Doctor Who holds the Guinness record for the longest-running science fiction television show in the world, airing from 1963 till today. For those unfamiliar with the show (really inexcusable I might say!!) Doctor Who (or The Doctor) is a humanoid alien, a Time Lord, whose planet has been destroyed and is travelling through space and time with a time machine called TARDIS, exploring the universe and helping the helpless. TARDIS looks like a blue British police box, a common sight in Britain during the 60s when the show first appeared. Through the years, it has become a trademark of the show. Doctor Who has faced many enemies through the course of the show, the oldest and most significant ones being the Daleks, an alien race whose sole purpose is to destroy all beings inferior to them. Martin Wallace, a well-known independent board game designer from U.K., undertook the challenging task of recreating the atmosphere of the show in a rather simple card game. Let’s see how the game measures up to its theme and how appealing it is in general as a card game.
Although I am a huge sci-fi fan, I’ve seen very little of the renowned show. However as I sat down to play this game I had in my mind the general concept of “The Doctor”, his time-travelling machine and the atmosphere that the game should have. In my point of view, the fact that I’m not a hardcore fan of the game neither totally ignorant of the theme, makes me more suitable to write an objective review of the game. Let’s go through the basics of the game for starters:
In Doctor Who: The Card Game, players take the role of Doctor Who and his companions, trying to defend locations from various enemies but they also take the role of the “bad” guys, by sending enemies to attack other players’ locations. During each of their turns, players will have the opportunity to perform a number of actions, which involve playing cards. There are four different types of cards in the game:
Locations. Players will have to fight for the control of their own locations as well as their opponents’. Each location is worth a number of victory points at the end of the game.
Defenders. Defenders will be used to defend a player’s locations. There are actually 4 defenders, all based on the Doctor Who TV-series, each one with their own defense strength: The Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory and River Song
Enemies. Players send enemies to their opponents locations, trying to gain control of them. The enemies are well known races and monsters from the Doctor Who universe like The Daleks, Cybemen, the Sontarans and Davros. Each enemy has a different attack value.
Support cards. These are allies, special gadgets or events that will help a player or hinder his opponents.
At the beginning of the game, each player must pick a color and get 10 counters of the appropriate colour (5 DALEKS and 5 TARDIS). Daleks are used to indicate that we have placed an attacking enemy at an opponents’ location, whereas TARDIS are used to show that we have successfully defended a location of our own. Each player also gains a starting location which is chosen randomly. The player having the highest value starting location becomes the first player. All cards are shuffled in a face-down pile and 5 cards are dealt to each player except the player sitting to the right of the first player, who receives only two cards. There are also thirty time tokens in the game, which are set by the side of the draw deck.
Each player, during his turn, may play as many actions he wants, limited only by the fact that at the end of his turn he must give to the player on his right 3 cards. Extra cards may be bought during a player’s turn using time counters, that can be gained with a number of ways. Available actions a player may do during his turn are:
play a location card in front of him. He receives a number of time counters as indicated on the card
play one or more defenders on a location owned by him. The defender cards are played face-down on a location, leaving part of it uncovered so as the value of the location is not hidden. You cannot play two or more of the same Defender card on a given location
play an enemy card on an opponents’ location. In contrast to defenders, in general, only one enemy may be placed on each opponents’ location (exceptions do exist). The enemy card is placed face down near the location under attack and the attacking player puts a DALEK counter on the location under attack
play a support card
discard one or two cards to gain a time counter for each card discarded
buy cards by paying five time counters for each one
put one or more cards in the reserve. Players may put up to 2 cards in the reserve (face down in front of them) in order to use them in a later round. The size of the reserve may increase using certain support cards
There is no cost for playing any of the cards a player owns and players can perform any number of the above actions. A certain action can be performed more than once. At any case, the active player must end up with 3 cards which he must give to the player on their right. At the end of a player’s turn, he draws 2 cards from the supply and puts them in his hand. After the first player, play continues clockwise as usual.
The most interesting point in the game is combat, which occurs whenever a defender and an enemy card have been played at a given location. All defender and enemy cards are then revealed and their strength is compared. If the defender’s total strength is equal to or greater than the attacker’s, the defender wins. All attackers and defenders are discarded and the defending player puts a TARDIS counter on the location card to indicate that it is under the Doctor’s control. If the enemy wins, all defenders are discarded and the attacker must discard one or more enemy cards with total strength less or equal to the total strength of the defender.
