The tournament begins as soon as you open the box. Out fall a 70-something page manual, three official game cards and a small poster brandishing registration details. It seems to me a pleasingly old-fashioned (that is to say offline) kind of community gaming, and certainly 7 Trials is a fantasy game that's in touch with its real world card game origins. It's all about buying enough card packs, then filtering through the crap and selecting your strongest 40 to represent you in duels. And since buying more and more packs will ultimately make you a better player, Yu-Gi-Oh! loses none of its consumerist backbone in the transition from trading card game to videogame.
So appropriately, there's no real strategy involved in the shopping element of the game. In the same way as players of the card game might like to think that by feeling the packs in the store they will attain some divine intervention telling them which to go for, my shopping strategy in the game extended to dumbly scrolling through the selection until the salesman uttered his completely random "I recommend this pack" line on one I liked the look of.
You would expect, therefore, that the strategy element was fully exploited in the battles themselves, but at the end of the day it is just a card game, and the luck of the draw is more important than many modern gamers will happily accept. Even this, however, is only as effective in deciding a victor as is the bewildering and essentially unexplained effects caused by the many spell cards, chain rules and dice throws.
True, there is a substantial consumer base—excuse the marketing executive lingo, but it just seems to fit with the game's aura of "committee" design—that will be only too familiar with the original card game rules, and therefore perhaps slightly nonplussed at my broad criticism of its rule set. As a gamer and games designer, however, it's virtually impossible for me to discern whether 7 Trials is well balanced or not, so seemingly arbitrary are the rules and wickedly varying card descriptions. I, for one, am not prepared to give Yu-Gi-Oh! , as a videogame, the benefit of the doubt. The mathematical finality of the duels can be satisfying—for those of us geekily susceptible to a bit of number play—but it's slight praise, and the randomness of the game all too often spoils it anyway. Witness, for instance, the joy of a "Dark Hole" card destroying every single monster card on the field, or the ineffable thrill of "Byser Shock" sending all your field cards back to your hand.
To some degree, it's heartening to know that "the kids" are willing to learn, obey and even enjoy the science of the strict, mathematical rules behind such a statistically complex yet visually stale piece of entertainment. Even if the rules are arbitrary, they are at least consistent and (if you know them well enough) understandable. But stable game design just isn't enough to justify an inherently unrewarding and aimless experience, being as much a description as it is an appraisal. The artistry on display here is merely one of commercial function rather than aesthetic form, akin to that of, say, a successful McDonalds advertising campaign. Sadly, just like the big M's marketing execs, it'll probably do exactly what it sets out to do: sustain the brand and make plenty of money in the process.
The result is an ostensibly static game to anyone without the required knowledge to make it work, or the enthusiasm to want it to in the first place. Like a deflated football, 7 Trials doesn't encourage you to play, nor does it promise exciting play, it just makes play possible. To call it a bad game seems somehow futile, but after many, many hours of vapid losing and almost equally vapid winning (a process that felt far too much like playtesting for my liking) I haven't been compelled to write anything wholly positive at all. Looking to reviews of its predecessor—Championship Tour 2004, no less—for inspiration, I saw one praise it as "a game that could theoretically last forever." Well, it's only fair to say that the same is also true of this edition; but if all the game consists of is an unending slog through identical, pointless card games and forever being asked if I want to "Activate a Spell/Trap card?" between button presses, then I would have to say that's one hell of a "theoretical" waste of forever.