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Cryptozoic's Hex tries to be a truly digital trading card game

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Cryptozoic Entertainment's massively-multiplayer online trading card game, Hex: Shards of Fate, aims to embrace the digital platform in a way that no online trading card game has ever done, according to studio president and CCO Cory Jones.

Speaking to Polygon, Jones said the studio's founders have experience working with both MMOs and TCGs, and Cryptozoic itself is known for being the home for licensed TCGs, having made the trading card games for The Walking Dead, Ender's Game, DC Comics Superman: The Legend and World of Warcraft. With this experience under its belt, the studio set out to take advantage of the technology available and make a truly digital trading card game with MMO elements.

"For me, the backbone of good game design is creativity."

"Hex is everything I want as a consumer," Jones said. "Having played and been heavily into MMOs and TCGs, having been a video gamer and a live card gamer, I felt like there was this opportunity for a game to come in and offer me all of that gameplay. So that's where we started."

Jones listed all the features he wanted, many of which are absent from trading card games that have been brought into the digital space. He wanted to play a trading card game online. It had to be affordable. It had to be easy to interface with. He wanted there to be a community around the game, and the opportunity to take part in tournaments. He also wanted MMO features, like guilds, friends lists, the option to play with and not always against friends. He wanted narrative, the ability to level-up and collect things and to go on raids.

The development team worked to create a balanced mix of the two game genres, and then it implemented design that allows players to do things that wouldn't normally be possible in traditional trading card games.

One such feature is escalation. If players have four copies of an escalation card in their deck, the effects will stack up on their own. For example, if a player casts their first escalation card, it deals two damage. When the next escalation card of the same kind of cast, it will do four damage. When the third card is cast, it will do six damage. The game will automatically understand if a player has escalation cards in their deck and implement the changes accordingly.

So if a player casts a card like Sabotage, it will place traps in the opponent's deck.

Hex also has a card tracking feature, which is something Jones says would not be possible in a physical trading card game. So if a player casts a card like Sabotage, it will place traps in the opponent's deck. When the opponent draws a card, it will deal damage to them. The strategy then becomes creating a deck that essentially booby traps the other player.

Like other digital trading card games, Hex also has transforming cards, which are cards that change their state after certain objectives are completed. There's a socketing system, so players can choose from a list of gems and, when the gem is applied to the card, it fundamentally changes what the card does. There are cards that generate random artifacts, cards that change their form and stay changed and cards that come into play unrevealed.

Jones describes the diversity of cards and their very different properties as giving players the opportunity to be creative with their deck. It gives them a choice in how they want to play and it gives them the tools to express themselves.

"For me, the backbone of good game design is creativity," he said. "The ability for the gamer to be creative, whether that be in a first-person shooter or an RTS or The Sims or TCGs is important. A lot of what you're doing is finding a creative way to a solve a problem.

"The level of creativity is what really deep down makes you feel like you're connected to the game and makes you feel really good about yourself and your experience."

Hex: Shards of Fate was successfully funded on Kickstarter earlier this year. Those who missed the opportunity to donate to campaign can contribute to Cryptozoic's Slacker Backer program, which grants supporters access to the game's alpha.