A Review of The Phantom Card Game, Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

The Phantom: The Card Game was a cooperative game on Kickstarter May 2020, and it promised delivery in December 2020. It’s now June 2021, and I just got my copy a week or so ago. Apparently, there was some hold up on shipping for the US, but the EU backers got there’s a while ago. Regardless, 6-7 months late for a Kickstarter doesn’t even raise an eyebrow these days, most people are just glad it’s not a year late!

The Phantom: The Card Game is based on the IP of The Phantom, a masked hero with no powers who fights crime! It’s set in the jungles of Africa in the made-up country on Bangalia, with the Phantom typically befriending natives and protecting the jungles. The Phantom is a legacy hero, with the mantle being passed from generation to generation. See the Wikipedia page here for more info!

The Phantom has been around for a loooong time (since the 1940s) and is a golden age super hero!

Unboxing

The Phantom: The Card Game is essentially a card game with a bunch of tokens and player boards (and a rulebook, see above and below).

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The tokens (above) are “resources” that are needed to get stuff done in the game: cards can only be bought with resources, but cards can be traded in for resources as well. The game is all about the balance of buying cards and resources as necessary.

The box is mostly full of cards (see above) and an insert. Honestly, the insert was pretty terrible. It was all beaten up (see above) and the game was brand new!

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In general, the game is a card game with tons of cards! See above. Note that the cards are NOT linen-finished (unfortunately). Most of the cards in the game look like the above: a comic strip panel at the top, and game text at the bottom. It looks like the Phantom comic scenes are probably drawn from some archives of the original strips? The comic style is “reminiscent” of comic books and strips from the 40s and 50s.

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Overall, the game has “good enough” components: the cards could be linen finished, and the insert could be a lot better, but the cards and tokens are thematic and easy to read.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is … okay. It has a weird cover (see above), but at least it puts important information on the back cover (see below).

The first few pages do what we expect: show components:

The Set-up description and set-up picture are there, but they are separated on two different pages. Not a dealbreaker, but I really like having the set-up picture (see below) available while I am reading the set-up description!

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Honestly, they could have gotten rid of the weird leather cover, started the rules on the first page, and then the set-up description and set-up picture would have been on opposite pages of the rulebook for ease! Well, at least the set-up is fairly easy and the picture is pretty good.

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The rules are in a good, big font and easy to read (see above).

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Continuing the theme of “I wish this rulebook were rearranged”, I wish the card anatomy descriptions were more up front. It’s more near the back after all the rules have been described. I had some trouble learning the rules the first time, and I think moving this up front would have helped a lot. To be clear: the card anatomy is very helpful!

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The rules (see above) are fairly complete but pretty text heavy. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to read (with just a few omissions which we will discuss).

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The rules were good enough for me to learn the game. The font and layout was easy to read. Overall, I think the rulebook needs a reorganization, a few more pictures, and some more rule elaborations. The rulebook was … ok. I learned the game without getting grumpy.

Solo Rules

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So, this is 1 or 2 Player game. It feels more like a solo game overall. You can play either as the Phantom or Diana from the Jungle Patrol (see cover):

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Both Diana and The Phantom has separate and distinct decks that make up their character. The cooperative game is just alternating between the two characters. The game “feels” more like a solo game.

The Phantom deck has a little mask in the lower right corner to distinguish it from Diana’s deck. In general, all the are numbered and have symbols to differentiate them.

Adventure Decks

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This game is a campaign/light legacy game! You have three adventures included in the game (see above), and you have have sub adventures as you try complete one! At the end of an adventure, you will upgrade your deck and make it better for the next game. Upgrades come in the form of new cards from LOOT:

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Or ACHIEVEMENTS:

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Gameplay

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On your turn, you draw up to three cards (see above). You can either play a card from your hand to your Play Area (tableau) or you can discard a card to get a resource. (You can also initiate combat).

The upper left corner is the resource cost of the card, the upper right corner is the reward if you just discard this card. If this reminds you a little of Marvel Champions, you are not wrong. (Recall we reviewed Rise of Red Skull expansion here and Ant-Man expansion here). The difference is that you get an actual token that you can keep between turns! (In Marvel Champions, you can ONLY use cards you currently have to play).

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As you play, you build up your character: you get some tokens out (see 4 tokens above on the Player Board) and get some allies and items into the Play Area (see cards to the right of the player board). Again, like Marvel Champions, you can tap items and allies to get things (initiate combat, get more resources, get rid of bad cards, etc). The more cards in your Play Area, the more you can do on your turn, so it behooves you to get stuff out quickly.

