Dale Yu: First Impressions of Disney Lorcana 

Disney Lorcana

  • Designers: Ryan Miller and Steve Warner
  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Players: >1
  • Played with cards provided by Ravensburger at the GenCon launch party

So, I’ve just returned from GenCon, and I was able to get my hands on a few Disney Lorcana cards and give the game an initial go.  I was invited to a press launch party for the game, and the powers that be want me to make clear that my Disney Lorcana cards were provided by the publisher as well as some other small gifts, and all of the scrumptious food and drinks were also provided by the same great folks.

We were all invited to a small gathering at a local restaurant which had been transformed for the evening.  And I seriously mean transformed – lights, wall coverings, table coverings, video screens, full vinyl wraps and window clings.  It was like being at one of the amusement park attractions, and it definitely set the mood for the evening.  They even had a few folks out in the street acting like park cast members, with lighted wands pointing us in the correct direction from the valet stand to the restaurant.  All in all, a very impressive setup and production – but nothing out of line with what I would expect from either Disney or Ravensburger.

I was definitely looking forward to this event; in part because it was realistically the only chance I had to get some of the cards from The First Chapter of Disney Lorcana.  Yes, I know that I have omitted the space in the title, but this is how it sounded out of the mouths of all of the Ravensburger people.  There was no talk of Lorcana.  It is definitely and definitively “Disney Lorcana”, said so rapidly together that it should be written “DisneyLorcana”, and so for the rest of this review, it shall be so.

We started with small talk and drinks (from a list of especially curated drinks all themed around DisneyLorcana).  As we walked in, we had our picture taken, and our likeness was printed on a DisneyLorcana card.  We were also given our swag bag which contained: a starter box, two boosters, a player mat, a deck box, sleeves, and two pins.  We were also given a small card to encourage us to trade cards with other attendees.  When we were able to present these six cards to the staff, we got a very nice signed piece of art as a further souvenir of the evening.

We then had a small video presentation (which we were not allowed to film) and then some words from the Ravensburger brass and then from one of the designers, Ryan Miller.  There wasn’t any new news (to me) in the talk, but they were clearly reinforcing the fact that this was only the first part of DisneyLorcana, and many more Chapters were in the works – though, of course, they couldn’t tell us anything about them at the moment!

For the rest of the evening, we were free to enjoy the great company and the game.  A number of tables were setup with full player mat wraps on them to allow us to learn the game.  Many other attendees were pretty caught up with the whole trading aspect of our quest, and spent much of the evening chatting with people and searching for the needed cards.  I think for some folks, the trading of the cards could be the main focus; I know countless kids who buy and collect Pokemon CCG cards, and when you ask them to play the game, they literally have no idea how to play the game with the cards – for them, it’s just about catching them all… I suspect there will be a certain element of the DisneyLorcana base who is in only for the hunt of the cards.

As I said earlier, we were given enough cards to get started – we each got a starter deck which is 60 cards, focused on two colors.  I got Emerald and Ruby – which means that most of my cards are of those two colors.  There is also a booster pack included in the starter set, so you do get a bit of variety there.  We also had two more booster packs thrown in our bag – so I have 96-ish cards for now.  (I actually think I have a few less, because as people were looking for certain cards for the trading quest, I am pretty sure I just gave some of my commons away without getting something in return so that everyone could get their piece of art!)  Given the duplicates in the starter deck, I think this initial bolus provided me with about 65 unique cards out of the 200+ available in the First Chapter.

It had been a long time since I’d held any CCG cards in my hands (well, other than using MTG commons for prototype proxies), and I will say, there was an oh-so-familiar bit of giddiness and excitement as I opened up my boosters and rifled thru the cards to see what I got.   Following the de rigeur CCG format, each 12-card booster pack is ordered – with the 6 commons at the top, 3 uncommons, 2 rares and then a foil card at the bottom.

So how does the game work?  If you have played any other CCG before, a lot of the game will feel familiar, and it is pretty easy to jump into the game – though there are a number of things which feel innovative for the genre (see: Inkwell)  Each player has a deck of cards – at least 60 total, though no more than 4 of any particular card (specific card, not character!), and you are limited to having cards from only one or two of the 6 ink types.  For my purposes, I pretty much just used my starter deck straight from the box.  

The goal here is to collect 20 Lore – unlike other CCGs, the goal is not to defeat your opponent by killing them or draining them of life – but rather gaining Lore by succeeding in quests.  Obviously, it’s mostly semantics, but given the anticipated audience for DisneyLorcana, it is thematically fitting and a much more palatable victory condition to explain to younger gamers.

