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Coastal Wizards Indict Cryptic Hex

In a move that should not have been so surprising in retrospect, Wizards of the Coast – makers of Magic: the Gathering – are suing Cryptozoic‘s Hex for copyright and patent infringement. Browsing through the actual complaint is actually fairly eye-opening. For example, if you turn to page 14, paragraph 30, lines 18-21:

Other users in the gaming community were confused because of the near identicality of the two games. On Cryptozoic’s own forum a registered user, on December 1, 2013, stated, “I have played a lot of CCGs [Collectible Card Games], and for the most part, CCGs are very similar to each other. However, I’ve never seen a CCG that is as similar to another as Hex is to Magic.”

Think about that for a second. Some random comment of yours on a forum from a year ago could be cited in a copyright/patent lawsuit used to bankrupt a multimillion dollar company.

Going back over my Hex posts, I just realized that I practically wrote the complaint myself a year ago (bolded for prophesy):

I have some concerns with Hex. First, while I am frankly excited about the unique opportunities involved with an all-digital TCG – cards that buff your creatures do so for the rest of the match, you can put tokens on cards that get shuffled into your library, and all sorts of crazy nonsense that physical card games couldn’t pull off – this game skews so heavily towards Magic Online that I’m surprised Wizards of the Coast hasn’t issued a takedown notice.

Seriously, look at this video.

I’m not talking about Apple’s “rounded corners” copyright bullshit, I’m talking about Grand Theft Mechanics. Creatures have summoning sickness, there is First Strike, Haste, seven cards in the opening hand, 20 life per player, four copy limit on individual cards, 60 cards per deck, land cards, instants, discrete turn phases (Draw phase, main phase, declaring attackers/blockers/combat damage, end step), and even the goddamn Stack.

Indeed, Wizards has a table outlining all those same similarities and more starting on page 16, paragraph 34. What ultimately got me the most though, were the excessively blatant clonings. “Flying” vs “Flight” is like, you know, whatever. Coming across the following card comparisons though?

Err... totally an homage, guys.

Err… totally an homage, guys.

Okay, maybe you can overlook the 7-mana casting cost, the fact that you become a dragon, can only be attacked by flying creatures, and so on. Maybe the Hex version doesn’t put you at 5 HP. Also, one is an Enchantment that can be removed, whereas the other is a spell that’s otherwise permanent. I can see giving this a pass. But then…

Uh oh.

Uh oh.

It’s like they weren’t even trying. There are literally dozens of these sorts of cards floating around.

If you’re interested, I came across a Magic-playing lawyer’s blog post examining the lawsuit in plain language. In short, Wizards is bullshitting in some respects, reaching in others, but likely has a pretty solid case overall. Also, Richard Garfield’s patent on tapping cards, e.g. turning them sideways, expires in June 2014. That seems almost like someone patenting gaining XP and leveling up, but hey, someone had to invent intermittent windshield wipers; sometimes there is no more elegant a solution to a problem than the first one.

In any case, I might spend some time this weekend reinstalling the Hex beta and playing around a bit while I still can. Given how I wasted $85 paid $85 for an expensive lesson on the wisdom of Kickstarting pre-alpha projects, it’s the least I can do. Or I could watch other people play Hearthstone on Twitch, which I am sadly starting to find more entertaining than Hearthstone itself, at least in this metagame.

Reviews: Hotline: Miami, Magic: 2013

Game: Hotline: Miami
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 85
Completion Time: ~5 hours
Buy If You Like: Violent twitch games, Retro style, puzzlers

I FEEL HAPPY

I FEEL HAPPY

Assuming you are not already familiar with another of the darling indie success stories, Hotline: Miami is an old-school top-down twitch puzzler game featuring a truly amazing soundtrack, a disturbing narrative, and pixelated ultraviolence. The “premise,” such as it is, involves the main characters receiving a voicemail listing an address under some other pretext (cleaning, going to a business meeting, etc). Once arriving in a DeLorean, the player can choose one of the unlockable animal masks to put on (which grants various buffs), and then gets busy brutally murdering every single person inside.

What is so engaging about the gameplay is precisely how manic, and yet deliberate it all feels. A single bullet or mistimed weapon swing will kill you instantly, leading to a reset of the entire floor. But while there is “stealth” in Hotline: Miami, it is not really a stealth game either. Some of the enemies follow scripted patrols, and yet others will simply stare exactly at the only means of egress into the rooms they occupy. This is why I called the game a “twitch puzzler,” as the best way to approach most levels is to simply barrel into each room, dispatch everyone inside, and speed onward… following a route and sequence of action derived from dying 10-20 times in a row. Think Super Meat Boy, not Tenchu.

