Chris’s newest addiction: the 7ᵗʰ Sea CCG

The 7th Sea Collectible Card Game is a game of pirates and magic on the high seas of the fictional 17th century world of Théah. I don’t play the 7th Sea Collectible Card Game. I have never played the 7th Sea Collectible Card Game. I never intend to play the 7th Sea Collectible Card Game. I don’t even like collectible card games. So why in the hell do I love these things so much? Click the pic and I’ll tell you all about it.

I guess in order for this to make any sense, I should explain what 7th Sea is…

7th Sea is a pen and paper role-playing game (RPG). 7th Sea players take on the roles you would typically see in pirate movies: swashbuckling pirates, courtly noblemen, Musketeers, romantic swordsmen, etc. But 7th Sea mixes it up by adding magic to their world, as well as a few monsters, hints at a sinister occult past age, and enough socio-/econo-/politico-religious intrigue and scheming secret societies to make The DaVinci Code look like a beginner’s manual to high school cliques. Couple all of that with rules that are easy to learn and all make perfect sense in the context of the game, and you’ve got one of the best, most original RPGs I’ve ever come across.

I had the two 7th Sea core rulebooks for damn near a year before we here at the Sci-Fi Guys gave ’em a try. Now we’ve each got our own set and dozens of expansion books to boot. I really can’t say enough about 7th Sea. If you’re into RPGs at all and you liked Pirates Of The Caribbean or The Princess Bride, you need to pick up 7th Sea.

If you can find it, that is. Sadly, 7th Sea is a dead game. In 2000, TSR, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, released the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules under what they called the Open Gaming License, allowing anyone to publish D&D compatible books under the 3rd Edition d20 system without paying royalties to TSR. People jumped on the d20 bandwagon left and right, flooding the market with tons of low quality crap. Seriously, you couldn’t look at a game store shelf without seeing 20 different books from 20 different companies, all full of minutely different versions of fucking kobalds and orcs. There was so much garbage out there it was unbelievable.

In 2004, Alderac Entertainment Group, the publishers of 7th Sea and the samurai RPG Legend Of The Five Rings, switched from their elegant “roll and keep” game mechanics shared by the two games to TSR’s shitty d20 rules, essentially transforming those award winning, groundbreaking games into two more pointlessly complex, rules laden expansions for D&D; two more turds in an ocean of diarrhea.

Not only that, but they changed the look of the books entirely and renamed 7th Sea to Swashbuckling Adventures, so it wasn’t really clear if what you were seeing was really 7th Sea for d20, or just another fly-by-night game company’s barely legal ripoff. Long story short, when AEG left the charm of their old system behind, they left a lot of players behind with it. The line hit a tremendous slump, and as of 2005, the 7th Sea/Swashbuckling Adventures RPG was dead, and it eventually dragged the collectible card game down with it.

It bugs me that the RPG is dead, but I couldn’t be happier that the card game is. One reason I have never liked collectible card games is that they never stop bilking the fans of the game with the fucking “must-have limited collector’s edition variant foil cards” bullshit, the endless expansions of the same crap rehashed over and over, and the prices… sweet mudder uh Jaysus, the prices they charge are outrageous.

Four or five bucks is standard for a 15 card booster pack. Fifteen cards. For five dollars. FIVE DOLLARS. That’s fucking ridiculous! If they charged that for playing cards, a standard poker deck with two jokers would run you $18. I don’t care how you try to justify the prices, that’s bullshit. They’re little pieces of paper, folks. At those prices, they deserve to go out of business.

“Five doubloons?! I’ll have yer guts fer that, ye swindlin’ cur!”

I will hand it to the people at AEG, though; the collectible card version of 7th Sea is actually pretty sweet. Whereas the RPG lets players choose, customize, and to some degree fine-tune the types of characters and adventures they want to play, the card game is another matter entirely. Although the card game follows, and often cleverly adds to, the 7th Sea storyline set up in the RPG, the limitations of condensing the rich world of Théah into a card game meant they had to narrow the focus, and they did so in the very best way possible. They brought the game back to its roots – pirates.

There’s only so much you can do with a card once its printed, so AEG wisely did not attempt to duplicate the customizability a role-playing game can offer, opting for afar more card game friendly approach. Each player starts out with a captain card, a ship card, and a sea card. The rest of the cards they draw and play during the course of the game add crew to the ship, help during ship to ship combat, or act to improve the crew, captain, or ship cards. Probably other things, too. I don’t know. I’ve never played it. I’m more or less talking out of my ass here. As a matter of fact, go get some white-out and just paint over this whole paragraph on your monitor. Go ahead, it won’t hurt my feelings.

