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Well and Truly Hexed

Now this is always a nice email surprise:

Title: Your account has been deleted!
From: noreply@gameforge.com

Greetings XXXX!

Your HEX account has been permanently deleted. We hope you had a fun time in the world of Entrath.

Maybe you’d like to continue your adventure in the future?
Then visit us at http://hex.gameforge.com/.
We hope to see you again one day.

Until then!
The HEX Team

And if you’re wondering, yes, it’s legit. Getting bought by a German company is serious business.

Almost exactly three years ago, I backed Hex on Kickstarter to the tune of $85. That remains one of the dumbest game-related purchases I have ever made, and not just because Hearthstone came onto the scene three months later and sucked all the oxygen out of the digital CCG room.

Looking through my archives, I don’t see many posts about Hex. Which sort of makes sense, as I believe I only really played it twice in the last three years. The first time was a session that lasted just long enough for me to realize that the card browser was a hideous mess and having to press Pass Priority a million times – an unfortunate feature just as shameless stolen from Magic Online as everything else – was not the future I wanted to live in.

I tried again about a year later, noted little improvement, found out that they were already releasing the third (or fourth) expansion set, and realized that my unopened Kickstarter packs were likely worth even less, assuming they were worth anything to begin with. Supposedly there is PvE now, but facing the prospect of needing to throw in additional dollars just to do basic stuff like drafting and seemed absurd in a post-Hearthstone world. Yeah, Hearthstone does have the option to charge you, but I haven’t been spending a dime to play in almost a year. In this game space, that’s a big deal.

In any case, I have not been back to Hex since then. And apparently I never will.

[Fake Edit] Word on the street now is that they are rolling back all the deletions, as it seems there was a “glitch” in the notifications that got sent out. Or didn’t get sent out, as the case may be. Glad everyone has the opportunity to download the client, accept the ToS, and promptly uninstall the game for another three years.

Impression: Infinity Wars

I took a look at my Steam Wishlist the other day, and noticed that one of the items was a F2P game called Infinity Wars. It was not a game I was expressly seeking out, but one of those games casually mentioned that I wanted to check up on later. “Hey, why don’t I just, you know, take care of that?”

So I did.

Infinity Wars bills itself as a digital TCG, but plays out as a hugely complex combination of Hearthstone, Magic, and one of those elaborate board games that weird friend of yours keeps trying to get you to play.

InfinityWars_02

This Draft game isn’t going well already.

The basic premise is that each character has 100 HP, 100 Morale, and a fist full of cards to reduce one or the other down to zero. Oh, and you pick three creature cards to play in your “Commander” zone before the game, and those determine the “purity” of your deck, e.g. what type of cards you can put in. You gain 1 resource per turn, sort of like Mana Gems in Hearthstone, and the creatures you play have persistent HP levels also like Hearthstone. But rather than there being just one play area, there are three per side: attack zones, defense zones, and support zones. And the order in which you place creatures in a zone matters, as if they were lanes in SolForge (which can you rearrange at will). Also, there activated creature abilities and spells you can cast.

Oh, have I mentioned that all turns are simultaneous?

If this sounds like a complicated mish-mash of mechanics, that’s because it is. Rounds in Infinity Wars are incredibly, stupidly complex with about a million and a half different ways for things to go wrong (or right, depending on your ability to bluff and/or get lucky). For example, say you have a 7/7 and a 5/4 creature currently in the Attack Zone, while your opponent has an 7/4 in his Support Zone. The “ideal” play here would be to keep both your creatures in the Attack Zone, but rearrange them so the 5/4 is left-most, with the assumption that your opponent puts the 7/4 in the Defense Zone, they kill each other, and your 7/7 wins the day.

But maybe your opponent isn’t dumb, and knows you will do that. Perhaps they move the 7/4 to the Defense Zone but also plays a spell targeting your 5/4 that deals 4 damage, which would kill that creature and allow the 7/4 to trade with the 7/7. But maybe you figure that is what he would do, so you actually move the 5/4 out of the Attack Zone and into the Support Zone instead, thereby making it an invalid target for that spell. And maybe your opponent figures he will hedge his bets by also casting a separate spell to buff his 7/4 creature by +5/+5, so it can beat your 7/7. But you happen to suspect such shenanigans, so you move both of your creatures to the Support Zone.

End result? Nobody takes any damage, all creatures live, and your opponent has a 12/9 in the Defense Zone. Begin planning out next round.

The problem with Infinity Wars is exactly that: the complexity. Sometimes you can get your opponent to overthink themselves into just taking a ton of damage to the face. Other times you get tricksy and get wrecked. Or maybe you join the New Player – Constructed queue, and get matched with someone who plays the goddamn USS Enterprise.