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This wouldn’t be a coopearative card game without a “bad news” deck of some sort. In The Phantom, it’s called “The Destiny deck” (see above). You draw one card from the Destiny Deck per turn: this both advances the story and makes bad news for you!

While you are playing, there is always a goal or some part of the story to participate in. To help balance difficulty, there are 4 levels of difficulty: EASY, NORMAL, HEROIC, or MYTHIC: When you reveal story cards (Iike below and above), you will choose the appropriate level, based on your difficulty.

In general, the gameplay is pretty well described in the rulebook:

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The game is all about the delicate balance of when to fight, when to put out allies, when to get rid of imjuries, when to discard cards for resources, and when to fight!

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Fighting is initiated with a SKULL TOKEN (you can discard the above card to get a SKULL TOKEN).  After you discard a SKULL token, you can tap some of your allies to help you and get plusses on damage, and then do a card check.  Draw a card and if you get a SKULL or DIAMOND (from left of card … the one above does) you get a +1 damage for each one!   You are allowed to distribute damage as you like:

So, the above only has 1 hit point, so you can just do all 2 damage (Base +1 plus the +1 for the card check) and take out the wolf.

If you don’t take out the enemies, they will do an injury to you! For each enemy active at the end of your turn, you take one injury!

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Can you survive to the end of the story?

Problems

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Besides a rulebook reorganization, I think there are some things that really need to be addressed.   In my plays of the game, I make some assumptions to move forward in the game, but there are some issues.

  1. How much damage do enemies do?  If you haven’t killed some of the enemies in the destiny row, how much damage do they each do?  It’s not clear at first, but EACH ENEMY DOES EXACTLY ONE INJURY.  Each player has 10 injury cards at the start of the game.  Flip EXACTLY one over (this wasn’t clear) and add it to your character.  (You can get rid of the injury at the start of your turn, but you can’t “refresh” any allies or items …)
  2. Destiny Cards: What does “Shuffle Into Deck” mean? At story points,  some of the destiny points are unclear if you keep old enemies or wipe them fresh or keep old destiny cards.  The very first Destiny cards make it clear what happens when new story points come up, but later ones are very unclear.  Do I keep the destiny line?  Do I keep all the old cards in the Destiny deck?  Some better descriptions on the story cards would make this a lot clearer.  Something like “keep all old destiny cards”.
  3.  How do Card Checks work?: The card check description makes it always sound a card initiates a card check, but a discarded combat token can initiate it as well.  This needs to be clarified.
  4. What is a COMMON ENEMY?  Some of the enemies that come up in Destiny are labelled.  It was unclear what a COMMON ENEMY was?  
  5. What are The Loot and Achievements?  If you are playing the cards in order (and you are the first time you play), you don’t realize that (a) you are supposed to get LOOT for every enemy you kill (b) there are ACHIEVEMENTS throughout the game that give you better cards.  You ONLY see these cards AT THE VERY END!   They should be some of the first cards in the deck!!!  After my first play (and even my second play), I had completely forgotten about them.  THESE NEED TO BE SOME OF THE FIRST CARDS REVEALED FROM AN ADVENTURE.

There’s a lot of comparisons here and in other reviews to  Marvel Champions.  One of the things Marvel Champions does right is having a first play (with lots of pictures) and a separate “text only” rulebook which describes and clarifies points.  I don’t necessarily think we need that here, but the rulebook needs another pass with more examples and clarifications.

Conclusion

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The Phantom: The Card Game is a cooperative or solo super-hero card game set in the world of The Phantom. I liked this world and this game! It reminded me a lot of Marvel Champions, but with a little more story. I also liked the idea of being able to get tokens for resources so you could save resources between turns (unlike Marvel Champions). The art was a little old-school comic-book style, which is a bit distracting in the modern era, but it was very thematic for game play. What was best about The Phantom: The Card Game was also it’s Achilles’ Heal: the stories are interesting and thematic and fun, but they are limited! This game is strongly in need of more content! The rulebook also needs some more love. Besides these complaints, this is a good game.

If you liked Marvel Champions but wanted more story, The Phantom: The Card Game might be something you really like. Although it’s not quite as polished as Marvel Champions, the story in The Phantom: The Card Game really shines through. What I wanted from Marvel Champions: Rise of Red Skull (see review here) was more a more interactive story: it was The Phantom: The Card Game that finally gave it to me!

One thought on “A Review of The Phantom Card Game, Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

  1. A lot of your critiques come down to actually reading the rulebook. It’s the best rulebook ever created.
    The game is NOT legacy at all, rather, it’s a deckbuilder, but only after several runs you’ll find that out.

    Like

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