I don’t like CCGs, I’ve made that clear in other articles. But I have to give credit where credit is due; AEG did one hell of a job with 7th Sea. They took great pains to ensure that the 7th Sea CCG not only stayed true to to its roots, but actually added to the original game in very positive manner. I guess that’s why AEG is considered by many CCG players to have produced two of the finest collectible card games ever made, 7th Sea and Deadlands: Doomtown, which was also based on an award winning, groundbreaking role-playing game, and my favorite RPG of all time, Deadlands (which narrowly avoided being destroyed by its own ill-advised switch to d20). Good job, AEG. You get an extra cookie at storytime.

2021 UPDATE: These are not my cards. The are no long boxes pictured. Nor a smaller box up front. And you will see no individual deck boxes. The next paragraph will describe an image that no longer exists on any backup I can find. Another o’ me fine pictures lost to Davy Jones Digital Locker.

These are my cards. The two long boxes are 800-count. The smaller box up front is 300-count. The individual deck boxes contains 65 cards each. Factor in the ones I didn’t take a picture of, and I’d estimate I’ve got about 2500 7th Sea cards. That’s a hell of a lot of cards for a game I don’t want to play. So why do I have them? Three reasons…

1) They’re cool. I know I’m really testing the limits of the world ‘cool’ with that statement, so let me clarify; they’re neat. Sports fans collect baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and god knows what other kinds of cards, which are basically cool little pictures with condensed info devoted to explaining how whomever is pictured effects whatever game they’re playing. The point is, if you’re into whatever’s on the card, they’re neat.

Since I don’t play the game, these are like baseball cards to me. I look at the pic, read the stats, compare them to other cards, and open every new pack like a little kid ripping into a pack of sports cards to see if he’s gonna finally get his favorite player. These really aren’t any different; just switch the picture of the steroid enhanced, drug addicted felon with that of an undead skeleton pirate with a rusty cutlass, then change the ‘Upper Deck’ copyright info to ‘AEG,’ and they’re pretty much the same thing. They’ve even got stats, character info, and some of the crew cards are labeled ‘Experienced.’ The ones that aren’t? Rookie cards. The only real difference I see is that no pirates or skeletons are EVER going to enter into any contracts that make the person pictured refuse to sign a little kid’s card if it’s not the right brand or if the child wasn’t wearing the player’s fucking jersey. Yeah, that’s right. Who’s hobby is shitty now?

Fuck. Pro. Sports.

2) 7th Sea is a dead game. Had I not known that, I never would have picked my first set of cards up. I got them because I’m a big fan of 7th Sea, not because I’m looking to get into a new game that will empty my wallet faster than a trip to Barry Bonds’ “supplement” dealer. Why am I picking on sports stars today? I don’t know either, but it sure is fun.

3) They were cheap as hell. To be honest with you, reasons 1 and 2 wouldn’t mean jack if reason 3 wasn’t in place. I got my first batch, and every card since, on deep clearance, and that’s the only way I’ll buy them. Regular price for those 65-card decks is $9. No thank you. Are they fun enough to justify having 2500 cards around? You bet your ass. And if I find more on sale, I may take it up to an even three thousand. Are they fun enough to justify having 2500 cards at full retail price? Fuck no. This is one hobby that’s best kept cheap.

2021 UPDATE:

The Crescent pictured above is Kheired-Din, a character in the 7th Sea story. I’ve only skimmed Crescent Empire and Pirate Nations handbooks, so I’m not sure exactly how much info there is about him in the books. But the CCG greatly expands on his life, revealing him to be a major player in the overall 7th Sea saga, which I will not spoil here. However, I will say this: the card game unveils Kheired-Din as arguably the most important pirate on the seas of Théah. A horrible human being, but historically very important.

I’ll grant that AEG did appear to learn something from the failure of Deadlands d20. Instead of focusing on re-releasing their entire inventory in the d20 format, they published quite a few dual-statted books, which were actually quite good. But despite this, the damage was done.

The name change and corresponding change in appearance made the d20 books look like a whole new line, not a continuation of 7th Sea. Customers don’t like being jerked around; if you’re gonna keep making 7th Sea books, you should probably make them look like 7th Sea books, and, by all means, fucking call them 7th Sea books.

These books weren’t well advertised, and a lot of time went by before I even realized that some of them could be used with the old system. I can tell you myself that I passed these books over for quite a while. I didn’t know it was a 7th Sea book, so why should I, a person who wants nothing to do with yet another d20 game, pick up a d20 book to check on the back if it just might be compatible with 7th Sea when the 7th Sea name and logo are nowhere on the cover? I’m not a psychic. It doesn’t make sense that I would do that. They really shot themselves in the foot with their sudden switch to a new name, new system, and new format. In the end, that’s what killed them.

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