Review of Highlander: The Card Game, Movie Edition

Reviewed By Cindy Shettle

{Originally Published in Interregnum APA}

I happen to like this game. However, as a Highlander fan I'm willing to invest large sums of money in it. This makes it easy to overcome some of the obvious problems with their distribution system. I am also more inclined to forgive the game for its faults, even though, when I look at it objectively, I can see that it has some.

This is not a game where you can just buy a single starter deck and expect to be able to play. A legal deck requires one each of fifteen basic cards (nine attacks, six defenses). However, a starter deck contains at most fifteen such cards and there are usually duplicates. Of all the starter decks I bought, the most I had was thirteen different basic attacks and defenses, and one had as few as six. Booster packs did not appear to be much help in this regard. Distribution by rarity varied so much that I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be in a pack. I even found a couple with no basic cards at all. Additionally, there is a fifty card minimum size for a legal deck, and only fifty five cards in a starter deck. Since there are so many cards that can only be played if you have other cards, finding fifty useful cards in a starter deck is pretty much impossible. This doesn't completely go away for even the more serious collectors. After buying more than a thousand cards, I still have some that I can't play with. For a begginer I'd recommend buying at least two starter decks for each player (or playing in the vicinity of an experienced Highlander player, most of whom are only too happy to get rid of a few extra basic attacks and defenses.)

The game is supposed to simulate a sword fight. The rules are set up so that being behind puts you at a disadvantage, enough so that if one player is severely wounded, and the other is not, the wounded player will usually lose. This rule represents a realistic sword fight much better than a cinematic ones from the movies or TV. The rarity of cards enabling you to regain Ability in the Movie Edition only makes this worse (Ability is a "hit point" equivalent.) Even with all the cards I bought, I don't have enough healing cards unless I resort to borrowing from the First (TV) Edition, where they were more common.

There are also quite a few logic errors thrown in. Losing your sword prevents you from making any attacks. This is not limited to attacks with a sword, but includes kicking, shoving, throwing a baseball, or shooting a gun. Also, a number of cards obviously function on time scales different from those of a fight. You can come up with complex plots in the background, summon your flunkies, or travel instantly from the heart of a desert to the depths of a mountain cave (or the middle of a parking lot.)

One of the selling points of the game is that you can play your favorite Immortal. Again, this isn't easy to do unless you want to invest serious amounts of money. All the persona cards representing these Immortals are rare, and you cannot legally play a specfic Immortal without one. In non-tournament play, one can get by with an index card containing the text from the persona card. The persona card is one of the cards which is required to use other cards. But, of course, you have to aquire the other cards as well if you want to play a specfic Immortal to their fullest. The Movie Edition's introduction of nemesis cards, designed to turn some of an Immortal's strengths into weaknesses, can help balance a generic deck against a specific one.

I liked many of the other new cards added in the Movie Edition. There are now enough different kinds of master cards (representing tricks learned from one's mentor or those acquired by highly experienced Immortals) that the limitations on how many a particular Immortal can use matters for all Immortals. The introduction of a persona card for generic Immortals allows them to use master cards, correcting part of the imbalance.

I also like the concept of the Cat and Mouse Plot, which has an effect for every card played, increasing based on the total number played by both players. This format prevents the usual problem with plots, which normally require three different cards, played on three different turns, before they have any effect at all. The Movie Edition also introduces edge cards, so called because they can give you an edge in the combat. Some allow modification of dice rolls, giving disarm attempts a much better chance to succeed. Other edge cards enable you to defend against certain attacks that normally don't allow a defense. The gold foil chase cards are very useful to have when playing the corresponding persona, since they give a non-removable bonus to Ability at the very start of the game. I also like the introduction of non-standard attack and defense cards, something that the previous edition had very little of.

As I said at the beginning, I like this game. The rules limit the number of cards a player may hold in his hand to his current Ability. From what little I know of swordfighting, I think this does a good job of representing the fact that injuries slow a person down. A lot of my enthusiasm for the movie edition is, however, of the nature of a bunch of nifty new cards to add to my TV edition decks. Being a much bigger fan of the series than I am of the movies, my interest in the cards for their own sake, not merely what they did, was much higher in the previous edition. I enjoyed collecting pictures of characters that I liked, or those that represented interesting scenes from the show. Overall, I think the game is more likely to be enjoyed by Highlander fans than by card players.

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