Impressions: Hex – Shards of Fate

Hex: Shards of Fate [official site] was kickstarted successfully in mid-2013, hot on the cardboard-heels of developer Cryptozoic’s final set of the physical WoW TCG. Long before Hearthstone made it clear that digital cards were going to be a successful market, the gaming public pitched in two million dollars and change for the MMO/TCG hybrid. While its single player campaign and the MMO portion’s dungeons, raids and guilds are yet to materialise, Hex is onto a third set release of cards in a free to play model. Here’s some thoughts after a few hours of play.

I’ve been a Magic: The Gathering player for the last five years and so Hex is a strange game to write about. It’s similar enough to the genre’s most famous forebear that I feel like I’m already intimately familiar with its basic makeup, although it’s from an unrelated design team who obviously follow different philosophies that result from Hex’s purely digital nature.

In Hex, decks are sixty cards, with around a quarter dedicated to resources that are played for free and increase your total mana pool, allowing you to cast more powerful spells. In turn these resources govern what types of cards can be played, each providing a colour threshold along with its mana. In general, cards have a threshold that must be met to be cast – so for example a card may have a cost of five and a red threshold of two, meaning at the most basic level you must have played five resources, two of which were red, to cast it. You can only play one resource a turn and your mana refreshes at the start of each of your turns. The nature of Hex is that there will be cards that break all these basic rules – giving you more mana or putting resources into play from your deck – which is where the fun begins.

If you’re familiar with Hearthstone, this may seem overly complicated in comparison and it only increases from there. Hex uses a priority system that allows players to react to every action an opponent takes with any of their own cards and effects, as long as the card doesn’t have the “Basic” rider which means they can only be played on your turn. This means a finer degree of control is possible, with counter and kill spells that deal with opposing forces while protecting your own strategy.

The depth this adds is immeasurable, particularly when combined with the concept of cards and creatures – Hex calls them Troops – which have a permanent place on the board but aren’t focused purely on attacking your opponent. Unfortunately, it’s also the first of Hex’s major problems.

The priority system is just clunky. The developers have done their best to streamline it but it’s so slow compared to Hearthstone’s superb ability to match whatever pace you wish to play at. While it does a better job than Magic Online or Duels of the Planeswalkers, it takes so many additional clicks to get through a turn, going between combat and casting phases, allowing opponents spells to resolve or activating legions of abilities. Against an auto-responding AI it’s managable and Magic’s real life equivalent gets away with it because body language, intuition and common sense speed things along. It’s an excellent system from a card and game design point of view, just not one that was ever meant to be used in an online setting and after seeing alternatives, no matter how simple they make the game, I think I prefer them.

I am deader than every 90s TCG here.

It can’t be understated how much this additional complexity adds, however. Unlike its peers, Hex immediately has you doing powerful, near-broken things with starter decks. You’re unlikely to be competitive at the highest level, but there’s strategy and decision making to be done even early on, at least with the blue sapphire and red ruby dwarf deck I picked up. I’m quickly flooding the board with cheap artifact troops and dwarves which reduce the costs of my higher power cards or otherwise power them up. My favourite card is the Volcannon, a five mana artifact that allows me to deal damage directly to opponents with my troops, rather than having to attack them. I’ll set up a defensive line of high health blockers and then quickly bomb my opponent out of the game once I’ve drawn it.

It’s just one of a litany of cards that are miles above the power and complexity of what you start with in Hearthstone or Duels. It means there’s much more play to the game before any money or time is invested on improving. This makes your first port of call on a new account, the Frost Ring Arena, much more enjoyable. It’s a free and repeatable series of challenges against up to twenty AI opponents for various rewards and functions as a sort’ve preview of the eventual full campaign. You face off against decks and bosses that are equipped with gear that change their cards in unique ways. You also earn this gear as you play, letting you customise and power up your deck further specifically for singleplayer modes where nobody can cry balance. The Arena is also the only place in-game currency and cards can be earned freely rather than bought or competed for after an entry fee.

my baby

This is the second problem. Hex is an incredibly stingy free to play game in comparison to the norm. You can grind out low value gold from the Arena mode or you can get paying. Gold is only one of two in-game currencies, the other being much more valuable platinum. You can trade one for the other with players, and higher-level folks are likely to want gold for various reasons, but it’s still achingly slow to get going. Compare to Hearthstone where nine decks are given to you to start off, the only currency is handed out pretty freely in the early game and your first draft is free. Plus in Hex the normal, no pay-in PvP mode that automatically finds you someone to play against gives you nothing. Hearthstone’s 10 gold per win or League’s meagre IP income rates are harsh, but at least it’s something.

Hex’s payment model is almost identical to Magic Online, although Hex’s packs are a little cheaper in real money and MTGO has no way to get on the ladder other than paying. Tournaments can be bought into and reward you with packs, which can then be used to buy into more tournaments. At no point here do you want to actually open these packs just to get the cards; the trick is to do drafts (where players open boosters and pass the contents around to build decks), where you get to keep the cards you pick. There’s also a chance that each pack you earn will come with a bonus Primal Pack, which cannot be used as entry fee and is designed so that savvy players still get that what’s-in-the-box thrill.

