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Publisher: Worlds Apart    Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: 10.3    CPU: G4 @ 800 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 250 MB

Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga
March 8, 2006 | Michael Yanovich

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First there came Magic: The Gathering. Then Pokemon followed. I'm not talking biblical creation stories; I'm referring to trading card games. And to be perfectly honest, I have no idea if Magic and Pokemon were really the first two, but they certainly were the first two big ones that got the trend rolling. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, these games require putting together a deck of specialized playing cards. The cards usually have characters of some sort on them—that is, they represent monsters, dragons, heroes—or modifications that affect game play. You must then use a combination of luck—hoping you draw cards from your deck that help your current situation—and skill—using the cards in the best strategy possible—to defeat your opponent and his or her deck of cards.

In other words, your card representing an archer with an attack of 5 and defense of 3 will defeat your opponent's wizard card with an attack of 1 and defense of 2.

Unless your opponent has a card in his hand that, for a single turn, allows the wizard to change into a dragon with an attack of 80 and defense of 6.

Luckily, you have a card that protects you from all dragon attacks and lets you pluck their wings off with a pair of magical tweezers.

Except that your opponent has a card which makes you discard all your cards before you even picked them and turns you into a harmless egg which he then proceeds to squash. He wins.

In short, this is how these games are played. As silly as that sounds, fans of the genre love the difficult strategies and complicated attacks and feints the games require. This stuff makes Texas Hold 'Em look like a game for sissies.

Now, for players like me, getting a game going is not easy. Few of my friends play these card games, and as a 35-year-old guy, spending a Friday night at a local game store playing against 13 year olds who kick my butt has little to no appeal. And while Magic has had an online version for several years now, it has not made it to the Mac (though a Lord of the Rings trading card game was released for Mac and PC a little over a year ago).

Enter the sci-fi card game, Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga. Well, sort of.

See, Star Chamber isn't just a card game. It's also a board game, combining the two genres in a frighteningly addictive way. Truth is, I've never played anything quite like it before. I'll also have to nitpick several minor details in this review, because without shining a flashlight on the game's few and minor flaws, it'd be hard not to give this game a perfect score.

For those not familiar with collectible card games, Star Chamber follows a standard formula: cards are available in randomly sorted 15 card "booster packs." There are three types of cards: commons, uncommons, and rares, so called because of their availability; you will find eleven commons in a pack, three uncommons, and only one rare. You create decks of cards out of your collection, and if you get into the game beyond just casual play (there are various tournaments hosted weekends and occasionally other days) you will likely find yourself spending a fair amount of time trading cards with other players in order to get the ones you need (it is impossible to accumulate full sets without spending phenomenal sums or being incredibly successful at tournaments).


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