Th' Summ-"ARR!"-y

CCG's are expensive to really get into. Anyone who has ever proceeded beyond a tentative starter-and-two-boosters purchase of fifteen dollars knows that. I have always accepted this as the price that must be paid to support a medium that was expensive to produce: nicely laminated, full-color illustrated, semi-randomly collated cards. (Speaking of illustrations, let me mention in passing that the artwork on 7th Sea cards is not half bad. Colors are displayed vibrantly and few if any cards' artwork comprise eyesores--though the number of breathtaking illustrations is not much higher. I'm sorry, but I have about as much art appreciation sophistication as your average third grader, so I can say little about the art beyond this--it's colorful, not bad, not astounding.) On the other hand, before getting involved in something that threatens to drain your wallet, one is wise to ensure the money wasn't better spent elsewhere.

Alderac manages to avoid disqualifying 7th Sea from consideration by presenting a fairly non-predatory card distribution. While it's true that players have to buy six starter decks (which my game store charges nine dollars for) to get a complete collection, most collectors will probably try to save a little money by buying boxes. Meanwhile, those less willing to invest large amounts of money will end up with only a starter deck or two. The starter decks' large-seeming fixed portions (mostly different in each deck--I do not know the details, but you end up with a decent slice of the faction's Crew) allow for a pretty well-rounded feeling deck straight out of the box.

It is more or less a given that most nifty cards are rare, while there are plenty of common and uncommon cards with fundamental effects--skill enhancement cards, for instance. One story with a positive spin is told by the nebbishes: there are quite a lot of unaligned "nebbish" Crew, the sort of Crew likely to be used by players whose collections leave gaps in needed skills, or for strategies that specifically call for very inexpensive Crew. What I want to call attention to is the fact that for each skill, there is a 1-point nebbish and a 2-point nebbish. The 1-point nebbishes are potentially useful in a "fast and/or disposable Crew" strategy, but for gap-fillers, they hold less attraction for me than do the 2-point nebbishes, who are still cheap enough to be considered for the other role. With the exception of the Cannon nebbishes, it is always the 1-point nebbish who is uncommon, while the 2-point nebbish is common, and this is how it should be. The card that is less likely to be useful in a new player's circumstances is less likely to be in that player's collection.

But have they overdone it? There's no doubt that 7th Sea has its bases covered, the problem is, maybe they're so well-covered that we can't tell them apart from the surrounding turf anymore. Maybe instead of at least 2 nebbishes per skill, some skills could do without one or the other representative. Maybe instead of so thoroughly mapping skills and Seas with Adventures, Seas could have been given skill-sized gaps in the opportunities offered. A little bit of careful assymmetry, not enough to upset balance, might have woven a little subtle complexity into the game's fabric. If anything, 7th Sea is too well-rounded, full as it is with examples like the numerous, conceptually identical Adventures available. It does make me hope that future expansions will introduce alternative adventures, perhaps with smaller straightforward skill bonuses but with some kind of textual advantage, and that some of these will be rotated in to reduce the redundancy of Adventures offered by the base set. Simultaneously, I wish they'd included some of those niftier Adventures right here, in "No Quarter."

Granted, I must admit to a secret agenda: Zombie Pirates! I can't believe there's no "ghost ship" to be found in this game yet, as any type of card. I'd like to see a rare ghost ship that was actually a Ship card, as well as its rare undead Captain! So, in the back of my mind, I am always wondering what cards could be removed from the set to make room for these beloved ghostly considerations. I have no connection with the producers of this game, so I am but spinning my wheels, but the more I've looked at 7th Sea, the less I believe in my doubts regarding redundancy. Nonetheless, surely there are a couple of cards stale and noncontributive enough that they could have better served in necromantic capacity.

The game is clever enough to be worth playing. The rules' simplicity is simply a blessing. Alderac scored another point on my board with a recent ruling made on the 7th Sea mailing list regarding a rules question that, due to an unfortunate lack of calibration between rule and card text, was bound to come up for nearly every player. It was a niggly question of mechanical minutia--most any play group would have to make a rule if they did not have access to the internet--stemming from whether or not tacking to create a cannon attack was "tacking to produce Cannon skill," and thus available for collaboration with certain cards. Initially, the official ruling supported the original intent ("No"), and a perfectly reasonable explanation was offered. However, this effectively created an exceptional circumstance. Exceptional circumstances are the bad kind of complexity, the sort of rules that can transform a game from a happy-go-lucky, tactical romp through fantasy into a sadistic litany of clauses beginning with the words "except," "if," and "unless." I don't know if it was because Alderac noticed that a large amount of the traffic on the list was people wondering this same question, but before very long, a surprising rules change was made: as of November 5th, tacking to create cannon attacks or absorb Hits does count as "producing skill."

