Longtime readers will remember that, back in June, I shared my Deep and Precious Thoughts about moe and its strange semi-sexual appeal. Well, batten down the hatches, because there is a new game in town, a game that hits every moe ball out of the park while shoehorning in an even more potent source of fetish fuel; maid costumes and maid culture. Tanto Cuore is a maid-based deck-building card game originally made in Japan that has been localized and released for an English speaking audience. Is it fanservice? Oh hells yes. Should you feel vaguely unclean playing it? Quite possibly.
Is it a genuinely awesome and fun game? You bet your frilly apron.
Maid in Japan (cue groans)
At first glance, you can tell that this is a very… Japanese game, not to mention very heavy on the fanservice. Each and every card in the game is emblazoned with original artwork of various maid characters, usually with exotic names like Lucienne de Malboro, Sora Nakachi and Sainsbury Lockwood. Each card is drawn by a different artist, so there is a good variety of artwork, from soft sketchy pastels and paints to anime-style cheesecake shots. Similarly, the maids themselves run the gamut from demure, smiling girls bearing tea to pint-sized lolicon maids in aprons and little else. Demon maids, angel maids, maids with throwing knives and tea cozies, maids in modest clothing, maids showing their panties, maids maids maids… I’m sensing a pattern.
In my talk on moe, I talked a lot about the concept of innocence as fanservice – finding demureness, youth and lack of sexuality a turn on in itself – and Tanto Cuore is chock full of that kind of thing. While some of the maids are more obviously cheesecake than the others, there’s still this sense that even the sweet, smiling kiddie maids are supposed to evoke some sort of response that I prefer not to think about. It doesn’t help that the very language of the game tends to enforce this vaguely fetishizing feeling. Players are called “masters,” and employ maids through “love.” When you put a maid into play, it’s referred to as her “serving” you. Again, nothing really comes of it, but the undertone of subservience and fantasy is definitely there. For some, this may actually be a point in the game’s favor; for others, it may make them want to take a shower and cleanse themselves.
Love and Peace, er, Service
Luckily, whatever you may think of the fanservice, there’s an excellent deck-building game buried underneath it. For those that may be new to this genre of games, deck-building card games are somewhat similar to collectible card games in theory, but instead of building a deck by buying booster packs from the store, you instead build and improve your deck over the course of the game via judicious use of resources. Some classic examples include Thunderstone and the excellent Ascension; Tanto Cuore manages to take some of the best elements from both while adding in some intriguing PvP elements.
The goal is to gain victory points by employing the more valuable maids or meeting certain requirements (e.g. employing all three sisters in a set of triplets). Every player starts out with the same small deck of love cards and (useless) starter maids; players draw up to 5 cards for each turn. Each player can play a maid (called “service”) use love cards to purchase (or “employ”) upgraded love cards as well as new and better maids; regular maids and love cards get shuffled back into the player’s deck to (hopefully) be drawn again later, while private maids are put out on the table and confer a permanent bonus. Usually, you can only employ one maid at a time, and you can only play one maid from your hand once a turn; luckily, some of the maids will give bonuses that allow players to employ or play more maids, or grant more love or an extra card. A lot of strategy, therefore, goes into purchasing the right maids for your deck and into ensuring that you play them in the correct order so as to get the right bonuses to maximize your gains. The game is balanced in such a way that you always have at least something to do and something to purchase; while you can certainly get a “bad” hand, it’s never crippling, and chances are that your next hand will make up for it.
In addition, you can also use your love to purchase Bad Habits and Illnesses and place them on your opponents; these cards will reduce your opponent’s victory points or even knock out one of their maids from the game. Depending on which maids you’re playing with, this can either be a minor annoyance or a crippling blow to a player. Working these cards into your strategy adds a unique and fun element to the usual deck-building routine, and chances are that there will be a few dirty looks and shrieks of despair between you and your friends as you apply the odd carefully selected illness.
Quite My Cup of Tea
In the end, I do recommend this game. Beneath all the frills and ruffles and maid caps and doe-eyed anime women, there’s a surprisingly deep and entertaining game to be had. If you like anime maids and cute girls, I’m already preaching to the choir; you should definitely get this game. But even if you hate fanservice and moe and all that stuff, it’s still worth a look as a fun way to pass the time. If nothing else, it’s an actual good anime card game… and there aren’t too many of those!
Tanto Cuore is available from most gaming stores. For more information, check out their website.
Do you have any good recommendations for deck-building games? How about anime games?