It means the new player experience is a bit miserable. Even if the Frost Ring Arena was a champion of narrative (there isn’t one) with incredible AI (worse than Duels’ hardest settings, though not by much) and massive variation (I saw all the decks I could come up against after three runs) it wouldn’t be fun to grind twenty times. Even if you’re not averse to paying in, all this gets you is a draft or a very mediocre constructed deck, neither of which you’re likely to take the cyber-bacon home with. See, Magic is already a ridiculously complex game that people who have played for twenty years are only approaching mastery of and Hex has added things on top of that. Card effects can now alter cards in libraries and hands permanently, since the system can keep track of it. Random effects are more common because there’s no real-world dice-rolling or coin-flipping that needs to be done for it to happen. Players have champions that have a permanent effect on the board and repeatable powers using a whole seperate resource called “charges” which is, in turn, generated by cards and effects. Individual cards have ‘sockets’ that allow you fine tune them to your playstyle – the list goes on.

I do also win games.

Hex is hard and more than a little random, which is fine. These are systems that are designed to swallow up hours, days, weeks, months and years of your life analysing, discussing, reading up on strategies, watching streams and so on. They’ll also quickly empty your wallet however, and repeat that effect every time a new set is released or you get a hankering for a new style of play. The inter-connected economy and auction house do mean that your collection has some real world value and that individual cards can be purchased with ease, so long as you’re willing to shell out for them – something Hearthstone sorely lacks.

As a new entry to the field, Hex has some other disadvantages its peers don’t. The player base is not huge right now, meaning it can take some time for drafts or constructed events to fire and many of the pre-scheduled ones are cancelled. It’s also running on a one-game-win default for its matches, which just isn’t good enough for games with this much variance. Every match of Magic is 2-out-of-3 or better with a fifteen card sideboard you can customise your deck with between games and sometimes even that isn’t enough for skill to win out over luck, even piloted by the best in the world.

Yet still, there is promise in Hex. For better and worse, it’s deeper than anything else in the genre. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Duels game, it’s the best version of that there’s been, at least until Wizards’ own free to play version appears later this month. I think a lot needs to change if it’s to attract a larger audience, but I’ll return to check out the singleplayer campaign when it goes live later this year.

47 Comments

Top comments

  1. Amatyr says:

    "It’s also running on a one-game-win default for its matches, which just isn’t good enough for games with this much variance." -- Drafts and Constructed are all best of 3 match rounds with sideboarding for games 2 and 3.
  2. malkav11 says:

    I am apparently a wordy one so I've had to split my thoughts into two parts:
    So, first of all I should say that I was a Grand King backer on Hex's Kickstarter, meaning I dropped ~$500 before i was even in alpha (though I've spent no more since) and got a ton of shiny perks like a few hundred booster packs worth of cards, a free draft tournament entry every week (complete with permanent ownership of the cards drafted) for the life of the game, additional loot from PvE content, some unique cards and such that mostly aren't in the game yet, and so on. This means I am biased, I am invested in the game succeeding (and WOTC's lawsuit failing, for that matter), and I'm never going to have a brand new $0 down player's experience with the game. Just to make that clear up front.

    That said: I think it's not really accurate to describe Hex as a free to play game in the sense that is most commonly meant by that phrase (insofar as any single thing is ever meant by it because that covers a huge range of business models). It is a game where any "PvP" play (i.e., against other players) is done with competitively balanced cards that you are expected to buy with real money. Aside from a single preconstructed starter deck, you're not ever going to get any of that for free unless a player takes pity on you and donates cards to you. That's not a business model that I love (which is why I dropped a bunch of money up front to minimize my need to participate in it later), but it's pretty standard for CCGs, and cheaper than most. It's just not F2P in any meaningful sense. The other side, the "PvE" side, where you'll face AI opponents, is completely free. None of that content, none of the PvE specific cards, equipment, mercenaries, etc, none of that will ever cost you real money, although you might be asked to spend some of the gold you earn in the same mode, and you can use the PvP cards (mostly) in it. That's also not F2P, per se, because F2P sells you things, you just don't have to lay down money up front to buy in. That, I think, would be an incredibly generous package. Problem is, right now most of that stuff isn't in the game. It's the Frost Ring Arena and some associated cards and equipment. And gold. And that's still better than Hearthstone's Adventure content - much more varied and robust, with considerably more replay value and incentive, and it's free instead of $30 per Adventure - but it's literally the least ambitious thing on the docket for Hex's PvE. And ultimately it's going to get stale after a bit, as long as there's no other options for that sort of play. If they deliver on their promises, though...PvE is what's going to make Hex stand out, and it's going to be free. So far that's a big if.

