Collectible card games

7th Sea - collectible card game

Players 2
Age range 12+
Playing time Approx 45 min
Random chance Some
Skill(s) required Card playing
Arithmetic
Basic Reading Ability

7th Sea is a collectible card game ("CCG") based on the Swashbuckling Adventures (formerly 7th Sea) tabletop role-playing game setting by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). It is currently out of print.

Setting

In the 7th Sea CCG, players take the role of naval captains in the fantasy-Restoration world of Théah. The game attempted to capture the feeling of a Hollywood pirate battle, complete with huge galleys, cannon-shot exchanges, and daring sea boardings. The game also has aspects of adventuring, treasure seeking, and the occult.

As with most of the games of AEG, 7th Sea had a complex storyline that affected and was influenced by the RPG setting. The results of tournaments would function to guide the storyline, and the storyline in turn would be used to create new cards.

Basics

The game had many interesting concepts, including multiple winning conditions and a unique swashbuckling-themed combat system. The most important aspects were deck building, rules, and storyline.

Terms

The game used a number of terms to describe elements of game play:

The cards

The six types of cards in 7th Sea were: Actions, Crew, Adventures, Attachments, Chanteys and Ships. Each card is played differently as explained below.

Crew

The most important card type in 7th Sea is Crew. This card type combines the traditional CCG concepts of both a resource type and a creature type. Most CCGs use some kind of card type to produce resources that they subsequently use to gain other items. Usually those resources do not contribute to anything else. Examples of this are lands from Magic: The Gathering and holdings from Legend of the Five Rings. Most games also have some kind of creature card that provides offence and defense, like M:TG's creatures and Doomtown's Dudes. The game combined both while also providing multiple resource types and multiple combat procedures.

Crew are the sailors you have hired to man the ship. Your Captain is a special and important kind of crew but he still performs in much the same way any other crew.

Crew cards have the following statistics:

Crews also had various traits that allowed them to use certain cards. Some of the most common traits were:

Each ship had a limited amount of space for crew and that meant that smaller ships usually had lower resource and offensive capabilities. Usually this was balanced out with different benefits, like stronger special abilities and lower sailing costs. Players usually chose crew for their deck depending on their style and their faction's strengths, usually focusing on one or two statistics and maybe a trait (like sorcery). Crew with sailing or swashbuckling were always useful due to their innate use on movement and damage soak, however players also focused on more than one or two of the other three skills, Cannon, Adventuring, and Influence so as to be able to use specific cards more easily. Decks which focused on many skills together were the most difficult to build, however a good player then had a much greater versatility.

Crew cards had a Punch as their boarding attack.

Actions

Action cards are the surprises you can spring on an unsuspecting opponent. They are one-use cards that have some immediate effect. In 7th Sea, action cards had two costs. One was for the player and the other for his target (the canceling cost) and it was in the form of Skill: number. Costs are paid by tacking one or more crew with the appropriate skill, until the number is fulfilled. The canceling cost was there for the target of the action, and it allowed him to cancel the action by paying it. Thus some pretty powerful cards could be balanced by having a lower canceling cost. Cost and cancel need not use the same skill.

Action cards came in two types, Acts and Reacts. Acts are cards a player used in his turn. They usually worked to provide some unexpected effect, such as a combined cannon attack or an unstoppable boarding. Reacts are the much more common form of action cards. They can only be played on specific triggers such as an augment to a cannon attack, or suffering hits instead of a boarding attack.

All decks employed action cards, and usually the more aggressive decks employed a greater number.

Action cards' boarding attack could either be a Dagger or a Slash.

Attachments

Attachment cards are default enhancing cards for your other cards (the other being adventures). After the player pays the cost, he chooses an appropriate card to attach it to. Usual targets for attachments were:

Usually attachments had some kind of trait that classified it, such as Item, Henchman, Pet, Swordsman School, etc. For example, a pistol would be an Item while Rum Runners would be an Ally. These traits were used to specify targets for other cards.

In later sets requirements for attachments became more frequent. Those requirements ranged from a skill level (Cannon 4), to the alliance to a faction (e.g. Crimson Rogers), to the existence of a trait (Villainous), or a trait at a specific level (e.g. Porte 2). Due to the speed of attachments, they usually had a much lower reward/cost ratio than adventures.

Attachment cards' boarding attack was a Club.

Adventures

This is the second type of card a crew could attach. Adventures are the usual stuff of Hollywood pirate or naval adventure films: ancient relics, captured damsels, sea monsters, etc. These cards were almost exclusively completed by the use of the adventuring skill and were defined by the following:

Although Adventures were attached to a Sea, they were only available to the player that attached them (barring other card effects). This was a nice way to "archive" uncompleted adventures without cluttering your hand. However, some cards punished rampant adventure archiving.

