Hands On With Hex: Shards Of Fate

I am the Little Red Rabbit Hoodlum, a fluffy-eared cleric armed with a legion of suicidal bunnies and ravenous mushroom people. My opponent is a knight in shining armor, who practically gleams with self-righteous pomposity, her hair a flaxen banner in the imagined sun. She laughs when she sees me and my army of floof, not knowing that she stands no chance.

Hex: Shards of Fate is a trading card game that will feel like home for anyone who has ever enjoyed Magic the Gathering. It has minions to summon, enchantments to dole out, counterspells to launch, and even five resource types to make use of. The world is a fantastical one, obviously, with shamanistic coyotes and spider-creatures and my favorite, the ultra-violent shin’hare. Although the universe is replete with dwarves, elves, and humans, it also features a parasitic alien consciousness capable of dragging the dead back into unliving.

Back in my match, I call the runts of a recent litter, mewling devils hellbent on carving a place in our society. I summon the Shroomshaws, which are manned by pudgy fungal creatures. My opponent does not respond. I picture her crinkling her nose at their smallness, at the idea of such cuteness being a threat. But then, things begin to accelerate, and the Shroomshaws become Battle Hoppers emboldened by command towers and armored generals. Squalling babes become a menace, grunts become a maddened force of nature. The knight goes down, down like the Titanic, down like a mug of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s night.

Like I said, she never stood stand a chance.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in Hex. Cool stuff. But after more than septupling its Kickstarter target, Cryptozoic Entertainment isn’t stopping there. It doesn’t want you to just beat up your friends, or spend exorbitant amounts of money cultivating the perfect deck. It doesn’t just want to be the next big contender in the TCG ring. It wants you to experience an MMO, except with rectangular slivers of digital cardboard. Sort of.

Kinda.

“So, “ Cryptozoic Entertainment President Cory Jones tells me over Skype. “When most people think MMO, they think third-person action RPG, right?”

Right. I nod unseen, my side of the looking glass, even as I debate telling him that when I think MMO, I think Barrens chat and people awkwardly attempting to copulate in weird corners of Silvermoon.

“Virtual world, I run around, I see other people. That is not what Hex is. So, when I say MMO, I’m really talking about all the components that represent community building.”

He goes on to describe the cornerstones of the game, which is being billed as an MMO-TCG. Hex, Jones says, is about people. He details how there will be guilds, guild chat, and the opportunity to trade decks between guild members. In theory, it will be possible to put a deck in a guild bank and come back to dozens of notes, each explaining a different way to make your little pack of cards even better.

***

The world of Hex is rough-edged and a little empty right now. When you open the program, it propels you into a standard-looking screen. Stars twinkle in a velvety abyss, framed by jagged rocks. A menacing armored figure, its eyes like bits of hot coal, glares at you from the left of the scene, cape whipping dramatically in the wind. A row of icons at the top provide access to the essentials: PvP options, the auction house, access to tournaments and the proving grounds, and so forth.

It’s a realm that is obviously still being put together. The Feng Shui of the interface looks ill-considered, the font a placeholder ripped from a toolbox in the middle of a night. Nonetheless, the environment bustles with life. Chat channels are filled with, er, chat, with people exchanging tips and tricks, with people cursing. If there was a Wild West of cards, this may well be it. The only things missing right now are certain PvE components.

***

Hex plans to eventually introduce dungeons and raids, multiplayer events that will allow you to Leeroy straight into the heart of battle, complete with a few frightened friends in tow. Jones says the company is taking baby steps, however, instead of simply unleashing the full library of encounters in one fell swoop.

The first on the company’s list of releases: an arena.

“We have a whole big story cooked up around this colosseum-type arena. We created a character, we have an entire story around it, he interacts with you, summons into existence these various opponents who are famous figures from Hex lore,” Jones gushes.

There will be four stages, according to Jones, and a total of 20 encounters. Players will be able to lose a certain number of times before they’re made to depart from gladiatorial combat, their winnings in hand. Six bosses (and an easter egg character) will sometimes drop in, just to make your afternoon exercises that much more difficult.

Baby steps, Jones stresses again, noting that the arena won’t contain the “really deep sort of game changing and puzzle-y elements” that will define the dungeons. Instead, the arena is meant to follow the pick-up-and-play paradigm, a quick one-two as you bustle about your daily schedule. But once that’s done and dealt with, meatier features will follow, including mercenaries who are pre-generated champions you can use in lieu of your own and then, dungeons themselves.

