Walt Disney World may be suffering from some upkeep problems—many of them severe on the robotic end of things—and their management may seem to think it doesn’t matter to keep Show a priority for the visiting tourists, but the reality is that much of the place isn’t coming apart at the seams. Not yet, anyway.
To be fair, we have to also comment on the positives when we see them. Fortunately, I don’t have look too far for things to compliment Disney on. There’s one in front of our noses: the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game.
I’ve commented on the game before, always positive, but it’s time to give a fuller rundown of what it is, what intricacies it has, and why any of this matters. There’s also fresh news on the topic. Recently Disney decided to restrict the game. You can no longer “advance” in levels (more on this in a second) for the time being, possibly at least until the very busy Spring Break season of several weeks is over. They didn’t announce why they are doing it of course, but they’re having problems with lines. They might be trying to make the game a bit more boring so fewer people will play it. Or maybe it’s the fact that longer levels take more time to finish, so they are restricting those. They’ve already shortened the game on easy mode (you visit one portal fewer than in the early days).
First, the basics. This is an interactive game, where visitors in singles or in parties playing a single game go to out of the way places in the Magic Kingdom and interact with the environment. In that respect, it’s like Kim Possible at Epcot, though a great many folks prefer Kim Possible, since that game features real objects that move, flash, and beep when activated, while Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (SofMK) is all screen-based, and nothing in the physical world ever reacts to your presence. Players in SofMK show up at screen-based “portals” and activate their game using an RFID keycard. Mostly they watch a story unfold on screen, portal by portal. Every so often, they hold up one of their other cards, called Spell cards, that are used to attack the bad guys on screen (there are cameras positioned in front of you to spot what you’re holding up). The technology is pretty impressive. You sign up at the fire station on Main Street (or a sub-station near Tiana’s meet and greet), and you’re given a map of the game portals and five free cards. The game is not only free to play, the give you free playing cards! Every day you show up! I find it hard to dislike the game on this basis alone. Disney has rarely given away this much product, let alone product that looks this cool.
Some folks criticize the banality of the game. It’s rote, routine, and brainless, they say. In a way, that’s true of the Easy level of the game, the level where everyone starts. Any Spell card you choose will defeat the bad guy, so in that respect it’s kind of brainless. I have at least three rejoinders to that criticism. First, it’s supposed to be “easy” on the “easy” level. That’s why you have levels. Second, the game is supposed to appeal to children, even young children, so it’s appropriate to have a super-easy level. Third, by removing gameplay from the easy mode, they’ve made it more about the story. Is that so bad? We all grew to love Disney because of narratives. It’s one of the things they do best—why punish them for doing it? The storyline concerns Hades (from Hercules) teaming up with various other Disney villains. Merlin (from Sword and the Stone) is out to stop Hades, and needs our help at various times, defeating henchmen and then main villains one by one.
Help Merlin! Quickly!
If the easy mode is too easy, fear not, for the medium mode injects challenge. It’s possible to lose when facing the cartoon characters, but losing just means trying again at another portal. Perhaps you selected the wrong card to fight this bad guy, and the odds are good you’ve been returning more than once to play this game, so you have more than just the first five cards you started with. The hard level is even harder, of course! My wife has done medium, but I’ve only played easy. I have seen some players in line with me compete on the hard level.
The game kind of looks and feels like Dragon’s Lair, that old arcade game with full animation and painted backdrops. That’s logical, since designer of SofMK is Jonathan Ackley, a former video game designer from LucasArts.
I love that the game uses lesser characters from the Disney movie universe. This is exactly what a theme park attraction should do: leverage the rich catalog of characters and stories into an experience that is about “you.” The game is a fan’s game in that it assumes the viewer is familiar with all the characters, so it plays better to those who are steeped deeply in the Disney canon.