To start, the deck is shuffled and a hand of 7 cards is dealt. You can take a one-time mulligan and discard any unwanted cards from your starting hand and drawing replacements from your deck. Reshuffle your deck prior to starting.

Again, the game is played until someone has 20 Lore.  Turns are split into two phases – the Beginning Phase and the Main Phase.  In the Beginning Phase, you “Ready” your cards, which means you stand them all upright, you enact any start of turn actions on your cards, and then you Draw a card from the top of your deck.

The Main phase is a freewheeling phase where you can do any legal actions in any order you want and as many times as you want, with one exception – you can only add a single card to your inkwell per turn:

  • Add a card to your Inkwell – take any card from your hand and place it face down on the table in your Inkwell.  Once placed, it is there for the rest of the game.  Cards in the Inkwell can be “exerted” – that is rotated 90 degrees as if you were t*pping them – to provide 1 ink.
  • Playing a card – put a card from your hand into play on the table, exerting cards from your inkwell to match the cost seen in the upper left corner.  Newly played character cards have summoning sickness, er, I mean, they are newly painted, and you are waiting for their ink to dry – so you can’t use them until the next turn.  They do come into play upright though, and not t*pped… I mean, exerted – as this keeps them safe from Challenges.  Items can be used immediately, and Action cards generally resolve and then are immediately discarded
  • Sing a song – Song cards are special action cards that can be paid for in the traditional way, but previously played character cards can be exerted to pay for the cost.
  • Use a character effect – there is often a cost associated with this; if it involves exerting, be sure to remember whether that card is able to do so
  • Quest – using a character played in a previous turn, exert the card and gain lore equal to their lore value.
  • Challenge – exert one of your characters to initiate the challenge, and then designate a target – this must be an opponent’s character who is already exerted.  Both characters deal damage to their opponent equal to their strength, putting counters on their target.  If the counters exceed the card’s willpower rating, the card is banished and discarded from play.

Whenever you are done doing stuff, you let your opponent know that you’re done and they take their turn.  The game can end in two ways – usually when one player has 20 or more Lore and wins, though it is possible to lose the game if you are unable to draw a card from your deck.

My thoughts on the game

It is important to states that as of the writing of this piece, I have only played twice, and only with a single starter deck, so I have really only experienced Ruby and Emerald cards.  Unfortunately, for the purposes of this review, my opponent also had only Ruby/Emerald, so I didn’t get to see how the other four ink types work at all.  I also have not yet been able to play more as I only had a single starter deck, and until I get more cards, I simply don’t have enough cards to play with anyone else at home nor do I even have the opportunity to try out any other colors were I to find another opponent who also had cards.

The game felt both familiar and new.  I used to play a lot of Magic: The Gathering in my youth (from Alpha to Fallen Empires if that helps show my age), as well as a number of other games, and there are a fair amount of similarities.  Yet, there are a lot of things which felt new.  I liked the ever-growing Inkwell, which is your source of casting power.  The cards do not require any particular color of ink to be cast, you simply exert cards from your Inkwell – regardless of their color/identity.  There is a lot of interesting strategy around the Inkwell, as any card that you place in there is gone from your deck for the duration of the match.  I found that critical decisions can come early in the game if you are trying to rush out a card, but then you have to decide if it is worth sacrificing another good card in order to get enough ink to do so.

Pacing your play is also pretty important.  You start out with seven cards, and you should remember that you are only drawing a single card in each Beginning Phase to replenish your hand.  In the cards that I had available to me, I didn’t find many other ways to draw cards into my hand.  As you are free to play as many cards as you can afford, in addition to playing a card each turn into your Inkwell, you could end up with a very small hand – and if you get to that point, you really may have limited options with what to do on your turn.  Figuring out how and when to play cards feels like it is going to be a big part of the overall strategy.  I noted a couple of games where players were reduced to a hand of zero cards, and they would draw a single card to start their turn, usually play it, and then wait to draw another card on their next turn.  That’s not a great first impression, but I am guessing that given the mostly common cards included in the starter deck, that there will be other ways to get cards into your hand.  As it stands, you’ll have to decide how many cards to put in your inkwell versus saving them to play to the board on a later turn.

Quests are the way to gain Lore, and much of my game was focused on getting Characters in play and then exerting them for Lore.  Of course, each time that I did this, I put them at risk of being challenged on my opponent’s turn.  Conversely, on my turn, you have to sometimes consider whether you should Challenge or Quest.  If you choose to challenge an opponent’s card, you’ll lose the ability to gain Lore from your card, but it might be worthwhile to do in order to stop your opponent from Questing with that card again on the next turn.  The cumulative damage helps keep cards from being unbeatable, but there is a bit of fiddliness involved in tracking the damage on each card – nothing too complicated for a gamer.

