Disney Lorcana hands-on: the biggest TCG since Magic: The Gathering

GameCentral tests out Disney’s new big budget trading card game and speaks to the co-designer of Locarna’s clever new gameplay system.

Trading card fans have plenty to get excited about in the next few months, as Pokémon TCG revs up for the first World Championship ever to be held in Japan and MagicCon, at the end of July, sees the first tournaments to include the much anticipated The Lord Of The Rings: Tales Of Middle-Earth decks.

But these huge franchises are about to have the magic carpet pulled from under them, with the imminent release of a trading card game based on the world’s biggest IP holder: Disney. All eyes will be on its reception this August, at the GenCon convention in the US, as players get one of the first chances to play hands-on at the huge US tabletop gaming event, just ahead of the US retail release on September 1.

Drawing upon 100 years’ worth of Disney characters, Lorcana (a portmanteau of lore and arcana) puts you in the role of an Illumineer – magical sorcerers with the power to conjure Disney characters and use items called glimmers. I had the chance to dive into the world of Lorcana at the UK Games Expo back in June, previewing the cards and mechanics, and speaking to Lorcana co-designer Ryan Miller.

The basic structure of the game system is fairly simple, as the strategy comes in the cards you choose to play from your deck and how you use them. First, you have to put your resources together to make a deck of cards, much as you would in any other trading card game.

An obvious one is the Princess Deck, full of Cinderellas and Moanas, but unlike conventional games, that involve depleting opponents’ health to zero, Disney Lorcana introduces a unique objective where you have to accumulate 20 lore points – by questing with cards and leveraging specific abilities.

Each Lorcana deck must contain 60 cards, with no more than four instances of any single card. These cards are categorised into six distinct types of ink, namely Amber, Emerald, Sapphire, Amethyst, Ruby, and Steel. These represent essential resources, much like the energy cards in Pokémon TCG or mana in Magic: The Gathering.

To start, both players draw seven cards from the top of their deck, to form their initial hands. Then players take alternating turns comprised of two phases: the Beginning Phase and the Main Phase.

It was apparent even during my short playthrough of 30 minutes that Lorcana shines in its emphasis on deck building and card synergies. Constructing a well-rounded deck is crucial for success, as it allows you to adapt to different playstyles and counter opponents’ strategies. Whether you prefer aggressive rushes or methodical control, Lorcana provides ample opportunities for experimentation and customisation.

The game revolves around balancing the power of iconic Disney characters, such as pairing Amber/Amethyst cards Moana and Minnie Mouse to create an aggro deck or Sapphire/Amethyst cards Pascal from Tangled and Mickey Mouse to create a powerful combo deck. (So far there’s no sign that Star Wars or Marvel characters will be included.)

Cards bolster each other’s strengths and cover weaknesses, while utilising unique abilities to outmanoeuvre your opponents. The game encourages you to think tactically, as you try to predict your opponents’ moves and plan your strategies accordingly.

‘During gameplay, the choice of which card to play is actually a very testing choice, because once you put it down it’s in for the rest of the game,’ says Miller. ‘And so for a new player, it’s a fairly easy choice, you kind of pick on your higher cost of cards, you put it down, and that’s great. But as you improve in your skills, you start to realise that, ‘Oh, wait, no, I’m actually gonna hang on to that card, because of what my opponent’s doing. And I’m kind of making these strategic decisions based on what I see, right?’

‘Those are always the best kind of decisions, because you feel like your skill is really involved. I see what strategies you’re employing, maybe it’s middle of the game, or later in the game, and I go, ‘Oh, she’s been playing a lot of this type of card. So I’m just gonna hang on to this.’ When we were designing these cards, we decided which cards are gonna get ink icons and which aren’t. Deciding, on what it does in the game, and whether it gets it or not, is a really neat decision.

‘Because what that means is we can pick cards that we feel like they might fit certain strategies that might be needed in a game, but if they were to be overemployed that would be a bit egregious. It’d be like, ‘Too much, too many cards! That basically just destroy your opponent’s cards.’ Well, we can just take the ink off those cards. And so, if you do play that deck, you’ll find yourself in a bind more often, because you’ll have too many cards that you can’t use.’

As you’d expect from Disney, Lorcana’s cards are gorgeously illustrated, capturing the essence of beloved characters and their iconic landscapes. From the vibrant colours of Aladdin’s Agrabah to the whimsical charm of Alice’s Wonderland, each card evokes a sense of wonder and nostalgia. The attention to detail is remarkable, with every card exuding Disney’s signature charm and artistry. I’m also keeping my eyes peeled for the foil version of the cards, one of which comes in every booster.

‘Thematically Lorcana is just so delightful. I always like to show people Ariel. Don’t you remember why she got her human legs? She gave up her voice! So she’s voiceless. So her ability is you can’t sing songs. On the card we have what we call flavour text. Her flavour text is just dot, dot, dot, -because she can’t talk, right?’ says Miller.

‘So to me, this is one of my favourite cards. Because it illustrates very well how we can combine the theme of the of the art, the theme of the gameplay, and put it together in a card that when you read it, and you figure out what’s going on, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.’

What powers trading card games is community and publisher Ravensburger is more than aware of this, focusing on local gaming shops and cafes as the first place players will be able to get their hands on the cards and play Lorcana. But once the boosters are bought and decks are built, players will be looking towards a competitive scene that can rival Pokémon Worlds.

‘We are starting with league play where you earn points, just by playing. So winning isn’t nothing, but it’s not everything either,’ says Miller. ‘And then as you get higher points and levels, you earn special cards, you earn pins, you can earn other prizes, that sort of thing. That’s something that we’re gonna support through organised play kits that we’re sending to the stores.

‘We’re also supporting stores with organised play, by giving them the product early, they’re gonna get two weeks before larger stores get it, because those hobby stores are where the communities are born and where they’re cultivated and where they grow.

‘We want to make sure communities are the most important aspect of this game. Without my ability to find someone to play with, or to trade with, it doesn’t matter how good the game is. And so we know that that is an absolutely critical part of this.’

But things aren’t running as smoothly as Ravensburger would like, as a lawsuit has been filed by Upper Deck, a competing trading card company, who accuse Ryan Miller of ‘pilfering’ a different ‘new and novel’ TCG design and was ‘aided and encouraged’ by Ravensburger, suggesting some kind of TCG corporate espionage.

Regardless of that, Lorcana looks to reward both skilful decision-making and deck construction, with the diverse range of characters and card sets allowing for endless possibilities and creative synergies. With its stunning artwork, engaging gameplay, and a touch of Disney magic, Lorcana has all the ingredients to captivate both trading card game enthusiasts and Disney fans alike. And there are billions of those…

‘If you’re looking for a fun game that you and your family can play together, if you’re Disney fans, this is a great opportunity to bring Disney fans and your family together – older, young, whatever,’ says Miller. ‘Everyone’s gonna kind of find something fun with this one and be able to play with each other and just have a great time.’

Disney Lorcana will be released in sets called chapters. The release date for Disney Lorcana: The First Chapter is August 18 in the US. This will only be for local game shops, with a mass retail release for everyone else following on September 1. It’s currently unclear if the UK release date is the same day but it should be no later than September 29.

The First Chapter Starter Deck (£17.99) and Single Booster Pack (£4.99) from GAME.

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