Just got a hold of Hex: Shards of Fate. While the core engine is very similar to Magic, the mechanics and card designs and deck archetypes are so much more daring, complex, fun. Count it as my review after a few hours of gameplay.
For the longest time, WotC has been half-assing, half-stepping the creative possibilities of Magic. Partly because of limitations of physical cards (e.g. tracking complexity), and partly dumbed down to cater to the masses and new players. Thus progress and innovations are stunted. (Just look at the bare-bones mechanics in Battle for Zendikar.)
On the other hand, even the Hex starter decks, archetypes, and tutorials are so much more complex, yet grokkable and fun. Given the choice of 8 decks, I chose the weirdest one (none of that human, dwarf, elf generic tropes for me). This deck’s strategy is to put Spider Eggs into your opponent’s deck. When he draws it or puts in his crypt (graveyard) from deck (Hex calls this bury, cf. mill), you get a 1/1 creature unblockable. Fill his deck with so many that you get a bunch of free creatures and overwhelm him.
This and many more ideas are simply not possible with Magic. There are so many taboos and restrictions that forbid Wizards from fresh ideas. Such as putting cards into opponents’ decks, upgrading cards with equipment and gems during deck construction–thus reusing and customizing the same card for different strategies, permanent effects from one-time cards (Hex calls them Actions, equivalent to Instants and Sorceries)–even across zones, multi-layered tracking, etc. I’ve only played a few hours, so probably more that I haven’t seen yet.
Travesty MTGO is not only amateurish UI design and code, it simply mirrors the inferior paper product without real innovations that new digital card games can provide for standardized formats. Not to mention no AI. Hex’s AI is not perfect, some areas do need improvement (e.g. poor targeting choices sometimes, not aggressive enough in combat). Nevertheless, the decks and mechanics are way more complex and interesting than DOTP. Yet Hex AI seems to handle them much better. They even neutered deckbuilding in DOTP, what a joke.
Hex retains the core Magic engine, as opposed to dumbed down crap like Hearthstone. That means you can sling spells back and forth in response to each other. Resource management is streamlined, no need to tap lands individually since they don’t appear in play. But Resource cards (aka Lands) have 3 purposes now. So deckbuilding is not much different than Magic: about 30% – 45% of deck are Resources. (Although there is this cheap Champion that provides free Resource every turn, so you don’t have to put any in the deck and still accumulates every turn. but it pretty much forces your deck to 5 colors.)
I still think the core rules are the best in CCG. What I despise is the direction R&D is pushing. Turning the once great game of infinite possibilties into some cheap, bland, repetitive, uninspired cardboard crack. I mean look at BFZ and tell me its set mechanics are not the lamest, least original ideas we’ve seen in years.
Hex really opened my eyes to what CCGs could really accomplish when designers aren’t restrained and dumbed down. Magic has become about what you can’t do. Cant have too much complexity. Cant confuse new players. Cant have strong commons and uncommons. Cant make digital version (MTGO, DOTP) properly. Magic will stay forever treading water if no one else steps up and challenges them.
I’ve tried some other card games. Hearthstone, Dominion, and other Dominion like games. Some even resembled tactical RPGs. But they didn’t excite me like Hex has. And you can really see their passion and skill in development and code. It’s been in development for only 3 years and its so polished and bug-free. Otoh MTGO 15 Years and several versions later, still a mess.
I also found out Jason Zila is one of the developer. I vaguely remembered his name. Lo and behold, he used to be magic pro during the golden era (ca. 1996-2001). So it makes lot of sense why Hex emulates Magic’s engine. Probably like me, Zila thinks it offers the potential for deepest strategies and most skill testing and flexible deck building. Actually smart, if they want to attract magic players, since the rules are almost identical.
Hex Templating is more terse. Magic too verbose, too much reading, sentences too long. Hex found a good compromise. Certain conditions are symbolized. Like “play as sorcery” is just labeled “BASIC” (short for basic actions, equal to sorceries). Conditions to check if have enough threshold can be checked instantly. In magic they spell out “if you control two islands,…” Hex simply: ##: … where # are symbols for that threshold. So time to process is instantaneous.
Hex Card frames much easier to identify. I always hated the light pastel colors of modern frames. Much prefer classic frames with saturated borders. Makes it easier to distinguish diffferent colored cards, especially on monitor. On magic wokstation and my custom cards, i always use classic or classic shifted frames. Hex card frames have similar saturation deep like classic magic. Probably another legacy retained by Zila.
I found out about Hex because of the lawsuit. Let me start from beginning (which was only about a week ago).
I was dismayed at WotC from the recent draconian bans of players/judges for unofficial leaks of unreleased cards. Then I had an epiphany: why should we depend on Wizards to create and release new cards and sets? For that matter, what are the legality and ramifications of third party card creators to publish, distribute and sell unofficial cards and sets that are compatible with Magic? Not unlike video game modders and other industries making compatible parts (e.g. IBM PC compatible, compatible printer ink, etc.) If this can work in other products, why not Magic?
So I searched for relevant documents and links regarding the legality of 3rd party CCG sets. I found no direct results. Most were just typical stuff about copyright laws, but no exact cases. Probably because nobody actually tried to sell their custom cards. The closest case was of course Wizards’ lawsuit against Hex for reproducing a similar game but released only digitally. For some reason I have never heard about this case, even though it seemed a huge case in TCG industry.
On the surface it seemed like Wizards has a case against Hex. However, after reading various discussions (e.g. Reddit, etc.), it can be concluded that Wizards’ arguments are pretty weak and easily refuted. However, I won’t retread them here.
I was more interested in the differences between the two games. And that’s what intrigued me to try out Hex. Hex seemed very ambitious, even insane with their ideas. Combining MMO, RPG, and CCG. RPG in the sense that cards can be upgraded pseudo-permanently. For instance, upgrade a card you own into full-card art. Also with new PVE content rolling out soonish, each card records its own experience points and achievements. So you can see how well a card has contributed to your games, how much damage it has dealt over its lifetime, etc.