Ani-Mayhem Online

Dragonball Z: Watch the Show! Play the Game!

by Dave Gross

Ani-Mayhem's Latest Expansion Puts Fans (and Fun) First

The Dragonball Z animated television series became phenomenally popular is Japan, Europe, and Hong Kong before conquering the U.S. in 1996. Thus, it makes an excellent choice for the first standalone expansion for the Ani-Mayhem game by FUNimation Productions, licensed under Pioneer Entertainment. This game uses the same rules at the first Ani-Mayhem game, and the cards are compatible with the earlier sets.

The cards themselves are attractive and well-produced on heavy card stock with UV coating. The artwork is reproduced directly from the series, much in the manner of other card games licensed from popular films or television series. The six different card types are distinguished by background color and design, and they include character, location, item, combat, disaster, and power cards. Character cards are the most interesting: each resembles a miniature character sheet for a roleplaying game. Each character card displays a character's damage, defense, move, charm, and energy rating, all of which are important during combat. Beside these statistics apprears a skill list that determines how well the character can scavenge locations in search of items.

To set up a game, players choose four beginning characters from their decks and set aside cards for a combat deck. Then they take turns laying out their location cards to construct a field, including a haven (headquarters for their characters). Next, each player randomly places one item card (which gives bonuses to characters and/or players) under each of his or her locations, except the haven. Finally, players take turns placing two disaster cards uner each of their opponent's locations. Extra items and disasters return to the player's draw deck.

Scan of 'Dragon Ball' Ani-Mayhem card

The goal of Dragonball Z is for each player to accumlatre more than half of the available items on the field. To acquire items, characters must first meet or exceed the skill requirements listed on a location card, then defeat (or at least survive) the disasters hidden below. Alternatively, a player can win by uncovering seven of the titular "dragonballs" and returning them to a location or haven when certain key cards are in play.

Game play is fairly straightforward, with one interesting addition to the usual card game sequence. After a discard and draw sequence (the Maintenance Phases) comes a Disaster Phase. Disasters are usually villainous characters, and they can appear either through card play or as a result of characters' attempts to scavenge a location. Disasters are essentially uncontrolled, chaotic characters that move over the field like asteroids in computer game, returning to teir starting location when they have covered the entire field. Combat disasters can pick up items and attack characters. If a combat disaster manages to leave the field with an item, it's gone, and score one for the forces of chaos.

After the Disaster Phase, players may place equipment or enhancement cards on characters in their havens, place global-effect cards in play, and restore "bonked" (damaged) characters to good health.

Next comes a simple movement phase, during which characters and leave the safety of thier havens, move the number of locations equal to thier movement rating, and attempt to scavenge locations for items. The characters must stop when they reach the movement limit of the companion with the shortest range, or when they encounter a combat disaster that attacks them.

Scan of 'Vegeta' Ani-Mayhem card

Once characters have arrived at a location the player wished to scavenge, a simple comparison of the location's skill requirements to the characters' skills shows whether the scavenging is successful. For example, if a location requires "Martial Arts x3 or Chi x2 & Magic," then to claim the item, the scavenging characters must have three instances of the Martial Arts skill (one might have the skill at x2, another at normal value, for a total of x3) or else they must have two instances of the Chi skill and one of Magic. This scavenging test encourages diversity of skills among characters, especially because players must eventually send them to scavenge all locations on the board.

Characters can also acquire items by attacking other characters to steal their items, but the combat system is somewhat less straightforward than the rest of the game play. First, characters (and disasters) have the opportunity to play charm attacks, which can enhance their own statistics or decrease an opponent's. After charm attacks have resolved, characters can wade right in and fight. The key to this action is the combat deck. Each combat card contains both a charm effect and a physical combat effect, and not all of them are bonuses. Characters are bonked when their health scores are reduced to zero or below; if a character takes twice as much damage as its health rating, then the character is killed outright.

Scan of 'Fried / Lead Balloon' Ani-Mayhem card

With its use of the card-constucted field and character skills for overcoming challenges, Dragonball Z expands upon the same basic design concepts of Deciper's Star Trek. Unfortunately, it also expands upon some of that game's essential flaws. The most annoying problem is keeping one's cards distinct from those of other players. The game's designers were obviously aware of the problem, as they offer two solutions, neither of them wholly satisfying. You can mark your cards for identification (and what collector would do that?), or you can play a variant of the game that keep's everyone's locations separate. The latter solution makes more practical sense, but it also diminishes the fun of the collectively constructed field.

On the positive side, Dragonball Z avoids the most egregious error of games like Star Trek and Star Wars: each player has a decent chance of acquiring several of the series' main cahracters. In fact, with several versions of some characters (such as Baby Gohan, Young Gohan, Gohan the Barbarian, and Adult Gohan) this is a game designed for fans of the series before collectors of the game. In-jokes such as the global effect "Frothy Mugs of Water" (which pokes fun at an instance of U.S. broadcasters changing an offensive mug of beer to this more acceptable variant beverage), are yet another sign of the designers' knowledge and love of the series.

Dragonball Z falls short in the sealed deck test. A starter pack simply doesn't include enough cards for play. For instance, two thirds of our playtest group found they didn't have the minimum number of item cards when playing from starter decks. Fortunately, it doesn't require a great investment to solve this problem. Players can make do with a starter and two or three boosters, so constucting a playable deck isn't prohibitively expensive. Again, FUNimation puts the fans before the collectors by making the five ultra-rare super-saiyan cards relatively accessible.

To its credit, Dragonball Z boasts quick play and relatively simple rules. Its design captures the atmosphere of the animated series, and fans of the show are sure to forgive its design problems. Perhaps more importantly for Pioneer, gamers who pick up the game on a whim might very well become fans of the animated series.

Dave Gross is the editor of Dragon Magazine, a connosseur of fine scotch, and an all-around good egg.

The Duelest Volume 5 Issue 1 January 1998