Tag: ccg (page 1 of 7)

The Magic’s Back

I really wasn’t expecting to get back into Magic: The Gathering.

I’ve been a Hearthstone player for a while, now. And it did a decent job of scratching that CCG itch that started back in ’93 or so when I first picked up my first starter deck of Magic. The Warcraft theme and some of the design elements of Hearthstone still hold some appeal, but I can’t deny I often felt something was missing. I play EDH (Commander to you young ‘uns) with my father and brother-in-law on the holidays, but that wasn’t often enough to clear up my feelings.

Then I got into the Arena beta, and everything started to click.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Hearthstone has its place. Mucking around in a Tavern Brawl or even playing a couple of games on the ladder is good while I’m waiting for coffee water to boil or if I’m sitting on the toilet. But knowing what I know now, I don’t think I’ll be playing it as often, nor will I be streaming it. It all comes down to a single word — interactivity.

I’m the sort of person who gets the most enjoyment out of a game when I’m working to anticipate the moves my opponent are likely to make. I want to set myself up for success. A non-interactive deck undercuts that enjoyment, and very few decks in Hearthstone feel interactive. I mean, it’s one thing for me or my opponent to have to work in order for a particular combo to go off; it’s another when I feel like I’m getting ground up in my opponent’s well-tuned piece of cardboard clockwork. Not to mention a few people I’ve played against in person who put together those sorts of decks have been incredibly smug about it.

To put it another way, there have been times when I’ve felt like I can just walk away from Hearthstone for a bit while my opponent takes their turn because there’s fuck-all I can do about whatever it is they’re doing or planning to do. Magic gives me the opposite feeling. In anticipating my opponent’s plays, and either having an immediate response in my hand or knowing I could be just one draw away from swinging the advantage back in my direction, I’m engaged from start to finish. I can plan ahead. My brain’s always working. And losses feel as earned as wins. “I have to watch for that next time, because this time X happened.” Sure, getting screwed or flooded by decks happens, but that’s different. At least, it feels different to me.

Among the other things that make me feel excited about the “fresh start” feeling I’ve been cultivating for a couple of weeks, the prospect of getting more into Magic, both in person and in Arena, has my brain aflutter with possibilities. Between setting up new decks to take with me this holiday and participating in more events locally, there’s something about Magic being a part of my life again that feels… right, for lack of a better term. Sure, it will take some time, and I’ll want to be more stable financially before I start making the more serious investments. But anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do right.

In the meantime, I’ll keep playing Arena and honing my skills. Even if that means I’m going to have keep playing burn for a while.

The Appeal of Hearthstone

UtherLightbringer as seen in Hearthstone
I will, in fact, fight with honor.

I’m working on a post that talks about time management. It is, from my perspective, one of my biggest flaws. I find it difficult to parcel out my time in the most efficient way possible. The dayjob, exercise, writing, home maintenance, eating, sleeping… things get pushed around and I get distracted, and I end most days wondering where the time went. I know, consciously, that I need to make more time for things that are important to me.

Why, then, am I setting my sights on playing more Hearthstone?

Specifically, I’m going to be playing more Constructed – I’m not that great at Arenas. I’m brushing up on advice for more effective laddering, choosing a deck that I will stick with – probably DKMR’s Paladin deck – and pulling myself back when I begin to tilt. Ideally, I’ll be putting in time on this every day after I take the time to write, and that in turn would be happening after I get home from the dayjob.

The reason for this is simple: I miss high-level competitive play in these sorts of games. The events of Magic: the Gathering I’ve attended, both when I was younger and more recently, were at their most enjoyable when I was locked in competition with another player. I haven’t been part of that scene in a while, and I won’t be getting involved in a Netrunner community until after I move. The advantage of Hearthstone is that it’s a digital form of the same type of competition. The barrier for entry is lower than StarCraft 2, and personally, I find the experience of playing Hearthstone less clinical than playing StarCraft, even if I do enjoy both games. The in-depth interactions of cards, the delicate nature of move-countermove over the course of a match, and the visceral feeling of both winning and losing – these are things that really appeal to me.

Part of this is certainly Hearthstone‘s glossy coat of that certain Blizzard magic. Their games are always high quality in terms of graphical presentation and sound design. But on top of that, the more I play the game, the more I find things very finely balanced. With a variety of ways to play a class, to say nothing of different classes, success or failure ultimately comes down to the individual player. Without the immediacy and attention demands of a real-time strategy game, careful decision-making and precise timing are rewarded in a very satisfying way. This could just be my take on things, but I can’t deny that this, too, is part of the appeal.