Adventure Cards' boarding attack was a Thrust.

Chanteys

Chanteys were introduced later in the life of the game. They signified various global changes in the world of Théah in the form of popular songs used by the populace. Chanteys were similar to actions. However their effects, contrary to action cards, were permanent. They could either affect only the player or an opponent, or it could affect all players. Chanteys worked in a way similar to terrains in Legend of the Five Rings or Omens in Legend of the Burning Sands. That is, only one Chantey could be in effect at any one time. At any time that a Chantey came into play, the former Chantey was discarded. More powerful Chanteys had, instead of a cancel cost, a discard cost that any player could use to get rid of the Chantey.

Ships

These cards are special in that they are not in the deck but rather start in play, along with your captain. Most ships belonged to a specific faction and could only be used by matching captains. Each ship was defined by its faction, crew maximum, and sailing cost.

Crew maximum was used to determine the maximum amount of crew you could have on your ship. Ships with a large crew maximum tended to be more powerful in the late game, but more vulnerable at the start.

Sailing cost shows how easy a ship is to maneuver. Some action cards didn't use a fixed cost, but relied instead upon a ship's sailing cost (sometimes modified up or down). The advantage of a small ship was the fact that it could fill fast and press the offensive quickly.

Seas

The five Seas were always the same. They came with each starter box and were placed in a specific order. Seas had no specific abilities other than forming a game space for ships to move and for being the target of cards. Each captain has a specific starting sea which was usually chosen as a result of the storylines. New players often wondered where the other two seas which are not represented with cards were. The answer lies in the setting of the world of Théah. The 6th sea is protected by a wall of flame and thus difficult to access, and the 7th sea is a mythical place and very hard to find. Neither of these two 'extra' seas played any major role in the card game.

Deck construction

Players make many choices when designing a deck. They must keep in mind both the captain's and ship's abilities, the faction's strengths and weaknesses, and the strategy they want to use. Even with the same Captain and Ship, it is possible to make completely different deck types.

Strategies

There are many different concepts for a deck and many different ways to achieve them, depending mainly on the faction and secondarily on the ship.

For example, the Castillians were mainly a boarding faction (which means they liked to attack in mêlée) but with the right construction it was possible to attack without boarding (by making ramming attacks and limited cannon). The original Castillian ship was a hulking galley but in later expansions they got a small fast ship that allowed them to perform a tactic which some called 'speed boarding'.

Some sample deck foci are:

Even within these broad categories, there were many ways to carry out any given strategy. For example, a boarding deck might use only the captain to deal damage while the rest of the crew absorbed hits, or it might use small attacks with pistols and weak characters or it could just have a nice spread. One could use boarding action cards to enhance the attacks or to just absorb damage. One could also use attachments to win the attacks more easily, or adventures to inflict more damage etc.

Combining various strategies was not uncommon, such as a boarding deck that used a big cannon attack before the boarding to soften the enemy.

Game play

Start

At the start of each game, players used their captain's starting Wealth statistic to recruit their starting crew. Since the starting crew could be anyone from the deck, it was a nice tactic to have some backup crew in the deck for specific situations (much like a sideboard, only built-in). A captain's starting Wealth usually ranged from 7 to 10. Players typically chose a crew with high Influence statistics to start a game, although speed decks often preferred Sailing, Swashbuckling, and Cannon.

Phases

Each turn has 3 phases. The first phase is used to determine which player goes first; the second phase, the most important one, is where the game is actually played and the final phase is the end of turn were all resources are replenished (by untacking and drawing cards). Unlike in many games where a player performs as many actions as he wishes before passing to the next player, in 7th Sea each player performs only one action, and players pass to one another until none choose to take further actions.

In the main phase, starting with the first player, each player performs an action or passes and then play proceeded clockwise to the next player. Actions can be playing an Action card from one's hand, using a printed ability on a card in play, or performing an action innate to the game like hiring crew, or performing a cannon attack.

Once all players pass consecutively, the turn ends.

The innate actions all players can perform in 7th Sea are:

Boardings

Boarding is considered the most interesting phase of the game. Once begun, the involved ships lock together with their crews engaged in "cinematic mêlée battle". While a player can escape a ship's cannons by running away, the only ways to disengage from boarding are with both players' consent or with a card effect. Accordingly, boarding decks are rewarded for the difficulty of engagement.

Boarding occurs within the main phase of the game. During boarding, the rest of the game stops, so players can no longer play acts. Boarding consists of alternating boarding attacks between the two players involved. In turn, each boarding attack includes choosing a crew and sending it forward to attack (i.e. jumping to the other ship and causing some trouble). The defender can choose either to stand and take the hits (equal to the other crew's damage plus swordsman level) or to send someone forward to defend.

