This is the first post in a series called “CCGs in RPGs”. I put together a list of 7 RPG video games that each have their own mini-game featuring some sort of card game where you can create your own deck:
Arcomage – Might and Magic VII (1999)
- Triple Triad – Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
- Tetra Master – Final Fantasy IX (2000)
- Xeno Card – Xenosaga (2002)
- Pazaak – Knights of the Old Republic (2003)/ KOTOR 2 (2004)
- Caravan – Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
- Gwent – Witcher 3 (2015)
I decided to start with Triple Triad as it was the game that made me want to start this series. But going forward I will do them in chronological order of release, continuing with
Arcomage Tetra Master. (While I was researching the Arcomage game, I found out that it is not customizable. Therefore I had to remove it from the list.)
Triple Triad is a card game played on a 3×3 grid. Cards have 4 values, ranging from 1 to A, assigned to each of their sides (Some of the cards also have an elemental symbol that comes into play during the Elemental Rule variant). Each player chooses 5 cards from their collection, then take turns placing them onto the grid. With the “Open” rule the game starts with, both players can see all cards in both players hands at all times, but by default hands are hidden . When a new card is placed on the grid, you compare the value of each of its sides against the values of adjacent opposing cards whose sides it touches. If the new card’s value is higher, the opposing card is flipped over to the other player’s color. Once the entire grid is filled with cards, the player with the most cards of their color wins, and may take a card from their opponent’s hand.
In this example the player (blue) wins because they had 5 cards on the board, plus 1 in their hand. Beating the computer controlled opponent 6 to 4.
It’s a simple area control game, kind of like tic-tac-to with cards. When hands are open it becomes easy to find the best play each turn. There are only a couple of random factors, first what cards your opponents bring, the coin flip to start the game, and the card the NPC chooses if there are multiple viable moves. When hands are closed the game becomes much more random, and feels more like gambling.
The coin flip has a large effect on the game that I’d like to look at. The first player must start on an empty board. The second player gains an advantage by being able to react to that first card, and gets the first opportunity to capture it. The first player could negate that by placing a card that cannot be captured, but there is no guarantee that you can do this. The second player will also never play their 5th card, which counts as an automatic point for them. Within FF8 this can be overcome because your deck will likely have higher quality of cards than the NPCs. If you were trying to play against real opponents, you would probably want to play a best of 3 rounds and alternate start player, losers choice.
Triple Triad is a game of skill and chance. Your decisions have an impact on the outcome, but chance still plays a large part. The quick match time means that you can play many games in a short period of time, and allows more skilled players to reap greater rewards over time. What really makes the game fun is it’s context within the larger game of Final Fantasy 8.
To play Triple Triad you walk up to an NPC and press the square button. If they are a card player they will challenge you to a game, if not they do their normal dialogue. Card players are not indicated visually in anyway, the only way to find them is by trying the square on every NPC you see. This encourages card game players to explore the environment of the main game. Also note that in Final Fantasy 7 the square button was mostly unused. Mapping the card game function to square enhances its appeal as a special action, and highlights its importance.
After challenging an NPC, you will first be shown any regional rules they may use. Some change the base rules, add new rules, or can effect how you trade cards at the end of a round. Simpler ones are “Same”, which allows you to capture an opposing card if the values match, or Elemental where your card gains +1 to each side if placed on a matching element, or -1 to each side if placed on a non-matching element. Then there are ones like “Same Wall” or “Combo” that are more difficult to understand. Trade rules can allow you to take extra cards from your opponent. “Direct” lets each player take all cards that were of their color at the end of the game. The “All” rule means the winner takes all cards used in the match. Rules for a region can be manipulated by an NPC called the Queen of Cards for in-game money. You can also manipulate trade rules by playing cards against her.
Elemental rule in play
The connection between mini-game and main game gets very interesting with the Card Mod ability, which allows you to turn cards into items. These can range from simple items like potions, to some of the rarest and most valuable items in them game. For example, the Bahamut card can be modded into 100 Megalixers, the best healing item in the game. But the rabbit hole goes deeper than just healing. Through other refinement abilities, you can then turn items into spells. Spells are the most valuable items in the game as they can be allocated to your character’s stats. So by acquiring rare cards, converting them into powerful items, changing those into spells, then allocating spells to your stats, your characters can become stronger in combat by playing card games. Playing cards isn’t just fun in and of itself, it helps power you up in the main game. The reverse is also true, you can use the CARD ability in battle to turn enemies into cards, thereby using combat to boost your Triple Triad power.
There are also a couple of side quests relating to Triple Triad. The first is the Card Club from your home, Balamb Garden. The members of the club have a hierarchy, and can only be challenged if you beat the member below them. There are no rewards specific to the quest, but each member holds rare cards. The other quest is related to the Queen of Cards. By losing specific cards to her, she will send that card to her father, who will create a new card with it. Then her son will distribute it out in the world and you can acquire it from that person. This process is pretty convoluted, but it’s the only way to acquire certain cards if you are a completionist.
In Final Fantasy 8’s lore Triple Triad was created by a psychic named Orlan from modified tarot cards. Most of the cards will depict monsters or guardian forces on them. The rules of the game are enforced and manipulated by the Queen of Cards, one of the most respected card players in the world. Her father is a painter who creates new cards. This could explain why a card game played around the world has cards depicting your friends. Most character cards are won from someone close to them. For example, the Zell card is won from his mother. I like to think it’s because she commissioned it.
Triple Triad is a great minigame. Its short, addictive, and the cards have meaning outside of the game. These aspects, plus the risk/reward aspect of each game, add up into a great gambling game. Later multiplayer versions eliminated the taking of opponents cards. Will Triple Triad be as fun without the risk/reward aspect, or the extrinsic value of the cards? In the future I plan on looking at some of the newer implementations made by Square and fans and see how they hold up.