Thursday, March 3, 2016

Quick Review - Ultra Coins - Kickstarter Preview

Ultra Coins
Designer: J.M. Ward
Publisher: Ultimate Custom Coins
Quick Review - Ultra Coins - Kickstarter Preview

A little over a week ago Ultra Coins launched on Kickstarter.  I saw a few posts on Facebook about these collectible coins that are also a 2-8 player battle game and I was intrigued.  Now I received a sample of two coins to check out and review.  So, what's the deal with Ultra Coins?  Are they really as cool as they look?  Well, let's find out.

UPDATE: There ave been a few developments in the coins and the gameplay.  Be sure to check out my UPDATE section below for the changes since my original review.

So, what are Ultra Coins?  The aim of Ultra Coins is to be the next collectible rage.  Collect the coins and then use them to battle the armies of other collectors.  The coins spin on a nub on the back side and have battle stats along the outer edge.  Stopping the coins with a finger lets you determine the attack strength for each round.  The game is simple, but Ultra Coins are much more than just a simple game.  They're coins that are a full 2" in diameter and 1/8" thick and made of solid brass.  The Ultra Coins are more like medallions than coins and have a ton of heft.
These are much bigger than any monetary coins you'll carry in
your pocket.  Even the US silver dollar is dwarfed
by the Ultra Coins. 
The coins are about twice as thick as a US quarter.
Each coin is different, in the way that collectible cards are different.  In addition to a set of battle stats that ring the outer edge of the coin's face, the center features a full color work of art depicting one of the characters from the game.  The artwork (which is very cool looking, if a tad dark) is covered in epoxy so it'll be durable and long lasting.
The coins look and feel stunning!
I'm guessing that some coins will be more common than others and likely the aim is to have them purchased semi-blind (e.g. you'll purchase a coin from a certain faction or type, but you won't know exactly which coin you're getting).  I may be completely off on that, but that's my impression.  It could also be that you can buy whatever specific coins you want to collect, too.  I know there is already talk of more types of characters from fantasy, sci-fi, and horror genres, so it would be pretty cool to build up your own custom army.  Either way, the quality of the coins definitely makes them collector's quality.
Even the backs look great.  The nub in the center
is what the coin spins on.
Unfortunately this an aspect of Ultra Coins that I can't comment on from direct experience.  I was only sent two coins, which isn't quite enough to have a full battle.  I received one Leader and one Spellcaster.  Both appear to be proof of concept prototypes since the numbers on them don't quite match what the rules say they should be (e.g. the Spell Caster doesn't have a 0 value on its edge).

There are currently five different types of coins in two classes; Soldiers and Spell Casters.  Soldiers are composed of Leaders, Elite Units, Regular Units, and Unconventional Units.  Spell Casters aren't directly involved in combat, but provide support to the soldier units.  
The “Barbarian King” Leader coin.
Each type of coin has certain abilities as well as unique stats for Attack and Defense.  A soldier coin's defense is a static value indicated by double lines at the borders.  The attack value is determined by a ring of numbers around the edge of the coin.  To determine the power of a unit's attack the coin is spun and then stopped with a finger.  The first value to the left of the player's finger is the attack strength and the sum of three spins is the total attack strength for one round of combat.  If that total exceeds the defending unit's defense strength the defending unit is defeated.  Otherwise the defending unit has a chance to counterattack.  Spell Casters are used to enhance a soldier's attack, but there's a possibility of a Spell Caster running out of magic and being out of the rest of the game.  Leaders, Elite Units, and Unconventional Units all have special abilities, generally bonuses to attacks and defense, that can be used once per game.

Check out how the coins spin.

Since I originally posted my review there have been a few new developments with the Ultra Coins, both the coin designs and the gameplay.  The original rules of the game had special abilities based on the unit types.  For example, Leaders could add a bonus to another unit's attack or defense, and all Leader units would have those same special abilities.  Now there will be a lot more special abilities that are unique to each character.  But, unlike Magic the Gathering where there is a lot of space on the cards for text, Ultra Coins don't have any space for paragraphs of text.  The solution is to have keywords that indicate special abilities.  The details of these keywords can be included in the rules, and a new coin design will include the keywords right on the coins.  This results in the artwork and strength values each becoming a tiny bit smaller, but adds an inner ring to the coins that includes up to three special ability keywords as well as the name of the character.

I think this is a MAJOR improvement in the game and well worth the minor sacrifice in the size of the artwork.  Now players have a choice of what abilities they want to include in their armies.  This will really enhance the collectible aspect of the game, giving players a reason to purchase new coins for reasons other than having cool new artwork.  With different characters having their own unique combination of abilities Ultra Coins now has a bit of a meta game and deeper strategy.  The game is still casual and can be played quickly, which is a good thing, but now you can really mix and match coins to build a truly custom army.
Updated coin design showing new inner ring with
character name and special abilities.

Final Thoughts:
As I said, I only received two prototype coins, so I'm unable to actually play the game, however my impression is that it is a very casual game that is light on strategy and high on luck.  There doesn't appear to be the depth in the game that there is in other collectible games like Magic the Gathering.  I don't foresee people spending hours working through their collection of Ultra Coins to build the best army, or pulling out an army and making lots of strategic decisions while battling an opponent.  
The “Futuristic Mage” Spell Caster coin.
(A production coin should have a value of 0 on a Spell Caster coin.)
That said, the fact that you can carry a couple of coins in a pocket or bag, whip them out, and play a quick match just about anywhere might make these catch on.  I'm not sure what the retail price of a single coin will be, but you can buy sets on Kickstarter right now for $5-$8 a coin depending on the number you buy.  That indicates the retail cost will probably be $8-$10 a coin.  This might make it a bit expensive to really take off, but the quality of the coins is definitely worth it.  It'll all depend on the level of promotion, variety of coins available, and how much fun the actual game is to play.  If you're a collector of interesting games though, this is something to keep an eye on. Even if it doesn't take off, having a set of these coins in your collection will definitely look impressive.  Check out Ultra Coins on Kickstarter now!

Preliminary Rating: 9/10 for quality, n/a* for gameplay
* Since I did not receive enough prototype components to actually play a game I cannot officially rate the game, however my expectation is that the gameplay would warrant a 6-7 rating.
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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