Which sound like they’re going to be totally rad. Jones tells me that each dungeon will have between 5 to 20 encounters, and there will be opponents who alter the rules of the game. Opponents that will steal your characters from your deck. Opponents that will change how your cards work. And there are 40 – count ‘em – of these dungeons queued up, eight of which are “story dungeons” that will tell the story of Hex, and all rife with storytelling and lore.

***

Magic: the Gathering is in the genetic make-up of Hex: Shards of Fate. It shows in the structure in the cards, in the layout of the turns, in the little scraps of flavor text, the flow of certain decks. The important question here is: does it mimic or does it innovate?

It’s hard to say, honestly. If you want to be a cynic, you may find yourself wanting to go with the former. But Hex: Shards of Fate does feel like it’s own creature, after you’ve spent enough time poking through its innards. Born from the same field, maybe, but still a beast of its own making. The variations are subtle, however, more to do with feel than anything that can be clearly illustrated. The most salient difference is the more ponderous rhythm to the turns. Magic: the Gathering blazes along like a wildfire, ready to consume anyone not quick-witted enough to pull out the right instant at the right time. Hex tethers its players, makes it a point to have everyone pay attention to what’s going on, why it’s going on, and how it’s all going to go down.

***

Hex is a scavenger, a chimera, a Frankenstein beauty made up of ideas taken from a myriad of different places. One of the game’s defining traits is character building, which entails exactly what you might have suspected already: talent points and upgrades and more equipment than you shake a sleeve at.

“I feel like that component of the game, where I get to build a character, where I get to solve all these great puzzle-y challenges and dungeons, and I get the exploration component through the lens of a TCG?” enthuses Jones. “That’s exciting and new, and something no one has seen before.”

As is the case with such things, we inch into slightly more awkward territory. Earlier this year, Wizards of the Coast and Cryptozoic Entertainment got into a spat about whether Hex was an imitation of Magic: the Gathering. The first obviously said yay, while the other said nay. And the two have been quietly duking it out behind the scenes since then. After fumbling over the question for a few minutes, I ask the inevitable: What is the latest update on that front?

“So far, nothing has really changed from the beginning of this,” says Jones. I could almost hear the shrug in his voice. “I mean, I think we made it pretty clear from moment one that we feel like this is unmerited and we’ve done a good job in all of our briefings, outlining why we believe that Hex is very very different.”

“The irony of this for me is – “ He sighs. “ – that I feel like I struggle every day with managing the innovation of this game and to be thrust into a situation, to be accused of all the things we’ve been accused of is so surreal when I spend so much time every day paying the price for innovating and trying to create a new category of game. It’s difficult to wrap your head around a bit but we’re on that long road that the US legal system has in place to settle things like this.”

Needless to say, Jones is also confident that Cryptozoic Entertainment will emerge “vindicated” from the fray.

***

Ah, the coyote.

My old nemesis. My champions growl from behind their herbivorous facade, eager to sink incisors into the shaman’s pelt and marrow. He brings out his sorcerers, his dreamers, his aerial fliers. I pull out a mushroom monster, gorged on the bones of my army’s children.

26 Comments

  1. Scurra says:

    The most fun computer implementation of Magic was the old Microprose version* which had something of these ideas about it – venturing into a dungeon with it’s own strange restrictions was always a challenge (well, if you didn’t just blatantly cheat, of course, because this was the era of broken cards par excellence.( The new Duels of the Planeswalkers games are just regular Magic games by comparison.

    So I am vaguely optimistic about this approach – since it’s clearly not sensible for Cryptozoic to take on Wizards in quantity of cards, they need to find a different sort of style for their games.

    *mind you, I’ve still got a CD of the incredibly weird Battlemage game somewhere…

    • RanDomino says:

      It’s been modded. ~12000 new cards added.
      link to slightlymagic.net

      Sadly, no new cards in the Shandalar (adventure-RPG-quest-etc) portion. New card art and AI decks are available for that at least. As a replacement, in open duels you can try Challenge Mode, where you have to win ten in a row with a variety of restrictions or AI cheats (such as the opponent starting with various cards in play, or you can only play enchantments, or one of your cards gets destroyed every turn).

