Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

Posted: August 28, 2007 by zobek in Legends of Norrath

The Legends of Norrath beta has been going on for two weeks now, and I’ve played several matches so far (against more than just Kendricke, too – though last night’s game certainly was fun, even losing). I’m getting the rules set in my mind and starting to identify strategies for certain situations. All in all, it’s a pretty fun game – but there still seems to be something missing.

It’s not the variety of gameplay – having four deck archetypes (fighter/mage/priest scout), two factions (light/dark), and two ways to win (complete 4 quests/kill your opponent’s avatar) takes care of that. It’s not the tactics that one can take. It’s not even the relatively limited pool of opponents at the moment.

It’s the cards.

Back when collectible card games were first getting popular, I, like many others, got into Magic: The Gathering. I was in high school at the time, and it soon became common to find me and others showing up to school early to play a game or two and pore over each other’s collections before first period began. The game was very much a social outlet, and the card’s physicality enabled that. We’d “ooh” and “aah” over the latest rare find from someone’s booster purchases over the weekend, then secretly spend time trying to figure out how we’d be able to surive a match against it.

Fast-forward to today, to the strictly-digital CCG of Legends of Norrath. As I stated earlier, I’ve been having fun with the game so far – and although there are definite advantages to the distribution method such as retiring sets or publishing errata, I can’t help but wish that I had a real-world, physical deck that I could take to my local game shop or convention to play other people face-to-face.

So can a game company produce a CCG that includes both virtual and real-world interactions?

One idea that first comes to mind is to add a digital component to a traditional game. There would have to be some sort of mechanism to add cards to a digital deck based on the player’s real ones, perhaps a numeric or barcode identifier (remember the CueCat, anyone?). Such a system would be hard to control, though, and rife with the possibility for exploit by unscrupulous players. One can easily imagine how quickly printable barcode databases would appear online – and soon players would have any digital deck they want regardless of what they’ve purchased.

Instead, there could just be a real-world version of the game offered alongside the online one, but I’d imagine that players would quickly tire of purchasing cards twice. Picture getting Uber Rare Card X online, then needing to buy an unknown number of real-world boosters to get the physical version. Although there’s a chance you’d get it in the first pack or two, it’s just as likely you’d have to buy twenty or more.

No, I think SOE’s got it right by having the game be digital first. In any CCG, the enforced rarity of particular cards is an important factor. Not only does it make business sense by driving sales, but it’s also a useful gameplay and balance tool that limits the number of powerful cards on the market (and thus in any given deck, unless the player has the ability to invest in large numbers of them). By going digital, SOE has complete, centralized control over the availability of cards. Need to tweak how often a card appears? No problem – just change some values in the database. There’s no worrying about all the unopened booster packs and starter decks sitting out there on store shelves.

That said, though, what I’d like to see is the capability to optionally receive real-world versions of the cards if desired. This option would be available only after the digital boosters/decks have been opened and the cards allocated to your account. Once selected for real-world delivery, the digital version of the card would either need to be locked to your account (similar to how the EQ and EQ2 Loot cards are functioning) or at the very minimum flagged so that another player could not receive the real-world card if they’ve received the digital version in a trade. LoN’s custom avatar cards could easily be handled in real-world games by having write-on cards where a player could fill in their avatar’s attributes.

As for pricing, there would have to be additional charges to cover real-world printing & shipment, but it would be nowhere near the cost for parallel real-world & digital games operating simultaneously. Given that SOE has priced digital boosters at 2.99 each – roughly the same as boosters for strictly real-world games – I’d personally be willing to pay up to $4.99 per booster for dual-delivery. Alternatively, there could be a lower, per-card cost, allowing players to pick and choose which cards they want physical copies of. I’m no economist or accountant, so exact pricing is beyond me, but I’d like to think a balance could be struck where the cost isn’t onerous for players but SOE can still make a profit.

I’ve no doubt there’s likely other issues to a system like this, such as balance in the secondary market for real-world trades or altered rulesets where the game is played differently than how the computer version handles it. All told, though, I’d just have a blast being able to go to Fan Faire or Gen Con – or Steve’s Game Shop down the street – and sit down, shuffle my deck, and play.

  1. Gdub says:

    Uh yeah, that’s been done. Magic the gathering started as a card game, I played it too. When it’s popularity died down a bit, they created the same game in an online version, much like LON, but with the same exact ruleset, and I’m pretty sure the same exact cards. They may not have imported every card in existance, but I’m sure they got the popular sets/cards. So I suppose if you are like me, and all your friends decided to move on from playing the game, you could find opponents around the world… for a price. One that I wasn’t willing to pay considering the money spent on the real cards in the past.

    I agree though, that I would rather play this game with real cards, and leave EQ2 alone, there’s plenty to do in that game already.

  2. kendricke says:

    What M:TG did was to recreate the game in two mediums – but you still had to purchase the cards twice.

  3. Tallika says:

    There is a game coming out for the PS3 i saw at GenCon…. i kick myself for not grabbing one of the flyers, but i’m not a console gamer anymore. It is a physical card game played on the console… there is an eyereader that is positioned above the playing area that scans the card’s codebar and then does all the animations and battle stuff on the screen. I think they are going for the best of both worlds.

  4. kendricke says:

    I’ve seen spoofs of that on Penny Arcade, I think. It’s a fantastic concept with a ton of upfront capital involved. I love the concept, but cringe at all the hardware involved in initial setup.

    But yeah, I think I know the game you’re talking about.

  5. zobek says:

    The Eye of Judgment, it’s called.

    Additional hardware will sell, though, if the game’s good enough – case-in-point, guitar controllers for the Guitar Hero series.

  6. Lulu says:

    MTG has an online game as well. If you collect every virtual card in a particular set you can redeem them for the physical set. The sticking point being you have to collect the entire set (ie, 9th edition). Been a while since I played MTG: Online though so it may have changed.

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