Saturday 4 March 2017

Game REVIEW: Weiss Schwarz Love Live! Trial Deck & Love Live! DX Vol 2/Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya Boosters

RRP: £18.99 per deck, £4.95 per booster (8 cards)
Where to buy?: Available from your friendly local game shop!

Anime and trading cards are two things that have always gone hand in hand. From the card games (which on occasion are indeed on motorcycles) of Yu-Gi-Oh! to the classic Pokemon and Digimon cards, it seems all the biggest franchises come pre-bundled with some sort of highly addictive collectible card game. However in terms of sheer scale there's nothing that quite compares to Weiss Schwarz, the multi-franchise card game from Bushiroad that features characters from the likes of Love Live!, the Monogatari Series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Stay Night and more. As well as taking Japan by storm, an English-language version of the game was also released in the West to allow card gamers to battle it out with their favourite anime heroes.

Thanks to the wonderful people at Esdevium Games (the UK distributor for Weiss Schwarz as well as the Pokemon Trading Card Game, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Cardfight Vanguard and more) we're going to be taking a look at some of the game's latest English releases. Let the waifu wars begin as we get to grips with the game through the Love Live! School Idol Festival trial deck, as well as checking out some booster packs from the Love Live! DX Vol.2 and Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei ranges!

The Packaging

Firstly we have the Love Live! trial deck, which comes in some fairly basic (but sturdy) rectangular cardboard packaging. Each deck's packaging is tailored to its respective series, and so Love Live's is done up in a nice combination of ocean blue and orange, with white shapes dotted here and there to give it a little more flare. It does the job nicely and isn't too extravagant, because the main draw here is what's peeking through the central transparent window - which is of course a holo-foil Honoka Kosaka card (who else was it going to be?). Honoka is also featured on the orange strip at the bottom of the box, which also features the Weiss Schwarz logo and lists the box's contents.

Opening the box up you'll find everything neatly arranged on a clear plastic tray, which is great for keeping your deck nice and orderly when not in use. Behind the 50-card deck are also a number of other helpful goodies for budding players, including a rules sheet, playbook, playmat and deck manual.

As I was provided with two trial decks I also made a rather interesting discovery. While both decks contained the same cards, one deck included a foil version of the "Treasured Things µ's" card (along with a standard version) while the other had two standard versions instead. This is what Bushiroad call a "parallel type" - variant versions of a card that feature either foil or alternate artwork. The inclusion of variant cards is extremely common, but never before have I seen it done with trial decks. In a way it almost seems unfair, as surely if you're buying a set deck it makes sense for everyone to receive exactly the same cards. Players probably won't mind all that much, but it's the kind of thing that can drive collectors crazy.

Meanwhile the booster packs come in the usual foil packets that should be familiar to anyone who's ever bought trading cards before, and feature a total of eight cards each. It also seems like every pack includes some sort of holo-foil card, which is always nice to see from a collectors' point of view (nothing was worse than buying a Pokemon Trading Card Game booster back in the day and NOT getting a holo-foil card). The Love Live! DX Vol 2 cards come in gorgeous metallic blue and gold packets, featuring the first (and arguably main) three girls of μ's on the front - Honoka, Umi and Kotori (aka best girl). The packet also says the range consists of a total of 169 different cards, as well as an additional 37 parallel types.

Finally the Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya boosters are done up in a cutesy pink and white colourscheme, which matches Illya's magical girl outfit rather nice. Unlike the Love Live! boosters the main image has been split into two, with one side featuring generic artwork of Illya and Miyu and the other them alongside Kuro. This range is also much smaller than the Love Live! selection, featuring a total of 86 cards with an additional 19 parallel types.

The Cards

Weiss Schwarz cards come in three different varieties - character cards, event cards and climax cards. The cards themselves are all of nice high quality, making them easy to shuffle and reasonably sturdy. In terms of presentation they definitely favour aesthetics over ergonomics, as the picture takes up the majority of the space and that all-important play text is relegated to a tiny space at the very bottom. The text itself is perfectly readable, but those with poorer eyesight mind themselves needing a magnifying glass just in case.

Character cards are the ones that make up most of both the range and your average deck, as well as being the most identifiable element of the game itself. Each card features a character from the respective anime series, though they aren't always depicting just the main cast. One of my pulls from the Love Live! boosters was actually of the two alpacas that appear in the show, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest cards of any game I own regardless of rarity. Character cards are the player's primary means of combat, and each sport their own unique abilities and power/soul point values (more on that as we get to the game itself). As well as featuring either character artwork or a still from the series in question, each card also has a character quote to go with it just above the name and power level - many of which are HILARIOUSLY suggestive in the Love Live! girls' case. In general the artwork is of exceptionally high quality, however some of the cards that depict stills from the anime itself are a little underwhelming. While most are still great and add a nice bit of variety to the mix, every so often there's the odd one that's either blurry or seemingly chosen a transitional frame to use. Luckily they are few and far between, because they stick out like a sore thumb among their higher quality counterparts.

Meanwhile event cards depict various scenes from the franchise, which in Love Live!'s case I'm going to assume relates to a many of the musical numbers from the show or game. Curiously I didn't receive any Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya event cards from my four boosters, which leads me to believe that they aren't particularly common and/or plentiful. Even the trial deck only has two different types of event card in it, so maybe they aren't all that essential to a good deck. Still, as their name suggests these cards offer certain "events" that you use for various effects during your turn. Players can play as many of these as they want during their turn, providing they have sufficient stock to pay their individual costs.