Such an audience is perhaps an overlap with the kind of people who not only consume Disney product, but also buy a lot of it. The collector mentality is not unique to Disney, but it’s a strong force in their universe, and there are a LOT of collectors. Take that factoid and now remind ourselves that the cards for this game are free, and given out each day you check in. In other words, this game definitely feeds the addiction of Disney collectors. There are 70 cards to collect in total, and you get five each time you check in, so people will want all of them. Here is the full list of cards available, organized here not only by card number (out of seventy) but also by “symbol” displayed near the number:
The symbols indicate the rarity of the card. Planet cards are common, crescent moon are uncommon, star is even more rare, and lightning bolt is super-duper rare (to use the scientific term). Actually lightning bolt cards aren’t given out any more. They were for a few glorious days early in the test run, but now that the game is open, only 1-60 are given out in those packets of free cards. We assume the lightning cards, as well as any future cards, will be sold in the shops, but we’ve heard no timeline for that.
It’s unlike Disney to leave money on the table like this. They are also not selling folders to hold the cards, meaning that local comic book stores and even Wal-Mart have seen a run on such folders like they’ve never witnessed (many have wondered just what got into the water supply that suddenly everyone local wants a folder to hold cards).
Enterprising people are making more money off this than Disney. A thriving eBay business is springing up, selling cards with beloved characters (card #1 Sorcerer Mickey isn’t exactly rare, but people are sentimental for him, so no one wants to trade him away). You’ll also find cards for that beta test on sale for $80 or more - per card!
I knew the game had “arrived” on a recent weekend when I found my first card lying on the ground, the way I sometimes find Disney pins. As fate would have it, my first “found” Sorcerers card was the original sorcerer, Yen Sid.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, I want to turn to some of the inside tricks of the game, and fold in observations, too. I’ll even include a few guesses and outright questions for you readers. Since I hope you reply by discussion board or email, I’m going to number these so it’s easier to reference what everyone is talking about:
The rules to the game are not announced or explained anywhere beyond a brief training video that is helpful only to novices starting the easy level. The designers purposefully did not list the rules or how to win, since discovering how to win is part of the game in this case. That didn’t sit well with me the first time I heard it, but now I think it’s brilliant. Some of the numbered points below are things I had to learn the hard way.
You can use more than one card at a time to attack an enemy. Since rules are unpublished, it’s not clear if you can use four, or six, or eight cards at once. I think the number that the designer Jonathan once told me was six cards.
Attack with multiple spell cards.
Is the card symbol (star, moon, etc) there to do anything for the game? Do you need a “star” card to defeat a certain kind of enemy? I assume the answer is no, and that the symbols are there to indicate and differentiate the rarity of the card, but not its value in beating bad guys.
Each card is a different spell “class”. Here’s a full list of classes: warrior, princess, animal, toy, hero, machine, monster, and fairy. Are individual bad guys more vulnerable to certain classes? It’s not clear that Kronk, to cite one example, would be more susceptible to attack by a fairy than a toy, but who knows. The classes have to do SOME thing or they wouldn’t be there. Maybe we’re meant to attack using multiple classes?
In addition to symbol and class, there are also three abilities listed on the card, with various scores possible. Each character has Attack, Boost, and Shield scores. There are adjectives in theme with each character (such as Charming Attack, Charming Boost, and Charming Shield for one character, while a different character has Flying Attack, Flying Boost, and Flying Shield).
Cards can be “leveled up” and made more powerful. If you keep using Tinker Bell (who is the only character with a score over 5; she has an attack of 6) then the on-screen animation changes and her attack carries even more power. This only happens by repeated use of a card (not necessarily uninterrupted by other cards). The physical card itself doesn’t change, of course. Only the database tracking you by keycard has changed; it now knows that you’ve made one card more powerful.
It looks like on the medium level, card selection matters more than anything else. The villains are weak to individual cards in a thematic way rather than anything to do with classes, abilities, or numbers. You can look at visual clues or listen to the villains’ speech for ideas on what to use to attack them. Scar, for example, at one point taunts you “Did anyone say ‘uncle’?” This is a nod to the movie, of course, but also a clue about which card to use. Scar is the uncle to Simba, so using the Simba card will defeat him.
