Bizarre Obsession

This weekend we recorded somewhat of a mega show of AggroChat.  We originally sat down thinking we might not have a complete show…  and then recorded for two hours and wound up dropping a few topics to try and manage the show length.  There were a whole slew of topics but one of which is one that I did not expect to blow up to the level at which it did.  Kodra has been talking magic for a year or so in his adventures in doing drafts through Magic Online for each of the expansion releases that have happened.  Lately however I have found myself obsessing about the game even though I have not regularly played it since the tempest cycle.  Magic the Gathering will always have this nostalgic characteristic for me because I have had a lot of really good times playing it.  The problem is…  once I entered the adult world I stopped having a regular stream people to play with.  I’ve never really gotten involved with a local shop doing the Friday night magic thing, because in truth people just don’t play Magic the Gathering the way I want to play it.  The prevalence of NetDecking and combo magic turned things into a weird cold war…  where you either needed to be playing whatever the new hotness needed to be…  or at least come up with a way to counteract that new hotness.  When I last stopped playing… the format of choice was called “Type II” and I believe this translates to the “Standard” in the current naming of formats.  So when I left during the Tempest cycle it was all about the combo to beat… and either scrambling to get the cards…  or scrambling to get something to beat it.

The style of Magic the Gathering I enjoyed was back when you never quite knew what you might be encountering in a players deck.  Maybe it just took my area while to get super competitive, but in early tournament play I only ever once encountered the “power nine” but instead came up against a lot of seemingly fun to play themed decks.  For me a lot of my decks centered around some card that I wanted to play with… and then blunting the negative effects of that card.  So say I wanted to play with the Lord of the Pitt, I would run some token creatures that I could just keep churning out to feed to it rather than pay the 7 life upkeep.  If I wanted to play with Leviathan I would run Icy Manipulator and Twiddle to keep from having to pay the two island tax to untap it each round, then figure out some way to retrieve islands from the graveyard every so often.  It was fun trying to figure out a way to counteract what was not good about the cards and then figure out how to make them work well enough to be playable.  Some of the most fun I ever had was in college the magic store I used to hang out in had a deep common bin… and we would end up building these $5 decks out of the archives and then pit them against each other.  I guess the modern equivalent to this would be pauper, but even then…  that format takes itself way more seriously than I wish I could when it comes to MTG.  I’ve been trying to sort out a way to play the game how I want to play it…  but also find some people to play with.

The biggest problem right now is availability of people.  There are enough folks who have played MTG at one point in their lives to maybe create a lunch time group at work.  The problem there I am not not sure what sort of format would work best.  I am leaning towards something janky along the lines of Pauper Commander…  without the commanders.  Where you functionally construct a deck of common cards without the ability to repeat any cards.  I would functionally need to probably fund a lot of the commons given that there are simply not enough in any one set to make up a deck of entirely common cards.  I think a format like that however might bring back the random weirdness that I miss from playing Magic.  There were moments where you would sit down and encounter something you never expected to see…  and it would be interesting to figure out how to adjust to that and find a way to either defeat it or work around it.  In truth I love common cards,  because they tend to be the unappreciated workhorses of magic.  It always bugs me a bit when people just dismiss them and toss them aside like garbage…  when you cannot really make ANY deck without relying on a whole slew of them to serve as the glue between those higher dollar cards.  I have no clue how this will end but thusfar it has simply been a case of be re-familiarizing myself with Magic the Gathering and trying to figure out if this is really something I want to jump back into.

Hearthstone

Battle of Cards

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I am getting around super late this morning to make a blog post.  On a whim I decided to take Friday off, since for my wife it was her fall break.  I figured the two of us could hang out around the house or do whatever.  Then over night I noticed a rather frantic message from my boss.  It seems like after 5 his boss had requested something by noon today… that would involve a lot of feedback and information from us worker bees.  So as a result I got up around 8 am, got dressed, went out and grabbed breakfast and have been remote into work for the last hour working on the list of information.  As a result… my normal early morning post is delayed.

Yesterday I was extremely pumped to get home, because over night I seemed to have received an email from Blizzard saying that my account had finally been flagged for the Hearthstone beta process.  Since everyone and their brother is live streaming this on Twitch… I am assuming there is no actual NDA going on… or at least not one currently enforced.  So as a result I snapped multiple pictures last night as I played and will be weaving them in here and there.  I have to admit I went into this a bit skeptical… not really sure if I would like it or not.  From the video I had seen, everything about the game feels rushed much like a LFG dungeon group.  Even though you rarely think more than one round ahead… there is still a lot of strategy going on.