I want to get better at Hearthstone. My goal is, eventually, to compete in a tournament with the confidence to advance at least once through its brackets. To do this, I will aim to climb the Constructed ladder into the Legendary ranks. When the new season begins, I may even begin streaming and recording my games. Who knows? This could open new doors for me, and that’s never a bad thing. It’s another step in my journey forward, and it’s my hope that folks out there will be willing to take that journey with me.

Or at least point out whenever I miss lethal damage.

Tabletalk: The Variance Question

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
On top of everything, that hack Robert Wintermute killed Venser…

A quick note before we begin: the movie I’ve been asked to review isn’t available yet. It should be later in the day, but for now we’re going to swap the review with Tabletalk for this week. Okay? Okay.

Magic… it’s time we talked.

I’ve been playing you for years. Decades, even. And there is a lot that I like about you. Your planes are rich with game and story potential. You show interesting design choices at every turn. Memories of tournaments, drafts, and throwdowns with family are evocative of good or even excellent times, and I will never forget them.

But, to be honest, I’ve been seeing other card games.

I don’t want you to feel like you’ve done anything wrong. I don’t think it’s your fault. I am, in all honesty, just a little tired of some of the things that throw me off when it comes to you. I certainly don’t agree with all of your design choices, and I know that no cycle of cards lasts forever outside of Legacy. You may see me coming back to a local gaming store in the future. The big problem, though, is the irritation I have with variance.

I like games that are different every time you play them. They add variety and make me want to play more. The thing is, though, that a deck of Magic has a level of variance that tends to be rather high. While this can be mitigated with good deck construction choices, the bottom line is that the resources you need to play the game – your land – are dispensed to you entirely at random. You could have everything necessary in your hand to make a clutch play or escape a tight situation, but you can’t do anything because your land has not deigned to show up yet. It sucks for me when it happens, and it sucks for my opponent, too. When my opponent gets screwed on their mana, I feel bad on their behalf, since it doesn’t feel like we’re playing the game on equal terms, and that’s not fun for anybody who wants to have fun playing. I mean, if you care only about winning, then yes, you want your opponent to have every disadvantage possible, but that to me is not very sporting. Call me old-fashioned.

Some people like this. They like the extra challenge it presents, and the fact that games are not predictable. That’s fine. I can understand that. I personally feel, however, that games like Hearthstone and Netrunner are spoiling me, since my resources are not tied to random chance.

We’ll talk more about that next week. For now… I don’t hate you, Magic, but to be honest, I don’t think you’re my favorite anymore. It’s not you, it’s me.

Tabletalk: Netrunner Basics

Cyberfeeder, by Gong Studios
Art by Gong Studios

I have been well and truly hooked by Android: Netrunner for a variety of reasons. The game is steeped in atmosphere and flavor, from the names of each player’s decks and hands to some truly stunning artwork. The second-hand market for individual cards is practically non-existent, making it a slightly more economical choice, even if the up-front investment can seem a touch daunting. And much like Hearthstone, it’s possible to build a deck just using the Core Set of the game that has a fighting chance, or will at least yield a good time.

The asymmetrical nature of the gameplay, however, can be off-putting for new players. I thought I would take a bit of time before diving into the nuances of the game’s different Corp and Runner factions to talk about how the two sides play, and give some tips to newer players, or players who have tried to play Netrunner before and for one reason or another ran into obstacles not generated by the board state.

Both the Corp and the Runner are trying to score Agenda Points. Only the Corp player has Agenda cards in their deck. The Runner must steal Agenda cards from the Corp before they can be installed and advanced. The Corp advances Agendas by installing them in remote servers, areas of the playing area to the side of their identity card (which represents their hand, or HQ), then spends credits one at a time to match the Agenda card’s advancement requirement. The Runner can run on any server, be it one of the remotes created by the Corp, the Corp’s HQ, their R&D (or deck), or Archives (discard pile). The Corp can protect any of their servers with ICE, specialized software cards that are installed perpendicular and face down in front of the servers they protect. The Runner has means to break or circumvent this ICE, but it buys the Corp precious time to score their Agendas.

That’s the basic rundown; let’s get into some specifics.

If you are the Corp, you control all of the information.

The Runner has to keep their cards face-up on the table. From their Hardware to their Resources, you will always have a good idea of what could be coming at you. When you install a piece of ICE, it’s face-down, as are your Agendas, Assets, and Upgrades. The Runner has no idea how, when, or even if you’ll be paying the cost to rez (turn face-up) those cards. Knowing what you know, you can either push to beat the Runner before they get up to speed, or sit back and play a shell game, luring the Runner into traps or watching them bounce off of your ICE. Some of that comes from the choice you make in faction, but the confidence to follow through on your strategy comes from the fact that you know a lot more than the Runner does, at least in terms of board state information. Use that.