Maddeningly, you can defeat Scar in other ways, too. If you use enough cards, you can get by without Simba. Or maybe it’s the mixture of classes, or of abilities. Or maybe it’s a matter of using cards which have leveled-up. Perhaps there are multiple paths to success?
My guess would be that card selection (by theme/character) is enough to get you through the medium level. The hard level seems likely to need thought about spell class, spell abilities, and the interaction of multiple cards. But exactly HOW to choose the right cards isn’t clear. Do you need to use the “vulnerable” card (Scar is vulnerable to Simba) and then other support cards? Simba has a 3-attack, 1-boost, and 1-shield. Do I need to use more cards to raise the boost and shield totals? Or should I fold in a warrior card and a fairy card and a toy card for good measure? None of this is explained. Designer Ackley has said in interviews that the adjective for the stats (charming, flying, wishful, etc) has something to do with which card might defeat certain enemies.
It’s also possible the abilities and their numbering have nothing to do with the game in the park, and are only there for an as-yet-unannounced board game. The cards look optimized for an at-home game, in fact.
The trading of cards between players is a common thing and getting even more common by the day. Beware of card “sharks” doing the same thing pin sharks do: engaging in unequal trades. Since some cards are much more rare than others, a good rule of thumb is to trade cards only if the symbol is the same. Want my star card? Then trade me a different star card for it.
Trading occurs in all lines, but an unofficial home base is springing up at Tortuga Tavern, which is indoors, air conditioned, and has seating.
Images of cards work when displayed on an iPhone. I also saw a young fellow using an iPad for this purpose at a portal this weekend, and when I asked him about it, he proudly showed me the home-grown app he wrote himself. He drags thumbnails of what he wants to a central icon, clicks a button, and exactly those four (or whatever) cards show up on screen to cast a spell. I was blown away.
Spell cards do not hold up in the rain. The cards are beautiful and exciting – I still can’t believe they give these away – but they are not waterproof.
When you finish the easy level, you are given another set of five cards as a reward. Ditto for medium and hard.
Apparently, you can get issued a SECOND set of cards on the same day if you try again after 9pm. The system resets at 9pm and considers it a new day. I’m way too much of a rule-following person to try this, and in fact I’m too chicken to even ask about it at the kiosk, but I’ve had a friend try it, and it works. Unless it was some fluke of using the “other” issue station (Tiana vs fire house) within the same day.
One card has been changed since its introduction. The Woody card had a Slinky dog on it originally, but this has disappeared since the beta test (presumably, there were legal issues with using Slinky).
At least we’re not in Fantasyland, which closes nightly for fireworks.
Keep an eye out for cards that have rounded corners. They are semi-rare, because they were only given out in the beta test days of the program. They have the same numbering scheme as the regular cards, but they don’t have square corners.
A subset of the rounded-corner-cards are actually discontinued cards with the wrong numbering scheme on them. Here are the known variants:
Anyone remember the monorail train in Las Vegas that was different from the others? It was painted black and sported the name of the energy drink Monster, making use of both energy bolts and the color green. For some reason, the Avengers overlay of the Walt Disney World monorail reminds me of that Vegas precedent.
Maybe it’s the pedigree. The Vegas line was built from old Disney monorails, after all.
Or maybe it’s the color scheme. The all-black base and the use of crackling energy look familiar. The color green is even here, courtesy of the Hulk’s enraged face leering at every five year old waiting to exit the park. You know, the typical Disney experience. I wonder if it’s happened yet that a parent had to explain to their child why Disney’s monorail has such a monster on it.
You don’t want to see me when I’m angry.
Or maybe it’s the advertising. The new Disney monorail is mimicking the Vegas one in its form and intent. It’s unusual for a Disney attraction to become a billboard. This isn’t the first time – the Tronorail was that – but the Avengerail (which is actually Monorail Red underneath instead of Tron’s Monorail Coral) continues the tradition. I didn’t have TOO much of a problem with the Tron overlay because it fit the theme, just barely, of Epcot, and that monorail only ran on the Epcot line.
