Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Too many ideas for one game

A common criticism leveled at first-time novelists is that they tend to put too many ideas into their first novel, as if they are afraid they won't get a chance to write another so they have to get it all out at once. This can certainly be said about Heresy: Kingdom Come, a collectible card game originally released by Last Unicorn Games in 1995, during the first wave of games to come out in the wake of Magic's phenomenal success.

It's a little sad that, given the CCG format's inherent flexibility, most of the games in that first wave tended to copy Magic's game structure: use resource cards to put characters and support cards into play, attack your opponent with your characters, play interrupt cards to disrupt combat. Heresy was no exception, but it tried to make up for it by presenting a complex game world. Actually, several complex game worlds...

The setting for Heresy is a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by different factions struggling to survive. Added to that is a cyberspace element, with players able to move their characters into the digital landscape and attack their opponent's data nodes. And, as if fighting on both the physical and the digital planes wasn't enough, there are swarms of displaced angels who for some reason need cyberspace in order to get back into heaven. I'm not kidding.

The angels can fight with the humans in the physical world, and some of them can enter cyberspace and interact with what is going on there; in that way, they aren't that different from the game's human characters. However, the angels also have a complicated system of dueling each other one on one, and they have a voting system where all players (the game supports more than two and seems designed for multiplayer) can use their angels' influence to lend support to one player over another.

Playing Heresy feels like playing two separate games that sometimes intersect. One game is about the different factions of a post-apocalyptic world fighting for control of cyberspace. The addition of a second battlefield adds some interest to what is otherwise a bland Magic clone. The addition of the angels, with their one-on-one challenges and complex voting system to resolve conflicts, is a poor fit for the rest of the game, adding too much complication without improving the game play. It is as if the game designers had two mediocre games, and they hoped that by mashing them together they would get one good one.

The game's faults aside, mention must made of its stunning artwork by such gaming and comics industry luminaries as Rick Berry, Tim Bradstreet, William O'Connor, Brom, and Michael Kaluta, all presented on cards about an inch taller than standard gaming cards. The extra room lets the artwork really dominate the cards, which is great for the artwork, but the readability of the game text often suffers.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) the genre mash-up and oversized artwork feel like compensation for what is an overly complicated and mediocre game.

Date played: February 1, 2014

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