Ah Top Trumps, that enduring game of comparing statistics. I say “enduring” for two reasons: firstly, the product itself has a long heritage, having been a playground staple since the 1970s, and secondly, depending on the composition of the particular deck, an individual game can run and run with just a couple of cards with ‘killer stats’ ensuring that the whole pile gets passed back and forth, usually between the last two remaining players.
When we used to run a monthly Chez Addaltmode games night (back in those heady days before all the shift work made such regular dates impossible) we always used to “warm up” by starting the evening with a round of Top Trumps before progressing onto Poker or at least something else a little more mentally demanding (which, let’s face it, is almost any other game – except, possibly, uh, Hungry Hungry Hippos). Over time, the Top Trumps became a bit of a running joke and our friends delighted in trying to find more and more bizarre themed decks with which we could battle stats; among the highlights were our Warhammer, The Muppets and Hello Kitty card sets – oh and the old Smash Hits deck that prompted an awful lot of comments along the line of “who?” and “nope, don’t remember them!”
So I was very amused when one of my friends bought me a Transformers Prime Top Trumps deck. Hooray for pictures of robots! Surely no danger of asking “who?” here! And comparing statistics should be all the better when you actually care about the characters under scrutiny – right? Except, sometimes it’s the things you love that can hurt you most of all. I know I am not the target market for this product, but even so, the more you know about Prime, the more WTF moments you’re likely to encounter flicking through these cards. From characters who aren’t in the series to really odd stat choices, there are some real mind-bogglers here, some of which at least gave me a good laugh. So in true Addaltmode tradition, I’ve compiled a list…. Don’t say we never cover the ultra-relevant, burning issues of the day on this blog!
I’ll start with the nit-picky and progress into full-blown whaaaat territory…
1: Spelling has broken down
Ah Brakedown, the beloved Decepticon tough guy, Bulkhead’s archnemesis and Knock Out’s conjux endura (I can’t tell you how happy it’s made me that recent IDW comics have confirmed this pairing). Hang on, wait no, that guy is Breakdown. Who’s this interloper? Is it the identity stealing Makeshift up to his tricks again? TFwiki tells me that “Brakedown” is an “Autobot Cybertronic funny car” from 2005’s Cybertron. I know there can be some slippage when it comes to character names and spelling, but you’d think that for the card set they’d at least match the spelling to that used in the show and on the toy, oh wait… for some reason Breakdown didn’t get any decent-sized toys in the Prime line except for the (fantastic looking) Japan-only Arms Micron version (a hard to get figure that’s pretty much in the top spot on my Cyberton’s Most Wanted toy list, but that’s a post for another day.)
2: Dramatis Personae: conspicuous absences
A couple of Prime regulars are missing from the Top Trumps roster here. The most notable absence is Mr Special Destiny himself, Smokescreen; while on the evil side, there’s a distinct lack of Shockwave. Arguably the fact that neither of these guys turn up in season one makes these two more likely candidates for omission than many of the shows other characters – but then again Ultra Magnus gets a card and he arrives long after Smokescreen has already joined Team Prime. But the main reason these omissions are so glaring is because it’s a 30 card deck and adding up all the regular main characters in the Prime TV show – including the humans – still only gives you a cast count in the early 20s, there’s no reason to leave anyone out!
And if the defense is that the excluded characters’ stats would be too similar to other cards, and thus unbalance gameplay, well the statistics chosen on the other cards barely reflect the abilities of each character anyway (see below) so I wouldn’t have thought that would matter. Perhaps those guys just really didn’t want their picture taken. Hmmm I could imagine that from Shockwave – “this serves no logical purpose” – but not from a poser like Smokey.
3. Dramatis Personae: unexpected inclusions
So, you need 30 characters to compare, there are only about 20 odd in Prime in the first place and – for whatever reason – you’ve decided not to include all of those anyway. How do you fill the gaps? Just add some random characters who weren’t in the show at all: oh hello Rumble, Ironhide and Kup. All three of those guys did at least get toys in the Prime continuity, and they appear here in this subfranchise’s distinctively sleek art style. Well, sleekish: Ironhide will never be sleek and that’s just the way he likes it. But that grumpy old battler probably has the most right to be there out of these random additions, since I believe he was originally slated as a member of Team Prime but he got swapped out for Bulkhead during the writing stage when the creators realised there was only room for one grumpy old Autobot on the roster, and that Ratchet already had the role perfectly sewn up.
4. Dramatis Personae: even more unexpected inclusions
We’ve established that there’s some rationale to the presence of some non-show characters here, but Kup, Rumble and Ironhide still don’t take our cast list to 30. What now? Hey, let’s randomly chuck in some characters from Fall of Cyberton, who cares if the art style is totally different, it’s all Aligned Continuity, right? Hello Swindle and Vortex! Admittedly these two Combaticons are great in pretty much any continuity but their presence here is still kind of baffling (have they got Smokescreen and Shockwave tied up for ransom somewhere?) And however well or otherwise their statistics may stack against the other cards, their much more angular, FoC aesthetic still makes them seem like interlopers.
