moby-dick-(or-the-whale)-80
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FLIP-FLOP

08 September 2007

Recently I've been playing World of Warcraft, but, err, not the MMORPG. No sir, the TCG! The Trading Card Game (though I believe that term is patented by Wizards of the Coast -the dudes that brought you Magic the Gathering). I've been playing it mainly with my friend Tim, but there are other people in close proximity that I enjoy the occasional deathmatch with.

Now, as a card game, World of Warcraft is pretty standard. Which is to say; it looks and plays a lot like Magic, the granddaddy of the money-sink that is collectible card games. You've got some resource management going on (though there's less chance of getting screwed by not getting enough resources through an ingenious mechanic where every card is a possible resource, which makes it a cost/gain balancing strategy instead of Russian roulette), you've got your creatures, you've got your spells, and so forth. Where it differentiates itself is in a few things. First of all is specialization. Magic knows five colours from which you pick and choose and usually construct a deck around one or two. Warcraft on the other hand revolves around a hero that you roleplay as. These heroes have special abilities and differences that make them unique. As in the game, they are also masters of a particular art; be they Warlock, Shaman, Warrior or Rogue. Each of these classes knows a wide range of cards and decks constructed around and them tend to play very differently. The classes themselves are even divided into three sub-specializations or 'talents'. This pushes the play styles even further.

It's not my intention to put down all the rules here (suffice to say it's a really fun game with plenty of opportunities to pull off great combos and neat tricks), rather I'd like to specify why I like it this much. It's the Warcraft flavour. You see; Magic doesn't do it for me for the very simple reason that it's much too big. The scope of Magic is 'fantasy'. And sometimes steampunk, and sci-fi and I don't know what. It's just enormous! I don't enjoy the world because it's like making a game that can envelop everything about 'life'. Sure, there might be a fair few aspects of it that I might like, but my tastes will not span across its entire width. Now consider Warcraft, that has as its main theme 'Warcraft'. A game universe I have known and loved for perhaps even as much as 11 years. If I see a card that has beautiful art depicting the 'Eye of Kilrogg' spell from Warcraft 2, that makes me nostalgic and happy. So, it's really the theme of the game that I am able to latch onto that makes it so swell to dig into.

There are some issues with the game. Despite its specializations, there's still quite a vanilla feel to most of the decks. If you try to step outside the margins in deck-building too much, you'll find yourself punished. It's very difficult to make a successful deck centering on spells and abilities for instance, simply because creatures (or 'allies' as they're called) are so much more cost-effective in the long run. And so most decks rely on a handful of special abilities to give them flavour and beyond that are forced into a straightjacket of a predetermined ideal configuration of the different types of cards. I hope this will be dealt with in future sets, which I think is already partially happening.

An interesting side-effect of the specialization into different classes with class-exclusive cards is that you'll have an enormous surplus of cards for classes you don't play that are effectively useless to you. You might say this is a bad thing, because when buying a booster the chances of finding cards that are suited to your deck are slim. However, there are a few very positive consequences. First off, you'll probably not bother to collect all the cards in a set, simply because so many are useless to you. Secondly, you'll likely have lots of cards to trade with other people. And guess what? They've got tons of cards lying around as well! So it's really fun if you've got a friend to trade with and you can help each other fulfil your decks' destinies.

Until, of course, your friend manages to sweettalk your Choker of Fluid Thought ring from you and then brutally manhandles your Warlock deck with it in the next few rounds. Hypothetically speaking.

Roderick.