Review: AnARKey Trading Card Game
You want the truth? Here’s another title that I had not one single idea about until I walked past their booth at Gen Con 2023, which was conveniently located right around the corner from the Stack Up booth! Finding random, great games I’ve never seen before is one of my favorite things about attending conventions, but I digress (already, sheesh). AnARKey is a trading card game (TCG) by NerdCraft Games for at least two players that, yes, I’m going to say it, very much resembles Magic: The Gathering, but with a post-apocalyptic, total wasteland theme. In fact, the field of play is appropriately dubbed “the Wasteland”! I’m just going to get this out of the way now - Magic: The Gathering (MTG) is unlikely to be de-throned by any other TCG anytime soon, but it seems to me that NerdCraft actually used that fact instead of trying to fight it. So, let’s get into what this game really is!
AnARKey is a head-to-head brawl where each player begins with a leader in the Wasteland - always with 20 health. Players then draw and use resources (equivalent to mana for us MTG nerds) from their deck to pay for followers and unique characters, events, and rapid events, relics, and strongholds to protect their leader and assault the other. First player to reduce the other leader to 0 health is declared the winner, and TOTAL OVERLORD OF THE WASTELA - *ahem* - where was I? Right, so as of now, there are 4 types of resources: food, water, ammo, and gas. Most cards don’t require a specific type of resource to play from your hand but may require a specific type of resource to activate their abilities, i.e., pay X amount of ammo to deal Y amount of extra damage.
With that, let’s move on to more specific mechanics. First, if you’re completely unfamiliar with TCGs, I have some great news for you! The basic rules are all contained on the front and back sides of 1 (yes, one) sheet of paper. More detailed information (including the AnARKey comic) can be found on their website. Moving on, though, the glaringly obvious difference between this and many other TCGs is the inclusion of dice in the combat phase. Instead of each card simply having attack and defense values, AnARKey introduces to-hit values for attack and defense stats that resemble and integrate TTRPG mechanics. Each follower/character has separate values for ranged and melee attacks (sometimes 0 if they don’t like carrying a gun or don’t want to brawl up close), as well as a defense stat. The number on the depicted die next to each stat shows how many dice that character would roll for attack/defense, and the little number in gray next to it, such as 4+, is your to-hit value - what you need to meet-or-beat to score a hit on the enemy target. Enemies that can defend will simply roll the amount of dice rolled by the attacker that actually scored a hit. Each defense die rolled that meets or exceeds the defense value on the defender’s card negates a hit. Players take turns deploying their followers, characters, events, relics, and strongholds to delete the other leader and their crew from the Wasteland. That is the game in a nutshell! Of course, there are a few more specific nuances and rules, but honestly, not much more. It’s very straightforward and simple to pick up and learn (and much more affordable than some…others, shall we say).
Now, let’s discuss my experience and opinions! I am a tabletop RPG nerd and a sucker for rolling dice, even though they seem to thoroughly hate me oftentimes… The to-hit and dice-rolling mechanics were not only a fun addition, in my opinion, but were integrated quite simply and intuitively. The one thing I will mention about this is that this method can slow the game down compared to other similar TCGs that just assume you always hit/defend. So, I recommend planning more time for each match, at least until all players are more familiar with the game. The rest was familiar and straightforward, which to me was a huge bonus to not have to learn an entirely different set of rules. As for the theme of the game, I am a huge fan! Of course, the post-apocalyptic wasteland style isn’t a revolutionary addition to the gaming scene, but DANNY TREJO! No, really, Danny Trejo not only endorses the game but will have his own character and card in it and is planning to be at Gen Con next year as well!
On top of that awesomeness, NerdCraft has based their characters on real-life people, celebrities, and media personalities, including some players who backed their crowdfunding campaign! To be honest, my impression of NerdCraft’s approach to the creation of AnARKey is, “Fuck it, let’s just have as much fun as possible,” and I LOVE that. Some games take themselves seriously, and I can appreciate them for that for sure, but I also thoroughly enjoy a game that allows itself to lean into creativity and silly, over-the-top fun. Hell, their starter box even has a very tasty-looking chocolate chip cookie recipe on one side. The creators did not take themselves too seriously on this one, which absolutely works in their favor.
Overall, in a world full of TCG clones and reskins, I think AnARKey is a fantastic and unique card game that won’t break the bank but will also offer tons of replayability and wacky, outRAGEous fun. The starter set comes with two factions to get you started, and they already have booster boxes and other accessories for sale on their website as well! The 2-player starter set will run you a cool $39.99. What you get for essentially $20 a player is pretty legit, in my opinion. Will you see AnARKey tournaments blow up at local game shops? If I had to go off of what I’ve seen from any other Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! competitors, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket, regardless of how good and fun the game is. It’s tough to take down those long-standing leaders, but NerdCraft seems to make fun their primary goal here rather than regicide, and that really plays into this game’s favor. Of course, I would love to see something like this take off, though. Rule adjustments and clarifications are already on their website, along with fun, engaging lore and even a comic! All that said, and still being one of the earlier iterations of this game, I give AnARKey an easy 7/10 with obvious potential to grow. If you pick it up, let us know what you think. We’d love to hear your tales from the Wasteland!