Each card in the deck has three boarding boxes. The large attack box is first, with two smaller defend boxes below it. Each boarding box has one of the following actions: [C] (Club), [P] (Punch), [D] (Dagger), [S] (Slash), or [T] (Thrust). The attacker starts by playing a card from his hand to initiate his attack. If possible, the defender resists by playing a matching defence card from his hand (i.e. the defender's card must have a defend box matching the attacker's attack box). The defender immediately counter-attacks with the action in the attack box of that defending card. The original attacker then defends himself against the counter-attack. In effect, the exchange is reminiscent of a continuous cinematic "Thrust-Slash-Parry-Riposte" mêlée. The mêlée ends when either player cannot defend against an attack (i.e. the player's hand is empty, he chose the order of his attacks wrongly, or he has a bad boarding hand). The last attacking player wins the boarding attack, and the loser suffers hits.

Boardings are interesting both because defenders can inflict hits and because the crews locked in mêlée suffer hits first. Such early hits risk loss of either crews' captain (and thus the game) while the crew may still be in otherwise prime condition. Because of this, a player may choose to avoid starting a boarding attack by passing or by playing a react (e.g. firing a musket or getting drunk). When both players perform a boarding attack, they draw 3 cards each and the attacks continue.

Since boarding boxes are spread in different card types, boarding decks usually have a wide variety of card types, unlike cannon and victory decks with few (two or three) card types. Thus, dedicated cannon decks can be caught helplessly in a boarding.

Death and destruction

Ships are fragile things. When a ship suffers hits, the crew is responsible for fixing it by tacking or sinking (getting killed). Hits cannot be ignored. When a captain sinks to absorb hits you lose the game. Players sometimes employed action cards to help them absorb hits.

Victory

In 7th Sea, there were two roads to victory. You could either sink all enemy ships, or perform a control victory (play several expensive cards, one in each sea).

Storyline

The game was a heavily story influenced game. Its factions had ties to specific RPG elements and rivalries and alliances occurred between them as the story progressed. The first story arc saw many serious conflicts, not necessarily all tied together. Storyline deaths were not uncommon (they didn't have some specific effect in the game), and the game even saw the death of an entire faction.

Factions

There were also a number of "unaligned" crew who belonged to no faction and so were usable by any Captain. Usually these were generic pirates, but some were given quite a bit of character and even included a handful of captains.

Story arc

The first story arc began with minor events and conflicts between the various factions and gradually progressed with events of greater importance which ended up changing the state of the world. Notable events include the rivalry between the Sea Dogs and the Crimson Rogers, which climaxed with the apparent death of Captain Reis at the hands of the Sea Dogs second captain; Bloody Bonnie McGee. There was also the appearance of the Black Freighter and its later defeat at the hands of Phillip Gosse by the sacrifice of his whole faction. And finally the Corsair's search for the final Syrneth switch which revealed the hidden island, Cabora, and their destiny.

The second story arc didn't have enough time to be fully fleshed out but it started with the Montaigne Revolution and the capture of their former emperor.

Experience

As with most other AEG games, experience was a major factor in the game's progression. Experienced crew usually got stronger and costlier. Since 7th Sea had a lax uniqueness rule, usually experienced crew ended up becoming unique. Experienced crew sometimes ended up changing factions (Such as the experienced versions of killed crew becoming Black Freighter members) or gained some secret society allegiance.

History of 7th Sea

During the lifetime of 7th Sea, both the RPG and the CCG had a very loyal following. Players would often ask for a specific result in a storyline tournament while offering bounty to anyone who achieved it. The game may be cancelled, but a following of the game still exists with tournaments in major events and custom cards.

Expansions

The first base set of 7th Sea offered 6 factions for player to choose from, but later expansions revealed more factions. The game saw two more base sets and a final online-only set at its closing.

Ghost Ship:The Death of a Game

Although 7th Sea seemed to be going very well sales-wise, there were some things that began to spell the end of the game. They were either easily avoidable or common blunders that have been known to end the life of many CCGs.

The Present

The popularity of 7th Sea - like that of related games such as Doomtown or Rage - has waned, and new cards are no longer produced. However, many players continue to play in tournaments and even design new cards and sets. The most up to date information and news about 7th Sea, including new cards and sets can be found on the only active 7th Sea CCG fan site: 7thSea.info.

Because the RPG is maintained, there is still interest in the setting and a number of websites continue to support the CCG as well as the RPG.

The game has also been ported to OCTGN for online play.

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Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy