This past weekend, the 19th of August, was the Pre-Release weekend for Lorcana, Disney’s new, highly-anticipated trading card game. I went to an event at my LGS with my wife and another friend, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the game and its experience. I was able to play nine games over the course of four hours at the store, and I had a great time getting acquainted with the game and its rules.
For those wondering, no, I won’t be touching on any drama surrounding the game’s publisher or how the release is being handled. There are a multitude of good articles and editorials already available, if that’s what you’re interested in. I want to answer the questions “How does Lorcana play?” and “Is Lorcana a good game?”
What is Lorcana about?
Some of you are probably asking “How is this game going to make any sense lore-wise, and what is the point?” This blurb from Ravensburger’s Quick Start Guide for the game sets the theme and tone for the game quite well, I think:
“As an Illumineer in the wondrous realm of Lorcana, you’ll wield magical ink to summon new versions of Disney characters and items, which are called glimmers. These glimmers—some familiar, some fantastic—will help you as you race across Lorcana to find and collect missing pieces of lore. Endless quests await!
“In this game, you race to locate pieces of lore scattered across Lorcana and collect them for safekeeping. Summon glimmers of Disney characters and items along the way to help with quests, hinder your opponents, and challenge opposing characters. With the right strategy and a bit of luck, you can preserve your collected lore against future threats!”
Each player in a game of Lorcana is using magical ink to draw or summon characters, items, and even songs to help you reach the finish line, which is to get twenty Lore before anyone else. It’s a seemingly simple premise, yet deep enough to provide almost endless material for future sets (if someone out there from Ravensburger is listening, I will buy stock in a Kingdom Hearts set, so get on that ASAP).
What instantly sold me on Lorcana was the fact that it comes ready to play with three or four or even five players right out of the gate. Just add more players, and all rules stay exactly the same. No special rules, no special formats, and no different card sets. In fact, the very first game of Lorcana I played this past weekend was a three-player game with my wife and our friend who came. As someone who hates “having to explain Magic” and then “having to explain Commander,” I cannot put into words how much better this is for the health of the game long-term and for player retention.
How do you play Lorcana?
One of the most fundamental aspects of any card game is its resource system, and games can be made or broken based on whether the resource system works well. Lorcana’s resource system is referred to ask “ink,” and your collective pool of resources available is called your “inkwell.” (Yes, someone definitely made a “You guys made me ink…” reference yesterday at the LGS.) In Lorcana, the cards in your hand are both playable cards and resources, but only one at a time. A player acquires ink to use by puting cards from their hand face-down into their inkwell over the course of the game. Almost any card can be played as either a card or as ink, with exception. Cards without a swirly golden border around their casting cost cannot be played as ink; in the below example, Lilo cannot be played in an inkwell, but Stitch can.
From my experience, 85-90% of the cards in the precon decks are ink-able (I guess that’s a term now?), and I’d expect the ratio to stay roughly the same once the community starts building more competitive decks.
I am a big fan of Lorcana’s resource system, because it’s a very friendly, approachable design, but it’s not linear and brain-dead. It removes the feels-bad of many card games where you never draw the resources you need to play the cards in your hand. However, it created interesting decision points during the middle and late stages of the game when both players were top-decking, because, do I play this card that might not actually help me, or do I just ink it, hoping to have enough resources to play a larger, more impactful card next turn? I’ve played quite a few card games, both physically and digitally, and Lorcana’s resource system presented me with decisions and puzzles that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before.
So now that we’ve covered ink, how do you acquire that previously-mentioned Lore in order to win the game? Take a look at the below cards.
The first turn you play a character, they cannot do anything “because their ink has not fully dried yet.” On the next turn, you can “exert” (tap) a character to send them on a quest for Lore. The amount of Lore they find is equal to the number of little diamonds on the bottom right side of the card. Stitch would quest for one Lore, Cinderella would quest for two, and Dr. Facilier would quest for three.
“Great,” you say, “so it’s simply a race to see who can play the most characters fast enough and quest the hardest.” That’s where the counterplay in Lorcana comes in. The downside to sending a character on a quest is that a character who is “exerted” can be “challenged.”
You’ll notice that, in addition to a Lore value, each character card also has attack and health values. Once a character card’s ink has dried, they can either quest, or they can challenge an exerted character. If a character does enough damage to an exerted card to reduce its health to zero, the defeated card leaves the battlefield and goes to your discard pile. If not, you keep track of the damage done to the card, which is persistent over rounds. The character being challenged also does damage back, though, so you might want to think carefully.
This back-and-forth between questing and challenging sounds pretty simple, and in practice it is, but it can quickly get deep and complicated once a game gets past turn four. Lorcana has a surprising number of decision points on each and every turn, and at times it felt chess-like. I was trying to think a couple of turns ahead and see if I had enough gas left to win without allowing my opponent to overtake me in the race for Lore. If I traded these characters here with my opponent, was it a worth-while investment, or should I just YOLO quest everything and hope they can’t trade effectively enough to stop me? The late game of Lorcana was a game of inches every time, and I always felt like I had a chance if I played smart.
In addition to characters, there are Items, which stay on the board and provide various effects, both active and passive. There are Actions, which give you a one-time effect, whether it be dealing damage, removing characters, or drawing cards. There is even a sub-set of Actions called Songs that let you cast them for a different cost!
Tell me these songs aren’t already stuck in your head.
And that’s pretty much it as far as explaining the basic rules of Lorcana. I and my friend who came with me both agreed that Lorcana was a very beginner-friendly, approachable card game that didn’t sacrifice complexity on the altar of “being easy to learn.” In fact, he had this to say as well:
“I thought it was a fun, easily accessible entry to the TCG format for new players, and a refreshing take on tabletop gaming for those of us who are TCG veterans. The card art and flavor are done beautifully, really playing into our shared Disney nostalgia. Seeing characters from my childhood again that had seemingly disappeared into the Disney vault was a pleasant surprise! When the game becomes readily available, this is definitely worth picking up.”
I’ll say this for Lorcana: my wife, who has tried multiple TCG’s and has always felt too daunted by the ruleset, really enjoyed Lorcana as a whole and is way more receptive than I’ve ever seen to playing and learning more about the game. That’s what it being Disney brings to the table: people who might not give it a second glance or who might not think of themselves as card gamers will flock to it and will be more patient with it “because Disney,” and that’s not a bad thing when the game is this good.