Cast your mind back to the last quarter of 2012, and recall the cataclysmic predictions of the end of the world that was due to take place on 21 December of that year. Remember all that? What a load of tosh. I seem to remember it being largely based around the theory that the world would end due to a Mayan prophecy, which of course is all wrong. The Maya were, of course, renowned calendar-makers, and their so-called long count calendar was due to end on that date. Putting aside for a moment the fact that a civilisation had developed a calendar that ran over a thousand years into the future, there’s no actual Mayan prophecy that stipulated what would happen at the end of that run. My own guess is that they assumed 1100 years or so would be plenty of time in which to commence work on the next calendar. But the New Age folks got hold of this in the 70s, and it became a big deal – embarrassingly so, as it turned out.
We’re all still here, though, and I’m now bothering you all by writing blogs on trivialities like this!
Anyhow. The 2012 phenomenon spawned a whole load of junk, but also a pretty enjoyable deck-building game that I’m going to throw under the spotlight today: 3012!
Cryptozoic have got a fair number of deck-building games to their credit now, spiralling out from DC and their Cerberus-engine. 3012 was actually their very first effort in the deck-building genre, and once DC was developed and whatnot, the earlier game was promptly abandoned. Today, we’re left with a standalone game that is pretty good, in my opinion, but officially retired without hope of any expansion. I’ll come back to this point later.
The premise behind this game is that the cataclysm of 2012 has happened, and the world as we knew it has ended. Somewhere in mesoamerica, the world’s inheritors have evolved, mutant races of monkey-men, serpent-men, and jaguar-men vie for control of what is left of the world’s natural resources. The world of 3012 is harsh and unrelenting. Can you control the world to become exalted?
The object of the game is to level up your hero through defeating encounters, which you will be able to do through building up a deck of cards. The game ends when your hero reaches the Exalted space on the track, but the winner is the person who has gathered the most renown during their encounters. It’s actually a really interesting game, nicely thought-out and balanced, and overall an excellent deck-building experience. Indeed, it’s a lot like those other deck-builders, such as Arcana, where you don’t actually feel like you’re in a deck-building game.
Let me explain.
You start the game with your hero, and four Scout cards. From here, you build up your deck in the time-honoured way. There are several types of cards available throughout the game – in the picture above, you can see Ally cards available down the left of the board, and Weapon cards down the right hand side, along with two decks in the centre. These decks of Action cards are where you will likely start, as the Allies and Weapons are a lot more expensive.
Cards have a gold cost in the bottom-right corner, and an amount of gold they provide on the right above that. The Treasure Hunt card shown above, therefore, costs 4 gold, but provides 2 additional gold to you. It also provides an additional 2 gold if you defeated an encounter (more shortly), so it’s even more useful. These cards are available for the game round, and you don’t have to buy them to use them – first, you fight!
Encounter cards are arrayed across the top of the board in four levels, each of which has a defense rating between three values, so you can head to the deck you feel most comfortable in defeating. Level 1 cards have a defense value between 4 and 6, for instance, so you know you have to generate an attacking strength of, at most, 6 – you need to equal of exceed the defense rating in order to defeat the challenge.
When you have declared a combat, and revealed your encounter, the other players can then choose to aid or to block you, by playing one Scout card from their hand. Aiding adds one strength point to you, and blocking adds one defense point to the encounter.
If combat is successful, you gain a number of Experience points as shown by the number underneath the skull to the right. These must be divided equally among players where you were aided, or shared equally among the players who blocked you. The red number under the skull to the left is how much renown the card is worth – remember, the game only ends when at least one hero is exalted through experience: the person with the most renown is the one who will actually win the game.
Experience is also important for determining your hero’s damage value. The experience track shows the hero’s current level, which is deemed to be that hero’s base attack value:
Attack values are shown in the spear-head shape on the cards, so Ixtoki of the Jaguar Clan, when equipped with the diamond-edged sword above, will generate at least 4 points of damage, plus however much his hero level is currently.
