In the 1990s and the early 2000s, collectible card games (CCGs) were one of the most popular trends in the board game industry. Basically a collectible card game is a game where you can purchase booster packs in order to get more cards to use in the game. The more booster packs you bought, the more likely you would get good/powerful cards to use in the game. The genre really took off in 1993 with the creation of Magic the Gathering. The success of Magic the Gathering lead to many other CCGs being created over the next decade which included games like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. While there were some really good CCGs, there were many more that were terrible or never caught on for one reason or another. We here at Geeky Hobbies have decided to take a look at some of these forgotten CCGs in our new feature Long Dead CCGs. Why did they fail and were they a hidden gem or deserved their fate? Let’s begin by talking about the American Idol Collectible Card Game.
There were quite a few weird CCGs created over the years, but one of the weirder ones has to be the American Idol Collectible Card Game. When you think of CCGs you usually think of fantasy/sci-fi battles with two or more players trying to beat each other’s characters/creatures. A singing competition is far from what you would expect. Yet for some reason we ended up getting an American Idol Collectible Card Game. I can’t say that I was ever much of a fan of American Idol. I like some of the singers that have been on the show, but I can’t say I ever sat down and actually watched an episode of the show. When I first saw the game it screamed cheap tie-in product that was made to make a quick buck off the show’s success. Therefore my expectations for the game were really low. I like to give every game a fair chance though so I approached the game with an open mind. I have to admit that I was genuinely surprised by the American Idol Collectible Card Game as it has some interesting ideas that unfortunately don’t work as well as intended.
How to Play the American Idol Collectible Card Game
- Shuffle all of the cards.
- Deal seven cards face down to each player. The rest of the cards form the draw pile.
- The player to the left of the dealer will start the game. The game begins in the audition round.
On a player’s turn they can choose one of two actions:
- Play a card and then take the top card from the draw pile.
- Discard as many cards as you want and draw the same number of cards from the draw pile.
In the American Idol Collectible Card Game there are four different types of cards: singers, songs, judges and special effects.
The first card that most players will play is a singer card. Each singer card features five pieces of information that are used in the game. Along the left side there are four numbers each corresponding to a different color. Each number illustrates how good that singer is at the given genre of song. In the bottom left corner there is a votes number. This number is used in the second phase of the game.
When a player plays a singer card they will play it in front of themselves. When a singer card is first played, there is an opportunity to steal a song card from another singer. If there is a song card on another singer but no judge or special effect cards on it, the song can be stolen. If the singer card that was just played has a higher rating in the song’s color than the singer that currently has the card, the new singer can steal the song card. A player can steal a song card from another player’s singer or one of their own singers.
The second type of card in the American Idol Collectible Card Game are song cards. These cards can only be played on singer cards that don’t already have a song card. A player can play a song card on any of their own singers or another player’s singers. When a song card is added to a singer, a “performance” is created. The performance is worth a point value equal to the value of the song plus the singer’s ability in the corresponding color.
There are two special song cards: The Star Spangled Banner and A Song of My Own. These two songs are wild so they are performed in the singer’s best color. To steal one of these songs (when a new singer is played), the new singer must have a color that is a higher value than any of the colors of the singer currently singing the song.
Judge and Special Effect Cards
The third type of card are judge cards. Judge cards can only be played on a performance. There are three different judges, and only one card from each judge can be placed on a performance. You can play judge cards on either your own singers or other players’ singers. Judge cards are used to modify the value of a performance.
The fourth type of card are special effect cards. Special effect cards can be played on any performance. Each special effect card has its own effect which is printed on the card.
If a judge or special effect card drops the value of a performance to zero or less; all of the cards from the performance are discarded.
End of Round
After a player has taken their action, play passes to the next player clockwise. The audition round ends immediately when the current player has three performances in front of them at the beginning of their turn. The game will then move onto the finals phase.
To prepare for the finals, all singers without a song attached are discarded. All judge and special effect cards played on performances are also discarded.
In the finals round all of the cards are treated the same so you can ignore what type of card it is when you play it. All cards in this round are played for their vote value. Each performance has a base vote value which comes from the singer and song card played in the previous round.
The player who ended the audition round gets to start the finals round. On a player’s turn they will play one of the cards from their hand onto one of the performances. A player can play a card on one of their own performances or one of the other players’ performances. Thus if a player has no performances of their own, they still play a card on their turn. Each performance can only have one card added to it.
Once all of the performances have one additional card, players compare the performance’s vote totals. Each performance is worth the vote value of the three cards added together. Whichever performance has the least votes is eliminated from the game. If there is a tie for the least votes, all tied performances are eliminated as long as there is still one performance remaining. Once the performance is eliminated, all of the players will draw cards until they have seven cards in their hand.