InfinityWars_01

Thought I was kidding?

I still don’t know what the fuck that even does – I blocked it once with a random creature and it got Phasered or something, and returned to my Support Zone and made Exhausted. Simply put, there is way too much shit going on to make an informed decision. All of my opponents cards were new, and I didn’t feel like 1.5 minutes was enough time in a given turn to make rational play. There doesn’t even appear to be a way to review what happened in the last turn, which if true, pretty much kills the game entirely.

Of course, once you get behind in this game, things quickly snowball all to hell considering your opponent can see what creatures you play before they ever get out of your Support Zone (unless they have Haste or Vigilance, creatures have to wait a turn to get moved to the Attack/Defense Zone). If you’re stuck casting one creature a turn, they can simply preemptively target your lone dude with the understanding you either try to block and it becomes a valid target, or you leave it in the Support Zone to make the spell fizzle but also eat another round of damage/bullshit effects.

What Infinity Wars was successful in doing though is making me appreciate Hearthstone all the more. Is Hearthstone a dumbed-down Magic: the Gathering? Maybe. But outside of Force of Nature/Savage Roar OTK combos and the like, you have time to react, read cards, and otherwise get a better grasp of what’s going on in a given game. Magic has deep complexity for veteran players, sure, but that same complexity really fucks over newer players when any given action they perform can be countered seemingly out of nowhere. “OK, I block your creature and it dies.” “No it doesn’t… Giant Growth!” “Oh, you’re tapped out? Fireball to the face!” “Nah, going to return three Islands to my hand to counter that spell.”

I dunno. Maybe if I stick with Infinity Wars, I will get a better grasp on the… Star Trek metagame, or whatever. Or perhaps I will simply realize that this is not a game you can enjoy without diving into the shit face-first.

If subterfuge and ruses and an infinite and a half different possible outcomes are your cup of card game tea though, have I got the game for you.

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.

Maybe not so indie after all…

One of the points I made yesterday regarding Card Hunter’s potential was:

1) Card Hunter is not being made by some large corporation (even if their F2P pricing is similar);

It occurred to me later though, that I never bothered to check on the actual game developers. Who are these guys and gals, and how were they able to create such a polished experience even in this Beta state? As it turns out… well, let’s just say that they have some experience in this regard:

  • Jonathan Chey – co-founder of Irrational Games, director of Bioshock, producer of System Shock 2.
  • Joe McDonagh – Production Director and Peggle Studio Franchise Director at PopCap Games.
  • Dorian Hart – Veteran at Irrational Games; worked on System Shock I and II, Thief and BioShock.
  • Tess Snider – from Trion Worlds, programmed Rift.
  • Kevin Kulp – DM/game designer, worked at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and other places.
  • Richard Garfield – Design consultant. Created Magic: The Gathering.
  • Skaff Elias – Design consultant. Magic designer and founder of the Magic pro-tour.

So… yeah. Maybe this team isn’t so indie after all. I mean, when you have Richard fucking Garfield as a design consultant for your pseudo-TCG, that almost feels like cheating. Then again, I’m not particularly interested in having a hipster semantic war. Seven dudes with two consultants and no major publisher with suits to answer to? That passes the indie smell test for me.

P.S. For those just submitting their beta applications, it took me from May 11 to Jun 20 to get in.

First Impressions: Card Hunter (beta)

I got into the Card Hunter beta last Thursday.

It is rare anymore for me to spend a lengthy amount of time playing the same game. Game developers these days front-load their daily bonuses in such a way that the most “efficient” way to maximize your playtime is to switch between 3-4 titles. And yet I spent ten hours playing Card Hunter on Saturday, and another six on Sunday. So, spoiler alert: I really like this game.

Card Hunter grabbed me from the word Go. In essence, this F2P browser-based game is a tactical, turn-based RPG where your abilities come in the form of random cards. Instead of building an entire deck on your own, a character’s game deck is actually the sum total of the cards associated with that character’s equipped items. This might sound complicated, but it is the exact opposite – after about 5 minutes of looking at the screen, the system becomes immediately grokkable and engaging. For example, here is a character sheet:

I have an immediate urge to go play right now.

I have an immediate urge to go play right now.

All of the cards along the bottom are the sum total of the deck. When you look at a specific item…

Kinda funny how it's pretty much always going to be purple = epic from now on.

Kinda funny how it’s pretty much always going to be purple = epic from now on.