The game ends when a player has all of his DALEK or TARDIS counters in play or when the Game End card is revealed (it is initially put on top of the 20 last cards of the draw deck). In the first case, the game ends immediately, while in the second one an “End Game” period starts, during which players continue to take turns but are obliged to take a single action and they don’t draw cards at the end of their turn. They don’t pass cards to the player on their right either of course. This period ends when a player cannot perform an action. Then all players count the victory points on their locations that are not under attack plus the enemy locations they have their DALEK counters on. The player with the most victory points is the winner.
The game’s components are cards and tokens. The tokens are standard cardboard ones with nothing special to be comment on. The cards however deserve a special mention as they are all beautifully illustrated with much attention to detail. The colors used in the illustrations carry the feel of the game and all pictures are of high detail. All cards enhance the theme of the game and the artwork is so awesome that truly captures the eye and sets a unique atmosphere, especially the location and monster cards. Design of the components leaves really nothing more to be desired. 9/10
Usually one has not many expectations regarding gameplay when it comes to such “small” games. And when I say “small” I mean having few components and a short duration, usually called “filler” games. It is truly a big accomplishment when a game designer manages to produce a game of enough complexity and depth that can appeal to hardcore gamers out of so little material, while also keeping the mechanics simple enough for more casual gamers. From this aspect I find Doctor Who: The Card Game a rare gem that deserves a place in everyone’s game library, no matter if he is a Doctor Who fan or not or if he is a casual or hardcore gamer. The game starts aggressively right from the start, when everyone’s put down his starting location. The concept of playing cards for free, that means without having to pay a cost as it is usually done in most drafting games, gives a refreshing tone to the gameplay and allows players to develop their strategy with more freedom.
Choices are hard in every round as during each turn players have 5 cards in hand but must hand out to the player on their right, 3 of them. That is the core of the gameplay and the mechanic that gives the game a strategic aspect and depth that you will all appreciate. Which cards should you play and which should you pass? The idea of having a reserve is also interesting and adds to the depth, giving you the opportunity to set your game up the way you want in future turns. Another aspect of the game that I liked is the way conflicts are resolved. Enemies and defenders are placed blindly and are revealed only when both are present on a given location. Very clever idea that maintains a feel of suspense, as you never really know if you have won a location until the conflict is resolved. It feels that Martin Wallace has hit the nail on the head with this one, reminding us how talented he truly is! 9/10
Despite the many interesting mechanics of the game, rules are kept simple as they should be for a game of this category. The 12-page rulebook can be read within about 10 minutes (in reality the rules are only 9 pages and there a lot of pictures too). At first the mechanics of the game may seem a bit strange but after playing your first game, you will have it all figured out. 7/10
The game’s theme is supported in every way in the game. From the intuitive TARDIS and DALEK counters to the characters used as Defenders and Enemies and the support cards. The locations all reflect the theme of the game, some set on earth and others on alien planets. Characters from the most recent episodes of the famous TV show are used as the defenders, while the biggest enemies of the doctor have been chosen to serve as the enemies in the game. Support cards feature objects used by the Doctor throughout the years along with special characters and events that boost the thematic character of the game. During my first play, I constantly felt being a part of the Doctor Who universe, I was completely drawn to it. The only thing that felt a bit strange is the fact that you are playing with the “good” guys in general but when you send enemies to opponents’ locations, you take the role of the “bad” guys. That feels a bit strange, disorients you and takes back some of the immersion. I think it would be better if roles were more distinct but that would probably lead to a whole new game. The fact remains that after playing for the first time, it really made me want to catch up with the TV show, maybe try to find some of the older episodes too. 9/10
Doctor Who: The Card Game has enough depth and strategy that will ensure that you will have the desire to play it at any given time. It could surely act not only as a filler game but as the main game at the table, with consecutive plays. It’s that addictive! 8/10
I really had a lot of fun, playing Doctor Who. There is enough player interaction through attacking your opponents locations and defending your own from attacks and there is a lot of suspense too as you wonder what enemies / defenders your opponents have placed on locations. Every aspect of the game seems to contribute to the fun factor, from the intuitive drafting mechanic to the illustrations on the cards and the feel of the theme. Time will pass fast, with this game, as you constantly have hard choices to make, endless unknown enemies to fight and control of the various locations will change many times during the game. Pure fun if you ask me! 8/10