HEX: The MMO is in the cards

HEX The MMOTCG is in the cards
Massively was recently invited to meet with Cory Jones, president and chief creative officer of Cryptozoic, to get some greater insight into HEX, the studio's upcoming MMOTCG -- that is, massively multiplayer trading card game.

At first, I had a difficult time associating a "massively multiplayer" aspect with a trading card game. My two-decade-old memories of very briefly playing Magic: The Gathering simply wouldn't let me get past my initial assumption about the head-to-head nature of these types of games. Even the online version of Magic used essentially the same structure as the offline version, with digital representations of Magic cards and an online challenge ladder.

So imagine my surprise when a well-established box-and-trading-card-game company like Cryptozoic announced it was producing HEX, an MMOTCG using Kickstarter as a funding vehicle.

At our meeting last week, Jones explained to me that the team was somewhat apprehensive about its crowdfunding chances at the start of the Kickstarter challenge, though an enthusiastic fanbase quickly achieved the primary goal several weeks prior to the deadline. At the time of this writing, the $300,000 goal has long been exceeded by an additional one million dollars with a week and a half remaining.

Success at the Kickstarter level allows Jones and his team to add other target platforms. The initial gaming platforms are entry-level PCs and Macs, but since the graphics and system requirements are relatively lightweight, acceptable performance on tablet systems would be easily achieved and will be one of the post-launch "stretch goals."

HEX The MMOTCG is in the cards
I admit that I am a relative neophyte with TCGs and mentioned this to Jones, but that only heightened his interest in assuring me that as an MMO player, I would likely find HEX captivating. In fact, HEX is designed to enable those completely unfamiliar with TCGs to rapidly engage in effective and compelling gameplay.

For those who are unfamiliar with the genre, let me explain and simplify a bit: TCGs are traditionally two-player head-to-head challenges in which a common (and sometimes not-so-common) deck of characters and various types of action or effect cards are played in alternate sequence to cause damage on the opponent while defending against the opponent's attacks. The "trading" concept implies significant differences in value around scarcity of certain types of rare, unique, and powerful cards.

In the case of HEX, there are five categories of cards: Action, Constant, Artifact, Troop, and Resource:
  • Actions are champion commands to enhance your troops like buff, attack, and block, which are consumed (sent to the graveyard) at the end of each turn. There is a special version called a Quick Action that can be used immediately.
  • Constants are Action cards that persist and are not consumed.
  • Artifacts are crafted elements. I did not actually see one of these in play during the demo.
  • Troops are the actual "units" that can attack or defend and will continue in the game until destroyed.
  • Resources are accumulated and essentially the fuel needed to perform certain actions.
So what would give an online TCG like HEX serious MMO credentials? Groups of individuals that use their decks of cards against a PvE "dungeon" would be one example. Dungeons have creatures and bosses producing "loot" in the form of unique cards that can be added to the player's decks. Another MMO staple would be crafting. In HEX, sockets can be added to cards, materials can be used to craft gems, and artifacts can be placed in the sockets. The game also boasts guilds, organized groups of players sharing resources, funds, and even card-decks from a common guild bank. Perhaps the most notable MMO element is the auction house. In HEX, there will be a ready in-game market for rare and powerful cards traded for in-game currency.

HEX The MMOTCG is in the cards
The game also aims to avoid what it deems illegal RMT and "commercial farming." Each virtual card in HEX is issued with a unique cryptographic key. This allows the game to track where all the cards are, who currently owns them, and any modifications that have been made to them. Jones told me that every effort will be made to eliminate loopholes and exploits.

One particularly unique element being introduced is the concept of the modifiable "backside" of each card. The backside comes into play after an achievement is reached and a trophy has been awarded. Statistics, experience, and the complete history of the card is maintained there right on the backside. This unique content may become a key collectable value component should the card reach the auction house. Consider a card that was played by an in-game luminary as the final card that won a world-championship HEX tournament. This backside content becomes the provenance to further underscore the collectable value of this card.

HEX is fundamentally free-to-play, but the game must sustain itself, so MMO players will readily recognize the revenue model: free-to-play with optional subscriptions and in-game purchases. Every player gets a starter deck and can earn additional cards through PvE and tournaments. The optional $4 monthly subscription provides a player with additional common decks and what are known in TCG circles as booster cards. Kickstarter sponsors will get additional incentives by way of in-game cards and other goodies depending on the level of sponsorship. TCGs tend to favor creating scarcity by producing limited release decks and cards over fixed periods of time. HEX will have the same mechanism by regularly creating new decks and retiring older ones. All cards retired or not can be included into a deck for in-game play.

Finally, Jones told me there will be a single extensible server pool with no sharding; scalability could allow for extremely massive numbers.

HEX The MMOTCG is in the cards
During my demo, I was shown only PvP head-to-head action. The visuals are attractive but simple, showing the two sides' cards in play and gameplay elements such as establishing resources, building force multipliers, blocking, and attacking. The strategies are pure TCG, but the specialized abilities, unique socketed cards, and racial alignment multipliers allow for highly complex card play interactions. The artwork on the cards is high-quality, too.

If the 8500+ Kickstarter backers, the lively forum discussion, and the incredible enthusiasm of Cory Jones and his team are any indication, HEX could be just the TCG to truly earn the MMOTCG moniker. We'll find out when the game hits beta this September.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.