…you can see what cards it contributes to the overall deck. As you might imagine, weapons usually contribute attack cards, armor contributes armor cards, and so on. Occasionally though, you will have some items that contribute cards from outside their “theme.” Most items are limited to certain classes, of which there are three: fighter, cleric, and wizard. You can have either human, elf, or dwarf versions of any of those classes, with the differences being the typical D&D tropes; elves have low HP and fast movement, dwarves have the opposite, and humans are in the middle.

How does the game play? Fabulously.

Yes. YES!

Yes. YES!

As you can see, the “setting/lore” of the game is retro-D&D, and it is adhered to from start to finish. All characters are represented with those figurines, and all the maps are exactly like this one (with different terrain and such, of course). The game’s F2P currency are slices of pizza, the battles are all prefaced with D&D-module write-ups, and there is clearly some tension going on inbetween the new DM Gary and his rules-lawyer brother Melvin in campaign mode – not to mention Gary’s awkward crush on the pizza delivery girl. Change some names around, add in two more teenagers, and Card Hunter could have described my high school D&D experience to a T.

As far as the game flow goes, it is pretty intuitive. You and your opponent take turns playing one card from any of your characters’ hands. You don’t have to alternate which character’s cards you play – if your warrior has 3 attack cards and someone within reach during each of his/her turns, you can wail on them 3 times. When you and your opponent pass turns in sequence, the Round ends, everyone discards down to two cards, three cards are drawn (one of which is always a movement card), and any Round triggers fire (e.g. players starting their turn in lava take 10 damage, etc).

The strategic brilliance of this combat system simply cannot be praised enough. Yes, the card-based nature of abilities can lead to immensely frustrating, if not outright impossible scenarios. In the screenshot above, for example, my elven mage has drawn all movement cards, severely crippling any initial attack I could muster. Defeat can (and will) be drawn from the jaws of victory even if you are careful. Here was a moment I exclaimed “You have got to be shitting me” out loud:

I mean, come on!

I mean, come on!

The above screenshot was taken from the dreaded Compass of Fucking Xorr level, right from where you might imagine is an insurmountable advantage. The armored dogs are dead, I have the last mercenary backed into a corner with 5 HP, and all my dudes are (barely) alive. It’s a new Round, my turn, and… look at the bottom. Don’t see many red cards, do you?

In fact, I drew exactly one attack card, and it only deals 3 damage. That larger card in the screenshot is a “seen” card that I know is in the merc’s hand, and it’s a doozy. Basically, any time you would deal damage to the merc, he rolls a d6: on a 4 or higher, the damage is reduced by 3. Like many Armor cards, it also has the Keep quality, which means it stays in his hand after triggering, ready for the next reduction in damage. And from fighting this guy, let me just tell you that his attack cards all deal 6+ damage from two squares away.

I did kill the merc on the turn after this one, as he just happened to draw a “drawback” card that caused him to discard all his armor cards. But it was a close one either way.

In any event, I am having a blast with Card Hunter thus far. That might sound strange after I just dedicated a few paragraphs to describing what could have been a terrible RNG-based wipe, but that kinda goes with the TCG territory. Who hasn’t been mana-screwed in Magic: the Gathering before? Part of tactical thinking should include the possibility of things going wrong – if games like Frozen Synapse taught me anything, it would be that. If nothing else, it keeps you on your toes.

I’ll go over the other elements of Card Hunter, including the ever-important F2P bits, next time.

Review: Prime World: Defenders

Game: Prime World: Defenders
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: Unrated (likely ~58)
Completion Time: 28 hours
Buy If You Like: Tower Defense, Grinding, TCG

Like most things, it's fun at first.

Like most things, it’s fun at first.

Prime World: Defenders is a Tower Defense game I bought in its Beta (what we used to call pre-purchasing) almost entirely based on a relatively glowing Penny Arcade review. I would not necessarily say I am a tower defense-er – I do not specifically seek the genre out – but I am pretty open to this gameplay in a general sense. Indeed, the only real problem I have with Tower Defense games is how binary things end up being: you are either murdering the enemy masses or you are overwhelmed. Well, there is that problem and the other intrinsically related problem in that there is always an optimal configuration of towers/abilities that usually renders entire levels moot.

But, hey, Prime World is Tower Defense plus TCG elements plus you can use magic spells; surely it could not fall into that same trap. As it turns out though, the things that make Prime World: Defender unique are the very things that make the game worse.

The central game conceit is that the player’s tower arsenal is represented by TCG-esque cards that can also individually level up to gain in power. The player also can gain levels, which only really affects the unlocking of tiers in the “talent tree” – something that ends up being more of an unlock menu since choices aren’t mutually exclusive. Winning battles will result in five cards being shown and then shuffled together, with the player choosing one effectively at random; up to two additional cards can be selected by paying in Silver. There is also an in-game “store” in which to purchase booster packs of cards, although it is entirely contained within the game – there is no RMT going on here.