    From a competitive angle...I can't speak to it that much. I don't ever play anything but draft because that at least levels the playing field a bit and it's my free card drip for life. I'm pretty sure I'd get destroyed in constructed, and I think I'd have to pay to do sealed deck. Not that I win draft to speak of, but that's not really my purpose for being there. I just feel that once I've done my rare drafting it's courteous to at least try to give my fellow draft players some sort of opposition and not just bail immediately. That said, I can usually get into a draft tournament inside 15-20 minutes, which may not seem fast but when you consider that there's at least that much time spent drafting cards, another 20 minute deck construction window, and then potentially several consecutive matches of the game proper depending on how well you do, it should be clear that this isn't exactly an instant gratification sort of affair anyway. So I feel like the game's populated enough to be viable. I certainly hope it'll draw more folks once it gets out of beta, though, whenever that may end up being. Also, I'm not sure what the plan for getting on Steam is, but it seems like that would be important to getting a wider audience.
  3. malkav11 says:

    The actual game, I think, is just a smidge short of utterly brilliant, and that smidge is me not liking the Magic-style resource system in any game ever. (It is, in fact, why I ditched my Magic collection and never play it anymore.) Mana screw and mana glut are just too big a part of the experience when you have dedicated resource cards. Hex's threshold and charge mechanics actually take quite a bit of the edge off, more than I was expecting. I've only had mana issues in a fraction of the games of Hex I've played, compared with what sure seems like 40-50% of my Magic games. But it could have been eliminated altogether. But hey, if I'm not being mana screwed it's just a glut of delights. The things they do with the digital format - the persistence of most effects, the transforming cards, the tricks you can pull with cloning and resurrection and recursion and the "escalation" mechanic, the hyper cool trait mechanics like Inspire and Rage? They just feed into turns that are a parade of delightful combos and crazy cool plays. And man, a lot of those rares and legendaries are just nutty. Really exciting cards. But even boring workhorses with no special abilities can be so easily transformed into the centerpiece of a play with just a few other cards in combination.

    In a lot of competitive games (including Hearthstone), I just feel dispirited when I'm losing, and I don't play them enough or control enough other variables to be able to win regularly. In Hex, so far, I'm usually getting to pull awesome shenanigans even if I'm on the downbeat, and make a real fight of it. I still mostly lose, but it often feels close and I can identify the weaknesses in my strategy or my drafting. And twice now, I've actually won and those plays...oh man. Like I took a crazy card called the Jank Bot into a draft match once. Just one copy. Jank Bot's shtick is it's a great value bot for 4 resources even before you factor in the part where it just straight up plays the top three cards of your deck for you at no cost and with no threshold requirements whenever it deals combat damage. WITH that, it's incredibly powerful. But the thing is, it can't be played in a draft deck of under 75 cards (in constructed, 150). That's every single card you draft (which will inevitably include a handful of cards from colors you aren't focusing on) and about 30 resource cards to boot. You won't have an engine. You'll have a wheezing, sputtering mess. And one amazing card you may never draw. I still managed to win. Just one match out of three. But it felt amazing. That's what makes Hex work for me. I'm really hoping they deliver all the PvE stuff they were pitching, because that's what I'm most interested in, and I really can't blame anyone for balking at the business model or the complexity. But so far, I surely do not regret that initial investment.
  1. Hunchback says:

    I gave it a try, it looks deliciously complex and awesome, but it’s not really F2P, it’s more like F2Watch, Pay2Play… So yeah, no thanks.

    • Evil Pancakes says:

      That’s exactly my issue with it. Which is how I got introduced to Infinity Wars.
      As a former Magic fan, Hearthstone is just too streamlined/simplistic for my tastes, Infinity Wars scratches that CCG itch marvelously. I highly recommend anyone try it. Just playing the campaign to unlock some basic decks should last you several hours of free entertainment.

    • jasta85 says:

      I should note that there is an auction house where you can buy packs of cards for cheaper than what they sell (if you buy them normally they are 200 platinum ($2) but on the auction house you can find them for as cheap as 150 platinum, depending on how busy it is. Also, you can get just about every card aside from the rarest ones for pennies (literally, ) so for like $5 you could build a custom deck just by buying cards dirt cheap on the auction house. I havn’t actually bothered to put up any of my cards for sale (aside from some really high value legendaries) since I would get so little money from them.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        That’s not such a great argument, though. I thought about trying to buy into Hex and see how it goes. I concluded after a while that it just isn’t worth it.

        Here’s the thing – yes, some cards are cheap. Many cards are cheap. You will lose when you encounter people who have non-cheap cards. So what the argument states is – you can spend just a little money to be bad at the game! Awesome! Can’t wait to buy a cheaper version of FarCry 4 where I get killed all the time and can’t get past the earliest sections of the game.

        Yes, I know that’s not a completely accurate representation. But it feels like that sometimes. And I just can’t justify investing non-trivial amounts of money and a lot of time into trying to get to the point where I can say that I’m actually playing the game I want to play. That’s a bum deal. And I really tried justifying it because I really, really want to play an involved online card game.

        • malkav11 says:

          In a CCG with a well-designed cardset, rarity does not automatically equate to general usefulness, although they might be more powerful under a smaller range of circumstances. I don’t play at a level to be able to say for sure whether Hex is such a game, but I think it’s very possible that someone skilled at both play and deck construction could parlay a set of mostly common and uncommon cards to victory over less skilled players with a larger pool of cards quite regularly. I’m sure not that guy, though.

