On Saturday, I solo replayed through two of the games on the forums, to familiarize myself with the rules. I’m glad I did, because there were many things that I didn’t understand when I saw them played out, and I would have to go digging through the rules to figure out what happened. I really think this was very important, if I had just gone by the rules my first game trying to teach other people, I would have messed up a lot of stuff.
On Sunday, I got together with 3 experienced gamers-- all of them have played tournament Magic, one is a former WotC and current PopCap employee, the other two currently work for Paizo. I did my best to explain the rules, then we played two separate one-hero games. We made several mistakes, but as learning games, they went fine.
Next we played two separate 3-hero games – Black vs. White and Red vs. Green. We needed to frequently look stuff up in the rules, and I needed to consult the “Rulings” document probably a dozen times, but it went relatively smoothly.
Finally, we played a game of two headed monster, White and Red vs. Black and Green.
Overall Impressions, in no particular order:
The rulebook is surprisingly bad. I defy anyone to correctly learn how to play flyers without making use of some resource other than the rulebook. The sheer volume of rules and card clarifications is an indictment of how incomplete they are.
The token cards are needlessly parsimonious. For example, are tokens units? They are, but why isn’t that printed on the token, like it is on other units? Are Skeleton tokens skeletons, in the sense that other units that have the keyword “skeleton” printed on them are? The answer is (apparently) yes, but why isn’t the keyword printed on the token card?
The playmats have teching listed as the last action on your turn, while the rulebook has it listed as the first action of your turn. The rulebook further clarifies that you should tech at the end of your turn, set the cards aside, and then can change them in response to what your opponent does. It would have been very helpful to have consistency on the playmats.
The most persistent problem we encountered was teching: remembering to tech, and understanding when to tech. I played a few games of a beta version two years ago at FSX, and my most distinct memory from that time was forgetting to tech, or mistakenly thinking that I had failed to tech and then wrongly trying to fix it, etc. It turns out all 4 of us had that problem through all of our games.
I don’t like how the draw pile and the discard pile are right next to each other on the playmat, because the discard pile is face down. I think on at least one occasion I got confused and shuffled them together before I had actually cycled, and I may have done it more than once. I’m going to experiment with putting the 20-sided die I use to keep track of health on top of one of the piles as a reminder (the dials on the life tracker that comes with the game are too loose and spin to easily to work well).
It became apparent pretty quickly that in order to play at all well, you need to understand what your opponent’s deck is capable of. My opponent as Black kept spending resources to build more skeleton tokens when he already had a bunch, because why not, and then out comes Jefferson DeGrey. This isn’t a bad thing, and none of us felt that it was bad; it’s just an observation.
All four of us enjoyed ourselves and want to play again. We all liked the Tech tree mechanism. I think one of the highlights for the MtG players (I’m not) was how much decision making and how many options you had on your turn; deck construction is important, but it’s not “fire and forget”, where your turns sort of play themselves.
I didn’t expect to like Two Headed Monster, but it turned out that we all had the most fun with that mode. I wouldn’t be surprised if we wound up playing that exclusively next time we get together as a group.