Tabletop games are hot. Hipsters everywhere will tell you about their favorite bar’s Settlers of Catan nights. Reddit has brought the Target exclusive Oregon Trail card game to our attention, which will surely tap into the same nostalgia pipeline Pokémon GO was been mining. Even our favorite shows know how great tabletop gaming is: The Dungeons & Dragons episode of Community is considered one of the best, and Netflix’s Stranger Things starts out with a tabletop game. Adventure Time even created its own in-show game, Card Wars, and it’s perfect.
Card Wars first appears in the 92nd episode of the show, “Card Wars.” Jake the Dog is the tabletop game addict we all know and hate-love. He tricks Finn the Human into playing with him by claiming that Lady Rainicorn (Jake’s girlfriend) is a sore loser and won’t play with him anymore. In actuality, Jake is overly competitive and has a history of blowing Card Wars losses way out of proportion. This is particularly clear in the next Card Wars episode, #236 “Daddy-Daughter Card Wars,” in which Jake convinces one of his daughter’s, Charlie, to join him in a Card Wars tourney. In a flashback we’re shown Jake’s long history of competitive Card Wars playing and the toll it’s taken on his emotions and loved ones.
The game itself is difficult to learn and master. It has a lot of the elements I like in a good tabletop game: Layers upon layers of play and possibility. The game is explained, to both Finn and Charlie, in bits and pieces, but a lot of recurring card game elements are present. Each turn, a card is picked up and one is discarded, with the option to “floop” (play/flip) cards during the turn.
However, this being Adventure Time, there’s an element of the fantasy as well. When cards are played they appear holographically on the table in front of the players. The moment that sold me was during “Card Wars” when Finn flooped the pig card. Jake didn’t believe this could be done and mocked Finn’s gaming ignorance; however, the little pig trotted across the board and ate up all of Jake’s corn resources, rendering him powerless.
Real life tabletop games have not yet met this combination of card and technology (a technique utilized in the Yu-Gi-Oh! in-show game as well), but with virtual reality equipment slowly rising in popularity, that may change.
For now what we have is Cryptozoic’s early 2014 release of Card Wars, which is a huge letdown if you’re expecting to have even half the amount of fun and immersion experienced by the Adventure Time characters. The Collector’s Edition of the game comes with two 40 card decks, “lane” tiles to describe your field of play, and hit point tokens. (No holographic table to monitor your opponent on.)
There are two other chances to capture an iota of Jake’s joy, and those are in the form of phone games. The first Card Wars – Adventure Time was released at the same time as the physical card game for Android and iOS. It was, and still is, $3.99, and was set-up to try to get you to make in-app purchases for more energy. While cute and quirky and a good adaptation of Adventure Time for the phone (and really what I always want is just more Adventure Time), as well as supposedly having a tie-in to the physical card game (which I couldn’t figure out at the time), it didn’t live up to the expectations created by the show.
This month, over two years after the initial release of the game, and coinciding with the recent Card Wars themed episode, Cartoon Network has released the free-to-play Android and iOS game Card Wars Kingdom, and it was worth the wait. I can’t say that it’s as enjoyable as the game in the show would be, I wouldn’t even say that it can compete with Hearthstone, but good Glob, it’s fun to play! You will spend quite a bit of time grinding, but the PvP matches are great, and the graphics are everything you’d want from an Adventure Time adaptation.
Maybe I’ll never get to experience the fervor and devotion Jake feels for Card Wars, but I’m glad I can get at least this close to the action. Mostly I recommend rewatching the two Card Wars episodes over and over until it feels like you are playing alongside the characters.