Review: Millennium Blades
Designer: D. Brad Talton, Jr.
Artist: Fábio Fontes
Publisher: Level 99 Games
Category: Card Game, Real-time
Price: $56.76 Amazon
Millennium Blades is a CCG-simulator. Designed by Level 99 Games owner, Brad Talton, Millennium Blades comes from other design pedigree through Talton, including the BattleCON series and Pixel Tactics series. Millennium Blades funded successfully on Kickstarter on May 17, 2015.
Level 99 Games has also published a slew of games, typically themed with anime-style artwork, including: Argent: The Consortium, NOIR: Deductive Mystery Game, Sellswords, RESISTOR_, EXCEED: Red Horizon, and many more. Level 99 Games has a podcast titled Level Cap Podcast, where listeners can hear about Level 99 Games’ upcoming releases and interesting recent developments with the company, as well as banter and discussion on games. Level 99 Games is also working on online versions of both BattleCON and Pixel Tactics.
Millennium Blades is packed full of anime-style artwork and hilarious parodies of pop culture references. Players can summon many creatures including shadow elementals, mages, and many other fantasy/sci-fi themed characters. While the game has lots of humor, certain players will find some questionable content.
Women are not meatbags for the eyes in Millennium Blades, but some women are exposed, with their private areas covered with little clothing. This is not to an extreme like one would see in other titles, but it’s definitely a consideration. Other women are voluptuous, but these are to accentuate the character, as one will also find shirtless men. Characterization is done fairly equally amongst the sexes, and excluding the more revealing female characters (Harpy), Millennium Blades makes a case for most of its illustrations.
Some of the expansion or promotional packs which can be added to a game contain titles like “The Legend of Final Bada**” or “Obari as Hell”. Expect some suggestive titles and jokes in the cards of the game.
Nostalgia is a weird thing.
When you least expect it, nostalgia is the kind of thing that picks you up by your feet and throws you into a whirlwind of emotions. Sometimes nostalgia is remembering a younger you, carelessly throwing caution to the wind, spending hours watching Dragonball Z or playing Starcraft “use map settings” games until 4 AM. Sometimes it’s scrolling through old Spotify playlists from different eras of your life, being reminded of the tunes you listened to on your long drive to your first internship after college at a camp in Michigan.
For me, sitting down to play Millennium Blades brought on heaps of nostalgia.
Millennium Blades is packed with both obvious and obscure pop culture references, including: Super Mario Brothers, Fallout, Yu-gi-oh, Final Fantasy, Firefly, Gundam Wing, James Bond, and many more (I don’t want to spoil them all). Cards are illustrated beautifully and brilliantly by Fábio Fontes. With 600 cards in the box (around 400 unique illustrations at least), I can’t fathom the months of labor Fontes put into this game. Illustrations never look cheap, but instead favor entertaining representations of many facets of modern geek culture. One expects powerful, ancient dragons from the Elemental Dragon Lords promo pack, and instead flips cards to see ordinary dragons trying to make a living, like Jeff the Dragon.
The humor isn’t just in artwork, but also in cheesy, yet infinitely clever titles. References are both subtle and intentionally over-the-top. A cheap deck box is titled pauper deck box, while another player lays down cards from the Rubber Ducky Maid Crusaders R expansion pack. The humor of Millennium Blades somehow dodges unfunny territory and still results in a few chuckles even after players have seen Blue Egg – Rebirth of Water for the sixth time. The rulebook endorses loudly slamming cards on the table while yelling the card title, as if invoking some mystical power.
While Millennium Blades embodies tropes through art, it seems to embrace the lifestyle and emotional roller coasters of collectible card games even more.
The game is split into two distinct phases: deckbuilding and tournaments.
Deckbuilding phases act as compressed and expedited combinations of weeks of deckbuilding, talking shop with buds about the latest metas, working out trade deals, selling unwanted cards online, and most importantly, the sweet, sweet release of buying and cracking open a fresh booster pack.
In these phases, players are given an allowance of 30 millennium dollars and 12 cards. Three timed rounds furnish the deckbuilding phases and players must use the time to buy, sell, trade, build, and collect. Players must not only build a strong eight card deck for the upcoming tournament, but must also become a distinguished collector. Collecting cards means assembling a set of matching element or type cards with different star values. The more gathered into a set, the more victory points awarded.
The battle between cobbling together a synergistic deck and a well-rounded collection means players must constantly weigh the value of every card they own. Icons printed on the booster-backed cards depict the likelihood of drawing a card from a particular element or type. This helps players to evaluate what to use cards for, but players will also spend a lot of time yelling things like, “I know I’ve already asked this three times before, but does ANYONE need light elementals? Anyone?”
I spent hardly any time playing Magic: The Gathering competitively, but I did spend years of my life collecting, opening boosters, net-decking, and messing around with friends. It’s the sort of lifestyle game you dump all of your hobby time into, because simply dipping a toe in isn’t enough. One could buy the latest duel decks to play with a buddy, however. After all, Magic is one of the greatest games ever designed by a long shot. To miss out and ignore it entirely is foolish.