If there is more than one performance remaining, another round of voting is played. This continues until only one performance remains. The player that controls the last remaining act, wins the game.
If there is a tie between all of the remaining performances, all of the vote cards that were added are discarded. Without drawing new cards, the players will play one more vote card to each performance. This continues until one performance has more votes than the other performances. This performance has won the game.
How Long Did the American Idol Collectible Card Game Last?
The American Idol Collectible Card Game was released in 2004 in order to cash in on the success of season three of the show. While the game’s designers might not have treated it as a cash-in opportunity (more on this soon), it was pretty obvious that this game was only made in order to make some quick money. Thus it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the American Idol Collectible Card Game did not have a long lifespan. As a matter of fact the season three deck that this review is based on is all that was ever released for the American Idol Collectible Card Game. Booster packs or other starter sets from other seasons of the show were never released.
I think there are two explanations for why the show had such a short lifespan. First I am guessing the game didn’t sell that well. I don’t have any information to prove this. I would have thought that if the game had sold well there would have at least been a starter set created for other seasons of the show. The American Idol Collectible Card Game has all of the signs of a game that they made a lot of copies of and then they never really sold. A lot of them probably sat unsold which lead to them being clearanced out.
The more likely explanation is that the game was never expected to be anything more than just the one set. If the game sold well they probably would have released a new set featuring contestants from season four and on. I don’t think there were any expectations for booster packs though. I say this mostly because I don’t see how they would have worked in the game. Basically all of the cards in the game have their own strengths and weaknesses. The idea behind booster packs is that you try to acquire the best/rarest cards in the game. As all of the cards are pretty equal, you wouldn’t be able to acquire “better” cards. There is also the fact that all of the players share the same deck of cards so you wouldn’t get any benefit over the other players by buying booster packs. My personal theory is that the publishers sold the game as a collectible card game in order to try and cash in on the CCG fad that was starting to die out in the early 2000s.
My Thoughts on the American Idol Collectible Card Game
As I mentioned earlier, before playing the American Idol Collectible Card Game I had few expectations for the game. Having no real interest in the show that it was based off of, I thought it was going to be a rushed card game that basically just pasted the American Idol theme onto another game. I have to give the developers, Falko Goettsch and James Ernest, some credit as they could have easily just phoned in designing the game. After playing the game it is pretty obvious that they actually put effort into designing the game as it actually has some really interesting ideas.
Let’s start with the audition round. In the audition round you are trying to create strong performances. As each singer is better at some types of songs than others, you are trying to play a song to a singer that matches their strength. You need to create a strong enough performance that another player can’t play a judge/special effect card on it to reduce its value to zero. In the audition round you basically have to balance keeping your performances strong enough to remain in play with adding more performances to your portfolio. This means that you want to both play new singers and songs while also playing positive judges and special effects to your own performances.
The American Idol Collectible Card Game has a “take that” aspect to it though. Outside of singers, players have the option of playing any other card type on the other players. While a player wants to combine their own singers with a song that they are strong in, other players will want to do the opposite to you. They will try to play a low value song of a color that a singer is not strong in. This makes it much easier to remove a performance from the game with negative cards. Once a performance has been completed, players can gang up on it in order to reduce its value to zero (or less) in order to remove it from the game. This aspect of the game can become pretty cutthroat as you spend almost as much time messing with other players as you do playing cards for yourself.
At first it might seem like you want to create the strongest performance possible in order to guarantee that it will make the finals. Your actual goal should only be to make it strong enough to make it to the finals. What is interesting about the cards in the American Idol Collectible Card Game is that all of them have both a strength and a weakness. Songs and singers that are really strong in one color are unlikely going to be worth a lot of votes in the finals round. These votes are all that really matter in the game. Instead of creating a performance that is worth a lot of performance points, you want to create a singer/song combo that is worth a lot of votes. These performances are more vulnerable to being eliminated in the audition round, but if you can get them to the finals they have a very good chance of winning the game.
This brings me to the finals round which changes the game drastically. Instead of trying to build strong performances, all you care about is getting more votes for your performances than the other players. If your performances have a lot of votes heading into the finals, they have a huge advantage in this round. This round can become pretty cutthroat as there are two ways that you can approach it. The more obvious strategy is to play high vote cards on your own performances in order to advance them into the next round of voting. The more cutthroat strategy is to play low vote cards on other players’ strongest performances. As each performance can only have one vote card played on it, if you can play a zero or one vote card on a performance there is a good chance you can eliminate it. This round can have a lot of sabotage in it as it is just as important to weaken the other players’ performances than to help your own.
