by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
How far would you go to jumpstart a project that you are passionate about? Would you rob a bank? Would you sell one of your kidneys on the black market? Would you use a high caliber sniper rifle to assassinate a clown? Most people probably would not do any of those things, but most people aren’t Cryptozoic Entertainment president Cory Jones, who does all of this and more in the most entertaining Kickstarter video I’ve ever seen.
For those who find the name unfamiliar, Cryptozoic is the company responsible for card and board games licensed from popular properties such as World of Warcraft and The Walking Dead. Their newest endeavor is a hybrid of trading card games and MMOs called HEX: Shards of Fate, and it has me hooked even before it is out.
But what is it?
You may be a little confused at the prospect of a massively multiplayer online trading card game. I know I was when I first heard about it. It is still not perfectly clear just how exactly things are going to work, but Cryptozoic claims that HEX will be an "awesome mix of the strategy and depth found in a trading card game and the community building and adventuring found in MMO’s". Players will be able to hop in and battle their friends in PvP battles that are similar to other card games, join clans, raid dungeons, and hunt for loot through card battles.
On a purely mechanical level, HEX looks to play like Magic: The Gathering. Quite a lot like it actually. Players build mana pools that allow them to summon both creatures and magic. The goal is to attack and defend with creatures and ultimately take down the opponent’s life points from 20 down to zero before they do. It is a familiar system, but one that is time-tested and works well.
A new deck
The truly interesting aspect of the game is found in how Cryptozoic is embracing the digital part of a digital trading card game. They introduce a number of features that would either be impossible or very difficult to do with physical cards.
One such feature is ‘card equipment’. Each card in the game will be tied to a number of equipment cards that change how and what a card can do. Once acquired, players can permanently fuse the equipment to the card. Common pieces may not drastically change performance, but more rare cards can turn even mid-level creatures and magic into forces to be reckoned with. A spell called "Replicator’s Gambit", for example, lets its caster shuffle a creature back into their deck. If that card is played again later in the game, six copies of it enter the battlefield instead of just one. A powerful card already, it gets even stronger when adding the "Slight of Hand" gear that allows it to be cast faster. Then at the legendary level, "The Mirrorblade" gear gives the copying trait to three other cards of the same name as the target, greatly increasing the odds of the gambit paying off. There are also gems that work in a similar fashion but offer more generic bonuses that aren’t card-specific. Between gems and gear, each card can be tweaked in hundreds of different ways to fit it into a particular deck’s play style. Cards also evolve and can change throughout the game. When applied successfully, cards can gain achievements that unlock alternate art and foil variants.
Keeping it fresh
It is not unusual for online games to suffer from dwindling communities due to a lack of content or support. Cryptozoic promises to keep players coming back through new content and continued infrastructure support. HEX will be launching with a 350 card initial base set, with new sets being launched three times a year and players can expect to see regular tournaments to keep the game alive and kicking.
Cryptozoic Entertainment has a pretty big order on their table, promising not only a balanced and fully featured trading card game from day one, but also a deep and entertaining MMO with the depth, story, and lore of others in its field. Will it deliver? It is too early to tell, but at least HEX will be free-to-play so those on the fence will be able to check out the game without having to sell their body parts like Cory did in his Kickstarter video.