As an aside, isn’t it sort of sad that we have to put in disclaimers like that?

Beyond the leveling mechanic, there are a few other interesting things going on. You can use Magic spells (which also level-up) during combat, for example. I also appreciated the ability to trigger the next wave early, which not only ramps up the difficulty but also gives you bonus resources, making it an interesting strategic decision. At first, anyway.

text

Yes, I got to Wave 18 with just two towers.

When it comes to Tower Defense games, I always use Sanctum as my high-water mark for the sub-genre (I count Orcs Must Die! in a different category). Under that sort of rubric, Prime World… is no Sanctum. For each story mission that you unlock, there are three satellite maps attached to it that correspond with Easy/Medium/Hard. These satellites are basically random battles in a typical RPG, allowing you to farm in-game currency and get additional cards/towers. The overall map structure in these random battles varies very little (there are less than 10 unique maps), but the empty squares available to place your towers might be filled in with rocks, enemy towers, or power-ups that boost the efficacy of any towers placed there. Enemy composition is variable as well, along standard genre lines such as mass of weaklings, tough tanks, flying enemies, and so on.

The overall effect of this random battle setup makes completing said random battles fun… at least for a while. The problem that arises, and my core complaint about the game, seems inevitable in retrospect: grinding/farming is required. The story missions increase in difficulty pretty linearly, although you will likely experience huge leaps every 4-5 missions. Sometimes the leaps will be in the form of Boss encounters, which feature an ultra-tough mob that standard towers are unlikely to defeat; other times mob HP just scales out of control.

Simply put, it does not matter how awesome your tower strategy ends up being when the game is balanced around you leveling-up your towers. And, indeed, if you dedicate enough of your time to power-leveling at the beginning, certain towers will basically allow you to coast to victory with no thought required. A level 1 tower costs the same the place on a map as a level 25 tower, despite the latter dealing +800 more damage and having a greater area of effect.

Tower costs the same, now deals +55 more damage.

Tower costs the same, now deals +55 more damage.

I do not necessarily want to give the impression that the game is broken or anything. It’s just that, well, I was stuck on one of the story missions for the longest time, trying all sorts of different strategies and tower setups. I even looked up how other people were completing the mission. Nothing I did worked… until I dedicated 5 hours to farming random missions and got enough currency to upgrade my towers five or six levels apiece. The whole time I was farming, I was winning those missions using, literally, three of the same tower.

The whole game isn’t like that, but this particular story mission was a badly tuned break in the progression curve. And the sad fact is: this is technically a viable solution to every mission. Will you still feel clever replaying a tricky mission over and over knowing that you could technically just out-level it? And sometimes have to? Those questions are something you will have to answer for yourself.

If you are a fan of Tower Defense games, I would say that Prime World: Defenders is a solid entry in the sub-genre. If you care less about the sub-genre and more about compelling games themselves, well, you will probably still have fun for a while. As an on-and-off-again MMO player, I experienced considerable pull towards playing “just one more map” and farming money/XP fodder for my towers. As long as you know what you are getting yourself into, you will probably be fine with Prime World: Defenders. Just to be safe though, I would wait for a Steam/bundle deal.

Speaking of TCGs…

…hey, Scrolls is apparently still a thing. You know, the card game from Mojang, aka the company that made Minecraft, that was sued by Bethesda due to “Scrolls” being too close to that part of the name no one uses when talking about Bethesda games. Although I suppose with The Elder Scrolls Online coming out, that could conceivably change.

The open beta for Scrolls starts June 3rd. Poking around on the site reveals that the game proper will cost $20, and while there is a RMT currency (“Shards”), according to Mojang (emphasis added):

Shards are now enabled

  • Shards are completely optional. We’re never going to force you to spend in order to progress
  • Every item can also be bought for in-game Gold
  • A limited selection of items can be purchased using Shards
  • You can now buy Shards – our secondary currency – with real-life cash
  • Shards and Gold only have an in-game value
  • You can’t cash out

In other words, it does not appear as though cash shop currency is required to purchase the equivalent of booster packs. In fact, aside from the cards themselves, I’m starting to wonder how like a TCG this game is even supposed to be. Scrolls isn’t being marketed as a F2P game for starters, so it’s possible that its constructed in a fashion that allows reasonable card progression just from play, e.g. it’s a normal damn game that doesn’t require goddamn graphing calculators to plot entertainment per dollar ratios. We’ll see how that all shakes out.