Does the Avengers fit the MK theme? That’s much less clear to my mind. It looks a lot more like an attempt at synergy that shouldn’t have been undertaken. These characters aren’t from the MK, they are from competitor Islands of Adventure (yes, even Iron Man is in IOA in small ways, despite being a Disney movie). And Universal still “owns” the characters for use in theme parks east of the Mississippi River. So what are those same characters doing here?
The monorails are “transportation” according to Disney, not theme parks. That’s why the Avengerail can’t run on the Epcot line, since that line definitely goes INTO a theme park. It’s not clear Universal will sit quietly for this testing of the legal waters. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they raise a stink, or even file a lawsuit, about it. Of course, the Avengers movies will be in (and possibly already out) of theaters by the time anything gets done about it, so in a way Disney will have won. Underhandedly, perhaps.
Book Review: After Disney—The Other Orlando
Kelly Monaghan has a long history of publishing about Orlando. He wrote “The Other Orlando” many years ago, and this update not only changes the title to “After Disney,” it also vastly expands the scope and scale of the book (disclosure: I was provided a review copy). The coauthor on the new volume is Seth Kubersky, an old hat at covering theme parks and no slouch himself. The cover image of Hogwarts castle is sure to excite Harry Potter fans, but the true value lies inside.
The affordable cost gets you 408 pages of Orlando goodness. The scale is staggering. These 408 pages in small font must have been hard to fill, you’re thinking, but as an interested local, I can testify that there really is that much to do in Orlando. You’ve got the obvious stuff like Universal and SeaWorld parks, and the guide does not skimp here. We’re on page 165 by the time we get to Gatorland, and then turn attention to other parks like Holy Land Experience, Kennedy Space Center, Legoland, and Busch Gardens Tampa. You’ll find info about zoos, gardens, water parks, sports, dinner theater, shopping, and other roadside things that only proliferate in places like Orlando and Las Vegas.
I cannot imagine the work that went into writing and revising this book. Take an example from the middle of the book, Capone’s Dinner & Show. We hear the prices and showtimes, directions, and then five paragraphs on what to expect, with a healthy dose of actual review mixed in. I wish I’d had this book when I moved to Orlando almost a decade ago. It’s kind of a checklist, in fact, of things for new residents to experience.
I like that they don’t take the easy road and offer bromides without qualification. The write-ups took actual time to compose. For example, think about this line from the review of Medieval Times: “[the show] tells us more about American tourism than it does about eleventh century Europe. The emphasis here is more on showing visitors an old-fashioned good time than on chivalry and historical accuracy. The medieval theme is merely a convenient excuse on which to hang a display of horse-riding skills.”
For a visitor from out of state, the book should offer fantastic value in deciding and decoding the “big” attractions to do that are not Disney. For a local, though, the book is invaluable at providing ideas and inspiration for the next thing to experience. It confirms my already-held belief that there are decades of things to do here (and I say that without exaggeration), and I plan to thumb through this book regularly for ideas on what to do next.
Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee was provided with a complimentary copy of the book reviewed in this column. It should be noted that he pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.
Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:
Jason’s Disneyland Almanac (co-written with Jason Schultz) is an exhaustive listing of every day in Disneyland history, from 1955 to 2010. You’ll find park operating hours, weather and temperatures, and openings and closings of any park attraction, shop, or restaurant… for every day in the park’s history.
The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2010 is a photo-rich volume of 70 pages that park fans will find especially useful if they want to know what’s changed at WDW since their last visit.
Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted.
Your Day at the Magic Kingdomis a full-color, hardcover
interactive children’s book, where readers decide which attraction to ride
next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Memberprovides the
first authentic glimpse of what it’s like to work at Disneyland.
Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo
Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free
for non-speakers of Japanese.
Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland
park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller
story on this place rich with details.
101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented
book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book,
namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides
More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.