First experiences with collectible card games
“Huh. It’s kind of like the [unholy demon spawn] of Hearthstone and Settlers of Catan…”
That was my first thought in encountering Faeria.
Alright, I confess, the word I actually used first was “cross”—that bit about “unholy demon spawn” was only briefly added after getting wrecked in my first noob-ish foray onto the ladder. But thankfully, as is the case with learning any great game, that phase (with all its, er, colourful exclamations) was quickly supplanted by what has become deep-set fascination with Faeria’s strategies and distinctive artwork.
More to the point, the notion that perhaps Faeria could be construed as hybrid of games with which I was already familiar really was my first fleeting thought. And I think that that approach—informally and temporarily seeing a brand new game through basic concepts we already understand from previous gaming experiences—probably rings true for a large majority of us. For that matter, think how many of us take that approach when we first encounter nearly anything new: I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a friend say something like, “Dude, this new indie band is, like, the most amazing cross between the Dead Kennedys, KC & the Sunshine Band, and traditional Swiss alphorn music!” or something to that effect… (Admittedly, I have strange friends.)
Like all analogies, though, the closer one looks at it, the less apt the comparison seems. And certainly, the “Hearthstone + Settlers = Faeria” formula was (and is) radically inadequate for the game. Realizing my initial foolishness, “Settlers” was rapidly replaced in my mind by flashes of “Chinese checkers,” “Sid Meier’s Civilization” (yeah, I was fixated pretty hard on those hex shapes at first), “chess,” and then… …well, by then embarrassingly superficial comparisons were no longer necessary because Faeria had firmly established its own identity in my mind as a strategy game. What all this really amounted to, though, was a search for mental reference points while realizing that, in Faeria, the kind of strategy involved in the familiar collectible card game is accompanied by the need to think spatially.
OK, why the walk down memory lane?
I’m thinking back on these moments now mainly because, as many of you already know, Abrakam has recently announced that Faeria will be going free-to-play in the near future. There will soon be a wave of new Faeria players who run through their own set of analogies in deciding whether or not to pursue the game. No doubt, many of those players will, like me, be coming from experience with Hearthstone—and to be fair, it too requires some degree of spatial reasoning (I’m looking at you Zoolock!). The difference with Faeria, however, is that physical placement, both of creatures and the board pieces themselves, is at least equal to the strategic importance of deck construction and the order in which one plays one’s cards (and you could argue that, in some cases, it’s even more important than the latter factors).
Now, I’m not trying to start any debates about the relative importance of these parameters within Faeria (and there are much better persons to consult about strategy than me!), but the notion that a CCG could be combined with some kind of board layout was new to me a few months ago, as it will be for many of the folks who try their hand at the game in the coming months. For me, that prompted a search for comparable examples and a desire to try those games in order to decide which I really wanted to devote time to. And I don’t doubt that there are many Faeria fans out there already who have tried similar games, and who perhaps continue to play several of them.
Circles, squares, and hexes
So, for those who will be exploring Faeria and other card games with spatial concerns for the first time in the next few months, and for those Faeria veterans who simply love these kinds of games, we’re planning to post a series of articles offering some comparisons between them. The aim isn’t specifically to tear down or build up any one of them; it’s to relate some of the experience of first encountering these games, and to discuss some of the similarities and differences between them and Faeria. With any luck, perhaps the series will even be able to offer a little bit of guidance to those for whom this whole genre is new.
It’s a bit difficult to start any conversation about this topic without taking into account the juggernaut of Hearthstone, so in the next post, we’ll start there (though, in fact, this topic has already been discussed in detail on reddit and elsewhere). But the idea will be to move on quickly to games like Solforge, which are essentially Hearthstone-like in layout, but whose mechanics rely to a much greater degree on positioning. From there, we’ll talk start thinking about circles, squares, and hexes—that is, games with boards proper. Duelyst is perhaps best-known companion of Faeria in this field, and we’ll be aiming here to collate a variety of different takes on both of their strengths and weaknesses. Following that will be Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards and a few other comparable examples.
Alright. Now I’ve got to go explain to my editor why I just opened a post about a game I love with the words “unholy demon spawn.” Wish me luck. (You’ve gotta admit, though, it did make you sit up and pay attention…) 😉