  2. Amatyr says:

    “It’s also running on a one-game-win default for its matches, which just isn’t good enough for games with this much variance.” — Drafts and Constructed are all best of 3 match rounds with sideboarding for games 2 and 3.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Yeah, sorry, should have made it clearer I was talking about the beginner stuff, where people are more likely to be turned off by losing matches to not drawing enough resources.

      • dmcAxle says:

        Free constructed is 2/3 too. Look at the tournament queue with 0 platinum entry.

        • Ben Barrett says:

          The click and play option under proving grounds does not, however, and I think it’s more likely a noobie would end up there (mostly due to the shorter queue time) than elsewhere.

  3. Gothnak says:

    I got the Knight tier, was very excited and then played it a couple of times and faced up against players who have played it a lot more than me. Have only opened 5 of my 50 packs so far, maybe i’ll log in to try the single player experience.

  4. Kitsunin says:

    If you’re looking for a good digital CCG with more depth than Hearthstone, I for one would highly recommend Infinity Wars, which somehow hasn’t been covered the tiniest bit on RPS??

    It avoids getting slowed down by its complexity by having synchronous turns, which means you don’t spend long waiting–in my opinion, the biggest problem with most such CCGs. Eventually I couldn’t stand Scrolls or Duel of Champions myself, because of the often tediously long time spent waiting for your opponent, and while Hearthstone and Duelyst avoid the issue by being simple enough for the turns to fly by, Infinity Wars’ solution is much more clever and allows complexity to be kept.

    Its earning model compares quite favorably to Hearthstone, but still poorly to Scrolls, if my memory serves me, though it does have pauper matchmaking as an option, which helps a little.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      A mate brought this up recently as well. I’ll have to look into it. Cheers.

      • Teremus says:

        Hello Ben,

        This is Teremus, Community Manager for Infinity Wars. I’ll be sending you an e-mail shortly. :)

    • Vandelay says:

      Reading this reminded me that I really should play some more Infinity Wars, particularly as I actually did put some money into it after enjoying time with the campaign (some Steam money, but still about £15 of real money.) Just played for a little while this evening and it really is a cracking game, even if my attempt to put together an Exile deck wasn’t overly successful (don’t seem to have cards with good board clear besides a single Spontaneous Combustion, or to take down big nasties.)

      One thing that always frustrates me with Magic-esque games, such as Hex, is the requirement to pull resource cards in order to get anywhere. Infinity Wars uses the much better Hearthstone system of you gaining resources each turn, with a few cards that can speed up or slow down the process. You may get unlucky with not drawing low cost cards, but that more often then not come down to you not building the deck properly, rather than the system inherently relying on luck, as the land system too often seems to. Infinite Wars also has unlimited character cards, which are cheap fodder than you can bulk your deck out with, so you normally have something that you can play.

      Still, I am amazed that no card game seems to go for the much more interesting system employed by Netrunner, where you have money to spend. Spend some clicks gaining some extra credits if you are low or have a few cards that can help you draw more. Then again, I am baffled that so few games, particularly computer card games, haven’t tried to emulate Netrunner many other ways too, with its asynchronous game play and far more interesting goals then simply smacking your opponent. Having played Netrunner a few times with my friend’s set, albeit only the core set, the intrigue and complex far outstrips anything else I have played and it just makes everything else feel so lightweight.

      I have Hex installed too, but only dipped into it a couple of times. As a couple of others have said, the business model was quite off putting for me, with very limited things to do as a newbie. At least they have now add the Frost Ring Arena, which gives you some way to learn the game, but it is still rather limited and difficult to tell when you are ready to start facing off against real people. It is a shame, as Hex seemed like an enjoyable game and at least vaguely on the right route to giving people a viable Magic CCG game that wasn’t very slimmed down (Duels of the Planewalkers,) simplified (Hearthstone,) and avoids a mostly abysmal UI (Magic Online.) It doesn’t avoid Duels sluggish gameplay, but it was a step in the right direction.

      • Ben Barrett says:

        Re: Netrunner I think it’s because that game is, honestly, far too complex. Every turn you have about a billion decisions to make and often your opponent has approximately the same number of cards that could scupper your plans if you guess wrong. It’s possible I’m being the noobie who’s only played 3 games and thinks he already understands the problems but man, I love Netrunner but I would never want to play it for prizes because it’s an obscene level of thinking, sussing out and (to me, the defender of the land system) luck to win just one game. It’s to Magic what Magic is to Hearthstone.

        The reason digital CCGs haven’t gone for its systems is the same Magic digital isn’t as popular as Hearthstone. The complexity would be obscene when having to click through things. Just think about the amount of UI required to decide how to spend your clicks, nevermind playing cards and interacting, flipping ICE etc.

        • JM says:

          Netrunner’s regularly played online using either OCTGN or Jinteki.net. Both work well.

      • ExitDose says:

        I recently succumbed to Netrunner’s charms, and I too long for something like it on PC.

        I’d settle for one of these games to follow the LCG ‘no bullshit’ sales-model.