Finally climax cards are a particularly unique case, as these are viewed horizontally rather than vertically. These cards each have their own special effects that could potentially turn the tide of a game, but only last for one turn. On top of that, a deck can only contain a maximum of eight climax cards. Based on that fact alone, it's fair to assume that these are the real heavy hitters of the game even though its the character cards that do the actual attacking.

Lastly, while I sadly don't have any of my own to show off for this review there are also special cards which feature holo-foil signatures of that character's respective voice actor. This is an extremely cool thing from a collector standpoint, especially since many Western fans may never get the opportunity to meet these people to obtain autographs for themselves.

The Game

It was at this point that the biggest obstacle that Weiss Schwarz is facing became clear - this game is far from beginner friendly. Obviously I can't really speak for more experienced card gamers who are well-versed in the likes of Cardfight Vanguard or Magic the Gathering, but I'm the kind of person who knows their way around the Pokemon Trading Card Game and just wants that little push into a bit more involved. Weiss Schwarz feels less like a little push and more being thrown in at the deep end. This is further emphasised by the fact that the included rules sheet is very little help at all. It certainly helped make sense of what everything on the cards was, but not what everything on the cards actually does or how it worked. The lengthy play-by-play of a standard turn tries its best to summarise everything and break it all down into something manageable, but in doing so becomes a tangled web of steps that covers things far too briefly. Of course there's also a playbook handy to cover things in better detail, but if you haven't made sense of how the game works before then there isn't much hope there either. 

However, determined to make some sense of it I turned to online tutorials and Youtube videos - which did help to make how the game work seem a little more straightforward. But even then this really isn't a game you can just jump into. Unless you have transferable knowledge from other card games that use a similar system (I've seen Vanguard thrown around a lot) expect frustration, headaches and a whole lot of trial and error before everything begins to fall into place.

The playmat is fairly self explanatory, providing a handy visual guide of where all the cards should be kept to keep the game neat and tidy. What's particularly cool about the mat included here is that the underside also features some basic strategies on how to use the trial deck, offering some guidance on which cards are best to use to go on the offensive. In addition to that it also has some pointers on what additional cards are handy on bolstering the deck, which is a big help to someone who might be interested in customising or building their own deck but doesn't have a clue where to start.

It also wasn't until I researched further into the rules that I found out that generally cards from different series are not permitted to be mixed into the same deck. As someone drawn to Weiss Schwarz because of the sheer amount of properties it encompasses, I personally found this to be a massive shame. I mean who wouldn't want to see the Love Live! girls supporting the likes of Saber and Madoka into battle?

Moving onto the game mechanics, the aim is to deal enough damage to your opponent to take them from level 0 to level 4 - and in doing so the game is won. However the catch is that your current level also denotes which cards you can use at that given time, with level 0 cards naturally being the weakest in the deck. So even if you're dominating the early stages of the game, your opponent could easily come back after taking enough damage to access their most powerful cards. 

Each turn consists of seven different phases, with the attack phase look particularly complicated on the playmat's handy little step-by-step turn guide. One look at it and it's no wonder this game can seem so daunting to newcomers. It really is a case of getting yourself accustomed with the playmat and where everything goes, as once you get a feel for it everything will eventually fall into place. Naturally with the player completely dependant on level 0 cards at the beginning of the game getting a good starting hand requires a fair bit of discarding and redrawing, making sure to keep a hold of any other cards that may come in handy. However taking damage from your opponent isn't the only way to level up, as the player is also able to damage themselves in an attempt to level up at a faster pace. The self-sacrificing adds a nice bit of tactical play to procedures, and players could easily get caught damaging themselves in order to access better cards before their opponent tips them over the edge even further.

Once players have gotten into the groove games tend to last an average of around 15-20 minutes, which is short enough to provide plenty of fast-paced gameplay but at the same time long enough that matches don't feel over before they've barely begun. And again, if you're anything like me multiple games with different draws and outcomes make it much easier to pick the game up that one drawn out match where you're left fumbling about. Practice makes perfect, and this is a game where it's better to just stuck in as much as possible.


Whether you're looking at this from a collector or player perspective, Weiss Schwarz is most certainly an investment. From a collection point of view you're greeted with a franchise-spanning card game that covers almost every major anime series you can think of, each with their own ranges. Even if you try to limit yourself to specific series it would be very easy to get that "collect them all" mentality, as the cards and artwork are of such high quality. Seeing so many different anime franchises represented in the same format is really cool, and feels like a spiritual crossover in the absence of anything more substantial.

On the gamer side of things, it's an investment of time. More experienced players might be able to walk into the game with few problems (again, I can't say for sure) but if you aren't one of those people this game feels like a lot to get to grips with. Once you've overcome this fairly steep learning curve however there's definitely a lot to love about this game. The fact that you can only play your most powerful cards after taking substantial damage is an interesting twist, allowing games to suddenly end in huge upsets as decks begin to show their full potential at the very end. And even if you can't crossover franchises within a single deck, you can still lay waste to the case of Kill la Kill with Fate/Stay Night or hold the ultimate idol face off between Love Live! and The Idolm@ster. That's where the real beauty in Weiss Schwarz lies - it's a wonderfully absurd piece of anime absurdity that will hopefully capture fans' love for both licensed properties and intricate card games.

These cards were kindly provided by Esdevium Games for review purposes. However, all reviews reflect the writer's own personal views and are not influenced in any way.

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