Trading card games — or collectible card games (CCGs) — have been popular for over 25 years. It can be argued that it all started with Magic: The Gathering, and since 1993, almost every pop culture property has had a game of some kind — even the Austin Powers film franchise had a CCG. One that has been missing, at least in the West, was the mega-popular Transformers IP.
The late 2000s had a strange Transformers collectible game where players would pop out little pieces from collected cards in order to build tiny models of both the bot and alt modes. While the game was kind of neat, it wasn’t all that much fun, as players spent more time building and rebuilding their characters than they did actually playing the game. Now, Wizards of the Coast — which is a subsidiary of Hasbro, the owners of the Transformers toy line — has rectified this travesty with the official Transformers Trading Card Game, and finally, fans of both transforming robots and card games have something to be excited about.
Late last month, the game officially released in the form of an Autobot starter set and the first wave of booster packs. The starter set comes with four Autobots: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, and Red Alert, and a deck of 40 battle cards. Two players can sit down and play with this set and play around with a set of “simple” rules, but you’ll need to collect more cards if you want to play with the advanced ruleset.
Transformers Trading Card Game is played with oversized character cards featuring some wonderfully drawn Transformers artwork. The cards are double-sided, one for the bot form, the other for the alt/vehicle form. At the start of any game, players can choose which form to start with, and “transforming” can be done at the start of each turn by declaring a change and flipping the card over. Each form has its own stats for attack and defense.
On the surface, the base game is simple. Two players face off with a team of Autobots or Decepticons, or a mix of both — the sky is the limit here — and battle it out with skirmishes. Unlike other popular CCGs, players share the battle deck, and combat is as simple as declaring an attack, pulling two cards off the top of the deck and adding the orange dots on the upper right corner of the card to the attacker’s attack numbers. The defender also pulls two cards and adds the blue dots to their defense. Any hits that exceed the defense number cause damage. You keep doing this until the bot’s HP is drained to zero, and the winner is the first to KO the other player’s bots. This simplicity makes Transformers TCG perfect for younger fans.
The advanced ruleset is where things really kick into high gear. For one, each player needs their own deck of battle cards — at least 40, and no more than three of the same card can be in the deck. Unlike the simple rules, players draw a hand of cards from their decks at the beginning of a game and draw a fresh card at the beginning at each turn. These cards are played, once per turn, to help or hinder in the skirmish.
The battle cards come in two forms: Action or Utility. Action cards give advantages from the flavor text to the player and their bots. Some give better attack or defense stats, or allow the player to manipulate their decks for better cards. They are played, resolved, and then discarded after a turn.
Utility cards are attachments that can be placed on the bots to give them certain advantages, like better weapons, armor, or skills. Unlike action cards, Utility cards stay in play — as they are attached to the bot — unless the flavor text says otherwise, or an action card is played that may destroy a Utility card. Both Action and Utility cards have the attack/defend dots on the upper right-hand corner, making each card multifunctional.
The oversized character cards also contain character-specific flavor text, which usually grants a bonus to attack or defense, or more. The character cards have stars at the bottom, and when building your team for a skirmish, you shouldn’t exceed 25 stars. In terms of strategy, you can build a team bolstered by one very strong character and a couple of weaker bots, or you can craft a deck of multiple weak bots. Of course, players can agree to adjust that number of stars to build strong decks for an all-out brawl with teams of powerhouses fighting each other — not that I’ve done that or anything.
What makes Transformers TCG so unique, and so fun, is the attention to detail that Wizards of the Coast has put into it. The artwork on the cards, both character and battle cards, is fantastic, and the battle card titles are specific to the Transformers universe. There’s a Utility card for “Fusion Cannon of Megatron” (which can be given to any bot!) which gives Pierce 3, meaning that the card guarantees 3 damage no matter what the defense is. There are action cards that benefit Seekers’ air superiority with range, and “Dino Chomp,” which scraps your hand of cards and allows for Bold 5, giving a Dinobot character five battle cards to flip during an attack.
One of my favorite cards that I’ve pulled from a booster is the rare “One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall” action card, which, when played, deals 3 damage to both the attacking bot and the defending bot. If your attacking bot is down to one HP, it can be played as a sacrifice to hurt or take out a defender with 3 or less HP, not entirely unlike the iconic battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie — from which the line comes from. The attention to detail and references to Transformers history and lore is a real treat for longtime fans of the franchise.
In terms of rarity, battle cards come in the usual common, uncommon, and rare forms, and one in 80 booster packs contains a super rare, meaning one per box (factory boxes come with 80 packs). There are 40 characters to collect in the first set along with 81 battle cards. Wizards of the Coast has already revealed that the next expansion — which will focus on the titan, Metroplex, the transforming Autobot city — will be released in late November.
When it comes to deck building, one issue I quickly discovered is that Wizards of the Coast has yet to release a Decepticons starter set. As a result, if you want to put together a team of ‘Cons, you have to buy multiple booster packs and leave it up to chance. I got lucky and pulled a Megatron early, but in the handful of boosters I’ve purchased, Autobots far outnumber my Decepticon team. Also, the transforming mechanic (flipping the card over from bot to alt form) doesn’t really have any noticeable advantages, from what I’ve seen. Sometimes, the alternate form has a higher attack, but that comes with a lower defense or vice versa. Maybe in later releases, this will come into play more, but for now, there’s really no reason to keep your bots in alt form when the fun comes from robots battling each other.
Boosters contain one character card and seven battle cards, and retail for $3.99. The two-player starter set retails for $14.99 and comes with everything you need to play the game with two people, or as a single player against another player with their own starter set.
Transformers TCG is a great start for a Transformers-based CCG. The core gameplay is fast and fun and doesn’t doesn’t bog down the player with unnecessary rules. It’s also fun to collect the cards, and the artwork alone is worthy of a fan’s attention. The simple ruleset is perfect for younger, more novice players, while the advanced rules really open up the game for seasoned CCG fans. I’m excited to see where Wizards of the Coast takes Transformers TCG — now that we have a true Transformers card game, the possibilities are limitless.
This review is based off a Transformers Trading Card Game Autobot Starter Set and two booster packs, which were provided to us by Hasbro. Additional booster packs were purchased by the reviewer.