5. Intellectually challenged?
One of the key statistics presented for each character is their intelligence score. This is problematic in terms of both game mechanics and flavour. First of all, the scores for this statistic are very clumped. Although we do see intelligence ratings all the way from 1 (
Zombie Terrorcon Cliffjumper) right through to 10 (Soundwave) almost half of the cards in the deck have an intelligence ranking of 8, which leads to an awful lot of draws. We played this game with group of 5 and found that a couple of people got eliminated very early on but the others were just experiencing deadheat after deadheat (but not Deadheat), with the pile in the centre growing larger until eventually someone would win the whole lot back and the sweet relief of this somewhat monotonous game actually ending was delayed yet again. Intelligence isn’t the only statistic to be clumped in this way but it is probably the worst offender in this deck.
Now let’s look at flavour. Things aren’t too bad here, as you’d expect, Ratchet scores more highly than, say, Bulkhead. But I would question how highly the humans rank for intelligence. Yes Raf (score 9) is a l33t haxxor boy genius but should he really come in higher than that millennia-old-military-tactician-ex-librarian-cryptographer-robot-Jesus Optimus Prime himself (score 8)? Miko (aka “the annoying one”) scores 8 for intelligence too, so she’s apparently just as bright as Optimus and considerably brighter than her Wrecker colleague Wheeljack (score 6). OK so in the Prime continuity Jacky-boy is more cowboy demo-man than dino-bot building scientist, but he still rigs a lot of explosives and keeps his ship, The Jackhammer, ship shape. Meanwhile, Miko mostly bunks off school to convince Bulkhead to do stupid but cool things. “Highly illogical” as Shockwave would surely say were he actually in the game!
6. Fireblast? Only for the young!
The final statistic on each card is that character’s “Fireblast”score. By that I presume it means their firepower, or how weaponed-up they are. In typical Hasbro fashion, “Fireblast” apparently came into use because it could still be trademarked, unlike “firepower.” Here, the kids’ stats are a bit more sensible: all three have a big fat Fireblast score of 0 (although there’s some argument that Miko should have earned herself a 1 by the series finale). The mind-boggling card here is Kup, who for some reason has a Fireblast score of N/A (and is the only card in the deck to have N/A for anything). Kup may be old and more famous for his increasingly fictionalised war stories than anything else, but what’s that on his arm if it isn’t a great big gun. Musket laser? Sure it’s an antique but I bet it could still do the business if required, and it surely earns him a few points of Fireblast, don’t you think? Come on, even Ratchet gets a Fireblast score of 50 (this particular stat scores up to a Megatrontastic 100) and – aside from the episode where he gets cranked up on synthetic energon – he spends the whole series trying not to leave the base!
7. The sharpest tool in the box: Energon Driller
But all the above issues – and bizarrely, many of the characters included here – pale in comparison to one particular card in this deck, the Energon Driller. Yes, not only were Smokescreen and Shockwave excluded in favour of characters who don’t appear in the show, they were excluded in favour of at least one inanimate object! “For moving shipments of plasma fusers through Autobot territory there’s nothing better than the Energon Driller” so the flavour text informs us. That may be so, but it doesn’t explain why this bit of unthinking machinery has better stats than the many of the ‘Bots and ‘Cons. Seriously, take a look.
Sure, I can understand the Driller having a higher rank score than, say, a Vehicon. Prime repeatedly shows us just how stupid, expendable and stupidly expendable Vehicons are, and Megatron and Starscream frequently seem more upset at the loss of various pieces of equipment than they are at the loss of their mooks. But to outrank a Vehicon, the Driller only needed a rank higher than 8. It has a rank of 21, so – just looking at ‘Cons who are actually in the show- it also outranks Breakdown (12), even Airachnid (20) and Knock Out (20) both of whom have been second-in-command on the Decepticon warship at least once during the series. How does it work operating a piece of kit that outranks you, anyway? I guess you just switch it on and then ask the commander politely if it’s time to move a few shipments of plasma fusers. And what the hell is a plama fuser anyway?
Still, rank is one thing. But surely the makers of this game wouldn’t give an inanimate a good intelligence score too, would they? Oh, it’s another 8. Poor Wheeljack, not only can Miko allegedly out-think him, the Energon Driller apparently can too. Don’t worry Jacky-boy, you’re still brighter than a Steve.
So, in a nutshell, the more you know about Transformers Prime the more baffled you’ll be by some of the statistical choices made on these cards. And if you’re not into the show I’m not entirely sure why you’d pick up this deck in the first place. But on the plus side… um…. we did have a bit of a laugh playing it – for the first ten minutes or so at least. And the picture of Knock Out on his card is quite a sexy one, so at least that’s something I guess. I’d rather look at Knock Out than some of the has been one-hit-wonder starlets in the Smash Hits Top Trump deck any day!