As I’ve said many times, I am a huge fan of card games. I’m also a very big fan of anime, although I think it’s important to note that this does not include the T&A fan service series. Dedicated anime fans probably read that line and thought “that doesn’t leave you much”, and while there’s a certain amount of truth in that, what is left is exceptional in quality. Attack on Titan is a prime example.
When I read about Tanto Cuore from Playdek and Arclight Games, I was hesitant, but figured I’d give it a shot. Despite being an anime-inspired game about maids, the images I’d seen appeared to be reserved, which gave me some hope that it wouldn’t be sleazy.
While most card games don’t have an in depth storyline, they do normally have some semblance of a story idea; a concept of what the game is about, which then provides the players with goals. In a game like Magic: The Gathering or the upcoming Hex, the storylines and lore can be exceptionally rich. These however are full-blown TCGs (or in the case of Hex, DTCGs), which allow for a grander scope when it comes to story.
Tanto Cuore is a deck building game, which means everyone choses cards from a central area as the game progresses, building their decks as they go along. I’ve touched on this in previous reviews and so won’t waste too much time explaining it here.
So, what’s Tanto Cuore’s story? Well, to begin with, the name means Much Heart in Italian. Truth be told, I think that’s a fairly idiotic name, however since I’m not in the business of naming games, I’ll defer to those who are. Still, naming a Japanese game, using an Italian phrase, referring to “much heart” in a game about “maids servicing their master”? Doesn’t take a marketing exec to figure out that this name should have gone back into the slush pile.
But in a game where “Love” is a currency with which you employ other maids, anything goes.
My first real issue with the game came when I read the game overview.
Players take the roles of “masters of the house,” employ a lot of cute maids and are served by them while slowly filling out their house (card deck).
Now, I realize that some of my discomfort with that comes from cultural differences. Playdek is working toward creating a larger market presence for themselves in Japan, which is where they first demo’d Tanto Cuore (at the Games Market in Tokyo). The board game from which this iOS port was created was developed in Japan, which is obvious not just because of the anime style employed for the card art.
As an example, in lieu of traditional “mana/land” type cards which you would find in TCGs, you have “Love” cards.
In a game about employing maids, you use Love as a currency with which to add these (sometimes) scantily-clad girls to your staff. That sentence alone will sell a lot of people on this game, and that’s fine. However I’m a grown-ass man in his forties, and all this does is make me cringe slightly and feel somewhat uncomfortable when playing in the presence of my wife.
Which is too bad because the game itself, as a deck-building Dominion clone, is fairly solid. The problem is that solid gameplay isn’t enough. The game’s story elements are just as, if not more important. So what you’re left with is a game that people have to look past the sometimes demeaning aspects in order to enjoy its gameplay… and most people aren’t willing to do that.
Sensibilities vary though, which is very important to note. I’ve spoken to many people about various anime series over the years, and it’s surprising how much people are willing to look past. Personally, I have a very low threshold for anything that’s demeaning to women. I won’t judge anyone who doesn’t share that sentiment, and if this game doesn’t offend you in any way, then you are in luck, because the gameplay offers some nice features that add a certain amount of complexity which allows for strategic play.
Tanto Cuore borrows heavily from Dominion in terms of its basic deck-building rules. However Arclight Games decided to adapt that play style to fit its “master of maids” theme. This makes it a little more difficult for beginners however, as you need to remember card details based on names versus items (eg. Safran Virginie grants “for each set of Safrans you have as Chambermaids, you gain additional VP”). You also need to remember the layout, which now includes Private Quarters, a Waiting Room and a Kitchen Entrance.
Luckily, Playdek has included a very detailed, very well written tutorial to help new players learn the basic mechanics of the game. From there, as with most new deck-building games, you learn by playing the game. Several matches versus the A.I. will get you used to the game without embarrassing yourself in front of other players.
The A.I. has three levels of difficulty, which offers you a chance to perfect your game before heading into offline co-op or online play.
As I’ve said in past reviews, Playdek has nearly perfected deck-building iOS ports. The UI is clean, even charming with its wood panels, paisley textures, and golden name plaques. You can double-tap any card to get a closer look at it… which leads us to the card art.
In a deck-building game, the only “video” that matters is the card art. Certainly, the user interface is important, but as I previously said, that’s exceptionally well laid out. So let’s move on to the card art.
Well, you’ve already seen the “Love” card, so let’s explore some of the other cards.
Let’s start with the good.
Many of the cards do not rely on any fan service whatsoever. They are exceptionally well drawn and charming to the last stroke.
And then there are others which elicit a different response…
Are they absolutely terrible? No, of course not. However, young, anime maids flashing their panties or without shirts is juvenile. To a man in his forties, it’s not titillating… it just makes me roll my eyes and sigh.
Which is too bad, because I absolutely adore anime style art. I feel there is a lot that can be done with the genre, and it has the ability to convey so many feelings. Luckily, most of the card art is quite good, even those with the almost mandatory stocking shots. However the up-skirt, panty shot of a private maid leaves a lasting, unfavorable impression on the art style as a whole.
As with prior Playdek games, the audio in Tanto Cuore is very good. There are a variety of anime-inspired sound effects and the score is relaxing and sweet. Playing various cards results in Japanese phrases spoken from female voice actresses, which helps flesh out this anime title. (I’m going straight to hell for that pun, I know.)
I’d have liked more variety to the background music, though; perhaps several tracks. As with most Playdek deck-building games, I eventually wind up turning the music off, as it simply gets too repetitive. Hearing the same few minutes on repeat starts to scratch at my brain in ways that are not enjoyable.
That said, you can adjust the volume for the music and sound effects independently in the settings.
Tanto Cuore sells for $2.99 on the iOS App Store, which is an exceptionally good price for a deck-building game as polished as this. As there is currently an expansion out to the board game, one can assume there will be one for the iOS port as well at some point. Playdek has made a point of keeping their ports up to date.
If what you’ve read and seen of this game so far interests you, you’ll agree that three bucks is a very good price.
Upon reading this review, some people may want to accuse me of being overly sensitive, and that as a man, I’m over-compensating. To that end, I showed the game, it’s instructions and cards to my wife, whose reaction was “yeah, that has class written all over it” in her trademark sarcastic tone. My adult daughter was far less subtle, saying “wow… that’s just terrible” through a surprised laugh.
Understand that we’re a fairly down-to-earth family that is far from prudish. However we’ve raised our sons to respect women and our daughters to become strong, independent women… and that’s not what this game is about.
That said, when you grade it on a degrading curve (never thought I’d ever have to use those words), it’s fairly mild. It’s neither violent nor verbally offensive (though this depends on one’s sensibilities). Some will even say it’s silly at heart.
While I don’t disagree with that, it’s still not a game that I will continue playing. And to be perfectly honest, I will be very selective in whom I suggest it to.
Still, the game warrants a respectable Final Score by virtue of its fantastic port and solid, strategic gameplay.