Monday, April 13, 2009


If you've ever played Magic: The Gathering and enjoyed yourself more than a little, stop reading and just download the demo. If you watch the game trailer offered: it will garner one of two reactions from you.

1) WTF is that? This game makes no sense. This game is nonsense.
2) That is the coolest thing I have ever seen.

If you're in category 1, you might as well just not even read this blog post. Just move along. It's okay I've got nothing against you. CCGs and CCG-esque computer games are, no bones, extremely nerdy. But if you are this nerdy, download the demo now. The worst that will happen is that you will not enjoy it and you will not be out any precious monies.

The demo offered here is perhaps the benchmark that all demos should be modeled after. You are given fully a third of the single-player game, but limited to playing as only one class. When I sat down with this demo it devoured my soul for about 3 hours until I had run out of content, at which point my wallet unhinged and money changed hands. A major feat, really, because for as much as I like this game, I feel that it is overpriced at 20 dollars. 10 would have been the magic number for this one, I feel. But that's what happens when you make your demo really big.

Want to know more?

This is a card-based strategy game, with mechanics and designs very reminiscent of early M:TG. Fans of the old Microprose computer game will also note the single-player game's similarity to Shandalar, in that you are traveling the countryside, dueling a series of wizards in bizarre situations, and earning new spells as your reward for victory.

Anyway, either you "get" this sort of game or you don't. I've had a lot of fun with it, and will continue to have a lot of fun with it, but it is not without its shortcomings, so here are my criticisms:

The production value is a little low, even for an indie game. While the art and music are not bad by any means, and any turn-based strategy game relies on its design more than its visuals, just about anything on Steam that costs $20 is going to look damn near retail quality. In fact, most things that cost $20 on Steam are retail titles.

Worse, however, and much less forgivable, is the fact that a lot of the game text is filled with typos and errors. Enough said there. Bad copy editors, bad.

A mechanical departure from traditional CCGs is that there is no deck-building, which is too bad for me because deck-building is my favorite part of the CCG process - I find it more fun than actually playing the game I'm building for.

Instead each duel sees you with a hand of 20 cards randomly selected from the available pool, all of which can be played over and over again at any time, provided you have the resources to play them. This approach makes for a well-balanced game in some regards, but it can also feel too pernicious. Randomization helps prevent abusive combo-building, but in truth the abusive combos will sometimes appear in your hand anyway.

Also, a player's class has only a small impact on what you can do. Spells of five different "colors" are made available to you at all times, with four of them always being Earth, Air, Fire or Water themed. The fifth color is determined by your class. The end result is that the bulk of what you do is the same from class to class.

Admittedly your class spells are more efficient at what they do than similar cards in the elemental colors so you play them more frequently. Your play choices from the elemental colors will also vary to create synergy with your class-specific spells, but the end result is that a lot of duels play out the same way regardless of your class.

What this last complaint really comes back to is deckbuilding: The player is not given much control over what resources they can bring to a battle. I understand that the game as-is would be unbalanced if the player was given this control, but I feel like the better choice would have been to balance the cards to a point that the player can be trusted with more strategic options.