Although it can be considered an old, but noble game (it was launched by the Wizards of the Coast in 1993), Magic: The Gathering remains popular, still being played by over six million people. However, its complex and bewitching universe did not find its rightful representation in any video game though. Except for Magic: The Gathering Online, which carefully copies the predefined rules of the game and Magic: The Gathering – Battlegrounds, which made important changes to the style of play, dedicated fans have no other options.
This is when the EA Phenomic studios (renowned for the Spellforce series) decided to change things with Battleforge, a hybrid game which tries to mix card gameplay with the classic recipe of RTS games. The result should be an attractive game, both for MTG fans and normal gamers.
But, before we jump into details, we have to understand why Magic: The Gathering became a real phenomenon in the American territories. Before MTG, there was Dungeons & Dragons, a pen & paper game with a deep emphasis on Role Playing, an aspect which should not be neglected.
Even though a Magic player is less of an actor than a D&D one, even though he does not identify with his characters, MTG still stole a lot of the coherence of D&D’s fantasy world. How could we translate this into human nature terms? Magic: The Gathering is home to those who are frightened by the idea of acting and who prefer to store the wealthy life of their imagined universes inside. They also feast on the strategic dimension of the “classic” card game, where thinking moves ahead is very important.
If we add the rare or extremely rare cards that can turn the tide of the battle when all seems lost into equation, or the periodical new decks that offer a wealth of strategic possibilities, it’s easy to understand how a collectible card game has become a social phenomenon.
Imagination is not allowed
But this model cannot be translated as-is into Battleforge. Rather, the game strips away all the freedom of imagination, which steals a lot of the fun factor. Here’s an analogy: if you give a child the right toys, he’ll happily try to build you the most wonderful sandcastle he is able. But, if you build the sandcastle for the child and let him to play with it, it will probably end up destroyed.
We can then understand the risk EA Phenomic exposed themselves to when they chose to combine two genres, to create a consecrated fantasy universe in which the players cannot change much. Thus, the only way in which Battleforge can still be a good game is through flawless gameplay mechanics. Talking in metaphorical terms again, through offering the most beautiful sandcastle of them all. But, as we all know, there is no such thing as perfection.
The specific Magic: The Gathering deck has been simplified to only allow the summoning of units and buildings. At the same time, the resource cards have been substituted with fixed resource points, where you can summon orbs to harvest the power of the elements or power wells to gain energy.
To simplify the game even more, the number of elements was also reduced to four: Fire, Ice, Nature and Shadow. And, as Battleforge is not a turn based strategy, creature abilities are not applied together with the summoning. Passive abilities are permanent, while normal ones are activated with the press of a button.
In contrast with Magic: The Gathering, where you can only use a card once, Battleforge allows you to use a card as many times as you like, as long as wait for the cooldown timer to expire. The waiting time can be minimized through the use of duplicate cards and other attributes of the cards can be improved through Boosters. Boosters can be gained by playing through the scenarios, and they are split between players either at random or based on the Need or Greed principle.