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As of this writing the world is stuck in quarantine. My love for trading card games has not gone away, though. This lead me to look at card games I haven’t given a fair shake that I could force my wife (and hopefully kid) to play without them facing decades of experience as they would with Magic. My wife is far from a gamer and focuses mainly on Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. So, I knew it would be a bit of a challenge to teach her a card game. Final Fantasy TCG from Square Enix seemed to be fairly simple on the surface and I love the art and card quality, so I went with that. Now that we have played a few actual games I can give you a guide on how to get there.
The goal of this guide is to help you learn or teach someone how to play a card game with no previous experience. The rules of the game are somewhat simple compared to other card games, but the cards themselves add a lot of complications for new players. I tried just helping my wife with our cards both laid out and face up but it was too much information to take in at once. So, after a quick aside, I’ll explain how we got to a few full games.
Final Fantasy TCG Card Types
This will be a very high level look at how the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game works as a whole. There are only a few card types that make up a deck; Forwards (attackers and blockers),Backups (resources and buffs), Summons (one shot spells), and Monsters (generally conditional forwards).
Forwards are often main characters from the Final Fantasy franchises, such as Cloud and Sephiroth, and have a power rating that ranges widely in the 1000’s. Don’t let the high numbers scare you, though. It all makes sense in the game. They will also have unique abilities that in many cases work best with other cards from the same franchise. Cloud and Tifa like to be on the same team, but Cloud and Zidane, which are from different entries in the series generally don’t interact much.
Backups are generally non-specific characters such as Monk or Red Mage in many cases, but can be named characters as well. They can’t fight, but they produce Crystal Points which are used to play cards and many have special abilities that can drastically change the course of a turn. You can only have five backups out at a time. Fortunately, some allow you to break them (remove them from the field and put in the Break zone) to do something.
Summons work like magic spells would in a movie or role playing game. They have a powerful effect and will generally help your deck do whatever it wants to do. If you are playing a deck that wants to get in weaker but cheaper forwards, for example, Shiva will let you Dull (turn sideways) your opponents forwards and keep them that way for a turn. Other cards will let you draw more cards or filter through your deck.
Monsters work in unique ways and in many cases have a condition that needs to be met to make them a Forward or they can act like a spell that sits on the battlefield until used. In addition, if they are not a Forward when they come into play, their abilities can generally be used immediately, including things that require them to be Dulled. If they do become a Forward they would need haste to act. They are a card that sit between your Forwards and Backups and can enhance your strategy. I haven’t used them often yet, but the power behind the cards is clearly there (If possible, leave them out of your learning decks to simplify thing).
EX Burst is a mechanic that works when you take damage. FFTCG doesn’t use traditional dice for life points when you take damage. Instead, you can take a total of 7 damage flipping one card off the top of your deck and putting it in the damage zone each time you are hit by a Forward. If the card has an EX Burst you can play the effect immediately for free. The card never actually enters the battlefield but goes to the damage zone instead. So if you flip a Forward with an EX Burst you get an ability, but not a new Forward on the field. In addition, some EX Burst cards will have text for when they are played from your hand and text if they are triggered during a Burst. It is an important distinction and you need to read the card completely to make sure you only use the parts that are relevant. The effects are generally powerful and can take you from the brink of defeat to turning the tide of battle. You don’t pay the cost when they are flipped for damage, but you can pay the cost to cast the card from your hand and treat it as any other card.
Final Fantasy TCG Gameplay
This is a very basic guide to the gameplay loop of the Final Fantasy TCG, which will get more in depth the further we get into the guide. The general idea here is to get a new player comfortable with how a card game works without having to focus on what every card does.
Each player has a deck of 50 cards with no more than 3 copies of a particular card. You can have as many copies of Cloud as you like as long as they are different versions. So 3 of the Cloud pictured here, and 3 of a different version of Cloud (possibly from the Dissidia series, or a different VII version) but you could not have more than 3 of the exact same versions of Cloud, or any other card. Next, players shuffle their decks and draw five cards. The player that goes first will decide if they want to keep their hand or not. If they don’t want it, they put it on the bottom of their deck in any order and draw 5 new cards. Then the second player does the same. This can only be done once.
The first player draws one card on their first turn and then starts to play cards. This is the first main phase.
Phases are as follows:
Draw Phase: On the first turn, the first player draws one card. From then on players draw two cards.
First Main Phase: During a main phase you can play cards or cast Summons. Any cards can use their abilities at this point as well..
Attack Phase: This is where all the good stuff happens. Forwards attack one at a time by Dulling and defending players can take the attack or block with one of their Forwards.(Summons may be cast during this time as well, but that comes in as things get more advanced).
Second Main Phase: Same as the first phase.
End Phase: Some cards reference end phase effects, but not much happens here in most cases except for clearing damage from Forwards.
On the upper right of all cards are their casting cost. These have a color and a number. The color is the element, and the number is the Crystal Point cost. All cards require at least one Crystal Point of the color in their casting cost with Dark (black) and Light (white) cards being the exception. Dark and Light can be played with any color CP (Crystal Points).