  5. ButteringSundays says:

    I’m a backer and although I’m mostly happy with the core product I’ve found the pace of development rather disappointing, especially given what they’d shown during the kickstarter.

    I think they’re really missing a trick by not getting the (stretch goal but I’m wondering if it’ll ever arrive) ipad app out. As soon as I installed hearthstone on my ipad I never opened the PC app again. It’s such a natural and tactile way to play the game, and to be honest I don’t see it as a ‘sitting at a desk looking at a monitor’ sort of experience anyway. Not only that but the number of players it must increase to the pool, from the dreaded casual market, must be phenomenal. And that’s something Hex really lacks, players.

    But even that aside the single player stuff is being dripped out so slowly it’s painful,and their priority seems to be just producing new cards. Set three and still in ‘beta’. The words become meaningless. Anyone that wants to play the game seriously would have so much catching up to do if they started playing at ‘release’ (whenever that’ll be) – so let’s be honest here, it is released. It’s a released but still buggy and incomplete game, that received well over 2 MILLION DOLLARS a couple years ago (not including the was it 500,000k slacker backer purchases? Plus the actual revenue it’s now getting from the paying players). I know you can’t just throw money at a game and make it be done. But so much time has passed since alpha release and honestly they don’t have much to show for it – just lots more cards for a still buggy and incomplete game.

    Understand though that I’m merely disappointed. When you don’t get hit by a bug and you’re just playing the core game the experience is great, and it’s what the backers wanted – a better MTGO with some razzle dazzle. Shame the only boot it put up Wizards arse was to try and sue them, rather than make a less embarrassing effort at their own online client.

    With regard to your words, I agree especially with your comments regarding the flow. I wouldn’t personally change too much, but I think Crypto were kidding themselves when they set out with the mission to create a TCG updated for the modern era, because that’s what hearthstone is. Don’t get me wrong, there’s room for both products and they provide different experiences – but Hex isn’t a TCG for the modern era, it’s a table top card game shoehorned into UI. Yes it has some clever effects that can only exist in the digital space, but the actual game, the core mechanics are clunky and irrational. I also have a love/hate relationship with the land-based resource system, and I don’t think I’d have personally used it for Hex, but that’s a bigger discussion for a time when I’m more inebriated.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      I could have sworn I wrote ‘digital era’, regardless that’s what I meant, not ‘modern era’ – I’m not implying MTG is a game of yore.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Yeah, three sets ‘in beta’ and various weird bugs – nothing game breaking, hence why they didn’t get a mention in the piece, but certainly annoying – struck me as odd too. I know it’s Blizzard, but other than some weird things with one of the paladin weapons, Hearthstone’s been incredibly slick since release and that’s part of why it’s so popular.

      And on the resource/land/colour system I didn’t want to get into it because I could have spent 1700 words discussing just that. I’m a big proponent of it as a balancing system – but I don’t really ‘miss’ it when I play Hearthstone/YGO/Netrunner/Pokemon/WoWTCG/etc because what it adds is really hard to define. I wouldn’t want Magic without it, but it’s a part of that game I accept and have learned to love, not one I’d want everything to use.

      • malkav11 says:

        Hearthstone’s actually been released, though. It spent plenty of time in beta (and even open beta, the phase Hex is currently in), too. It’s totally fair to compare the experience a would-be player would have right now between the two, especially in the context of being asked to spend real money, but it should be clear that in no sense does Hex claim to be done.

        • Ben Barrett says:

          Hearthstone was mostly as polished as it is now in beta though. I remember one horrifying graphical glitch that could occur and they’ve never stopped the double activation on that Paladin weapon that heals.

          • malkav11 says:

            I wasn’t in any phase of Hearthstone’s testing aside from maybe having tried it once during open beta (can’t remember), but my guess is that Blizzard didn’t do an open beta until much later in the process, something they can afford to do and maybe Cryptozoic couldn’t. I can say that I’ve played Hex off and on since…alpha and it’s come a long ways. Used to be crashes and weird infinite loops and stuff and I’ve had cards just completely fail to do an advertised effect. Nowadays I’ve seen a few text glitches and that’s about it. I’m mostly just really, really missing all that PvE content they keep dragging their heels on.

    • soulis6 says:

      I’d just like to point out that 2.5 million is really very little money, in terms of creating a whole new digital CCG, economy, network support, and everything else associated with the game.

      For reference, most good guesses I’ve heard at how much Hearthstone cost to make, are somewhere in the range of 10-20 million, and that’s not including any sort of marketing, and with Blizzard already having their own online infrastructure to support it.

      I haven’t played Hex, so I can’t speak to it’s quality, but CCGs and any online game like that are not remotely cheap.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        Citation needed on that 10-20mil figure… but I guess I could believe that it’s *possible* to spend that much making a game like Hearthstone, but it’s certainly not a requirement.

        My point was simply that if you look at what Hex’s budget is and the time they’ve had to deliver, they’re not doing great.

        • Ben Barrett says:

          I can see it hitting 10-20 mil pretty easily considering how many years they spent devving it and the cost of high quality developers. I mean, I dunno how much those guys get paid but I assume the full team 5, even when it was small, easily topped $500k a year.