If you are the Runner, you should be running.

Running is the crux of the game and it should be done as much as is reasonable – and maybe some times when it isn’t. It’s how the Runner learns information, from the ICE the Corp has installed to the assets they’re trying to protect. It keeps the Corp player engaged and can lead to them interacting more, be it choosing different ICE or exploiting the Runner’s action in order to tag them or otherwise make the Runner pay. But it’s also the only way the Runner can possibly win the game. The more the Runner runs, the better their chances of stealing an Agenda, and every run also has the potential to throw the Corp off-balance and derail their well-laid plans. Sure, you might end up getting tagged or taking some damage, but Netrunner is all about risk management.

This is true on both sides. The Corp asks, “is it safe to install this Agenda? Can I convince the Runner that it’s a trap? Should I stockpile credits instead?” The Runner asks, “can the Corp flatline me if I make another run and take more damage? Will I have enough time before he scores that Agenda? Is than an Agenda in the first place?”

The game is rife with player choices, informed decision-making, potential for storytelling, and great moments of interplay. If you tried it before but found the asymmetry daunting or a particular player uncooperative, I hope after reading these tips you’d consider trying again. I’m going to be talking about the factions in the weeks to come; you might find something you like in one of them that’ll convince you to give Netrunner a shot. The card catalog is growing, and player bases are becoming more established; now is a great time to get started.

Game Review: Hearthstone

One of the things Blizzard Entertainment does very well is presentation. World of Warcraft‘s visual style has aged rather gracefully, StarCraft 2 has remained consistent in its high-quality art and sound assets (if not necessarily the stories it is telling), and the technical alpha for Heroes of the Storm looks and sounds impressive, from everything I’ve seen. I will write more about that when I actually get into the game. My point is that, when I first discussed Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, it already looked good and sounded good. It is now in wide release, and is even available on iPad, so now seems the right time to give it a full review.

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Hearthstone is a game that plays a great deal like Magic: the Gathering, and is both simple and free to play. In fact, there are characters within World of Warcraft that can be seen playing the game. In essence, it’s a pub or party game played by the denizens of Azeroth, either as a break from or a substitution for grander adventures. All sorts of Warcraft staples are present, from angry chickens to towering giants, and some legendary figures represent the player while others stride across the playing field. Or charge, in the case of some minions like Leeroy Jenkins.

In terms of development, little has changed between the production edition of Hearthstone and its closed beta. Some graphical glitches have been either addressed or smoothed over, cards work the way they’re intended more often than not, and Blizzard’s visual panache is as strong as ever. Its familiar characters, strong tactile design, and business model all make the game consistently appealing, and easy to pick up and play.

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
The game presents constant strategic and tactical questions. Provided your draw is at least half-decent.

“Pick up and play” is even more apt now that the game is available on iPad mobile devices. The app is free to download, of course, and controls with the touch screen instead of a mouse. The translation of some functionality, such as dragging the mouse to a target, is replicated or replaced rather well, making the transition from the computer to the tablet very easy. The game does lag a bit here and there, though, so the implementation could probably use a few tweaks. Still, it makes it even easier to enter the game, say if you’re on a flight path in World of Warcraft or waiting in one of Blizzard’s many multiplayer queues.

Recently, “free to play” games have come under a great deal of scrutiny. Often, such games are powered financially by business models that often lend themselves to the description of “pay to win.” In essence, such games are presented in such a way that if one pays enough money, they can get clear advantages over other players and basically pay their way to the victory within the game. In spite of accusations of one class or another being overpowered, Hearthstone avoids the “pay to win” trap by being quite well balanced. It is entirely possible to go into Ranked play with a deck using only the cards one gets for joining the game the first time, without spending a single cent, and rise to the Legendary ranks of the game. Decks with Legendary cards might be more efficient or flashier in what they do, but you don’t have to spend any real money to be successful in Hearthstone, which is definitely a feather in its cap.

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment
Life totals aren’t everything. Warlocks know this better than most.

Hearthstone is a game I return to on an almost daily basis. It scratches the itch left by card games like Magic: the Gathering and Netrunner, does what it does with panache, and doesn’t take up a great deal of storage space on one’s shelf. It continues to be challenging months after my first game, delivers fantastic moments of fascinating turnarounds and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, and seems to only be getting better. A new adventure mode has been announced, and the first ‘dungeon’ we’ll be facing to gain new cards is the necromantic stronghold of Naxxramas. I’m very curious to see what will happen next in this game, and if you are too, there’s never been a better time to check it out.

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