What truly defines the TCG is the individual card mechanics. No matter how good the general design appears if individual pieces that you actually play are mediocre, that becomes the bottleneck and your experience would be limited by it. Let’s compare and contrast HEX and Magic in regards to this topic.
Nerfing or buffing your creature/troop is by no means unique to Magic or any other TCG. You can buff or nerf your creature/troop by utilizing various method such as via some card ability, or other creature/troop interacting each other and so on.
What makes HEX different from Magic, and perhaps unique is PERMANENT effect.
In games that are based on the physical card, when you buff/nerf card you use some sort of counter to keep the track. But when the card is destroyed or go back to your hand/deck, the counter resets. This is an necessity to keep the game reasonable under the physical realm. Otherwise, you have to put a counter and stick it to the card even when it goes to graveyard, back to your hand etc.
In HEX, many effects are PERMANENT and it means even when the troop dies and goes to graveyard it still retains the last state the card was in. This is easy to keep track digitally.
Is this important?
Well I am not sure important but certainly creates different strategy i.e. changes the game play. With my limited play in Magic, it is usually thought not a good idea to use Aura type card to buff your creature. This is because if the creature is destroyed, you lose all your investment at once. For example, if you had a creature and used 2 aura cards to buff him, and he gets destroyed. You have essentially lost 3 cards worth of stuff at once.
What if you can bring him back? Certainly there are cards to allow such, but the issue is you still lost 2 aura cards worth of the effect i.e. strategically it just is not optimal.
In contrast, in HEX same scenario is not so detrimental. You can keep buffing your troop, and gets destroyed. If you can revive him, he is as strong as he was i.e. the investments are still attached.
For those who don’t play TCG much, this may sound subtle but I believe significant difference in terms of game play especially as the game adds more card for revival. One card focus strategy may not so bad anymore.
What I see a great potential in HEX is that is not bounded to this permanent effect nor temporary effect i.e. it can do both. This means there will be more variation in cards and thus potential strategy.
Transform/Level up Mechanics
With the history of 20 years, Magic seems to have everything covered on its ground; hence, it is the gold standard of the TCG. However, perhaps starting with Solforge, transformation of the card in the digitally exclusive card game seems to become a big emphasis point.
The reason is pretty much the same as permanent buff/nerf Mechanics but add the visual change to it.
Yu Gi Oh had interesting mechanics of fusion with two card fusing to create a new one. In the physical realm, this card was pulled from the side deck specifically for this purpose when condition is met.
Magic had some cards that you can turn back, or change the stat based on the counter i.e. level up.
However, HEX being the digitally exclusive game, these transformation works more naturally. They have level up transformation, random transformation etc. and they affects visually, and again they are usually permanent.
Here is a card from Magic using the level up mechanics.
Here are level up cards in HEX.
Perhaps it may not be apparent to some but actually change the whole card visual has a huge advantage and potential. It is the real estate of the text.
In the Magic level up system, since you have to put the text after level up condition, you could have only placed so much on it. In HEX; however, this is not a limitation. In fact, you can already see that the card above has its own unique way of adding level up counter i.e. sacrificing other troops.
With enough text space i.e. just same as any other card, individual form of the card can do drastically different things. Similar is extremely difficult or impossible in the physical based card game such as Magic.
Above is one good example from the HEX.
I consider card games has a two broad categories. One is the game that each player take their turn separately, which I call purely turn based system. The other is the games with ways that each player can intercept/interrupt opponent’s action even when it is not his/her turn, which I call dynamic interactive play system.
Both Magic and HEX utilize the dynamic interactive play system. Although in the past this was a rare trend particularly, when a TCG is playable on the mobile platform, lately there appears to be a trend where developers are trying to allow such experience rather than purely turn based system.
The other games that utilized such system include World of Warcraft TCG which Cryptozoic acquired license in 2010, Carte and more recently Indie game such as Chromancer.
Certainly this is a personal preference, but I do find games with counter mechanics are more engaging.
During the alpha, HEX started to allow every abilities of on the field cards to be potential counter-able, which I believe how Magic has their system. However, due to purely digital nature of the game, more often than not we are clicking “pass priority” to say nothing to do here became annoying quickly and seemed to slowed down the game.
So HEX underwent some iterations of the changes to maximize the game flow yet keeping interactivity. What this had achieved, in my opinion, is new system with future potential expansion.
Currently on board card, that has a triggered ability based on event such as at the beginning of the certain phase, other troop entering into the field etc, only becomes counterable i.e. enters into the queue before resolving when the player has to select a target. Without a target, it will resolve instantaneously.
So basically, HEX has created two types of event trigger abilities. One can potentially be countered and the other cannot. More option there is in the design, there are more potential.
This is a card from HEX. Replica is a term that HEX uses and slightly different from the COPY of the card, which will also be available in HEX i.e. two are different mechanics, but nontheless, for the purpose of this article you can consider replica is the same as copy.
What this card makes unique is imagine how you can even implement this same mechanics in the physical card game i.e. Magic the Gathering. What this card is doing is tagging or marking a very specific copy of the card, and when you draw it and play again, the ability executes.
Having up to 4 copies of card in a deck, in the physical realm tagging a very specific copy is difficult though not impossible i.e. use postit or something to mark the copy when you shuffle back. However, obviously this is not something Magic has done even after their 20 years of experience because it just not work well with physical card realm.
Again this card and its token are from the game HEX. Many TCG has trap type card in fact game like Yu Gi Oh specifically has the card type trap. But this is another card that has been implemented because HEX is a digital realm only game. Imagine how you would do this in the physical realm. Shuffling your own cards into opponent’s deck?
Many player has their cards in sleeve, but some aren’t. Putting cards you have in a sleeve into opponent’s deck where there is no sleeve probably is not a good thing as it become obvious where these cards are.
These HEX cards randomly creates copy of certain cards. This is yet another mechanics that digital only setting allows possible. Can we implement this in the physical realm? Of course, but it will be really hard especially as the game goes along. If there is 6 kinds, its fine you can use dice and simply assign 1 for card A, 2 for card B but in a game like Magic or HEX when there are/will be many card pool no dice would suffice.
This card is not just another randomization. In my opinion, this is one of the card truly makes digital world makes separate from physical realm. You are basically tagging a specific copy of a card within opponent’s deck.
In the physical realm, this is almost impossible. This is because in order to tag a creature/troop you have to see them but that result in essentially revealing opponent’s deck in its entirety. This card is not certainly for that.
However, given the game being digitally exclusive, everything can be taken care by computer in a fair way.
HEX is a digitally exclusive game; whereas, Magic is physical card game that has a digital client version i.e. it is still designed for physical realm version as a core. This difference makes various game mechanics to be different. For those of you who don’t play both games, the difference may appear subtle. However, the difference will continue to widen as more cards are released in the future expansion.
It does not necessary mean the HEX’s approach is better than the Magic. For instance, I know some players simply don’t like the random effect as they feel that takes a way the skill and purely relying on the luck. But key here is not whether one favors one implementation or the other but rather the difference. Digitally exclusive environment certainly opens up many new potential and mechanics that are not possible in the physical realm.