Overall, Hotline: Miami is a pretty good game as long as you are not overly squeamish over pixelated blood and gore. While it is true that there may be a more philosophical undercurrent to the narrative that questions our delight in murdering virtual people, that really isn’t why you should play the game. You should play because it’s fun… provided you have the reflexes to keep up.

_____________

Game: Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013
Recommended price: $10 (with DLC)
Metacritic Score: 77
Completion Time: 15+ hours
Buy If You Like: Magic, TCGs, Strategery

W/B siphon decks were one of my favorites IRL too.

W/B siphon decks were one of my favorites IRL too.

Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 is a self-contained simulation of Magic Online, featuring the ability to play a number of semi-customizable theme decks against AI or human opponents. As you win games using the same deck, you unlock up to 30 more cards which can swapped out for other cards, or simply added to the deck; while the unlocked cards are usually just duplicates, sometimes they are brand new cards that you did not have access to before. Beyond the duels, Magic 2013 also offers 10+ “Magic: the Puzzling” matches, where you are usually tasked with winning the game in the current turn (or next one) with a predefined board situation.

As an avid Magic fan that hasn’t had the opportunity to play in years, Magic 2013 was a very compelling substitute for the time I spent playing. There is a pretty wide variety in the theme decks presented, ensuring there is a deck for your playstyle regardless of whether that is Burn deck, Goblins, Milling, White Wheenie, Blue Flyer, and/or any of the multicolored decks. On the highest difficulty, the AI was pretty merciless; across my dozens of hours of gameplay, there were only a few convoluted situations in which I felt that a real human opponent might have played better.

There are really only two downsides to Magic 2013. The first is that customization is extremely limited. As mentioned, each deck can unlock only 30 additional cards. While most decks feature unlockable cards that can subtly shift its tactics in certain directions, on the whole you are stuck with what you have. It would have been nice to be able to create your own deck out of the entire pool of cards you have access to, perhaps by adding goblins to your Burn deck, for example. The second issue might be somewhat unfair, but… well, it was hard for me to maintain my interest in the game past a certain point since I knew the environment was self-contained. There was never going to be new cards in Magic 2013 (I purchased it after the DLC expansions was released). Now, Magic 2014 is just around the corner out now, of course, but that will have no interaction with 2013 at all. Magic fans or fans of TCGs in general will hopefully understand what I’m talking about.

Overall, Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 is a pretty good Magic simulator for those looking for a pick-up-and-play TCG experience. Sometimes you will get mana screwed, sometimes the computer will top-deck some outrageous card, sometimes you will win because the computer never drew anything of consequence. That is pretty much par for the Magic course though. When it gets good, Magic 2013 feels like the real thing. Which is really all you can ask for from a game you can pick up for less than the price of three IRL booster packs.

Hex

In the event that you didn’t read last Friday’s Penny Arcade, they talked about the Cryptozoic Kickstarter for a “MMO-TCG” called Hex. Basically, Hex is Magic Online meets WoW TCG meets cards that can get socketed gems, equip gear, gain XP, earn achievements that expand artwork and upgrade cards to foil versions. Also, there will be PvE, apparently including dungeons and raids. And all of this is Free to Play.

Of course, just like with Hearthstone, calling a TCG “F2P” is criminally misleading.

I have some concerns with Hex. First, while I am frankly excited about the unique opportunities involved with an all-digital TCG – cards that buff your creatures do so for the rest of the match, you can put tokens on cards that get shuffled into your library, and all sorts of crazy nonsense that physical card games couldn’t pull off – this game skews so heavily towards Magic Online that I’m surprised Wizards of the Coast hasn’t issued a takedown notice.

Seriously, look at this video:

I’m not talking about Apple’s “rounded corners” copyright bullshit, I’m talking about Grand Theft Mechanics. Creatures have summoning sickness, there is First Strike, Haste, seven cards in the opening hand, 20 life per player, four copy limit on individual cards, 60 cards per deck, land cards, instants, discrete turn phases (Draw phase, main phase, declaring attackers/blockers/combat damage, end step), and even the goddamn Stack.

