Entries in TCG (1)

Friday
May312013

TCG Quickstrike

TCG Quickstrike

 

Everybody is always looking for the next big thing. There have been several big genre cycles as certain game types fall in and out of favor. Most recently we have seen the pervasiveness of first person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty. Currently MOBA’s lead the way with League of Legends and DOTA2 creating a new space in esports with streamed tournaments exceeding 200,000 concurrent viewers regularly. There have also been smaller trends such as the tower defense gold rush seen on Android and iOS or the revival of the ARPG with the release of Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile. This brings us to a new trend as three major developers try to reinvigorate the modern trading card game. The three new online TCG’s are Blizzard’s Hearthstone, Mojang’s Scrolls and Hex from Cryptozoic, they all entering beta this summer with possible releases in time for this holiday season.

 

For years the TCG scene has been dominated by Magic the Gathering. There have been a few competitors such as Yu-Gi-Oh, the Pokemon TCG or Decipher’s Star Wars and Young Jedi games, but none have had the lasting impact of Magic. Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon lacked depth and were largely written off as child targeted tie-ins to the larger brand and Decipher’s games faded away due to their small base and market self-cannibalization.

 

The current environment has become stagnant as smaller competitors such as Shadow Era and Ubisoft’s Duel of Challengers continue to ape MtG’s online game. Meanwhile there have been a lot of complaints about Magic’s online client and their prohibitive pricing schemes have caused a lot of potential players to look elsewhere. I’m going to do my best to give you a quick preview of these new games as they try to bring a spark back into the TCG genre. To be as fair as possible I’ve chosen videos from the developers to explaining the basics of the game followed by my thoughts and critiques. I would also like to note that Scrolls is the only game I have been able to play first hand as Hex and Hearthstone are still in alpha or closed beta testing and I haven’t been lucky enough to get access to them.

 

Hearthstone

This seems to be the juggernaut of these new games because despite being developed by a relatively small team at Blizzard. They are banking that tying this game in with their Warcraft franchise will create an instant fan base and audience for Hearthstone. Another benefit of this tie is they can create an immediate familiarity with many gamers while also lending a unique flavor game play with their hero based deck system. While WoW subscriptions has recently fallen to just over 8 million, if even 5% decide to try out Hearthstone the game will probably be considered a huge success without even figuring players coming from other sources. The trademark Blizzard ‘Technicolor’ cartoon art style is also carried over, although I feel this is worst looking game out of the three. Blizzard really seems to be emphasizing the casual nature of this game, and while I’m sure they will take the standard Blizzard attention to detail when it comes to balance, combined with the visual style this may turn away more mature gamers somewhat like the DOTA2 versus League of Legends split.

 

Hex

The irony of this game originates from Cryptozoic being the developers for the physical World of Warcraft TCG and World of Warcraft co-creator Kevin Jordan serving as lead designer for the RPG elements of Hex. That being said Cryptozoic has by far the most experience within the TCG genre and as seen from their Kickstarter video this game already features a high level of polish. They are also calling hex a TCG-MMO promising a horde of PVE content such as questing and guild creation as well as customizable champions, gear, and even a talent system. For better or worse the game play mechanics are almost identical to Magic. At the time of writing this game has crushed its original Kickstarter goal of $300,000 with backings of $1.4 million with 7 days left to go. The overall aesthetics of this game are gorgeous; there is a tack-sharp graphical fidelity that is really evident when compared side by side to Hearthstone and Scrolls. This game promises to offer the most depth of the three, but my one concern is their economic structure. One of the biggest turn-offs of Magic the Gathering is the price of acquiring new cards. Looking at the rewards for certain levels of backing on Kickstarter, I am immediately reminded of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars spent on boxes of booster packs. If this doesn’t deter you, pledging at least twenty dollars before their Kickstarter funding period ends will grant you access to the beta when it is released later this summer.

 

Scrolls

This is one of the three new first party games being developed by Mojang, creators of Minecraft, as they try to expand their lineup of games. The art style falls somewhere near Hearthstone without a lot of the distracting shiny effects that seem to deter from the game play. The most distinctive feature lies in Scrolls’ ability to leverage digital technology to enhance their game. Immersion has always been sort of a buzzword around games, but by transforming cards into actual models when they are played they can actually breathe life into the cards and subsequently the game play feels more active and approachable to a casual viewer. This leaves you wondering why the other games are still recreating a shallow facsimile of cards upon a tabletop instead of embracing the freedom of a digital environment. They also are embracing a more friendly business model where every card and booster will be available through gold that is earned at the end of every game, meaning that aside from the initial purpose it will be possible to acquire every card by simply playing the game. They will also have a shard system allowing people to pay money for cards if they choose to. The only issue Mojang seems to have somewhat weak marketing as information seems to flow more sluggishly from them in regards to development. This is why the best video demonstration for Scrolls comes from Minecon 2012 over six months ago, while Hearthstone has their regular Fireside Duels and Hex demoing their game on Twitch as well.