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Altered – A New Breed of TCG


You’d be forgiven for thinking there are enough, if not too many, trading card games (TCGs) in the world already. They are notoriously expensive and can be frustrating, but Altered is different and I’m going to convince you why that is.

What is Altered?

On the surface it’s a TCG. It uses the familiar formula of starter decks and booster packs we’re all familiar with, but with some interesting twists. What twists you ask? You’ll have to wait and see. As you can see from the images in this article, it has some stunning art, leaning on different aspects we find familiar. Nature, fire, magic and technology etc. I thought I’d instinctually want to play the technology deck, but after attending a demo day (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I discovered I really love the nature deck. Is that because it has a cute mushroom creature called ‘Sneezer Shroom’ that is both awesome and channelling my own allergies? Quite possibly.

Lore wise, 500 years ago our universe smashed in the realm of imagination. Now survivors from both realms are building a new civilisation on the Asgartha Peninsula. This gives us a world of humans and creatures, of magic and myth, of history and imagination. You’ll find a variety of characters from our history and from imagination, for example, the technology deck has Amelia Airheart and Tinker-Bell (see what they did there). They’ve put a fair amount of effort into the lore and you can read deeply into each faction, plus they've given themselves enough room to invent a wide variety of cards.


How does it play?

While many TCGs go for direct confrontation, targeting opponent's life points and the like, I’ve always preferred more indirect games and that's where Altered fits in.

In the middle of the board you have 5 locations, each split into 2 regions, so 10 regions in total. At the start of the game, on one end of the cards starts your hero and on the other starts your companion. Your goal is to move either of your pieces so that they end up in the same region. First to reunite your team wins. Being able to move each piece is where the competition comes in. Each turn you can either build up your cards in the hero or companion sides of your board. Each character you play contributes to one of three region types, forest, mountain and ocean. At the end of your turn, for each type on each side of the board, you compare yours and your components scores and see who has won that type. The regions in the middle your hero and companion are moving through are restricted by type, so it’s key to win the right types at the right time, or block your opponent from winning that key type. Then both players clear their board (with some exceptions) and start the process again on the next turn. Similar to other games, cards are paid for by tapping other cards you’ve played face down to create your ever growing mana pool. There are a lot more finer points than that and some really interesting mechanics like anchoring characters to your board, reserves and permanents, but that gives you a rough overview. I encourage looking at the kickstarter and the Altered website for more information.

I was lucky enough to attend a demo day for Altered at a local store and had an absolutely fantastic time playing the game. For me, it’s the right combination of interesting mechanics without being too complex, and not too much confrontation so it doesn’t feel bad when you’re losing. For sure there are some decks that affect your opponents more than others, the purple magic looking deck especially is brutal at times, but it never feels bad. For the most part you are just playing your own game while keeping an eye on what your opponent plays. There is definitely something for everyone here.


The twists

Ok ok, I’ll explain the twists in the TCG model, which I think is one of the most existing things about this game. You can buy starter decks and boosters, but crucially there is a digital ownership component. WAIT! Don’t leave yet, I know some of you don’t want to have digital aspects in your physical games, and that’s fine, you can still play this game without involving computers, but you might want to give it some consideration. Each card you pull has a QR code on it. If you scan this code you can claim that specific card on your Altered account and you now digitally own it. If you own a card you can then order additional copies of it and get them sent to you for a small fee (£1 I believe). No more buying hundreds of boosters just to get 3 copies of a card for your deck, you can just order them. The only limitations to this are the top rarity of cards, unique, which will likely have restrictions on them like only being able to print them once a year, or something similar.

Which brings me onto the next twist, you can then sell those digital rights to other players in a marketplace. This allows you to either pick up specific cards you are missing without hoping you pull them in a booster, or sell cards you no longer need. Casual players especially might want to sell their digital copies once they have printed off all the copies they need. Competitive players will need to hang onto them however, as you need to own a card digitally to use it in competitions.

So that’s all...only joking, there is one final twist, which is really nice for collectors of shinies. There are no ‘foil’ versions of cards in booster packs, instead there are ‘foiler’ cards. These are sort of foil power ups for different rarities of cards. You can then apply, for example, a rare foil upgrade, to one of the digital cards in your collection to make it a foil version. You can then order a copy of that foil version as I explained before. So you can specifically target cards you’d love to have a foil version of, rather than hoping you pull one in a pack, or finding an expensive one on ebay.


Altered can’t come soon enough

When I first read about Altered I’ll admit I didn’t get it. It’s a weird business model and so often these experiments don’t work. But the more I thought about it the more I got it. The publisher (Equinox distributed by Asmodee) and local stores will get plenty of income still from starter sets and boosters, and the publisher will also get small cuts from the single ordered cards and from transaction fees in the marketplace. These will be very small cuts, but if it’s popular it’ll add up. And it really is popular, at the time of writing Altered is standing at £2.8 million on kickstarter, which is insanely good. Having played it myself I can see why, it’s really fun, has great art and is definitely a game I can see myself playing a lot more of on release.

If you want to give it a try, the website has some demo decks you can print out while you wait for the game to officially release.

And if you are interested in pledging to the kickstarter you can find it here.