  6. ye-ole-PK says:

    A great CCG that I have been playing for a long time is link to shadowera.com .

    they have IOS, android and windows versions that are cross platform play.

  7. waltC says:

    Ah, if only I had a dollar for every time a game has had the words “Hex” or “Shard” or “Fate” in its title…;)

    • dmcAxle says:

      You’d have um…maybe 5 dollars? Fate is the only popular word there for game name titles.

  8. malkav11 says:

    I am apparently a wordy one so I’ve had to split my thoughts into two parts:
    So, first of all I should say that I was a Grand King backer on Hex’s Kickstarter, meaning I dropped ~$500 before i was even in alpha (though I’ve spent no more since) and got a ton of shiny perks like a few hundred booster packs worth of cards, a free draft tournament entry every week (complete with permanent ownership of the cards drafted) for the life of the game, additional loot from PvE content, some unique cards and such that mostly aren’t in the game yet, and so on. This means I am biased, I am invested in the game succeeding (and WOTC’s lawsuit failing, for that matter), and I’m never going to have a brand new $0 down player’s experience with the game. Just to make that clear up front.

    That said: I think it’s not really accurate to describe Hex as a free to play game in the sense that is most commonly meant by that phrase (insofar as any single thing is ever meant by it because that covers a huge range of business models). It is a game where any “PvP” play (i.e., against other players) is done with competitively balanced cards that you are expected to buy with real money. Aside from a single preconstructed starter deck, you’re not ever going to get any of that for free unless a player takes pity on you and donates cards to you. That’s not a business model that I love (which is why I dropped a bunch of money up front to minimize my need to participate in it later), but it’s pretty standard for CCGs, and cheaper than most. It’s just not F2P in any meaningful sense. The other side, the “PvE” side, where you’ll face AI opponents, is completely free. None of that content, none of the PvE specific cards, equipment, mercenaries, etc, none of that will ever cost you real money, although you might be asked to spend some of the gold you earn in the same mode, and you can use the PvP cards (mostly) in it. That’s also not F2P, per se, because F2P sells you things, you just don’t have to lay down money up front to buy in. That, I think, would be an incredibly generous package. Problem is, right now most of that stuff isn’t in the game. It’s the Frost Ring Arena and some associated cards and equipment. And gold. And that’s still better than Hearthstone’s Adventure content – much more varied and robust, with considerably more replay value and incentive, and it’s free instead of $30 per Adventure – but it’s literally the least ambitious thing on the docket for Hex’s PvE. And ultimately it’s going to get stale after a bit, as long as there’s no other options for that sort of play. If they deliver on their promises, though…PvE is what’s going to make Hex stand out, and it’s going to be free. So far that’s a big if.

    From a competitive angle…I can’t speak to it that much. I don’t ever play anything but draft because that at least levels the playing field a bit and it’s my free card drip for life. I’m pretty sure I’d get destroyed in constructed, and I think I’d have to pay to do sealed deck. Not that I win draft to speak of, but that’s not really my purpose for being there. I just feel that once I’ve done my rare drafting it’s courteous to at least try to give my fellow draft players some sort of opposition and not just bail immediately. That said, I can usually get into a draft tournament inside 15-20 minutes, which may not seem fast but when you consider that there’s at least that much time spent drafting cards, another 20 minute deck construction window, and then potentially several consecutive matches of the game proper depending on how well you do, it should be clear that this isn’t exactly an instant gratification sort of affair anyway. So I feel like the game’s populated enough to be viable. I certainly hope it’ll draw more folks once it gets out of beta, though, whenever that may end up being. Also, I’m not sure what the plan for getting on Steam is, but it seems like that would be important to getting a wider audience.

    • malkav11 says:

      The actual game, I think, is just a smidge short of utterly brilliant, and that smidge is me not liking the Magic-style resource system in any game ever. (It is, in fact, why I ditched my Magic collection and never play it anymore.) Mana screw and mana glut are just too big a part of the experience when you have dedicated resource cards. Hex’s threshold and charge mechanics actually take quite a bit of the edge off, more than I was expecting. I’ve only had mana issues in a fraction of the games of Hex I’ve played, compared with what sure seems like 40-50% of my Magic games. But it could have been eliminated altogether. But hey, if I’m not being mana screwed it’s just a glut of delights. The things they do with the digital format – the persistence of most effects, the transforming cards, the tricks you can pull with cloning and resurrection and recursion and the “escalation” mechanic, the hyper cool trait mechanics like Inspire and Rage? They just feed into turns that are a parade of delightful combos and crazy cool plays. And man, a lot of those rares and legendaries are just nutty. Really exciting cards. But even boring workhorses with no special abilities can be so easily transformed into the centerpiece of a play with just a few other cards in combination.

