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Marc Conrad
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River Ridge
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My son and I have been playing the Pabst Blue Ribbon of tabletop miniature skirmish games: MTG: Arena of the Planeswalkers. It puts the classy "trash" back into the AmeriTrash category. Take all of those other fancy, big bucks, need-a-loan, on-a-sprue, silver-spoon, gold-plated, Michelangelo-carved work of art miniatures and go powder your wigs. We need more low-brow gaming here! [Insert LOUD BELCH].

Vocal critics abound with MTG: Arena of the Planeswalkers so with a great deal of reservation, I picked it up at Walmart for $11.00. I added the first expansion, Battle for Zendikar, for @$15 and the big-box, stand-alone expansion, Shadows over Innistrad, for @$17 (B&N membership & coupons).

Let's get some obvious criticisms about this game out of the way.

First, Hasbro’s drip-drop approach of slowly releasing expansions for this gaming has essentially killed any buzz/viral marketing and any momentum that this game should and would have had. Hasbro should have primed the pump with an explosive launch. Instead, the game has received the slow meander of corporate lethargy. Hasbro’s snail’s pace sent and still sends an unclear message as to whether Hasbro will continue to support this game. Will another expansion follow its most recent 2016 Shadows over Innistrad release? Who knows? That's the problem. Why don’t we have an answer? Uncertainly is bad in the gaming community because gamers want to know that "if" they invest time and money in a new gaming system that the manufacturer will do its part by clearly supporting it with future releases.

Second, MTG seems to create a divisive dichotomy of either love or hate in the gaming community. Moreover, MTG and its deck building card-chuckers don’t mix well with the 3D world of tabletop miniature gaming. This dichotomy has produced widely prejudiced and unfair opinions about MTG:AOP. The game doesn’t seem to please either community of gamers. The same sort of problem also exists in the Heroscape community too. There’s so much love for the orthodox Heroscape system that this orthodoxy opposes any new innovations or has led to disappointment when the embryonic MTG:AOP is compared with the maturer Heroscape.

Third, there's been so much disappointment with MTG:AOP game system because Hasbro didn't include the usual plastic mountain of Heroscape terrain in its new offerings. Hasbro does toss in a sprinkling of their semi-precious plastic terrain, but, it's only an appetizer, just enough to piss-off those who wanted more of it. Instead, Hasbro provides cardboard terrain. Disappointing as 2D cardboard is compared to 3D plastic stuff, this 2D flatness isn't necessarily a negative since it takes a good bit of time to setup and take down those traditional plastic Heroscape terrain pieces, and, storage is also a problem with them. With MTG:AOP you can layout and put away this new cardboard terrain in seconds; this is attractive when you're busy and you don't have time to put together and take down the plastic puzzle masterpiece of a multi-layered map--saving time leads to more gaming.

I own and play Heroscape. I don’t play MTG. When I first heard about this MTG themed Heroscape reboot, I didn't expect much. In fact, I thought that this merging of MTG and Heroscape was clearly a mistake--something that neither the never-say-die Heroscape community wanted nor something that the MTG card-chucking community wanted either. Yet, for what appears to be an unholy abomination, this MTG/Heroscape genetic experiment does add some new and exciting mechanics to Heroscape. MTG:AOP’s spell cards create interesting new decisions and strategies in the game--they jazz up those tired and aging Heroscape mechanics. The base MTG:AOP feels incomplete though and it needs its later expansions to make it feel like a complete game.

In MTG:AOP, you get five different planeswalkers along with two squads for each of them, all which follow the asymmetrical MTG powers and lore of MTG’s blue, green, red, white, and black factions. The Zandikar expansion adds a fun one-versus-many scenario, two new planeswalkers, including the first multi-colored planeswalker, a new hero class to choose for your army, new spells, and the star of the box, a clearly Lovecraftian, Elder God, Cthulhu inspired larger than life "Eldrazi Ruiner" miniature and his minions--you fight the “Eldrazi Ruiner” in the one-versus-many-scenario. Shadows over Innistrad adds more planeswalkers (including more multi-colored ones), new squads and heroes for each faction color. It also includes a new pylon-like terrain called a "Cryptolith." I haven't dug deep enough into those yet. Upon opening Shadows over Innistrad, my son instantly spotted the planeswalker who transforms into a werewolf. Of course, he chose to play that one.

