My theory with the "iQuits" of Destructoid and other online blogs is that everybody gets one. After a time, it's expected for people to become a bit disenchanted with their stomping ground of choice; for me, the straw that broke the camels back was the "controversy" surrounding games like Dragon's Crown. I just kind of got sick and tired of all the sanctimonious issue-peddling - not because some of the issues are not legitimate but because frankly, it's irritating to go to my favorite sites and not have a single solitary day without some hackneyed controversy being stirred up. I'm an old, aging, old man. I miss the "good ol' days."
But, becoming involved or not is up to the reader. I don't HAVE to sit there and absorb that kind of argumentative, lowest common denominator alarmist nonsense. I don't HAVE to watch every Jimquisition video, or read every Kotaku article, or listen to every post-college hipster rant about X issue in my favorite hobby. I can choose not to be apart of it. I can certainly choose not to write about it.
One topic I find interesting is the growing overlap between tabletop and video games. Both are hobbies I love dearly, but in the case of tabletop games, the community surrounding them in places like Board Game Geek, networks like The Dice Tower, and podcasts such as the Secret Cabal are miles away, it seems, from the childlike rants and raves of so many AVGN copycats, the vitriolic verbal assaults of Bioware message boards, and the general, infantile attitude towards just about every issue in the video game world. I took refuge in these places for awhile because it was such a breath of fresh air to see the majority of the audience be genuinely optimistic about their hobby; and it made me wonder why that is?
I suppose a lot of it boils down to the face-to-face social elements of tabletop games. And this is something that is generally difficult to emulate over the anonymity of online play. But the mechanics and strategy inherent in these games is not, and many developers are starting to use that to their advantage. Whether it is making fantastic apps for a variety of popular board games such as Ghost Stories, Eclipse, Elder Sign, and many other popular tabletop games, or using the tried and true mechanics of a collectible card game such as Magic: The Gathering, in the case of Mojang's latest, completely non-Minecraft related offering Scrolls, there is massive potential to create a crossover between tabletop and video gamers; sans the all pervasive social elements perhaps, but still offering the detailed mechanics I love about tabletop games.
Scrolls was a tricky proposition for most fans of Minecraft. There is absolutely no overlap in the gameplay style between the two titles, and this is for the best in my opinion; Mojang is trying to prove now that they are not just a one trick pony, and while many will disagree, I think Scrolls is a fantastic endeavor that proves this in spades.
Using the collectible card game mechanic to its advantage, Scrolls sets you up with a pre-constructed deck of cards in one of three factions; Growth, Order, or Energy, all with different playstyles, strategies, and unique cards, and sets you up with 2000 in game gold, a currency earned only by playing matches of Scrolls online, or offline against A.I. opponents. There was a lot of fear that Scrolls would be of the "pay to win" genre like many other similar CCG replicas or MMO games, but it evades that trap easily by offering a secondary currency, called Shards, which can only be used to purchase the other two pre-constructed decks not chosen by the player at the start of the game, or six weekly cards, chosen at random once a week of varying rarity for players looking for specific cards to add to their decks. Now keep in mind, both the pre-con decks and these special cards can still be obtained using only in game gold, both by buying single random cards in one of the three factions, one random scroll in any of the factions for a lower price, or by purchasing a ten pack of random scrolls from all factions. (with guaranteed uncommons and rares unlike the former choices) This eliminates a reliance on shards. At this point, there really isn't much to spend shards on, unless you really want the other two pre-con decks, which will cost about 5 dollars a piece, but which will give you a massive variety of cards with which to work with if you don't want to collect them slowly over time instead.
The gameplay itself is where Scrolls really shines. Constructing a deck of 50 cards minimum can be a daunting task, especially with the variety of strategies, and the ability to combine cards from multiple factions. But once players are happy with the cards in their deck, and have hopefully refined them into a workable, complimentary combination that will help them be efficient in game, the gameplay moves onto a chess-like board of hexes. Each player has their own board, and can now use their cards to summon a variety of creatures, walls, and use the various spells and enchantments to help protect these creatures as they attempt to destroy three out of five "totems" at the opposite end of their enemies board by using their creatures to attack the opposing side. Players can position their creatures to defend their totems by placing them in the same row as these 10 health constructs, and can also attack creatures on the opposing side directly by being on the same row as them as well.
The strategy comes in the cooldown of creature cards. Each creature card has a cooldown number, which counts down by one point per turn. When the count down reaches zero, those creatures will attack at the end of that player turn, automatically, without any intervention on the part of the player. Timing becomes a big part of the Scrolls strategy because of this, and ensuring that players have enough energy (gained by sacrificing cards on their turn) and always has a decent number of cards in their hand to work with (one is drawn per turn, but two can be drawn at the loss of one card in hand) becomes integral to the players success, as they will need to strategically employ the various enchantments and spells, both on their own creatures and against the opposing players, in order to shift the odds in their favor.
When three totems have been destroyed by either player, the match is over, and each player receives gold based on their performance. Destroying more totems on the final turn will grant a boost in gold, but it averages out to around 300 for the winner, and 90 for the loser. In just three won matches or so, most players will earn enough to buy a ten pack booster of cards, and will continue to edit their decks over time as new cards come out to create and test newer strategies with which to beat their opponents.
While other popular CCG's such as Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh have made their way over to the PC over the years, they were always extremely inhibiting to all but the most hardcore, and rich, players. Scrolls is a CCG with a huge amount of depth thanks to battle boards used, one where those who have a good handle on proper timing and creature placement have an advantage over those with all the best cards. The gap is easily closed by playing the game more often; no real money required, realistically, unless you want to fast track your way to playing the other two factions. It is important to pick a deck you will like early on because of this; if you don't want to shell out an extra fiver or two, you might be stuck with something you don't enjoy playing. But this is the only realistic hurdle the game faces so far, and with a little patience and dedication, even that can be easily overcome.
Mojang has put out a very special game for fans of CCG's, and tabletop games in general. It will be interesting to see how it evolves over time with the release of more cards (I believe there are about 140 in total available during the beta) and the recent perk of offering new players 2000 golds to give them early flexibility in their deck building is a nice touch for early adopters. Much like Minecraft before it, anyone can gain access to the beta for 20 dollars. I honestly have some doubts about this price point, just based on the rather niche nature of the gameplay. I think Mojang is probably resting on the laurels of their reputation a little, and can probably afford to do so, but I think they also risk alienating a portion of the player base who would be interested in the game otherwise. Considering the after-purchase cost of the game is effectively zero, it does balance out; but unless word of mouth really spreads, I think they are going to be missing out on a potentially larger core audience who probably wouldn't mind buying a few shards every month to add specific cards to their decks, and who will likely play thousands of matches over the games hopefully long life span.
This is by far the best implementation of a CCG I have seen on any platform thus far. It's really fantastic in my opinion, and worth the price of admission. I have had an insane amount of fun building my uber annoying wolf-summoning Growth deck since the day of release. I'd like to cover more games such as this in the future, along with other games both on and off the table that crossover with both video and tabletop games. And I think that is going to be the focus of my blog from now on; games, not issues.
Go get Scrolls! And if you want a match, hit me up; the community system is pretty awful right now; there is not even a friends list to speak of. But you can add my on Steam under my username TheManchild if you fancy a game sometime!