      In a lot of competitive games (including Hearthstone), I just feel dispirited when I’m losing, and I don’t play them enough or control enough other variables to be able to win regularly. In Hex, so far, I’m usually getting to pull awesome shenanigans even if I’m on the downbeat, and make a real fight of it. I still mostly lose, but it often feels close and I can identify the weaknesses in my strategy or my drafting. And twice now, I’ve actually won and those plays…oh man. Like I took a crazy card called the Jank Bot into a draft match once. Just one copy. Jank Bot’s shtick is it’s a great value bot for 4 resources even before you factor in the part where it just straight up plays the top three cards of your deck for you at no cost and with no threshold requirements whenever it deals combat damage. WITH that, it’s incredibly powerful. But the thing is, it can’t be played in a draft deck of under 75 cards (in constructed, 150). That’s every single card you draft (which will inevitably include a handful of cards from colors you aren’t focusing on) and about 30 resource cards to boot. You won’t have an engine. You’ll have a wheezing, sputtering mess. And one amazing card you may never draw. I still managed to win. Just one match out of three. But it felt amazing. That’s what makes Hex work for me. I’m really hoping they deliver all the PvE stuff they were pitching, because that’s what I’m most interested in, and I really can’t blame anyone for balking at the business model or the complexity. But so far, I surely do not regret that initial investment.

      • Ben Barrett says:

        Cheers for writing this, interesting insights, I’ve highlighted them to the bottom of my article because they make a really good companion to it, imo.

        The only thing I’d disagree on is the quality of the Hearthstone adventure mode vs. Frost Ring Arena, I think it’s not close at all and that HS is much more fun, varied and interesting and more than worth the 30 bucks (or however much gold), though partly due to the cards you get with it. I can see mileage varying on that pretty heavily though, particularly depending on your collection size in Hearthstone.

        Re: resource/land, threshold really does help a lot and (while it’d be possible due to the age of the game and how it’s balanced) GOD would I like to see it in Magic. I think 40-50% screw in Magic might be down to, uh, factors other than the variance in the game, so to speak. Be it shuffling technique, deckbuilding or mulliganing decisions, there is really often a reason for screw/flood in Magic other than a run of extraordinary bad luck (which does also happen). I do think it’s on the wrong side of okay though, which is why Wizards are on the cusp of introducing a mulligan change that helps with it.

        Anyway, thanks a lot for your comment.

        • malkav11 says:

          I’ve yet to put any actual money into Hearthstone and I find its free to play model pretty unenjoyable due to its emphasis on winning games to get anywhere, something that’s not entirely within my control. So all I’ve seen of Adventures is that first wing of Naxx that was briefly free, and that at least seemed like a pretty apples to apples comparison with Frost Ring Arena – one off preconstructed AI decks with a particular theme and some tricks you don’t see in the PvP end. Except in Naxx, you’re up against a specific foe in one off fights and you get a singular reward that you’ll never get again. So you do it until you win, you get your reward, and you move on unless you just happen to want to see how a different deck does against it. Whereas Frost Ring throws in random modifiers, mixes up which encounters you’re going to have, and is a gauntlet that requires your deck to have answers for a variety of threats, not be tailored to a specific encounter. And it rewards cards, too, some of the time. But more of them, along with equipment that modifies existing cards in PvE, and,since they’re not part of the PvP balance they a) can be crazier and b) don’t push anyone into playing it if they don’t want to. Some of that’s a matter of taste, of course, and like I say, I don’t have a full picture of the Adventures so grain of salt there. But to me that’s a lot more interesting.

        • malkav11 says:

          Also cheers for the highlight. :)

        • Wowbagger says:

          It was a good idea to highlight his comment, however I cannot see due to red blindness now.

      • Hunchback says:

        I hope the devs read your posts and take hints, it will only be beneficial for them…

  9. floweringmind says:

    I was a backer and I can say they really sold this game as something that it never turned out to be. They marked it as an RPG strategy card game, sort of a mini MMO. None of that actually happened. The game is basically a rip off of Magic the Gathering. The game is sloooooow and boring. What a disappointment. Finally Blizzard got these card games right with Hearthstone.

    • dmcAxle says:

      The game isn’t done being made buddy. You’re not seeing a final product that you can state it “never turned out to be” what it promised. Dungeons are the next feature to come out after set 3 next week.

  10. Squishydew says:

    Loved playing this for a couple of hours, but nothing about this is F2P
    It’s very much a traditional buying card packs model, sure you can get cards for gold on the auctionhouse, but you earn so little gold that it’ll take ages to get anything worthwhile.

    If you’re not willing to pay money, expect to be playing with a single deck for a long long long time.
    I’d rather play hearthstone, sure its not as good, but at least i can play it in Its entirety in a realistic timespan.

  11. Narol says:

    Hello RPS, after years of being a lurker and discovering many great games on your site (Gone Home, Eqvidia, Hexcells, Expedition Conquistadors, Sunless Sea, etc….), I’ve finally decided to jump in and register…

    Being a Magic player (on and off) almost since the game started and trying to find a substitute because I’m quite tired of WOTC pricing policies, I had hopes that HEX could do the trick but according to this review, it seems that won’t be…

    However I just tried “Conquest of Champions” which is F2P and in early access on Steam, and so far it’s about to become my new guilty addiction.

