Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All that is sinister and bizarre

On the Edge was one of the first of a flood of collectible card games to hit the market in the wake of the phenomenal success of Magic: the Gathering. To their credit, the designers of On the Edge really made an effort to make their game as different as possible from Magic, in terms of both game play and content.

The game takes place in the same setting as the Over the Edge role playing game: the fictional Mediterranean island of Al Amarja, "home to all that is sinister and bizarre." With room for magic as well as technology, populated by strange characters of all descriptions and a slew of shadowy organizations all vying for control, it's a clever setting designed to allow for all manner of genre mash-ups, and a perfect home for a collectible card game.

On the Edge uses the basic structure of Magic as a starting point. Players assume the roles of behind-the-scenes puppet masters in control of a wealth of characters, locations and other assets. Resource cards, usually representing locations, are used to generate Pull points, which in turn are used to put characters, gear and permanent environments into play. Characters are "cranked" (turned sideways) in order to attack opposing characters, generate various game effects, or generate Influence points which are added to a running total; the first player to reach a pre-determined amount of Influence (based on the number of players) wins.

The game's main departure from Magic is in the way characters are deployed to the table in rows and columns. A character isn't vulnerable to attack if there is a friendly uncranked character in front of it, but it also can't make any attacks against enemy characters. So the basic strategy is to play your strong attackers in the front, with a middle row of strong defenders that you will try to leave uncranked and able to defend, and finally a back row of characters that can generate useful card effects or the all-important Influence.

Influence is another way On the Edge differentiates itself from Magic: generally, influence generated by your characters is added to your total, which is how you win the game. But it can also generate additional Pull points that are used to bring more cards into play, which gives players strategic decisions to make every turn. Do you build up an army of characters, or generate more Influence but leave your important characters vulnerable to attack?

Unfortunately, On the Edge does suffer from one of the main problems with Magic and many other similar CCGs: the main method of getting characters into play is via resource cards, and it can be frustrating if you don't draw enough resources early in the game. At the same time, resources aren't really good for anything else, so if you put too many of them in your deck you won't have enough characters and other cards you need in order to win the game.

Another issue for me is the artwork on the cards, which is wildly inconsistent and sometimes quite abstract. Combined with the genre-bending nature of the game's setting, the haphazard artwork makes it difficult for me to see the world of Al Amarja as a real place or get invested in the story.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) While quite inventive, especially for having come out in 1994, On the Edge has been left behind by too many newer, better-designed collectible games.

Date played: June 8, 2014

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