That’s not even really my concern here though. My concern is what occurs about 200 times in the bottom right corner of that video: spamming of the Pass Priority button.

This is alpha footage, things can change, etc etc etc… but not really. Magic is an incredibly nuanced card game with thousands of pages of technical rules that few follow to the letter in non-tournament settings; friends usually don’t ask each other if there is any response to their Draw Phase, unless one of them was packing a relevant card in their deck. My initial few weeks with Magic Online was a brilliant experience because the game reminded you of all the sort of routine Upkeep triggers and the like that can bog down/derail completely a physical game when you forget one. Trouble is, Magic Online is going to ask you every damn time because it has to. You can manually change your settings to ignore certain steps if you want, but again, Magic is an incredibly complex beast – if you aren’t careful about when you cast a spell or use an ability, you can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in an (cough) instant.

So that’s concern number one: the Pass Priority button is going to simultaneously be annoying as hell and be the reason you lost a perfectly winnable match. It’s also incredibly high-brow for as much as Hex is being marketed as “easy to get into.” I was a tad disappointed at first when I watched the Hearthstone duels and realized that there would be no “in response I play X!” back and forth. But seeing Hex and being reminded about how cerebral Magic can get… I think the Blizzard folks are on the right track, at least for a casual audience.

Calling it now: this will sell for at least $60.

Calling it now: this will sell for at least $60. Each.

Concern number two? You’re going to spend probably $100-$200 a month playing this F2P game.

Look at this paragraph from the official website regarding the above card Extinction:

Every last troop in sight bites the dust. This card will be a crucial staple of many control decks in any tournament format for a long time to come. In other words, in addition to being awesome, these will be quite valuable to all types of players. If you’re dungeon crawling instead of tournament crawling, you can even keep troops off the board for another two turns while you finish your master plan, with the all-powerful equipment Grips of the Unfortunate!

Translation: everyone will be paying out of the ass for this “crucial staple” of a card.

Even if you don’t see yourself competing in the sort of obvious P2W Constructed deck format (or presumably high-end PvE raiding), you will still probably be spending many times the average monthly subscription if you are remotely interested in the game. It is all right there in the Kickstarter page:

For experienced TCG players, we have designed the card set around Booster Draft and Limited play. We have engineered the card sets to launch three times a year, like a standard TCG.

In Magic Online, a Booster Draft = eight players buy three booster packs apiece. Open pack, take one card, pass remaining to the left, repeat. Build deck. Limited = buy six booster packs, open them, build deck. Booster packs in Hex will cost $2 for 15 random cards, which is half of what WotC charges. Magic Online rewards the winners of these mini-tournaments with extra booster packs, such that those coming in 1st and 2nd place can generally leave with a profit of a few packs; I assume Hex will reward similarly. Everyone keeps the cards they play with, so you don’t leave empty-handed if you lose, but… well. Suffice it to say, I finally overcame my game subscription aversion when I realized I spent $24 in the course of a one hour in Magic Online. Suddenly, a mere $15/month seemed like a total steal. Cue WoW purchase.

Frankly, Booster Drafts and Limited are the best Magic tournament formats to play in because there is no Pay 2 Win pressure – everyone starts with the same random chance to get good/bad cards, and skill plays an exceedingly strong role thereafter. But, again, in Hex you are looking at dropping $6-$12 to participate in “content” that evaporates after an hour, if you’re lucky. This is to say nothing about the fact that new sets will come out three times a year, which means most of your cards will be unplayable in Standard settings (which is the big set and its two smaller components in Magic). You can still play older cards in Magic, but only in Extended formats where most people are still packing the overpowered cards of 5 years ago, not the leftover garbage from your Limited games that just became old news.

My deck-building sense is tingling.

My deck-building sense is tingling. Or that could be the withdrawal.

If you haven’t noticed, I am extrapolating a lot about Hex from how Magic Online worked, but Cryptozoic has already stolen so much shit I feel safe that they will keep the theme going here. Perhaps Hex will feel a little different since it will have a PvE aspect, where some of your “outdated” cards might find a long-term home. Perhaps you could even earn boosters from said PvE – that would at least make the F2P claim less of a bald-faced lie. But make no mistake here: Hex, like any TCG (digital or no), will contain the two worst components of consumer-gouging videogame design: Pay 2 Win and gamble boxes.

And goddamn it if I’m still reacting like an ex-junkie, credit card in shaking hand.