Going back to the fact that this is a Disney product, I really like the different take on scoring – in that you are trying to gain Lore rather than defeat or kill your opponent.  It’s a much kinder game as a result; though you certainly still need to Challenge your opponent at times, this isn’t a game necessarily about fighting or confronting them.

The amount of theme in the game is pervasive and well done.  At least, that is what I’m told.  I’ll admit that I’m not a Disney-phile, in fact, I know very little about many of the more modern films; you know, stuff older than say Lion King.  But, some of my fellow gamers at the event were marveling at how many of the card actions actually reflect events in the movies; and how clever it was that these things made it into game design.  One example is found on one of the Ariel cards.  Apparently in the movie, Ariel gives up her voice – and this particular card notes that this Ariel cannot be used for paying the cost of Songs.  Because, of course, she gave up her voice!  I would expect that there are multiple little easter egg like things in the cards that will be found by the fans of the Mouse.  

Speaking of songs, I love the way they have been woven into DisneyLorcana.  In the movies, the songs are often the focal points of the story; and they are by far the most memorable parts of the movies (at least for me).  I might not remember much of the story of The Lion King, but man, I can still sing Hakuna Matata.  The actions on the few Song cards I have seen so far can be pretty important to your success; and I like the way that parallels their importance in the movies.

The artwork is fantastic though I don’t know if the images are lifted from the films or if they are new works done specifically for the game.  The overall look of the cards is very attractive, and the cards themselves are easy to read.  The foil cards are quite nice as well – the technology for this sort of stuff has really improved over the years.  The paper damage counters are a bit lightweight, but I’m sure that there will soon be DisneyLorcana metal markers coming at some point to bling your game up.  I will probably be using a good old fashioned d20 like I did in my fledgling M:TG days for my Lore counting.  It’s great that they provide a paper mat and tracking chit in the starter box, but it’s easily displaced by wind or fat fingers.

Of course, at this point in my DisneyLorcana journey, I don’t know enough about the cards in my deck to really try anything strategic, so I was just playing stuff as quick as I could and seeing what they did. It was definitely a learning game, and I can say that while I’m sure that I didn’t play efficiently, it was pretty easy to just start playing – and I think for those new to the CCG area, it should be quite easy to learn from that standpoint as well.  

I will note that the DisneyLorcana people seem to be aware of this, and they have devoted an entire panel of the rules to help flesh out some basic strategy for each of the starter decks.  Sure, this advice is pretty basic, and really becomes obsolete as soon as you move past this 60-card starter deck, but it is a clever and simple way to give people a nudge in the right direction if they’ve never tried this sort of thing before.  It reminds me a lot of the same sort of advice that is included in DisneyVillanous where the characters come with a reference card that helps lay out some basic strategy in that asymmetric game.

Overall, I think it is an interesting start, but one that will require more cards to become more interesting for me.  Thus far, I’ve played with maybe 40 or 50 different cards out of the 200-ish available in the First Chapter; and only cards of two colors.  Also, as most of the cards in the starter deck are commons, their actions are pretty vanilla as you would expect.  It goes without saying that I don’t have enough experience to really give meaningful feedback on the game yet – but I wanted to write about my initial experiences of the game and of the launch party.  

Of course, I’m at one end of the spectrum of DisneyLorcana players, in that I’ve played plenty of games and a handful of CCGs before.  And the designers are in a tough spot trying to make a game that I will find interesting and challenging (as a non-Disney-fanboi gamer) while keeping it approachable enough for the general public who will more likely be attracted to the game due to the Disney IP rather than their gaming experience. Though the verdict is obviously still out, there is enough here to make me want to keep playing a bit and see what the other colors can do.   Additionally, due to my lack of cards, I haven’t had any chance to explore the deckbuilding side of the game – and that’s the part of CCGs (and Dominion) that I love – getting to figure out how cards will combo with each other.  For me, if there is going to be a DisneyLorcana hook – that’s probably going to be it.

If you’re going to play, you’ll likely have to acquire a fair number of cards. I started with a ruby/emerald starter deck and 3 boosters – and I just counted my cards by color… I have: 38 Emerald, 32 Ruby, 9 Amber, 6 Steel, 4 Amethyst and 4 Sapphire.  Therefore, given the deck construction rules, right now I literally can’t play any other deck other than Ruby/Emerald, and I only have 70 cards to choose from with which to build my 60 card deck; and I definitely don’t have enough multiples of anything to build a focused strategy in a deck yet.