To generate your first CP you can discard a card into your Break Zone (remove from field) which will give you 2 CP of the cards color. The cost in the upper left doesn’t matter, you always get 2 CP with discarding. All cards besides Dark and Light cards can be discarded for CP.
Once you have generated your first CP you can play a card. So if you discard a Fire (red) card, you get 2 Fire CP to play a card. If a card requires 4 CP to cast, you can discard two cards with one being the same element (color). If a card cost 3 CP and you discarded two cards, the extra CP is lost.
Backups will generate CP by turning sideways, or Dulling them. When they first come into play they enter play Dull. Generally, your first turn is used to play a Backup so you will have extra resources for your next turn. You can continue to discard and play cards until you are out of CP or cards that are playable.
If you play a Forward it comes into play Active (not turned sideways) but can not perform actions that require it to Dull unless it has Haste. Once you have finished your turn, player two starts their turn.
From here on, players draw two cards at the start of their turn. This is a key difference compared to many other card games and is needed due to the discarding of cards to generate resources. Player two takes their turn in the same way as player one.
Summons can be played at any time unless the card says otherwise but at this point in the learning process we just use them to generate CP.
Once both players have taken a turn or two and have Forwards out, they are able to start fighting.
Playing Your First Game of FFTCG
This is how I got my wife up to speed and made it so that she could go from having no experience with card games to being able to play the game with all of the rules. For the first game or two all cards have no text on them. This means Forwards are simple characters that fight. Backups are only there to generate CP. Summons are only used to discard for resources. Monsters were not included.
The first couple of games were played to learn the very basics of a card game. How to generate resources and get damage through. We discarded cards to get Backups out and used those resources to help play Forwards.
(A good starting point is to use starter decks. We used the Opus XI Cloud vs Sephiroth decks as our starting point.)
Playing this way let my wife get a grasp on combat and using Backups to help play cards. Combat was handled with no text, just number vs. numbers. You only attack with one character at a time by Dulling it. When you do this the Forward is committed to an attack and the defending player decides if they want to block or take the damage. If they block, the biggest number wins the fight and the lowest goes to the Break Zone. If the numbers are tied, both characters go to the Break Zone.
If the attack is undefended, the defending player takes one point of damage regardless of how big the actual number on the character is. A 2000 point hit and a 10,000 point hit still only do one damage to the player. When the defending player takes damage they move one card from the top of their deck to the damage area. Once they reach seven cards in their damage area they lose the game.
If a character is Dulled due to attacking the previous turn it can not defend. Only Active character are able to block attacks. This is a good way for new players to start to work out the math of combat. “I can get in 3 damage putting them at 6 total, but then I have no blockers and they can hit me for 3 which will kill me. So, I need to attack with 2 so I have a defender.”
This, of course, is not how the game is meant to be played and gave the Sephiroth deck a big advantage since it has much larger guys. But the point here is to get comfortable with combat and playing cards from your hand. Once the basics are down, we moved to step two.
Learning The Final Fantasy TCG Step by Step
In step two, we decided to add Summons and EX Burst triggers as the new rules. Everything from the first few games stayed the same, but now Summons could be cast when allowed. This gave a new wrinkle to combat and allowed us to discuss priority and timing.
Summons can be cast at any time you have priority unless they say otherwise. So I would say that I have played my cards for the main phase, do you have a response. Nope? Okay, moving to combat. Do you have a response? Yes? Okay, cast it and play it out.
If an EX Burst was flipped when taking damage, we would also read the card together and I would help explain how to use the ability strategically and also warned that if I took damage something could happen that would kill one of her characters.
After a few games with Summons and EX Burst added, we decided to add text from Backups.
How to Play the Final Fantasy TCG with All the Rules
After a few games of the Final Fantasy TCG using the rules on the Backups cards, we started to get into a rhythm of how the game played out. Many Backups have unique abilities but they are generally straight forward. Break (remove from field) this card to do damage, or when this card comes into play, if you have this, do this. That added more complexity to the game but it wasn’t overwhelming yet. Combat was a bit more balanced, but her deck still had an advantage in many cases.
Along with Backups we added in keywords for Forwards on our second “backup rules game.” It is a good idea to have a printout with what each keyword does. Haste for example, allows a character to act the turn it comes into play. Brave can be confusing to new players as it doesn’t require a Forward to Dull when attacking, which means it can block. This adds more to figuring out combat.
Finally, we played with all card text on all cards. This will take a few games to really start to grasp as some of the Forwards in the game have complicated rules. If you are teaching a new player how to play, explain why certain cards do what they do. If they have three choices on the card and one doesn’t seem to make sense, explain situations where that would come in to play. Take your time and do worry about wins or losses and you’ll be playing full games without much issue. Adding in Monsters is next, but since they weren’t included in our starters we left them out.
Building a FF TCG Deck
After a few more games we will start to talk about what we like and don’t like about certain elements. We will then start to look at cards we want to play with and build decks around those. Eventually, we will both find a style we like and be able to start customizing decks on our own and having more fun with the game while in quarantine and beyond.
Stay tuned to backtothegaming.com as we start to cover more and more about the Final Fantasy TCG in the near future.
Stay safe and take care of each other.
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