I have been fairly oblivious to the world for the last few days, and as a result I had fallen behind on my news reader. The thing that I found most interesting was this article on Massively talking about a potential League of Legends Universe online TCG. I feel like I would love any game set in the League universe that is not League. The world they have built up around the MOBA has some pretty awesome lore, and in part that is why I continue to play the game in spite of my problems with the control scheme. My friends and I have talked about how successful we thought a single player game would be set in that world, but I could see an online TCG working as well.
Party Like It’s 1995
A friend and I were talking about this news, and he made the comment that it is 1995 all over again. In a way that is exactly what it seems like to me as well. For those who were not part of that scene during the TCG boom during the mid 90s… suffice to say every potentially marketable property got made into a card game. I like a sucker probably played most of them out of sheer love and nostalgia for Magic the Gathering the one that started it all. Some of them stuck around and gained a life of their own like Pokémon or Yugioh because they were driven by external motivators… and some were really amazing and died on the vine like Rage and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.
However during the 90s… you could find a card game for any property you wanted to play, and I think among my friends we at least bought a starter deck of most of them. Magic the Gathering has had an online component for years, but for the most part it has never gained traction because it was arcane to get into, and Wizards of the Coast still very much favored the physical market. In essence it was a cheap copy of a physical property and the company seemed fine with that. What we are seeing now is a new crop of games conceived for online play, and that offer rule sets that would never really work in a physical card game.
The Next Boom
Much like we have seen for MMOs and MOBA… we are going to see a lot of companies entering this marketplace, trying to TCG-ize their existing intellectual property. Even though neither has released, it seems like the two leaders going into the marketplace are Hearthstone by Blizzard and Hex by their TCG business partner Cryptozoic. While they will be competing in the same space, and have quite a bit of overlap… I feel like each of these games is going after a slightly different player. Hearthstone is going after the “easy to learn, hard to master” demographic, with a deceptively simple mechanic that leads to extremely fast paced duels.
While I have not actually played it (hey Blizz flag my account already), I have watched more than a handful of youtube videos and live streams. Essentially it seems like a really straight forward rage style duel mechanic. The thing that I initially am not a huge fan of is the way that combat works. It seems like there is no real defense mechanic, or at least not one in the way I have come to expect from Magic: The Gathering. As a result the gameplay is extremely in your face and aggressive, but does not feel terribly nuanced.
On the other side of things you have Hex: Shards of Fate by Cryptozoic… which is a oddly fitting company name for their approach. It feels like they are trying to be Magic: The Gathering 2.0 with an evolved rule set and extremely cryptic and nuanced gameplay. This is the type of game you go into already at a massive debt of knowledge, but as you learn the rules and uncover strategies you are rewarded for your ability to assimilate the information. It looks like it will support some extremely long running duels, much in the same way Magic did, with players coming back from the brink to snatch victory out of defeat.
Personally while I really want to play Hearthstone, Hex seems more my style. It is less Pokémon and Yugioh and more Magic: The Gathering… the game that started the craze and still has a honored spot in my heart. Currently I think there is more than enough market share for both of these games. However all of the late comers that are creating online TCGs… are likely going to get left out in the cold the same way all the other boom economies have worked. Mainly I don’t see anyone else bringing something truly unique to the table. During the physical card game boom, we saw lots of different themed versions of M:TG, and to a lesser extent I figure we will see this again.
Been There Done That
Currently both games are very fantasy oriented, so I expect the other genres to get on the act shortly. Since DC is working on a MOBA… I fully expect to be seeing a DC themed online card game. To be honest… the VS system that incorporated both DC and Marvel had a decent amount of success during the physical card game wars… so it might be a property worthy of resurrection in an online form. Additionally I fully expect there to be a Star Wars themed product offering with the upcoming 7th movie entering production. Then I am sure there will be other properties that jump on the bandwagon that we can’t even fathom being a card game… just like last time. The problem is… all of this has a feeling of “been there done that” for me.
I experienced this rush of excitement and crushing disappointment several times before during the 90s, as a property I cared about was turned into a truly un-inspired card game amalgam. To some extent we are still living through this each time an MMO spins up only to sputter out a year or so later. Another tidbit from my news feed yesterday was that Mummy Online was shutting down… I literally did not even know it existed in the first place. So MMOs are currently coming and going without me even realizing it. Basically I am bracing myself for a lot of shoddy card games to be released in a short period of time, trying to cash in on the “new” craze of digital collectible card games. So as much as I look forward to Hearthstone and Hex… I am entering what I feel will be a new trend with quite a bit of trepidation.