MSRP for the DisneyLorcana starter decks is $16.99; and three of them would give you starting decks of each of the six colors as well as 3 boosters.  That would be enough for 2 players to split up the cards (so long as each chose two different colors) and at least start exploring the world of DisneyLorcana.  Some games that I’ve talked to have balked at having to buy three things just in order to get started – but at $51, that’s really no more than you’d pay for many other games in our hobby.  

And if you have all 6 colors in your starting decks, you can make plenty of different 2-color deck combinations to play against each other, and I’m guessing that a Ruby/Emerald deck might play differently than a Ruby/Steel deck and much differently than a Sapphire/Amethyst deck – so figuring out what combinations work best for you will be a deckbuilding puzzle.  Of course, the strength of the cards you have in those particular ink colors may also direct your deckbuilding in one way or another. 

So there is obviously the CCG component to consider, and your costs could certainly rise if you continue to buy cards to complete the set or to pick up copies of certain cards you want to have in your deck.  That again is no different than any other CCG out there.  I mean, that part is right in the name.  Collectible.  You’ve been warned.  As a recovering Magic:The Gathering addict, I can tell you that these sorts of things can be addicting (and possibly expensive!).  

At this point, there is really no way for me to give a rating to DisneyLorcana. I feel like I have only dipped my foot in the sea of DisneyLorcana, and it’s just too early to tell.  I was admittedly not blown away by the gameplay, but I’m also still interested in playing more (once I get more cards) – so for now, it’s neither I love it nor Not for me…  I remain a very interested observer as I wait to see whether this will turn the hordes of Disney fans into CCG players, and whether the game develops into something which will keep the attention of gamers like me who can take-or-leave the Disney IP.  I’ll report back later when I get the chance to play more, and then likely again when more chapters get added to the universe of DisneyLorcana in the future..  There’s likely A Whole New World of cards out there, and I don’t know yet How Far I’ll Go, and while I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) with it yet as I only have the Bare Necessities of DisneyLorcana, I’m on the hunt for more cards, and That’s How You Know this has potential to be Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious…

(In case it wasn’t crystal clear, the DisneyLorcana cards were given to me as a gift from Ravensburger as well as the food and drinks and even valet parking at the event. I will neither confirm nor deny how much of this piece was written under the influence of the fantastic green drink shown below – which involved vodka, cucumber and mint) and was quite tasty.)

A few thoughts from fellow Opinionated Gamer, Matt C:

Matt C.: As another attendee of the party and as someone who actually got to play a different color deck (I also have a red/green starter but was able to play a demo game against a blue/amber deck) I’ll chime in with a few thoughts. Questing instead of simply attacking the opponent is a great idea and fits right in with the theme. I don’t know why it isn’t more common in CCGs but slowly building up more points for myself seems much more pleasant than simply wearing down one’s opponent – especially when things are flipped. Failing to gain points is less unpleasant than slowly losing one’s health. The idea of spending one’s cards face-down to use as a power source is not new in CCGs (I think I’ve seen it in a few online versions) but it does provide a nice source of additional decisions to be made. Some cards can’t be “Inked” in this way – I’m told it is because they are more powerful and thus one shouldn’t fill their deck with them – but this meant I quickly ran out of cards to play because I was holding multiple high-cost non-inkable cards at the start of the game. It was an unsatisfying first game but part of building one’s deck is to plan for these sorts of eventualities (many current CCGs have some sort of mulligan rule.) I’m with Dale in this, the deckbuilding aspect of CCGs is one of the most rewarding parts of the genre – building something creative and then taking it for a test drive. The art is amazing, the rules are reasonable, but the “best part” of a CCG is still to come. Great CCG decks typically key off half a dozen (or less) powerful card “combinations” and we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if that combo-tastic fun can be created with the Disney magic.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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3 Responses to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Disney Lorcana 

  1. Very nice write-up, y’all. The Disney fan in me is drawn to this like moth to a flame… but I’ve been down the CCG road (I:NWO, Star Wars) and continue to collect the Marvel Champions LCG, so I do not need another one in my life.

  2. huzonfirst says:

    Honestly, Dale, you don’t know that Ariel loses her voice in The Little Mermaid?!? Wow, you really aren’t a Disney fanboi!

    Back in the day, I never indulged in the gaming crack that was Magic. My wife and I did, however, play and collect the old Decipher Star Trek CCG. One of the attractive aspects of that was that you didn’t win by dueling with your opponent, but by scoring VPs by carrying out “missions”. As with Lorcana, this felt much more pleasant, as well as more tied into the theme. So I can see the appeal, particularly with less dedicated gamers.

  3. Greg C. says:

    I boycott all Disney Products/Enterprises.

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