I’ve been playing Minecraft on the Xbox 360 — and now the Xbox One — for several years now, and that’s saying something, because I’m not an 8-year-old. Neither is my friend, Chris, who is 50 years old, and with whom I’ve spent countless hours online exploring, building, exploding and falling to our deaths in Mojang’s less-than-visually-stunning virtual sandbox environment.
As a fan of Minecraft and a board game geek (see what I did there?), I just had to try Mojang’s Minecraft Card Game. Note that the name of the game includes a question mark. The actual name of the game is Minecraft Card Game?, just to make writing and reading about it confusing. But I get it. I think. The name is perhaps the anticipated reply when you tell your friends on game night that you’ll be playing a Minecraft card game. Your friends inevitably will clarify and say, “Minecraft Card Game?”
Yes, Minecraft Card Game? (Man I hate that question mark, so hereafter I leave it out.)
Minecraft Card Game is designed for 2-4 players and is intended for ages 8 and up. After playing a few games with my 9-year-old daughter, I would say that age rating is just about right, give or take a year. With two players, it plays in about 15-20 minutes.
The game presents players with five randomly distributed face-up piles of Resource Cards. You have your gold, iron, diamonds, wood, stone cards, and some wild cards, and each card has a number. For example, you may draft a “wood” card with 1, 2 or 3 wood resources on it.
As you might imagine, the scarcity of these resources roughly mimics the digital version, with “diamond” cards being the rarest resource and wood being the most plentiful. But it’s not just resource cards in the mix. What would a Minecraft Card Game be without the legendary Creeper and TNT?
As you’re drafting cards off their respective stacks, you may reveal a Creeper. If you do, it blows up, and every player instantly loses a resource, which is a nice design element that fits with the theme. On the other hand, if you’ve ever played Minecraft and played around with TNT, you know that it can be a bit dangerous, but also helpful in gathering resources.
If a TNT card is revealed and then drafted, the player drafting the TNT may take the top card of each resource stack (the TNT card is discarded, so you draw four fresh cards), and keep two of them, discarding the remaining. Of course, stripping cards off all five decks also increases the likelihood that a Creeper may appear, resulting in another card loss for everyone.
So, why all this card drafting?
If you haven’t guessed it, you’re collecting resources to build stuff, Minecraft stuff! Other than drafting resources, you may also use your actions to build a face-up item pictured on one of the four Craft Cards, which are also shuffled and stacked just like the Resource Cards. Here you have shovels, axes, swords, pickaxes and hoes to build, each with its own required resources to build and an associated victory point value. You can even reserve a card as one of your actions if you don’t want to build something right away or want to deny another player the luxury.
The values of these Craft Cards range from 1 to 5, and roughly scale based on the number of resources required and/or the rarity of the resources themselves. There are some non-thematic values on the cards, such as the 1-diamond/1-wood hoe worth just 1 point and the 3-stone/2-wood pickaxe worth 4 points, but I suspect the distribution of the point values ultimately has more to do with balancing play than having them precisely fit the Minecraft mold.
The game design could have ended right there, but the folks at Mojang added another interesting layer to this game. Each of the different items you build has a one-use power related to the item type. For example, building any sword gives you the ability to ignore a Creeper; you don’t have to discard a resource. An axe gives you two free wood resources. The hoe lets you strip off the top card of each resource stack before deciding on which card to take. And the others give you an extra action or take one away from an opponent.
Overall, this is a solid game and could very much be described as “Splendor Lite.” In other words, Minecraft Card Game would make a terrific introductory game and primer to Splendor, especially for kids.
A Few Component Problems
I only had a couple of gripes about the game, and they are exclusively about the components. The artwork and quality of the cards is fine, but keeping the Creepers and upcoming resources hidden in their piles can sometimes be a chore. The reason is that the cards are too slippery, so when you grab the top card, it’s all too easy to bump the next card or two in the stack, revealing the creeper or resource lurking below. One easy solution is to simply keep the Resource Cards face down and reveal only the top card on each. Anytime a card is drafted, just flip over the next card. (Thanks for the idea, Victor!)
Two additional little less-than-easy solutions to this would be for the manufacture to use linen-type cards, or scale down the artwork a bit so that the images don’t appear as close to the edges. Even the slightest bump is enough to give you a slice of the card coming next.
The other issue is with the four plastic card holders that are used for reserving a Craft Card. These holders are ⅝” square blocks modeled after Minecraft blocks, and they have a groove in them. Unfortunately, they hold the cards a little too well, and after just a few plays, the cards we reserved already show indentations due to the tight fit. I would recommend doing away with the holders during game play if you want to keep your cards pristine.
Other than those minor things, Minecraft Card Game is an excellent, fun and fast-playing strategic card game to add to your collection.