    It’s a mix of TCG and turn-based tactics, the spiritual successor of Pox Nora (and made by the same people i’ve heard), a little grindy but casual friendly as you have the choice to play turns at your rythm like in a PBEM.

    Would be great if someone in the Hive could make an “early impressions” of it, the game works quite fine already and is a lot of fun at least to me !

  12. Metronomy says:

    I played Magic: The Gathering (real life and online) a lot and I also played Hearthstone a lot. Therefore I feel that I can help and clear up some things. There are 2 layers to this game which should be distincted between.

    On the one hand there is the PVE-Aspect, which as of right now only consists of the arena. That is also the part that is completly free to enter. This Aspect is still very much underdeveloped to be fair. You shouldnt join the game if your mainly want to play PVE. That being said dungeons is the next thing after set 3 (coming next week) and after that there will be raids. Equipments are already in the game and mercenaries and many other things are in the pipeline. So yeah….you will have to wait on this but it sounds promising.

    The other (and in this review somewhat underreported) part of the game is PVP. Here the game is already in an excellent state. 8-man Drafts do fire regulary. I played a few hundred drafts at least and I don’t think i needed to wait more than 15 minutes at the most for the draft to fire. Right now the player-base is a bit thin but its still better than in any other digital tcg/ccg (except hearthstone) and with set 3 coming next week player base will increase massively again. Also the upcoming 100k tournament series will get new players to join the game. Constructed Tourneys fire indeed not regulary (especially right now). But a few still fire (2-3 a day). The patch coming next week will also introduce a gauntlet system for sealed and constructed. This system is comparable to arena in HS. You can play a game and then wait for a few days. This should realy help with constructed competetive play. There is a big constructed community tournament every month (no entry fees and very good rewards) on which more than 200 players participate.

    Concerning F2P:
    Frost Ring Arena is a grind. It gets boring after a while. I grant you all that. Its true. But what you seem to miss is that the grind for new cards doesnt happen in the arena but in drafts. A Draft costs 550 plat / 50k gold to enter (buy packs in the auction house). You get to keep the cards you pick and the reward structure is realy fair (better than in magic online). Another big difference to magic online is that cards are actually worth something. Even some commons and uncommons can be sold for some good platinum (some uncommons are worth between 30 and 90 plat. Many rares and legendaries are worth several hundred platinum. That all means that the refinancing in drafts is pretty fair. You can do one draft and go infinite from there (granted its not easy). Me personally I went infinite after 3 drafts (something I never achieved in magic online). I started in march this year and now I have all the cards I need and a big stock of platinum and gold. In that sense F2P is very much possible. Its just not the F2P people are used to.

    On a last note. The priority system is maybe a bit clunky. What you seem to have missed though is the reversible hotkey for passing all priorities on a turn. That little button alone makes the game much smoother.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Perhaps I got unlucky with when I checked the queues, but they always seemed to all be empty.

      I didn’t miss that the way you actually go infinite is drafts, because that too is how Magic Online functions (until you have a collection and can go infinite via 3-1s in constructed dailies). As I explained in the article, to get to a draft will take a long, long time. If you decide to just pay for it (or even if you don’t) it’s unlikely you will win a single match in that draft if you’re new and not transferring skills from Magic, so you’ll have to do it again.

      I used the F10 button. It helps, but like the rest of the system frustrating mistakes are easy to make.

      • Metronomy says:

        The thing is that you chose an unfortunate timing for your review. Player Base is on a low since all are waiting for set 3 and dont wanna draft set1/set2 that much at the moment. But my point stands. Even right now if you enter an qmpty queue it will fire in around 15 minutes. Empty Queues doesnt mean that no queues fire. You should scroll down to see how many drafts fired the last hour to get an estimation. Its realy not that bad.

        The point with going infinite is that its much much easier than in magic online. You need around 5 Arena runs to get 50k gold. From there you can use the cards and rewards from your draft to refinance your next one. Granted you might still need to do arena runs in between. But I managed to go infinite without the arena at all with just an initial investment for 3 drafts. Thats something I was never able to achieve in magic online.

        I just mentioned F10 cause I was under the impression you didnt know about it. It helps but I concede that it is a bit clunky if you are used to hearthstone.

        • malkav11 says:

          How are you getting 10k gold per Arena run? I got 1200 from my most recent one and that much only because I have the Dungeon Crawler tier benefits. I don’t know that I’d get even that coming in with a fresh and untweaked starter.

          • Metronomy says:

            right now its 10k for each completed run (but there is a 50% bonus)…but youre right..5 runs is a bit unrealistic especially for beginners…lets say 7-10 runs

          • malkav11 says:

            By “completed”, do you mean winning all 20 encounters (or even the 15 tier 2-4 ones, since you can skip tier 1 after the first time)? Because that’s a pretty tall order out of the gate, particularly without buying cards past the free starter. I mean, all of this is relative, again. I’m sure that still provides an easier route than MTGO. I just don’t think it’s nearly as easy as you’re making it out to be.

  13. Showsni says:

    You ran into Uruunaz in just three runs!? :o

    I am so jealous…