18 June 2013

Back to the Future: Online Card Games

While cruising the list of blogs I read frequently, I was over on Tobold's blog and read this post on a game called Card Hunter.  Now my interest in online games has run almost exclusively towards full-blown MMO's and so something like an online card game was not something that had occurred to me before as something I would be interested in.  In fact, my first impression of the idea was rather negative as I was a beta tester for the original Magic: The Gathering Online over ten years ago and was extremely put off by the experience.  To be fair, that was mostly because Wizards of the Coast totally changed the "business model" halfway through the beta and decided to charge the same price for digital cards as they did for physical ones.  At that point I said, "Thanks but no thanks" and gladly walked away.  And to my understanding, the M:TGO client is exactly the same now as it was then and has seen basically no improvements or changes since.  But I guess you can afford to do that when you really don't have any competition.

Getting back to Tobold's post and Card Hunter, I've always had a soft spot for card games and for pen and paper RPG's.  I played both kinds of games extensively when I was in high school and college but had to abandon both hobbies after finishing college because I simply had no one else to play with.  So after getting past my initial bad vibes from my old M:TGO experience, I went over to the game's official website and started looking around.  Needless to say I was intrigued, enough so that after an hour of browsing and reading some other previews and impressions, I signed up for their beta.  The game itself looks like an interesting fusion of tabletop RPG and collectible card game.  Matches take place on isometric "boards" that lay out a dungeon or scenario and your characters and NPC's move around in a style similar to a tactical RPG like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics.  Combat is handled by a card based system where your attacks, spells, and other actions are determined by cards which are tied to the equipment that each of your characters is wearing.  So deck building is based around the gear that your characters have, rather than specific cards themselves.

Overall the system looks rather intriguing, although the aspect of the game I would be most interested in, co-operative scenarios, will not be available at release, but that is understandable.  Games of this type are more PvP focused simply by design but the idea of a collectible card game with a multi-player PvE aspect brought me to another game I had totally overlooked before now, Hex.

Is a True PvE Experience Possible in a TCG?

I had seen references in the MMO blogosphere to Hex before, mostly coinciding with their (very successful) Kickstarter campaign.  I paid little attention to the game because as I mentioned previously, an online card game was about the last genre on my mind in terms of games that might interest me.  Now I'm sort of kicking myself a little because after peeking at what Card Hunter had to offer, I was very intrigued by what I saw in Hex.  I was never the best Magic player around, but I loved the game.  I loved building decks, trying wild concepts, and I was even a decent competitive player.  More often than not I could make Top 8 in a Friday Night Magic draft and similar Limited formats.  Constructed events were less kind to me mostly because I could not afford to buy the cards necessary to play the best decks in those formats.  Although honestly my best memories of my Magic playing years were massive, free for all, multiplayer games.  My zany deck building ideas were much easier to adapt to that environment.

The more I read about Hex, the more interested I became.  Yes in many ways it looks like little more than a Magic clone, but to me that is a good thing.  Magic is the one game that pretty much any TCG enthusiast is going to have at least a passing familiarity with, and so why not borrow those concepts to hook people into your game?  Although I will agree that perhaps they borrow a bit too heavily in some respects.  A starting HP of 20?  Four copies of a card per deck?  Seven card starting hand size?  60 card "standard" for constructed decks?  These are all standard conventions of Magic and could easily have been tweaked for Hex.  To import so many rules directly from Magic does seem to be a bit of overkill.  But general concepts like game phases, tapping and untapping, etc. I have no problem with them using.  If it ain't broke, (and won't get you sued for infringement) don't fix it.

So even if Hex was just a Magic clone, I would be curious enough to give it a try.  Being an online game it would remove the biggest hurdle to participation in these kinds of games, finding enough people in your area to play with.  Instead of having to try and round up a bunch of people for a draft, you can get one going pretty much anytime you want.  And for someone like me who's spare time is sporadic enough as it is, this would be a godsend.  But Hex is trying to be even more than that.  They are saying they want to be the first MMOTCG and incorporate a significant PvE experience complete with crafting and other customization functions.  Now they haven't shown much of this at all yet.  They have talked about dungeons, which seem much like the scenarios that Card Hunter is offering, where you as a single-player go up against AI piloted decks.  But they are also talking about raids, co-operative PvE scenarios where three players together take on the AI.  It is these PvE features that really put my interest over the top and made me take the game seriously.