The Education

 

Day[9] has a really good series of videos walking through his first experience with the game, and I highly suggest you watch it if you are curious about how you get into the game.  Basically Blizzard has done an amazing job of user education, in that to get started in the game you HAVE to play through a tutorial.  Fortunately it does a really good job of slowly introducing you into the various mechanics, and as a result you can pick up the strategy of the game extremely quickly.  You play through a series of NPC card fights…starting with Hogger and finishing with an Azerothian Super Villain that I won’t spoil for now.

Once you have finished with the tutorial it has taught you basically everything there is to know about the Mage deck.  Essentially the decks are all themed after one of the World of Warcraft classes.  I notice that Deathknight is conspicuously absent… so they must be intending to add that in as an expansion opportunity.   For those who are familiar with the Duel of the Planeswalkers series of MTG games for consoles and steam… you will be used to the way you progress from here.  Now you can take your mage deck and challenge the other classes, by defeating them you unlock the ability to play as that class.

The Sticky-ness

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The biggest surprise for me is just how sticky this game was.  I got home around 5 pm and started playing around 5:30.  I ended up playing this game without pause until around 9:30.. and only then because some guild members needed me to tank a FFXIV dungeon run.  I have to say that is fairly unheard of for me, when it comes to card games.  I have copies of all of the Duel of the Planeswalker games that have been released, but have maybe logged 50 hours total among ALL of them.  There was just something about the physical card game experience that never quite translated to the online version.

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Last night over the course of the evening, I managed to unlock all of the different class decks.  At various points through the evening I was rewarded with either gold or actual packs of cards.  The game uses a quest like system to give you little goals to work towards.  If you look above you can see that in the screenshot I have 2 of the 3 wins needed to earn 10 gold.  There was another quest I had to level one of the classes to 10, and in doing so I unlocked a pack of cards.  Essentially it seems like there are two kinds of cards you can get… Basic cards that are unlocked through completing quests and scenarios and leveling… and Expert cards that are unlocked through either purchasing or winning packs of cards.

The Money

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Since this game is free to play, you have to be asking yourself… where do they make money.  Well like always with any card game it is in the packs.  I took a screenshot of the current store interface.  You will notice that the packs that be bought with either in game gold currency that you earn by completing achievements or be purchased with real world currency.  You can purchase a single pack with 100 gold, 2 packs for $2.99 ($1.49 each), 7 packs for $9.99 ($1.42 each), 15 packs for $19.99 ($1.32 each) or 40 packs for $49.99 ($1.24 each).  So as you can see in buying in bulk like you would expect you keep getting more and more of a discount on the per pack price.

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Through the course of play last night I earned 5 packs of cards either through a combination of gold or actually winning the packs outright.  I have to say the sound design and animation are amazing… and really capture the same excitement of opening a real pack of cards.  You can double click the pack to open it… or for a more tactile experience drag it open.  Similarly all five cards in a pack come flying out onto the screen… but do so face down.  This allows you to flip them over one by one similar to sifting through a physical pack of cards.  They know their audience well and have put in a number of tactile hooks to increase the sense of suspense to see if you have something good or not.

Versus Players

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Currently you have the option of playing progressively harder NPC decks, or setting out and playing some physical players.  Quite honestly I have found playing players a bit easier than playing the expert decks.  There are two PVP modes of play… the first of which is simply building a custom deck and then taking it on the road to fight against other players.  The second of which is the Arena, which serves as this games “draft” mode, giving both a more random experience but also potentially a more balanced one.

I am not sure if this regenerates but you get at least one free Arena token, after that it appears to either cost 150 in game gold or $1.99 to unlock additional tokens.  In the Arena you choose a class and then are presented with a series of three cards.  The card you keep goes into your arena deck, and the other two are discarded.  This continues on until you have chosen 30 cards for your deck.  An Arena deck lasts until you have lost three times.  At the end of the match you are rewarded based on how well you did.  For me I got 2 sacks of gold 2 packs of cards and a rare paladin card for playing.  I won three times and lost three times.

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The interesting thing about the Arena is the fact that you don’t have to play it all in one sitting.  So long as you have not lost your three matches you can continue playing arena.  There is some bar of gems that fills up each time you win, but I am not 100% certain how that works.  You might get punted out of the Arena if you win too often as well.  Last night I played through a single arena match and then was off playing custom games with players.  My little hunter deck seems to be doing pretty well, so I will likely return to doing some of that today.  I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised in just how good of a game Hearthstone is.

Party Like it’s 1995

Flashbacks

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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

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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

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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.

Cryptic Gameplay

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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

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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.