11 July 2013

Three Card Tricks

Recently I have been indulging my dalliance with online card games.  As I mentioned previously, this is a bit of a throwback to my (somewhat) younger years in which I played Magic: The Gathering rather extensively.  I even flirted with the Pokemon TCG briefly back in the day.  For what is marketed as a children's game, there was actually a surprising amount of depth to it.  The constant coin flipping really got on my nerves though.  It's just one of those mechanics that seems fine in theory but in practice it just got really old, really fast.  But I digress... suffice to say I have been scouring the web looking for card related games to play to satisfy this interest.  So today's post will be sort of summarizing what I've discovered, what I'm playing, and what has caught my attention in terms of online card games.

What Was Old Is New Again

As a former Magic player, it would only make sense to see what the "old gal" is up to these days.  Magic: The Gathering Online is still the same clunky piece of crap that it was when I beta tested it over a decade ago, and still follows the absurd pricing scheme of charging identical prices for digital cards as the do for the physical ones.  So I knew right away that I would not be doing that.  What I did do though, was buy the newest version of Duels of the Planeswalkers from Steam.  I know, I broke my own rule and bought something on Steam when it wasn't on sale, and I'll be kicking myself in a month when I see it for 50% off or something, but oh well.  $10 isn't exactly a steep price to pay.

DotP is pretty fun for what it is.  I really liked the addition of the Sealed Deck option as building your own deck is always more rewarding than using pre-constructed ones, and so far the couple of decks I've unlocked have not impressed me.  The green deck especially is very clunky.  I lost three straight matches to a red deck simply because I either got mana starved or flooded and just sat there getting beat down.  My first attempt at Sealed was pretty silly.  I opened not one, not two, not three... but four copies of Murder (single target creature kill) but hardly any of my black creatures were playable.  I ended up building a strange black/red "control" deck that basically just kills any creature my opponent tries to play and kills with Shivan Dragon.  But overall, DotP just reminds me of how it isn't a real TCG.  It's just a solid single player experience.

Waiting Your Turn is Overrated

The newest game to show up on my radar is Infinity Wars.  I just started looking into it in the past couple days so I don't have a lot to say about it just yet.  From what I've seen so far though, it looks like a very different sort of animal than Magic or even HEX.  The biggest difference is that there is no "taking turns" in this game.  Each player plays at the same time.  There is no waiting for, or passing priority every time a player chooses to take an action.  I'm not exactly sure how this works out in practice as I have not actually played the game yet, but if it works well it potentially solves one of the biggest "problems" with card games of this type.  Waiting to pass priority on every action is one of the clunkiest aspects of online card games.  In fact one of my biggest problems with DotP so far is figuring out when to play instants and other effects.  It's just awkward.  If Infinity Wars can do away with this in a way that still makes for a fun game, that could give it a significant leg up on competition like HEX and M:TGO.

The other thing I can immediately tell about Infinity Wars is that it looks gorgeous.  Each card is fully animated.  The game "boards" themselves are all similarly animated, and the graphics themselves are beautiful.  Now I'm not the kind of gamer to be impressed solely by fancy pixels, but fancy pixels can go a long way to helping make a game enjoyable.  This again could help set the game apart from its competition.  M:TGO looks atrocious.  It did ten years ago and it still does.  What we've seen of HEX so far is a bit more impressive, but not as ambitious as what Infinity Wars is aiming for.  So my interest is definitely peaked.  There is a lot of potential in the game and I'm curious to see if it can be realized and if it is as fun to play as it looks.

The Card Game that Isn't

Last week I finally received my Card Hunter beta key and happily dove into that game as well.  It is a lot of fun but there are a few things you need to understand about what it is and what it isn't or you might end up inadvertently disappointed.  First off, while the game is based around cards that represent the various actions that your characters can take, this isn't really a card game.  It is a tactical RPG along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem.  But that having been said, it is a pretty darn good TRPG.  You just need to understand that is what you are getting.  "Deck building" consists of equipping your characters with various pieces of gear.  Each piece of gear has cards associated with it representing attacks, spells, buffs, debuffs, movement, etc.  In typical RPG fashion, the rarity of the gear determines the power of the cards attached to it.  So that's the big thing to understand with Card Hunter.  If you go into it looking for a card game... building decks, trading cards, etc. you will walk away disappointed.  If on the other hand you want a surprisingly deep and challenging TRPG, you will be impressed.

Which brings me to the second thing to really understand about Card Hunter... it is hard.  Outside of the first set of tutorial encounters, the game presents a challenge from the very "get go."  It is especially difficult at first as your characters lack the variety of gear to address the specific challenges that each encounter presents.  Just as an example, there is an early scenario where you must fight several Golem monsters.  These mobs have decks stacked with Armor cards that mitigate a lot of the damage you do to them.  If your characters lack piercing attacks, it is very difficult to actually hurt them.  Now once you know this and can equip yourself accordingly, it is less of a problem.  But if you don't have gear with piercing attacks (or cannot afford to buy it) then you can have a very hard time.  And as with any game involving cards, there is always the prospect of a "bad draw," getting a hand full of all movement cards when you really need an attack, or something to that effect.  But that just comes with the territory.

Familiar Yet Not

Finally we come back to the game that really got me looking at online card games in the first place, HEX.  I did decide to pitch $50 and purchase one of the "Slacker Backer" packages mostly because I really want to see the Alpha and the Beta.  After several bad experiences "buying in" to games I really want to see what they are like before launch.  And I don't just mean that in the sense that I want a "free preview," especially considering that in this case I'm still paying for the privilege.  I want to see how a game develops prior to its release, and I want to be a part of trying to make that game better, especially if it is a game that I am highly anticipating and want to see succeed (*cough*  Carbine, if you're listening... WildStar beta key please!)  HEX has a lot of potential in my mind and I would like to see that potential realized.

Most of what intrigues me about HEX is the whole MMO and PvE aspect of what Cryptozoic is attempting to do.  Card games are, by their very nature, PvP centered experiences.  You play against the person sitting across from you.  But taking a card game into the digital realm offers up a whole new set of possibilities, not only for interaction between players, but creating new types of experiences that simply could not be done with physical cards.  Making a TCG into something akin to an MMO has not really been attempted before.  Not much has been shown yet in terms of the PvE content HEX will include, but Cryptozoic is talking about dungeons, raids, crafting, etc.  Essentially the game will have two unique card sets, one for PvE and another for PvP.  My understanding is that while PvP cards can be used in either context, PvE cards will be restricted to that content.  Overall HEX is really trying to expand what is possible in a digital card game, and I am very interested to see where it goes.

So it may be the case that a lot of the content here on the blog will be more TCG oriented than MMO oriented for a while.  I'm honestly not sure at the moment.  Even if I were lucky enough to snag a WildStar beta key, I wouldn't be able to tell you all about it... silly little thing called NDA.  Or I might do some write ups on some Steam games that I've downloaded recently.  I picked up the original Fable and Alan Wake recently when they were on sale.  It just feels like a bit of a "down" period in terms of MMO's right now.  We'll just have to see what plays out.

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