What I love about Millennium Blades is how it captures the essence of what makes Magic so enticing for me, which is the thrill of deckbuilding, acquiring more cards, and blasting your friends to pieces. Deckbuilding in Millennium Blades is abstract, but still brings all the excitement one will find in any CCG lifestyle. The big advantage here is you can just drop the cash one time instead of needing to constantly stay in line with standard play.
Where the deckbuilding phase simulates the lifestyle of collectible card games, the also abstracted tournament phase replicates a weekend of regulated tournament play in about 20-30 minutes.
Players finally use their cards, deck boxes, and accessories, playing a card from their hand one at time onto their tableau. Face up cards typically score points at the end of the round from a variety of different causes. Some cards cause others to flip, which could be a bad thing, but might also be to a player’s advantage from some different effect. Cards can occasionally clash, which pairs the card’s star rating with whatever random card is drawn from the massive store deck, the winner being the higher total.
It should be noted those players looking for an extremely fine-tuned, tactical card game experience like Magic won’t find it here. Terms like mana curve or card advantage simply don’t exist in this world. Instead, players gain tournament points, called ranking points. Players place in the tournament based on their ranking points. Cards grant these points, and players can gain extra from player powers or even by including cards from the revealed meta cards.
This isn’t at all to say Millennium Blades is a shoddy card game—far from it. After all, players can find many cards which will affect one another, but beating others to a pulp isn’t the point of the tournament. The point is instead to build a well-oiled, synergistic eight card deck which builds upon itself. One might find the perfect card that accentuates a strategy and keeps in touch with the meta, even if it doesn’t favor the elements of the starter cards the player began with.
Learning how to connect cards and knowing when to play them is the meat of tournaments. I might know from a previous round that another player has a card which can disable any play effects in this round, so I might try to play all of those cards as quickly as possible. Maybe I’ve built my deck around clashing so I’ll intentionally wait and choose an opponent who plays a low star top card. With so many available cards in the base game, players have tons of decisions to make and many opportunities to build unique decks for tournament play.
Millennium Blades is a ton of fun. Every time I finish a game, I’m already thinking about other ways I could have built my deck. I think about the different promo cards I could have pursued. I question whether I should have traded away Exaltius for extra cash to buy more cards. I have found myself looking up other players’ experiences with the game, and even looking into the Set Rotation expansion, and various promo packs from Level 99 Games.
For everything hilarious and awesome about Millennium Blades, the game comes with a few downsides.
First, setup is challenging. Creating a store deck involves choosing expansions, master packs, premium packs, and more. Taking this huge stack in hand, you’ll need to shuffle these together with the 120 card core set. This takes time, and it’s honestly fine to just play with this enormous stack of cards for your first few games. At the end of the game, you’ll need to separate starter decks from the gigantic discard pile players will create throughout the course of the game. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s a task.
Setup challenges don’t end there. Before playing the game for the first time, you’ll be greeted with a big sheet of stickers and dollar bills. The game instructs you to make stacks of cash, ten units each, then sticker them together with the correct denotation. This process will probably take about an hour and a half. The purpose is for players to enjoy the satisfaction of handing over big bills, and give the impression that Millennium Blades is a seriously big deal. If the game simply relied on individual sheets of paper money, I would dislike the system, but throwing around fat cash is a lot of fun.
Secondly, there are a few art and design issues. The game is pretty to look at, but player, aftermarket, and store tableaus are quite thin and a little bland. This might actually be to the advantage of the game design, since these tableaus will be covered with tons of multi-colored cards with lots of busy artwork. Iconography up front is intimidating, but after a few games, players begin to learn what symbols mean, and learn to parse the store and aftermarket.
Players are given characters and player colors at the beginning of the game. The biggest problem is these colors are associated with various elements, but don’t match the character’s color or starter deck. This makes for a bit of confusion, and I really want some consistency with knowing who is who.
Finally, initially learning the game is a bear. Thankfully, the rulebook is pretty good and recommends a basic, slow-paced, pre-release tournament with each player’s starter deck. This round awards few points, and it’s perfectly paced to teach game mechanisms and give players a starting point when beginning deck building. Even with this in mind, players need to figure out the fun and flow of deck building phases on their own. Personalities around the table will dictate the energy of the room, so I recommend playing with close friends somewhat familiar with CCGs if possible.
The scope of Millennium Blades is long, and the options the game provides are deep. Games from Level 99 Games feel quite variable and modular. Players can use their character’s abilities in the different phases of the game and give each person a reason to be overpowered. In addition, players can earn promo cards based on their characters. Of course, players won’t use every card in the box when they play, so by switching out expansions and other sets, the store deck will be in a constant state of flux, providing cool opportunities for each game. With so many card combinations available, Millennium Blades manages to feel fresh every time you play.
I love the variability in the box, but this also means your box could be a mess. Like Legendary Encounters, or other big card games, organization will be key to reducing setup time and making the game easier to get out. One might look into this post on BoardGameGeek to decide if dividers are a good idea to help mitigate organization.
If you’ve been on the fence with Millennium Blades, or are looking to feed your CCG thirst in a cheaper fashion, look no further.
A review copy of Millennium Blades was provided by Level 99 Games.
The Bottom Line
Millennium Blades perfectly captures the essence of living the CCG lifestyle. Though an intense game, with a high learning curve to play well, the game provides tons of strategic opportunities, great memories, and outstanding humor and art direction.