Suddenly, some cards, like the common Carousing, got a whole lot stronger. The change elicited some controversy, as any major change will, but I was delighted to see it. For one thing, that's one less exception that needs selling to new players. (If you've noticed an emphasis on simplicity in my appraisal, you're right.) Besides, it is unwise to think that a game should not have a few powerful common cards. Consider Crossing the T, Ambush Boarding, and Betrayal--the more of these and several other powerful rares you have at your disposal (up to three, anyway), the harder you can pound your opponent. If you're stuck praying to get three of most every rare in the set, maybe because you want to play competitively, it's that much more money you'll spend pursuing rares. If you'd like to have some chance of creating an effective deck without having spent more than a hundred dollars, then strong common cards should be welcomed. Of course, it should be expected to some degree that a "well-endowed" player, having broader options, is better equipped to construct a brutally monstrous deck. However, if the game vendor is greedily catering exclusively to the needs of the die-hard collector, players of moderate interest will be repulsed, thus dooming the game.

The moral of this story is, the choice made (Dan Verssen, designer, announced the change, and I presume it was ultimately his decision) is encouraging. Noble Sir Simplicity defeated the ugly, nasty dragon Exceptumstance outside its lair, though not before a few innocent cards had been ravaged in the foul serpent's jaws. Who knows? It is quite possible that the revision "Broadsides" will offer will amend a few cards to strip away the power-through-vagueness they currently enjoy. It's not clear to me that is even necessary, ultimately, as the card base is yet small and the impact is quite containable. But what exactly will happen remains to be seen.

All in all, I feel encouraged this game is of high enough quality, and receives adequate and sagacious attention from its parent company, that it can potentially endure. By adhering to simplicity, and maintaining a fun sense of simulation, Alderac can help ensure 7th Sea remains vital and moves across the counter. The fact that not all potential innovation has yet occurred shouldn't be taken as a very bad sign, as the game is yet young. Alderac has probably also guessed it to be in their interest to slowly expand the variety of activity available to players, both to keep players intrigued, and prevent complications from too rapidly convoluting the game landscape. I do though presume that most of my concerns regarding sheer variety and ingenuity will be soon addressed with future expansions--we shall see.

At least, if it's threatening stagnance, the game succeeds at good balance. All five skills are important to address. No doubt the skills' roles will shift about somewhat as new uses are made available by the addition of cards. Such increased variety will also serve to alleviate the feeling that you could have a very similar game, only much faster, if everyone just started with more lethal skill ratings. After all, every CCG boils down to some kind of race. As choices increase, and approaches to victory, the "racing" feeling is reduced. It is also possible that Alderac is considering introducing alternative victory conditions.

So, should you take the plunge? Do you want to do this? For me, what works about this game is that its strengths come in right where the only other card game I associate myself with--the Middle Earth Collectible Card Game, formerly produced by I.C.E.--had its weaknesses. 7th Sea is a strong multiplayer game, is quite simple to teach, and doesn't take very long to play. A cannon attack deck, the closest this game has a Magic Fireball deck, is more intriguing than the latter, for it requires further tactical considerations--how to squeeze off the first shot, et cetera.

Just because I had to offer one last table, there follows a summary of the six factions yet in the game. Shown are fractional approximations of the average skill ratings of all the Crew belonging to each faction, as well as some other illustrative statistics. Note that, when considering the "best" and "worst skills," that the minimum Swashbuckling rating is 1, whereas other skills' are 0. This is provided so you can easily compare what the different factions have to offer. There is also a sample game you can read if you want a clear idea of how a game of 7th Sea might proceed. After that, it's going to be up to you whether or not to try it.

The Crimson Rogers are an excellent place to start: cannon attack decks are simple to play-it is easy to predict the immediate effects of making an attack--and are also quite effective. The Montaigne faction isn't bad to consider, either, with its prickly, able-bodied, full-pursed Crew. Both the Brotherhood and Sea Dogs provide compelling alternatives to the first two listed, though it is my opinion that each might benefit more strikingly from a broader card base, perhaps making them good second factions. The only faction I would be wary of recommending to a beginner would be the Explorers, requiring as they seem to several additional cards to combine with their Crew. The Castillians similarly thrive particularly well when they can be assured the right set of cards, and I'd hesitate to suggest them for introduction to undecided players.

Faction Nav Cost Avg Cann Avg Sail Avg Adv Avg Infl Avg Swash Avg Cost Init Wlth Crew Max Best Skill Worst Skill
Montaigne 2 1 1 3/4 1 3/4 2 3/4 5 10 6 Swashbuckling Adventuring
Brotherhood 3 1 1 1/7 2 2/5 1 2 1/7 4 4/7 9 8 Adventuring Influence
Sea Dogs 2 1 1/2 1 2/3 1 1 1/4 2 1/4 4 5/6 10 7 Sailing Adventuring
Crimson Rogers 3 1 2/3 6/7 1 1/4 1 2 1/7 4 1/7 8 9 Cannon Sailing
Castillian 4 3/4 1 1/3 1 1 1/4 2 6/7 4 1/3 8 11 Swashbuckling Cannon
Explorers 3 1 1 2 1 2/5 1 3/4 4 1/3 9 9 Adventuring Swashbuckling
Unaligned -- 3/4 3/5 7/8 1/3 1 3/5 3 -- -- Adventuring Influence
Best Faction C.R. S.D. B.C. G.M. A.C.
Worst Faction A.C. C.R. G.M. B.C. E.S.

The Game
2. The Cards
3. The Crew
4. Summary
5. Sample Game