I found the American Idol Collectible Card Game to be an interesting game. When playing the game it kind of feels like a typical card game, and yet at the same time it doesn’t play like any other card game that I have ever played before. There are some really interesting mechanics in the game. The designers deserve a lot of credit for actually trying to make something unique instead of just pasting the American Idol theme on another card game. I think the American Idol Collectible Card Game has a really good framework for a card game.
The problem is that while it has good ideas, none of them work as well as you would like. I could see the game’s potential but it never lives up to it. You can have some fun playing the game but you tire of it pretty quickly. At first it looks like there is a decent amount of strategy in the game, but when you start playing the game you realize that there really isn’t any strategy. The game’s outcome ultimately boils down to two things.
First the American Idol Collectible Card Game has a pretty serious kingmaker problem. As players can regularly play cards to mess with the other players, you don’t have full control over your fate in the game. In the audition rounds players could gang up on you adding negative cards to your performances so they get eliminated before the finals. If multiple players end up working together, they can easily control the game. This problem becomes even worse in the finals. In the finals all of the players get to play cards even if they have no performances left in the running. Therefore eliminated players have a say in which performances are eliminated. In most situations there is nothing a player can do if the other players want them out. Ultimately a player that has been eliminated from the game can end up deciding who will win the game.
Like most card games, the American Idol Collectible Card Game also relies on a lot of luck. I would actually say that it relies on more luck than most card games. Basically your fate in the game is going to depend on what cards you and the other players end up drawing. In the audition rounds you are going to have troubles if you mostly draw cards of one or two types. If you don’t draw many singers or songs you are going to be at a disadvantage before the finals even begin. I do give the game credit as there really aren’t any cards that are arguably worse than other cards. The problem is that each card has a time where it is most useful. Whichever players have the right cards for the right situations are going to have a pretty big advantage in the game.
I have to say that one of the things that I don’t understand about the American Idol Collectible Card Game is the theme. I don’t think the American Idol theme really fits the gameplay. I give the game some credit as it actually features a lot of real contestants from the third season along with Randy and Paula. I had to laugh out loud though when we discovered that Simon is not in the game. I guess it cost too much to use his likeness so he is replaced by a black shadow aptly called “Nasty”. Outside of the pictures and people from the show, the game has very little to do with the show. Of all of the reality shows they could have attached to the game, I think American Idol is one of the worst they could have picked. I actually think a show like Survivor would have fit the gameplay quite well. Maybe they didn’t use the Survivor theme because there was already a Survivor Collectible Card Game that had already failed. Don’t worry we will take a look at this game in a future post.
While not really a complaint, unlike most CCGs the American Idol Collectible Card Game is a game that is probably better with more people. We ended up playing the game with only two players as that is how most CCGs are played. The two player game is fine on its own but I think the game would be more compelling with more players. In the two player game there is a pretty high reliance on luck. Whichever player draws the right cards at the right times is basically guaranteed to win the game. In the two player game it mostly becomes a fight where I attack you and you then attack me back. This gets boring after a while. More players will probably make the kingmaker problem worse, but it will make the game more enjoyable as there will be more back and forth.
The component quality is not great but it is actually better than I was expecting. The card quality is pretty typical of CCGs from the era as the cards are thick enough that they should last if you take care of them. I was actually kind of surprised by the card layout though. The artwork is nothing special as it is mostly just pictures from the show. What I like about the card design though is that it makes it really easy to find the appropriate information on every card. With a quick glimpse you can see what type of card it is and what benefit it can give you.
Should You Buy the American Idol Collectible Card Game?
Not being a fan of American Idol, I had next to no expectations for the American Idol Collectible Card Game. I thought it was just going to be a quick cash grab, but I was wrong as there was some real effort put into making the game. Instead of just pasting the American Idol theme onto another card game, there are actually some unique mechanics in the game. In the first round you are trying to build strong performances, and then you compete for votes in the finals. These two rounds actually have some interesting mechanics that could have made a good game. Unfortunately they never live up to their potential. The game ultimately ends up relying on who gets luckiest while some players end up becoming kingmakers. In some ways the game feels like it was designed with a different show in mind.
The American Idol Collectible Card Game was better than I expected, but it is still not a good game. If you don’t really care for American Idol, I see no reason why you would want to play the game. If you are an American Idol fan though and don’t mind coming up with some house rules, the game may be salvageable. I would only recommend picking it up though if you can find it for cheap.