It is kind of amusing, how often things release is apparently independent cycles. Deep Impact came out just months before Armageddon. Dante’s Peak came out two months before Volcano. And now we have Hex, Scrolls, and Hearthstone all either releasing or hitting Open Beta in 2013. I would count Cardhunter among them, but the stingy bastards have yet to give me a Beta invite.

The nerve.

Hex Followup

Is it just me, or does the word “followup” just look weird after a while?

…anyway. Here are some relevant Q&A straight from the forums regarding the now-funded Hex:

Q: Any chance this might be headed to IOS as well?
A: Our immediate launch plans are PC and Mac, but the tech has built from the ground up for mobile.

Q: I would also like to know about the card rotation plan. Will there be standard and unlimited formats, or will all cards be legal to play forever?
A: Right now we’re planned for a 2 block format, as well as an everything format. That is the current plan. We might revisit it after 2 years of data.

Q: The estimated delivery sep 2013 is that for the full game or the beta stages ?
A: September is the estimated delivery for the beta, which will have all of the PvP content and some of the PvE content.

Q: Will the game require a big internet connection? I’m currently working 6 month a year in a inuit village with Satellite internet connection and wireless modems and I get a 5000 ping in online games like Path of Exile here. Wondering if the game will be playable in those condition (Drop out, Lags, ect).
A: The internet overhead of the game is very, very low. The amount of data that goes back and forth to the server is minimal, and we have a 3 minute reconnect timer, that if you lose connection during a game, you have 3 minutes to log back in and you will be automatically rejoined to that game. Any single player experience just uses save states, so you can actually rejoin almost any time after disconnecting.

Okay… hold up a sec. “Working 6 months a year in a inuit village”? You know what, nevermind.

Q: Weird question i know, but any plans of a post beta wipe, getting packs and such back?
A: We will not do a post-beta wipe. Once we give you something, we won’t take it away in even the most seemingly kind way (eg, by refunding packs.) If you open a super rare awesome card it’s yours until you decide to trade it.

Q: So there is currently no other way to get cards for PVP except through initial pledge and buying $2 each?
A: The only way to get PvP packs is through the KS rewards, at $2 each, or as rewards for playing in drafts/constructed tournaments. We will also have an auction house, and I’d expect that PvP commons can be easily picked up off there at budget prices.

So it’s official: you cannot earn booster packs in PvE content. In other words, the only way anyone is playing Limited/Draft formats is for them to have bought, traded for, or won boosters themselves. Based on other questions, it appears the first set is 350 PvP cards that only come from boosters, and 300 PvE cards that are only earned in PvE and cannot be used in normal PvP games (but there might be “anything goes” formats for fun). Now, it is likely you will be able to sell a particularly nice rare you got in a Draft (that you otherwise lost) to help purchase boosters to try your luck again, but otherwise these games are going to cost you $6 a pop for less than an hour of play.

By the way, the stretch goal for $540,000?

540K – Add Primal Packs

Primal Packs are “god packs” that will drop for lucky players when buying HEX booster packs. It is not a separate item in the HEX Store. Every card in this booster is a Rare or Legendary! In addition, each Primal Pack will contain a Legendary Treasure Chest that will hold some truly incredible items, which you can open or trade in the Auction House. Speaking of which, should you be lucky enough to get one of Primal Packs, they are tradable and can be given or put in the Auction House for others just like any other pack. To maintain balance in a tournament setting, you cannot get a Primal Pack during a draft.

“Yo dawg, I heard you like gamble boxes. So we put gamble boxes in your gamble boxes […]”

If it sounds like I am being unduly harsh, it’s simply because I know the effect these sort of games have on me. Drafting is addicting: you get to see 24 boosters being opened, passed around, and picked apart, plus the 30 minutes of frantic deck-building, plus the very-real pressure of best-out-of-three duels with the prize being enough boosters to join another draft for free. That’s a sex, drugs, and rock & roll combo of endorphins right there.

But you’re going to pay. A lot. Unless you’re good, I suppose, in which case the poor players will be subsidizing your gameplay.

Just screwing around in 1v1 Standard duels is fun and all, but you won’t be getting any new cards; there is no progression without pay. Then again, I suppose that is what the whole PvE side of the game will be about. Will it be enough? You cannot use your PvE cards in PvP. Then again, PvE cards do not “expire” and yet there will be additional PvE sets in the future, presumably along with additional monsters/dungeons/raids, so… yeah. Maybe Cryptozoic will be able to shore up the one weakness Magic Online has.

I suppose we’ll see in September, once the Beta is released.

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.