Sunday, April 27, 2014

A wide world for a narrow audience

On first glance, Clive Barker's epic dark fantasy novel Imajica seems like a strange choice to be made into a collectible card game, but makes a little more sense if you look at the context. In 1997, when the game was published, comic book stores were a major outlet for CCG sales, and Marvel was publishing a line of comics co-created by Clive Barker, so he was a presence in the overall marketplace. More importantly, the Imajica CCG was one of two games published by Clive Barker's publisher Harper Collins, so negotiating the rights was probably pretty easy.

The novel details a modern-day artist's discovery that he has a part to play in the Reconciliation, a joining of Earth with four other worlds where magic is commonplace. The worlds described in the book are populated by all manner of strange creatures, providing the game with a ready made cast of characters. Locations from each of the five worlds are played to the center of the table, and each player's goal is to use their characters and action cards to take control of at least one location from each world.

The game play is interesting, with a fair amount of strategic options. You can focus on targeting your opponent's characters, limiting his ability to take over the location cards he needs, or you can play defensively and try to grab your locations as quickly as possible. Many of the locations offer strategic advantages to whoever controls them, and most of the more powerful characters can only be put into play if you control a location native to their home world.

There is a lot of great artwork on the cards, and the graphic design favors the art with full sized images and minimal game text. However, good as the artwork is, it also runs a very wide range of inconsistent styles, even using some public domain images by Manet, Sargent, and other classical portrait artists, which makes it difficult to really immerse yourself in the game's world.

Like many collectible games from the 1990s based on licensed properties, most notably Decipher's Star Trek and Star Wars games, in Imajica most of the source material's central characters are rare cards, so players often end up playing with minor, forgotten characters. This probably isn't a problem for players who haven't read the book, but I can't imagine the game attracting too many of those. Interesting as it may be to give those minor characters their day in the sun, fans of the book might be put off by the relative difficulty in acquiring cards representing the book's main characters.

In the end, the Imajica CCG is an okay game, but not overly compelling, especially if you're not familiar with the novel. The game play is a bit too complex for it to be an entry-level game for Clive Barker fans. Unfortunately, this limits the game to a too-small audience of Barker fans who are also experienced gamers.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) A decent game if you're a fan of the novel and collectible card games.

Date played: March 8, 2014