- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

Collectible games continue to give lovers of strategic challenges, trading cards and miniature figures a way to become part of their favorite comic books, cartoons and movies.

Here are just a few of the latest releases to meld pop-culture universes with hands-on action.

Star Wars Miniatures: Champions of the Force

(Wizards of the Coast, $9.99, seven figures per pack)

With two years of miniaturizing a galaxy far, far away, the home of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons continues to expand its Star Wars collectible-figures game with another expansion set.

Champions of the Force booster packs give players the chance to construct a battle between good and evil with a collection of 60 pre-painted 1½-inch-tall plastic figures. Each comes with an illustrated statistics card, and the set has been culled from the entire history of the Star Wars saga.

That means characters are available from the movies, computer games, novels, comics and animated series.

Some of the heroes from the Republic and light side of the Force include Barriss Offee (seen in films and the Clone Wars animated series) and Ulic Qel-Droma (from Dark Horse Comics’ Tales of the Jedi). Villains are plentiful and include a Dark Trooper (seen in the Star Wars: Dark Forces video game) and Darth Malak (seen in the video-game series Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic).

Some of the slicker sculpts, which will force players to buy cases of booster packs, include a shirtless Darth Maul; a Hoth Trooper with ATGAR Cannon; a Massassi Sith Mutant; and the vice chair of the Galactic Senate, Mas Amedda.

For those unfamiliar with the game play, the turn-based action requires combatants to assemble a squad of characters based on a set number of points. Opponents are defeated through the movements of figures on a gridded map, the luck of a die roll, and use of mathematics to decipher the statistics card.

Players can either develop their own environment for battle or use a wide variety of battle-strategy products from Wizards, sold separately, to bring the action of the saga to life.

For example, the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Starter Set ($19.99) will help a pair of new players easily grasp the game through an expanded rule book, 20-sided die, cardboard game mat and six figures.

The “Ultimate Missions: Clone Strike” book ($29.95, 96 pages) offers information on how to create 36 miniature adventures from the last three films and the cartoon series and includes a two-sided map of Coruscant and Geonosis.

In other Star Wars miniature collectibles news, Wizards in November will release Starship Battles, which incorporates a 40-figure set of collectible miniatures based on the famed space vehicles found within the space fantasy.

The starter set ($39.99) includes two exclusive, non-randomized figures of the Super Star Destroyer Executor and the Mon Calamari Star Defender Viscount, 10 randomized figures and stat cards, a game map and rule book. Booster packs ($19.99) contain seven randomized figures and related stat cards.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Starter Set

(Upper Deck, $9.99)

The collectible-trading-card game enters dangerous waters as players use illustrated cardboard to simulate a sword fight.

Based on the themes of Disney Pictures’ latest swashbuckler tale, Upper Deck’s game offers a challenge that requires each of two players to assemble a deck of cards to empower his favorite character from the film.

Luckily, the starter set just happens to offer everything needed for an immediate adventure and includes 60 randomly assorted cards, two colorful play mats with quick-play guides on the back, a rule book and a hard plastic case with an interior area to store two decks. (It fits perfectly on a bookshelf). Most important, the set also contains two Chamber Cards, the anchor of the duel.

Likenesses of such legends as Captain Jack Sparrow, Lord Beckett, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Davy Jones and Captain Barbossa are found on these thicker, two-sided gems, each of which has a smaller card hidden inside it to slide out and reveal signature moves.

To begin the action, each player selects one of the Pirates’ Chamber Cards and collects about 30 more cards, divided between Strike, Advantage and Ally types, based on the character’s attribute icons, listed on his card.

Each player lays out the cards on areas of the paper mat and, through a series of attacks, defensive responses and counterattacks (executed by a numerical scheme and text on each card put into play), works though an opponent’s zones to defeat him and gain points. The first player to gain three points wins.

Surprisingly, the cards are not adorned with photos from the movie but rather by comic-book-style color illustrations that are not as pretty as Upper Deck’s Vs. System card games (which are based on the DC Comics and Marvel Comics universes), but they still have their eye-popping features.

Players also will want to seek out more booster packs ($2.99 for 10 cards) to enhance their decks with packs that contain even more powerful, foil-enhanced cards.

Supplies for the collectible gamer

Ultra-Pro has a huge selection of products for players to use to protect their often costly investments in cards and figures.

In addition to plenty of deck boxes and individual plastic card holders, one of the more smartly designed products from the company is its foam-lined Mini Portable Gaming Case ($19.99). The container holds six of Ultra-Pro’s deck vaults (about 500 cards), has plenty of interior pockets to conceal those special attack cards and comes with a shoulder strap.

Additionally, its Miniature Carrying Case ($25) will be a portable lifesaver for the gamer infatuated with his tiny collectible figures. The foam-lined, two-level storage solution stores at least 25 figures from the WizKid Games and Wizards of the Coast’s miniatures lines and has interior pockets, a zippered pouch for a terrain map and a shoulder strap.

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