Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Why Use a Perfectly Good Game System

So I’ve played a bit of Magic the Gathering : Tactics by now, and I’m quite disappointed. I used to be quite the enthusiastic Magic player and I still get my dose of its online version (awful as it is) from time to time. Richard Garfield’s game system has evolved quite a bit since its inauguration in 1993 – not always for the better but it is still a very good and enjoyable game. Alas, somehow the owners of the intellectual property don’t seem to think so.

They keep making computer games based on the card game and each new one is worse than those that came before. There was the somewhat entertaining Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds which had nothing to do with how the original game works and now there is Magic the Gathering. Tactics which claims to take the game to a new level by introducing real tactical combat to it instead of the simplified cardboard version of combat we know.

Alas, it is not so. Even ignoring the whole free-to-play aspect (read: lie) of the game, it is just so much worse than the the original it isn’t even remotely funny. Tactical combat works roughly on the level of a game like Heroes of Might and Magic while discarding a lot of the finesse inherent in the card game. Resource management is almost non-existent as are all the interesting combinations of the original. You summon pretty much generic creatures (and yes I know there are more advanced ones available, but even those are quite meh.)  and manoeuvre them around boring, uninspired battlefields in a boring, uninspired way.

Microprose knew how to make games. SoE doesn't, apparently.

And then there’s the whole free-to play lie. Yeah you get to play the first chapter (really short, boring, and easy) for free, but then you have to cough up quite a bit of cash for further solo play. You can play matches against other players, but if you want to gain anything from it you have to spend money on entry fees – and a lot more money on cards if you want to have any shot at winning. So far, that’s a lot like Magic the Gathering: Online. One of the reasons I don’t play constructed matches (where you bring your own cards) in that game is that I don’t want to spend the money necessary to get a reasonably competitive deck. So the same issue applies to this new game (where games like League of Legends show that that can be done in a much better way), but the similarities stop there.

In theory limited games (where you pay more for entry but get random cards to play with) work the same way in both games, but most people don’t start Magic the Gathering: Online at zero experience. In Tactics, a starting player has no plan and will get steamed by players who have more experience. The only way to get that experience? Drop lots and lots of money onto the table. Playing  in a single limited tournament (which will likely only allow you to stay in for one round) will cost you roundabout 15 bucks. Do that fifty times and you might start having a shot at winning. Yeah.

Most F2P games know that you need to give at least some incentive to “free” players to keep on playing. Tactics offers almost none. Tactics lets you play for an hour and then tells you to cough up or leave. And not in a “demo” kind of way. You don’t go ahead drop $50 on the game to play it forever. You also don’t drop $10 to level faster or get a new character to play with or something. You drop your money for pretty much no return at all, and the game you get to play isn’t even good.

I still have fond memories of the Microprose made Magic the Gathering game and I would say that it still is a better game than any of the MtG games available today. All it did was offer a (rather bad) AI to play the card game against and put the battles in an RPG-like context of you collecting Magic cards to create better decks to fight with. I can’t help but think that a modern version of this would be huge. You know, with a decent AI, graphics, and modern cards to play with. If you really want to ride the whole F2P train, allow players play a lot without paying but slow down their card acquisition process or something.

I can’t believe that this game is going to make relevant amounts of money. But then, it probably didn’t cost a lot to make in the first place.

  • Card games on computers should not have overly complex visual backgrounds. It makes things even harder to sort out than they would be normally.

  • I would love a modern version of the Microprose game. That was a solid game, even though the AI was indeed nothing special. It played like MTG, and that was what mattered.

    I’d definitely buy a game like that, say a Standard format MTG game where you just buy it once and get all the Standard-legal cards of the day for play. I still like MTG, just not the business model or the lame game variants.
    Tesh´s last blog post ..Difficulty and Penalty