    • bhauck says:

      How has nobody mentioned Apprentice yet? I loved that it basically provided a virtual table, all the counters you’d ever need, and a library of every card that ever existed. Want to play fast mana? Sure! Want to build 180 card decks? Sure! Want to play with any other house rules you could come up with? Sure! Want to see if your brother notices that 21 minus 9 doesn’t equal 13? Sure! Just like you could do with a real-world game.

  2. jasta85 says:

    This is the kind of computer game that people wanted from Magic the Gathering, the problem is that Wizards of the Coast can’t release a good MTG computer game that gives you full freedom with the all the cards or else it would cut into the profits of their physical products. Hex is doing a great job with mechanics that could only be done in a video game and not with physical cards (cards morphing into other cards, multiplying into several cards or producing brand new cards that are not in your deck etc). Then there’s the single player dungeons and other PvE content to look forward to.

    • RanDomino says:

      Digital Magic will never replace paper Magic because it’s not about the game, but about the community. It’s more an excuse to hang out with friends than a game per se. Magic is a great game, but let’s face it- it was the first CCG, and it has numerous core game design problems (lands! why!). But it also has the largest playerbase, the best card rules templating, the most technically advanced rules in terms of precision (the rulebook is a monster, almost all of it completely irrelevant except in extremely rare fringe cases), the most responsive owning company and designers, and (and probably most importantly) a legion of trained and professional judges organized more or less like a Medieval guild. Nearly all other CCGs struggle to hold events that reach triple-digit attendance; Magic has events with hundreds or even thousands of players nearly every weekend all over the world. There’s no competing with that kind of inertia, barring something like the game design going down the shitter for about a solid decade.

  3. malkav11 says:

    I haven’t played Magic in ages because I just don’t enjoy it anymore, and I would never have backed Hex if all they were offering was a Magic clone. Sure, they’re starting from similar places, but the practice is so very different, most notably because Hex is taking full advantage of the digital format in a way Magic has never done. One of the hugest differences? Nearly every change you make to a given card persists through the entirety of the match, even if that card leaves play. Another thing? Cards can completely change into other cards in mid-match. Another thing? Cards can spawn new cards, not just tokens (and even insert them into your deck). These all have huge, huge design space implications. Throw in stuff like the Champions (Magic does sort of have an equivalent in the Planeswalkers, but they’re an optional game type that aren’t widely played to my knowledge; whereas Champions are integral to Hex play) and…yeah. It’s a whole new game. Way more exciting, to me.

    Unfortunately, since I’m not especially interested in playing against other humans, the wait for the rollout of some…any… PvE has been a long and tedious one.

    • RanDomino says:

      Planeswalkers in Magic are fairly similar to Enchantments and are very frequently played. If I understand Champions correctly, they’re very different from Planeswalkers. You may be thinking of Vanguard cards?

      • malkav11 says:

        Maybe! I haven’t played Magic seriously since Ice Age, sooo…

    • The Unnamed Council says:

      I never played Magic, wouldn’t have backed this game either if not for the tapestry of potential laid out by Cory Jones.

      Using your cards to conquer dungeons, teaming up with two guild mates to do raids on over the top decks? That’s my kind of fun.

      And the digital space takes away all that nuisance of sleeving cards and sorting them back into folders. Without this I wouldn’t be able to play at all, full-time job and kids.

      WotC comes across as the jealous old fart from next door, who cannot accept that somebody younger now has all the good things in life.

      Caveat: CZE is still going through birthing pains. Last month’s VIP tournaments still showed a few bugs in larger tournaments (I didn’t have any), so it’s still in Beta in the truest sense of the word. Yesterday Hex opened the doors to it’s Closed Beta as you don’t need a key to enter anymore. So join up, if you’d like to try it yourself!

      link to hextcg.com

      • tumbleworld says:

        Well, bear in mind that WotC is now just a few people in a Hasbro office. If there’s one thing charmless megacorps are good at, it’s spurious litigation.

        • Chrysomore says:

          Once any company gets big enough to justify its own legal department, this shit is almost unavoidable; all it takes is one ambitious little twerp with a free afternoon and a complete lack of basic decency.

  4. LogicalDash says:

    Magic does suffer from its lack of adorable rabbits.

    • RanDomino says:

      link to gatherer.wizards.com
      Sadly there are only four Rabbits in Magic (excepting the Changeling creatures, which are all creature types and generally not adorable).

    • gnodab says:

      Hm, actually the art was the only reason I didn’t back the game on kickstarter. I found the combination of edgy dark stuff and cutzy rabbit people really off putting. I blame furries for forever ruining anthropomorphized animals.

