The Analog Gamer: Magicmorphosis

shards-intro.jpgWhile we’re waiting for the release of the D&D 4E core rules this week I thought it’d be a good time to do some general news and updates.

I realize this column had been Wizards of the Coast heavy lately and I apologize for those of you out there reading who like your gaming discussions to be a bit more broad in nature. Before we go far afield though I wanted to highlight an announcement I received from Wizard’s last week regarding some interesting changes coming to the entire Magic the Gathering line.

Beginning with the release of the upcoming “Shards of Alara” expansion set, Wizards is instituting a few changes tot he way cards are bundled, sold and even to the content of the cards themselves. The new set launches on October 3rd, 2008.

One of the more shocking changes, and one I’m not sure I completely buy as sold to us, is that as of that card set the number of cards in a set will be decreasing. While Wizards is claiming this is as a result of feedback from Magic players who claimed “the volume of cards released each year is too high ”, I’m betting its much more likely the cost of printing and lower sell through rates may be mandating this change, though its always easier to wrap a change like that in a “customer request” to make it more palatable. That’s just my suspicion though.

Wizard’s Head Designer for Magic the Gathering, Mark Rosewater, wrote a companion explainer article for the Magic the Gathering website where he attempts to put the changes into perspective

authorpic_markrosewater.jpg“Not counting the core set, we will print fewer cards during the Shards of Alara year than we have ever printed before in any Magic year – 519. Even counting the core set, it is over one hundred cards fewer than the previous year. The reasons behind this change are twofold. First, as we examined the barriers for entry to the game, we realized that the speed of release of new cards was front and center. If new players quickly get overwhelmed they tend to walk away, never to return. A new player today trying to get into the game has the same hurdles that all new players have had historically, but one entering this July, for instance, faces a Standard environment of over 2,100 cards. One of the easiest ways of simplifying things was to just print fewer cards.”

“The second reason for the change was feedback from existing players. We were just printing too many cards. Even established players were having issues keeping up. As the graph above demonstrates, we’ve been ramping up the cards produced over the last few years. We simply went too far. We were printing too many cards for the new and established players.”

“This change is helping to adjust to the right balance. Why then did we choose a number lower than what had been our staple number for so many years? Because we wanted to give ourselves a little wiggle room for when we came up with interesting ideas like Time Spiral’s “timeshifted” set or the Lorwyn / Shadowmoor mini-block structure. 519 cards is not our cap, but our new baseline.”

With a game as old and established as Magic I can understand the basic premise that too many cards is bad, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who was discouraged by having more shiny options in their decks.

The other changes afoot include the creation of a new rarity type called a Mythic Rare which will appear as one in every eight boosters as that packs “rare” card. Not a bad mechanic to try and drive the secondary card market, and it also adds another tier of potential power cards to the game since the rarity will make them far less common in most games.

Another change that strikes me as odd, but maybe just because of my tendency to pick up Theme packs for sets rather than boosters is the elimination of these products. Instead Wizards is shifting back to the introductory pack approach, which is a shortened deck of 41 cards versus the standard 61 cards. I’m personally disappointed by this change because I have always enjoyed having the ability to pick up a theme deck to test out the mechanics introduced in a given card expansion in an immediately playable form.

I’m not a deck builder, I’m not interested in getting that involved with Magic in that way like I was back in the early 90′s I like the ability to pull a pre-con deck from a box, sit down with friends who may or may not understand the game and playing a quick few hands. The intro decks will serve the same end I guess, but its the shorter deck length that bothers me.

I’ve always found the theme decks were great ways to introduce new players to the game, but maybe the marketing numbers don’t reflect the way I and my group of friends used these products. I think my view is counter the concept of selling endless boosters, which is why Wizards is in the business. I don’t tend to modify the pre-con decks much, despite the gazillion cards I have from all my old sets. They are in this to make money.

The other changes include an extra basic land in boosters to help new players, larger “fat packs” that will include more boosters than before and some novels and guides to complement the new set releases.

So on to some other news:

hunter-article.jpgHunter: The Vigil hits streets in August around Gen Con, but fans of the World of Darkness series can get some interesting information about this re-imagining of the classic game. Like its predecessor, Hunter: The Vigil concerns humans who’ve seen through the veil of the World of Darkness. These unfortunate souls know that humanity is not alone and focuses on their monster-hunting exploits.

Hunters are the points of light in the shadows that fill the World of Darkness. They aren’t blood craving undead or vicious wild lycanthropes or even those touched by magic – instead these normals fight almost insurmountable odds to overcome the evils around them.

The game requires the core World of Darkness rulebook and will retail for around $35 in August. I’ve always enjoyed the moral themed WoD games over the years, there is just something so challenging about playing the victim and overcoming the odds.
Dark Heresy has a new publisher
40krp-inquisitors-handbook.jpg A few months back I reviewed the Warhammer 40K RPG Dark Heresy and mentioned that it was basically discontinued before the first books hit the streets because its publisher, Black Library, was exiting the RPG biz. Well good news everyone! Fantasy-Flight Games, publisher of the World of Warcraft and Doom board games took the option to reprint and continue the successful game line.

The first adventure, Purge the Unclean is already out as is the Inquisitor’s Handbook. If you’re a fan or owner of the game be sure to check out the forums over at Fantasy Flight Games, there are some rather interesting fan conversions published there.

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