading card games has been dominated by the big three (Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh) for years on end. There’s an argument about whether or not these games are effectively lottery tickets with a better consolation prize. There’s the impacts that TCGs have on smaller game stores, and a billion other factors revolving around them. There’s the question how many lifestyle games the market can support.

I will be addressing exactly zero of these topics in this writeup. Instead, I’ll be looking at two indie TCGs I saw at PAX Unplugged: Genesis and Gem Blenders.

Genesis: Battle of Champions

Genesis is a 2-4 player independent TCG. Unlike many other TCGs I’ve played, Genesis is actually played on a board: a large 5×6 grid. Each player starts with a hero out, and you win by being the last hero standing.

Heroes define a few important elements of the game including your starting health, and also the cards and archetypes you can include in your deck. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the deck construction or color archetypes as I only played one game of Genesis, and it was with preconstructed decks.

Anyway, back to the gameplay. There’s a few interesting things about Genesis that I want call out. First, you start with your full mana pool, and it doesn’t regenerate during the game. For example, my character started with about 125 mana, and was down to 10 by the time the game finished. This means that you can drop your most powerful cards on turn one if you wish.

Mana is the most common limitation in existing TCGs. But in Genesis, it felt like I was limited by cards in hand, and space on the board. Many of the monsters felt a bit fragile in the large scheme of things, usually taking only 2/3 hits to kill.

Two other things I want to mention. The game has a stack for resolving actions that was a little difficult to parse during my demo, but I’m sure would be fine once I got used to it, and direction matters. One of the primary things you do is rotate cards to face various directions, indicating where they can attack.

Overall, Genesis was interesting. I was curious enough to pick up some preconstructed decks, but that was primarily as samples to add to my board game collection. I’m not hugely in the market for another TCG at the moment, and I wouldn’t say I was really grabbed by the art or world building in my incredibly brief exposure to it.

If you want to learn more about the game, or find yourself curious, you can check it out here.

Gem Blenders

Most Indie TCGs tend to end up mimicking on of the big three in at least some small way. For most of them, this ends up being reminiscent of Magic’s land/non-land system. You have cards that generate resources, but are very hard to remove, and cards that are used to move toward your victory condition, but are easier to remove.

Gem Blenders flips that, and uses something that will probably be more familiar to players of the Pokemon TCG: You start with a set of 4 blenders out, and you put Gems onto them. Blenders can then “Blend” into higher tier blenders with better stats once they have the prerequisite gems attached to them.

Unlike Pokemon, Blenders don’t get knocked out, so the game is mostly about playing your gem per turn, and slowly trying to build advantageous board state. I also got crushed by the individual demoing it at the show. So it can join Mythic Mischief in that category.

The one other interesting thing to me was Gem Blenders’ action system. There’s no limit on the number of action cards you can play per turn, but you can only play a max of 5 total in a game.

Side note: It was interesting to me that both Gem Blenders and Genesis had these mechanics where you started with a full set of resources, and spent it as the game went on.

Gem Blenders was more appealing to me and I actually got a chance to sit down with the creator. We chatted for a bit about his longer term goals for Gem Blenders, what he sees as important for an indie TCG, and why he wants Gem Blenders to be a TCG in the first place.

It was a really interesting chat, and I hope to get a chance to transcribe it and put it up on the site. It’s been a busy last few months.

If you’re curious about Gem Blenders, and would like to learn more, you can find the game’s site here.

Wrap Up

Overall, I liked my limited time with Gem Blenders a bit more than Genesis. A large portion of that is just personal taste. I found Gem Blenders’ weird art style to be appealing, and I like games where I build up forces overall a bit more than games where I just shred stuff down.

I still think both of these are neat games, and I picked up starter sets for both. Will I play them as full TCGs? Unlikely. Magic and Pokemon already occupy most of my interest for the time being. But I’m happy to see some indie TCGs that really seem to be trying to be solid card games, and not FOMO messes.