Show Me the Money!

Their Kickstarter campaign is long since over, but on their website you can still purchase a $50 package for the game.  Granted what you get for those $50 is far from the same value you could have gotten during the Kickstarter, but no point crying over spilled milk.  I wasn't interested then, that boat has sailed.  I am interested now and if I want to get a peek at the beta, I have to pay up.  So I am considering doing just that.  People are saying on the Hex forums that boosters will quickly fall under the $2 price point due to people dumping them on the market, and so the $50 "slacker" package loses its value quickly.  That may be true, but I will likely save those boosters for drafting anyway and try to build my PvE decks through PvE (ie. free) means.  I don't see myself doing competitive constructed tournaments, for the same reason I didn't do well with them in Magic.  I understand that is where the "high rollers" will be playing and that arena doesn't interest me.  PvE dungeons and raids and the occasional side draft would be more than enough to keep my interest, and maybe even justify the $4 VIP "subscription" that Hex offers.

So we will see.  Hopefully I will get into the Card Hunter beta at some point, and if I pull the trigger and buy in to Hex, I will let you know.  In either case, it'll be one more thing for me to talk about on here from time to time.


  1. Interesting symmetry. I was a competitive Magic player back in the Revised era, also played a lot of L5R, but fell away due to life issues. MtG Online was horrid so I'd written the TCG games off as something that wasn't going to happen. I was enthusiastic about Hex from the start and have warmed to Hearthstone.

    The most interesting thing about Hex and Hearthstone is that they are using the virtual nature of the games to advantage. The secret cards in Hearthstone and the escalations and multiplying cards in Hex are good examples. Actually, the inspire ability of Human cards is also an excellent use of the media. They are, as you said, near clones of MtG but both are adding things to utilize the online nature of the games that would be impossible in a physical game.

    For Hex (which I backed), they are also going to introduce a tournament type that should be outrageous. For the standard types only PvP cards can be used in constructed tournaments. No gear, no heroes, just the basic card set. Good idea as it lets them use the wild stuff in PvE and not destroy competitive balance. CZE has said that they will introduce a tournament format that permits the use of PvE cards and equipment. I can't see anyone taking this seriously but it should be an absolute riot.

  2. @Rimecat: Yeah I think they're calling that the "Wild West" format? It looks like it would be hilariously fun so long as people take it for what it is and don't get butt hurt when they get destroyed by some absurd combination of effects made possible by the PvE enhancements.

    But the format I would love above all else would be a multi-player PvP format. The client already seems to be able to support more than two simultaneous players due to the "raid" format in PvE, so it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine they could do 2v2, 3v3, or "free-for-all" PvP type matches. I do understand that puts additional "stress" on the design process in terms of card interactions with multiple players, but if they supported that type of gameplay, I would be a fan for life.

  3. have you seen Infinity Wars? As far as I am concerned, it is the pinnacle of the dTCG evolution, with simultaneous turns. Meaning, there are no interrupts, no phases for response. You do what you do, your opponent does what he does, and the game translates it all in one go. So there ARE "counter" spells in the game (as in, spells that indirectly counter other spells, like Martyr Golem counters AoE damage), but you need to read your opponents board and predict when he may want to play those spells.

    I can get you in the beta if you are interested!

    Also, if you are interested, I run the website www.utopianchaos.com Ive been reading through your blog a bit, and I really enjoy your writing. Would you like to come on board and write a few articles for us?

    I will even give you my Card Hunter Beta key if you wanna write for that! :D Email me if you are interested, wwknight@utopianchaos.com

  4. The more I read about Hex, the more interested I became. Yes in many ways it looks like little more than a Magic clone, but to me that is a good thing. Magic is the one game that pretty much any TCG enthusiast is going to have at least a passing familiarity with, and so why not borrow those concepts to hook people into your game? Although I will agree that perhaps they borrow a bit too heavily in some respects.

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