After combat, you can buy stuff. It’s important to note that, if you have unspent gold at the end of your turn, you can take one gold token from the reserve. In the early game, this is a useful strategy to get one of the more expensive Allies or Weapons, anyway. These guys are the ones who you need to take on the really tough encounters in the game…
There are five cultures in 3012, and each has its own set of allies that are all mixed together to form the common deck. Each culture also favours a particular type of weapon. The Jaguar Clan shown above favours swords, for instance. If you were lucky enough to generate 10 gold and buy Ximalxi, and then equip both your hero and ally with the swords shown above, you’ll be generating at least 11 damage, to which you then add Ixtoki’s hero level. Wonderful!
Of course, Action cards shouldn’t be ignored, either…
Some of these cards can be particularly useful, such as Skilled Maneuvers there, but they are fairly expensive, particularly in the early game. To this end, players are allowed to ‘reserve’ one card by placing a gold token on it, showing their intent to buy the card later. At the end of your round, any unbought, unreserved Action cards are discarded, with two new ones turned face up at the start of the next player’s turn.
Once your hero is exalted through experience, as stated above, the game ends, and everyone adds up the renown on the encounter cards they have defeated. The person with the most renown wins!
So that’s all there is to the game, but it still feels remarkably involved when you’re playing. I mean, this isn’t a deck-builder like Dominion (sorry, Dominion fans!). I think the added dimension of deck-building for a purpose is what elevates this game for me – indeed, DC feels almost like a step back when you think of it like this. There’s also the increased player interaction, where you can play as co-op and aid each other, or back-stab your way to victory!
When I preordered this back in August 2012, I did so without knowing anything about it other than seeing the box art. I’m really glad I did, but it was a bit of a bumpy start, not really helped by the look of the game, I must say! The art work took some getting used to, I’ll admit, but as time has worn on, I find it really atmospheric and evocative of the degenerated society the game depicts.
The point I was going to make about standalone games earlier is a fairly simple one, really. 3012 exists in a vacuum, like many games in the world today, and is no worse off for it. There is, however, a sort of perceived notion of a game that is unsupported by expansions as being “dead”, and therefore, not worth the time exploring. I don’t really have any idea where this originally came from, whether there’s a massive conspiracy by game publishers to get people to shell out money on endless expansion lines rather than getting games like 3012 that are an entity unto themselves. I’m guilty of this myself, of course, and where a lot of games are concerned, I may only play it once before I’m eagerly awaiting the next expansion. Is it symptomatic of our consumer society, where we’re always looking for more, or for the next big thing?
I don’t want to get too involved in that, of course. Suffice it to say, 3012 has no expansion, and the company has stated they don’t plan to produce any. While that should have no bearing on your decision to buy it, a lot of people seem to want to steer clear of an unexpanded game. To me, the decision not to expand it only serves to reflect the fact that 3012 is a perfectly designed game, and doesn’t need anything else to add to it. We should rejoice that we have everything we could ever want to play the game!
Before I finish, I’d just like to point out a couple of negative things. The game can be very slow to begin, and I feel that only drawing 4 cards into your hand each time forces you to rely on card-draw Actions like Skilled Maneuvers or Expert Poisoner, especially seeing as how you discard defeated encounters to your discard pile. While you don’t normally end up with the Thunderstone-like endless draw of useless cards, it can still be annoying to only have one or two cards in your hand that you can use.
There is also little to distinguish the individual clans from each other. Aside from favouring different types of Weapons, the biggest difference between the clans comes in the Allies, where specific characters have specific effects, for example the Snakes are good at gaining gold, the Gars are helpful with card discard/draw, etc. I think I would have preferred the Heroes to have some sort of special ability that helps to define what the clan is all about, though, as they’re all virtually the same. Combined with the fact that Allies cost between 6 and 10 gold, you might not actually get that many during a game, so you end up with a pretty generic deck with no real flavour or theme.
However, you shouldn’t let that get in the way of enjoying an excellent deck-building experience!
Buy it from amazon:
3012 deck-building game