Every night at GAMA Expo 2023, the ballroom was cleared, then tables were packed with publishers showing off new and upcoming games.
The title that drew the biggest crowd — and that was available only on one night — was Disney Lorcana, the trading card game from designers Ryan Miller and Steve Warner and publisher Ravensburger that will descend upon the United States and select other countries like a money vacuum starting in August 2023 with its debut at Gen Con.
Twice during the trade fair, Miller gave a 45-minute presentation on Disney Lorcana to game store retailers for an overview of the game line, how it plays, and what Ravensburger is doing to support retailers’ efforts to sell the game, such as giving them a two-week exclusive sales window for the first six sets of Disney Lorcana that will be released through the end of 2024. (With the first set, local game stores will be able to sell it starting August 18, 2023, while mass market stores must wait until September 1.)
Ryan Miller at GAMA Expo 2023
Yes, Ravensburger has a LOT of Lorcana lined up, although probably not enough given the frothing interest in this game. Miller acknowledged that even though they knew there was an audience for the game, the excitement over card reveals at D23 in September 2022, not to mention every other reveal or announcement, led them to increase production — although perhaps still not high enough.
Half the questions from retailers were about the potential of orders being allocated or whether Ravensburger still expected to run short of product…which is like asking whether your U.S. supermarket will run short of hot dog buns on the fourth of July. You won’t know until the day arrives! I’m sure that Ravensburger has a “Magic Mirror” card somewhere in Lorcana, but that is a fictional device intended only to grade one’s fairness.
Miller declined to answer many questions because they all dealt with future releases (e.g., how many cards will be in each set) or announcements that are clearly still to come ahead of the August debut (e.g., what formats will exist for organized play (OP) programs). He did mention that retailers who host OP programs will receive promo cards to be distributed to players as desired. He stressed that ideally OP will be the least cutthroat possible given Ravensburger’s aim to pitch this game to a wide audience. Make it a welcoming experience! Give players a reason to come back! (Miller mentioned early in the talk that he began his career in organized play and retail for the Wizards of the Coast stores in the 1990s.)
Miller noted that the booster packs will contain two rares, thereby giving players more value — then followed that up by mentioning that the game has five rarities: common, uncommon, rare, super rare, and legendary. The two rare cards come from the latter three categories, and each booster pack also contains a foil card, which may or may not be rare. So much to chase!
Despite my assumption that Disney Lorcana would be a two-player game, Miller and Warner clarified that the boxes likely won’t have a player count as a game can theoretically support any number of players, although Warner cautioned that he wouldn’t go above six.
Why does the game work with varying player counts? Because your goal in the game is to be the first to collect 20 lore, and lore doesn’t come from a limited pool, but is available to all who quest for it. Let me give an overview of how to play:
Disney Lorcana contains six types of “ink” — think color in Magic: The Gathering — and each player creates a deck of at least sixty cards of only one or two inks. At GAMA Expo 2023, Ravensburger had preset decks, and I ended up playing someone with the same sapphire/steel deck, so I didn’t see as many cards as I would have liked to. Each player starts with seven cards in play and can discard and refill their hand once.
At the start of your turn, you “ready” “exerted” cards, i.e., turn horizontal cards upright, then draw a card, then play. You can play one “inkwell” card face down to be used as ink. Characters (such as “Beast” and “Maleficent”) and items are all inkwell cards, as denoted by the thick gold circle in the upper-left corner. Actions (such as “One Jump Ahead”) and songs are not. This card is now out of play the entire game, but you can use the ink from the card to put items, characters, actions, and songs into play. Exert that card, and you get 1 ink. The ink cost to play a card is in the upper-left corner.
When you play an action or a song, carry out the effect, then discard the card. (A song is an action that can be played by paying ink or by exerting a character that costs at least the listed amount of ink.)
When you play a character or item, put it into play, then ignore it until your next turn. Items typically have ongoing effects; characters might have an “enters play” effect, a “questing” effect, or some other power.
When you start a turn with characters, you can choose to send them on quests. Exert them, and you receive the amount of lore listed on them from the bank. Alternatively, you can exert a character to challenge another player’s exerted character. In this case, each character does damage equal to their strength to the other character’s willpower. When damage on a character equals its willpower, discard that character.
If you run out of cards and need to draw, you’re out of the game.
To keep things moving at GAMA Expo, Ravensburger asked players to end a game when someone collected 10 lore, so my demo game was not “a real game”. Of course, I was also playing with cards I had never seen before with rules that were only half explained in an incredibly noisy environment after not sleeping for 24 hours, so yeah, the situation was not ideal. Designer Jason Matthews stealthily captured my bafflement in this shot:
That’s no moon…
After a few turns, I realized that I had goofed in not playing a “ramping” action early, that is, an action that would have let me play a second ink on the same turn. (I didn’t initially understand how the card worked, and I had a second one in hand that was equally non-useful.) My opponent and I did lots of tit-for-tat actions, challenging characters that had gained lore in order to eject them from play, and my opponent never had any items, so the Beast special ability was meaningless — but the same was true for her with her Beast since we had the same deck.
In any case, I can see what the designers are aiming for. You can focus on growth and questing to try gain lore faster and outrace others, and they can try to beat you at that game or be an attack deck that punishes you for every quest. Sure, you got lore once, but now I’m pounding that character and they’re out. I’m sure a wider variety of approaches exist, but I didn’t get to see much of the other cards on display.
I have no clue how well Disney Lorcana will be at drawing new players to CCGs. Game play is relatively straightforward, but that statement is coming from someone who learned Magic in 1993 while working in a game store. Learning how to play the game from scratch is another matter, and the presence of organized play programs in stores throughout the U.S. and Europe will likely make a big difference in how many on-ramps exist. We’ll see!