Monday, June 15, 2009

Bakugan

You would think that the creators of Bakugan could have done better, given all the previous collectible games -- Magic, Pokemon, Yugioh, and many others. Of course, Bakugan has been enormously successful so far, but most of that has to do with the core idea of monsters that open up from tiny balls. (One wonders if they were inspired by Pokemon and pokeballs.) I'm talking about the game of Bakugan, the actual (purported) purpose behind collecting the figures. The game is lousy.

The whole principle is flawed, really. The idea of collectible card games is that you get cards that work well in combination, and build the ideal deck with them. This is totally irrelevant in Bakugan, because you never fight with more than one Bakugan at a time. Each monster is given a single power rating, the higher, the better; there is no subtlety in figuring out which monsters you would rather have. Monsters also have an "attribute" along the same lines as the other collectible games -- fire, electric, earth, etc. The ones in Bakugan are given unpronounceable names, and don't have much purpose. You play a "gate" card that gives a different bonus to each type of Bakugan; obviously, you want to get your Bakugan on the card that gives it the highest bonus. You have no knowledge of your opponent's gate cards, so there is no strategy there.

You can see the trouble Bakugan is having from the number of times they have had to change the rules, which is particularly bad because there are hardly any rules to begin with. Then they issued a whole new set of Bakugan that were larger than the old ones. I'm not sure what the reason for this was; it may have been nothing more than a marketing scheme, or there may have been safety concerns (can't have kids swallowing marbles), or they may have decided that they needed more room to create new varieties of Bakugan. In any case, collectors were bound to be irritated. Now they have added "traps," which again provide virtually no new strategies, but offer all kinds of new opportunities to sell figures. Bakugan monsters also come in a bewildering variety of figures that don't open up, making them useless for the game, but which come with game cards that confuse the buyer.

For some time now, they've been giving away a free DVD to explain the rules and the strategy to the game. There really isn't much strategy; the most important thing to winning is (a) having the biggest Bakugan, and -- even more important -- (b) rolling them so they open up on one of the metal cards. This is actually pretty hard to do. I guess it's a legitimate skill, akin the marbles, but they make it sound so much like a thinking game that it is hard to focus on the dexterity aspect. They have come out with an "arena" to provide a better playing surface, including curved edges that the figures can roll up and back down onto the cards, thereby making it easier to get them to land. It's a good idea, but, if you have to resort to that, it takes away a major part of the game, which is being able to "brawl" anyone, anywhere, as long as you have your Bakugan (and gate cards and ability cards). That's a nice feature of Pokemon and the other collectible games. I can just imagine kids trying to play Bakugan on ordinary tables like Pokemon tournaments are held on: it would be a disaster of monsters rolling off the table and kids crawling around trying to find their own figures. The floor works okay, as long as it is not carpeted. It's just a poorly conceived game that I'm sorry my son got interested in. (A brilliant marketing scheme, however.)

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