Review: Cardfight!! Vanguard

Cardfight!! Vanguard is a Japanese Anime Series /Manga / Trading Card Game construct love-child of Bushiroad head Takaaki Kidani, YU-Gi-Oh artist Akira Ito and Dual Masters TCG Satoshi Nakamura. Anime and Manga I have to admit, doesn’t keep my water going vessel buoyant. So having never seen the T.V. series or laid eyes on the comic I’m approaching this review of the tie in Trading Card Game on it’s own merits as a self contained game and not as one leg of a marketing machine tripod.

Developer: Bushiroad

Publisher: Bushiroad

Release Date: Available Now


First let it be said that I’m a regular Magic: the Gathering player, owning five or six thousand cards both in real life and Online, not to mention every Planeswalker release, so I appreciate a good trading card game and I think I am going to find it hard to keep the comparisons away from the review but I will try!

Cardfight!! Vanguard needs 2 players and although you can construct your own decks you can also purchase ready to play pre-constructed decks known as “trial” decks. The three decks I was given for review had wonderful enthusiastic text and graphics on them, for example the “Slash of the Silver Wolf” trial deck urges you to “Slash open the path to glory”, while another deck was almost Pythonesque in title “The Golden Blade which cuts through darkness”  (which I interpreted instantly as – your majesty is like a stream of bat’s piss…)

2013-03-25 12.27.27

Your starting hand is 5 cards, and one Mulligan or redraw is allowed if your feel your hand isn’t worthy. The basic layout is that you can potentially have 2 rows of 3 cards with the middle front card being the Vanguard which can be any level 0 unit – units range from 0 to 3 – chosen from your deck at the beginning of the game and placed face down on the playing area. When both players are ready the Vanguards are revealed and play begins. You can only attack with units in the front row and the card that is the Vanguard can be boosted or “ridden” once a turn by a unit that is of equal level or 1 higher.  The other units are considered a back guard, primarily used for boosting and defending. Each set also comes with a handy fold-out playing mat, helping a noob like myself define card placement and stack areas.

The deck must consist of 50 cards and is subject to a number of unit constraints. It can not contain more than 4 of any one card, it must contain exactly 16 trigger units – these units trigger an action above and beyond their other abilities such as healing and this is denoted by a icon in the top right of the card, and optionally it may only contain 4 cards with Heal trigger and 4 cards with the Sentinel skill. The other 36 cards are considered normal units.


Basic card layout

The Anatomy of a Card

The cards themselves are visually a little busy and at first glance seem to be cramming a LOT of information into such a small space, but basically there are three numbers to consider. Grade – the level of the card, which determines what extra cards it can ride or call. Power – the units strength in combat. This is compared to your opponents to determine whether an attack will hit. Shield – a measure of defense when the unit is acting as a guardian, some units have none.

The main victory condition is that you have to inflict 6 damage or hits to your opponent’s Vanguard and in this game damage is represented by how many cards are in the “Damage Zone”. If a player has 6 or more cards in their “Damage Zone” they lose. Also if a player has no cards left in their deck at any time they lose.

Like any Trading Card Game play is broken into phases and I’ve tried to keep the following simple (no really, I have) as to give the general gist;

Stand and Draw: ready up any cards turned sideways (tapped or rested) from the previous round and draw a card from your deck.

Ride: You may place a unit that equal or one grade higher on your Vanguard once per turn, essentially upgrading it.

Call: You can place units in the rearguard that are equal to or less than your Vanguard’s power, typically at no cost, and this can also be to replace an existing unit. The replaced unit then moves to the “Drop zone”. You can call as many units as you like per turn and also promote or demote units from the front to back (but not sideways) depending on your intended strategy. Units abilities are also used in this phase. Once you have sorted all your units into order then it’s onto the battle.

Attack: Declare your attackers by turning them sideways (tapping in M:tG terms) and nominate the targets. Unit’s that are directly behind your attackers can lend their attack power if they have the boost ability.

Guard: Your opponent may play as many units from their hand to protect the unit under attack, using the shield number on the unit to soften the blow.

Drive Check: If you attacked with your Vanguard, you perform a Drive Check.

Reveal the top card of your deck and place it in your “Trigger Zone”. If the card is a trigger unit and shares a clan with your other cards, then its trigger effect activates. Trigger effects are:

Critical  – You add 1 to the critical of any unit on the board, until the end of your turn. Draw – You draw a card. Stand – You can stand a resting rearguard and then use it to attack or boost again or  Heal – You move one card of your choice from your “Damage Zone” to your “Drop Zone” if the number of cards in your damage zone is greater than or equal to your opponent’s.

Trigger units can also give +5000 power to any of one your units until of the turn.

Damage Check:  If the attacker’s power is less than that of the target, the attack fails. If the attacker’s power is equal to or greater than that of its target, the attack is a success.

If the target was a rearguard, it is sent to the “Drop Zone” and the attack is over. If the target was a Vanguard, your opponent must make a number of damage checks equal to the critical value of the attacker.

To make a damage check, your opponent moves a card from their deck to the “Trigger Zone”. If the card is a trigger unit shares a clan with your Vanguard or rearguard, then it’s effect activates. That card is then moved into the “Damage Zone”. This process is repeated as many times as the attacker has a critical value.

If a Damage Check reveals a Heal trigger you may move a card from the “Damage Zone” to the “Drop Zone” before placing it the unit in the “Damage Zone” if the number of cards in your “Damage Zone” is greater than or equal to your opponents.

End Turn: Guards that were called are moved to the “Drop Zone”. If there are Units on the front row that can still attack, you can attack again.

Simple right?

It's big in Japan...

It’s big in Japan…

Very handy game play summary booklet
Cards are well produced and colourful
Writing and icons on cards is quite small and sometimes quite hard to make out.
Reasonably steep learning curve without anime or comic context

Playing this game without any prior knowledge to it’s tie-in TV show or comic it did seem a little contrived, but by no means un-playble. The translated text on the cards, instructions and box art have a strong “Engrish” charm about them but this can also lead to a few head scratching moments when trying to sort out the more intricate sections of the game. It certainly wasn’t without it’s enjoyable moments, but I would recommend watching a few episodes first if you’re wanting to try it out.

Review copy provided by Esdevium Games
Official Game Site

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  1. Thanks for sharing review about cardfight vanguards. I am a big fan of this game. I have read how to play this game from

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