      • Vandelay says:

        I very briefly tried this a while ago, but moving to Infinity Wars for a bit (which I also didn’t play as much as I should of.) The Rabbits seemed an odd addition to me too. Not that I didn’t welcome their silliness, but because the other races were so bland and generic.

        I ended up not choosing the Rabbits as I knew everyone would go for them.

        Really should go back and try this again though. Only really played 1 or 2 AI games.

      • RedViv says:

        How did they ruin it? Do you want to talk about it? Do you need to consult someone professional? That seems to be a very deep-rooted thing.

    • Ryuuga says:

      Give me adorable, bloodthirsty psycho red riding hood rabbits that I can play in other games! It would make any game better! Even The Witcher. Wait, no, that wouldn’t work. But … all other games!

  5. Commander Gun says:

    Fun to hear somethign about this. I’m a bit torn. I love CCG’s since i played Magic and more CCG’s getting released is more chance of finding ‘that’ card game where i love to spend time on. It might be this game, although i have to admit that i love Hearthstone because i haven’t got that much free time and the fast-paced action of that game is just perfect for me.

    And then, without wanting to get into that discussion again, last time i watched this game has so many similarities to Magic it isn;t even funny. Deck size, lifepoints, colorwheel, handsize, even the freaking abilities were just MtG.
    Now, if i understand this article well, there will be much more build on this, and i love them to try it, but i was not exactly surprised WotC started to notice and acted on it.

    Edit: Some previous posters who seem to know a lot more about the current state of the game seem to point there are quite some differences. If this is the case, i stand corrected :)

  6. Winged Nazgul says:

    Hex is, quite simply, M:TG for the 21st Century.

  7. gnodab says:

    So, has the lawsuit been settled then? Might be relevant to know, before anyone starts spending money on a game that might disappear in a year.
    I would really like to know since Hearthstone isn’t for me and I’d really a decent CCG. Shadow Era is constantly going downhill and what little they have released of the card art last time I checked, was just laughably bad. Which is very sad because it could have been the perfect CCG in my eyes.

    • The Unnamed Council says:

      No, the lawsuit has not been settled and likely will not be for another two years or so.

      The newest update afaik is found here:

      link to forums.cryptozoic.com

      Basically the two parties agree to disagree ;-). Jury trials cannot be predicted, but apparently worst case is that CZE has to pay WotC some money for the time the patent still was valid (ridiculous in my eyes, since Hex is not released to the public, well, it is, sorta kinda, now).

      Try the game. If you like it, invest a few bucks into drafts. If you like that, just play as much as you want. The community is solid and the game is getting better and better.

    • Koozer says:

      Heroes of Might and Magic: Duel of Champions (catchy) has been holding my attention for a long while. It has more complex cards than Hearthstone, and it keeps throwing gold at me for new cards. The biggest downside for me is a lack of a draft/arena mode though.

      • gnodab says:

        I played it quite a bit, but I rage quitted, when they decided to make ALL of the previous sets unplayable. This together with the (for me) much too frequent releases make it sadly unplayable for me. I don’t like the pressure of constantly buying more and more just to keep halfway up to date. I like having the option to own all of the cards whit some dedication or for a reasonable amount of money. That’s why I liked Shadow Era so much.

        • Commander Gun says:

          Shadow Era, those were some good times. THe problem i had with Shadowera is exactly the opposite of M&M: They had only 1 expansion in a lot (don;t know the exact number) of years.
          If Hearthstone will have sort of a compromise between these 2 releases, i am sold :)
          Btw, what i absolutely hated about M&M is that it was impossible to craft cards. You had to pray that the pit had exactly the card you wanted, and even then…It was horrible, the worst excuse of a CCG (in which you want to chase after some cards for your decks) ever. No surprises that they later remedied this, but the damage was done for me. The fact that you could only add a card to one deck and then not use the same card for another deck didn’t help.

  8. draglikepull says:

    I backed this game on Kickstarter and was looking forward to it, but I gave up a few months into the beta, because it was just *so* similar to Magic: TG. It’s not impossible or even difficult to create a CCG that’s easily distinguishable from Magic (see: Hearthstone), so the overwhelming rules similarity to M:TG was really disappointing. It was also plagued with bugs and server issues that made it difficult even to play practice matches against the AI, although maybe those have been fixed by now.