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E3 2013: Hands-on with HEX

Andrew Ross

Before MMOs, I played the Pokemon TCG. I didn't just play it but dominated my local Pokemon league. Had it not been for Asheron's Call, I would have been the first gym leader who wasn't an employee of the local comic and cards shop, but my brother got that honor instead... until he caved in too. Before that, I played Magic: The Gathering and actually would have placed in the top 15 of a new-release tournament if my mother hadn't literally made me go to bed (that's what happens when you're 12 years old and have to get a ride from your mom). So when I was told that I could do a hands on with HEX, I made sure I made time to hit up the demo.

For those who are familiar with MMOTCGs, I'm hoping my hands-on will be fitting, but for those who don't know how the stack works or what an untap phase entails, you may want to hit up an earlier hands-on that goes into much more detail on mechanics first.

While the game is made for MMO players to enjoy, TCG veterans are obviously in the target audience as well. Since the game will never have any real cards, this allowed the game's creator, Cory Jones, to introduce mechanics that just don't exist in a physical game for obvious reasons. For example, when you get a certain amount of resources, you get a charge power, which is like a card that pops out of thin air for a turn. At the end of your turn, it goes to your discard pile, which means cards that affect your discard pile affect this card that wasn't even in your deck. Concepts like this made me want to start building decks around these new, seemingly impossible mechanics.

One thing that HEX does very well for new players is visually represent phases. Think of an actual fight in super slow motion. If someone's arm tenses up, you know he's going to do something, so you have time to react. Pretty much every time something like this happens in HEX, the game shows you what options you have and lets you choose to take them or pass. This is usually one of the things that's hardest for people to pick up in TCGs and often makes the games seem like practicing law. When represented visually, though, it's much easier to understand. This isn't completely revolutionary, since obviously other TCGs have had to do this, but I felt that the general visuals or the ideas of how they were presented worked surprisingly well, even for someone familiar with these sorts of games.

Now, the game's in a pre-alpha stage actually and considered buggy. My victory sadly crashed the game, so I didn't get to experience the awesome rush of whatever victory screen I would have earned, nor would the opponent who was called up to fight me, but it was probably for the best after that beat down. One thing that was tough the button that allows you to pass through the phases. It's a small detail that will change, but it was there, and it shows that the game is utilizing feedback.

Though the training does help make the game stand out a bit more -- as do the odd mechanics -- some tweaks just seem appropriate to test. For example, if you need two rubies to cast a goblin but have only a ruby and one other resource in play, you can actually still play your goblin. The idea is that this can allow people to try for five-color decks more easily. Multi-color decks in general are a bit trickier to play, as most veterans know, but this system frees us up without (apparently) making a big impact on the speed of the game. The resources are all pooled together, so you just need one of them to cast cards of that type, and because of the charge power system associated with resources, getting a lot of resources is still a bit useful, even toward the end of the game.

Now, this is all good for a TCG; it's great, even. Jones has some great ideas, but because the game's in such an early stage and since this was a demo, I sadly didn't get to see any real "MMO" options, which is important if this is supposed to be an MMOTCG. Eventually there's supposed to be auction houses, guilds, and cards that should be able to level up to show new art or become foils, but I just didn't get to see it, and I don't think some of those features are even in quite yet. I want to, though. There's a solid TCG in here, so seeing how other game modes like deck-building minigames, dungeons, and raids fit into a TCG would be interesting. As things stand, I feel like I could recommend it as a TCG people pick up. Depending on how things play out, maybe one day it could also be an MMO I could recommend.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-13, bringing you all the best news from E3 2013. We're covering everything from WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online and ArcheAge to FFXIV's inbound revamp and TERA's latest update, so stay tuned!

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