The MTG:AOP gaming system isn’t without problems, however. The paint jobs on the planeswalker miniatures do look cheap and crappy; but, did you expect more at this price-point? I think that you get @75 miniatures total in all three boxes. All of the miniatures in the game are detailed, distinctive, and cool looking. It helps that you can see what they’re supposed to look like in real color by referencing their army card artwork included in the games (say what you want about MTG, but, MTG’s artwork is exemplary). The miniatures do dress-up nicely if you choose to paint them (hey, checkout the Net pics to see and the pics already posted on BGG).

So far, the base box game appears to be as balanced as a seesaw. The blue planeswalker, Jace, seems very overpowered. Yet, is that because we haven’t figured out how to effectively play the other factions? We look forward to finding out. Playing against blue is a pain-in-the-ass, but, it’s also a lot of fun for the blue player. Gaps do appear in the rules with some of the spells and faction powers, but, these are easily overcome with on-the-fly home rulings or by referencing the official and other FAQ’s floating about on the Net. Experienced gamers won’t have any problems. The rest of the rules essentially follow the traditional Heroscape layout. There’s no initiative or order markers. Players take turns activating one dude from your army.

I really don’t have a problem with any of the wrinkles so far presented in this introductory tabletop miniature gaming system or the rules. It’s easy to jump right in. The distinctive MTG faction powers are cool and varied. One could wander into the labyrinth of literature about the factions and the various planeswalker backgrounds in officially released MTG lore. I won’t be doing that. The faction squads add to the variety and fun--they follow the faction themes; e.g., black deals with the dark, necromancy, and the undead. The sorcery and spells mechanics for each faction throw enough chaos into the mix to make using them worthwhile even if the language on some of the cards is confusing. The MTG card artwork is dreamy and otherworldly. The multi-colored planeswalkers add another layer of complexity and allow customization. You won’t tire of the tabletop matchups made possible by these innovations. Each faction feels different.

Has playing the game been fun? Yes. Does it deliver a dice-throwing tabletop miniature skirmish experience? Yes. Do you feel like a planeswalker? Yes. Do you get to slap-down your opponents with some luck-based dice chucking? Yes. Should you add more Heroscape terrain to it? Yes. That makes the game more fun. Should you buy it? Yes, if you buy all three boxes. I have less than $45 worth of clams and confirmation bias invested in all of it, and, that’s an investment made without hours of tedious sprue-cutting, miniature assembly, and painting. I hope that Hasbro continues to build the system.

Thus far, the three releases show what might be possible. Timely releasing more tiny expansions, e.g., spells in small packs, single squads, heroes, other planeswalkers, more terrain, both plastic and cardboard, and new one-versus-many creatures to fight, would all be no brainers if Hasbro wants this game to survive.

P.S. Hasbro, re-release Heroscape.
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Trueflight Silverwing
United States
Waverly
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The one thing that I think is rather funny when reading (unhappy) peoples reviews of this game is how they look at the expansions. The game has not been out a year yet and has already had a small box expansion and a large box expansion on top of the base game. Very few, if any retail games these days get more than a single expansion a year (most go 2 or 3 years between any major expansions). Aside from very small add on packs or things like that, it would be fairly difficult to find a game with 2 full expansions that has been out for less than a year.

I actually prefer the models not be painted at all really. Let game pieces return to being game pieces. Far too many games these days are so concerned about making their game pieces into collectible models, which while they look cool, often doubles or triples the costs. Give me nice cheap game pieces and let the people who want to play tabletop games with actual model kits keep overpaying Games Workshop for their crap.


That said, the game does feel lacking when you compare it to HeroScape, but then again, most games do because of the shear amount of stuff that was produced for that game. Of course at the same time, you also need to point out that it was that same shear amount of stuff being produced for that game that ran it into the ground and forced the company to abandon it for years because it was becoming far too expensive to produce.

I would far prefer that the keep making nice quality expansions at a slower pace and keep the costs down than go the route of Heroscape and flood the market with way too much crap too quickly and kill the game entirely. If you want more stuff to use in your games while you wait, you can very easily use any of your old Heroscape stuff in addition to the game with little or no changes to the rules.
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Thomas with Subtrendy
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I love the PBR analogy, it's pretty accurate.

Would I play AotP to impress my gaming friends or to better myself intellectually? No, of course not. But that's not the point, it's just good cheap fun. It's McDonalds. It's Wal-Mart. If people try to make it out to be a Brazillian steakhouse or Vera Wang Bradley, then get disappointed, that's their problem.
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Jimmie Hayes
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Knox
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stoic wrote:
Players take turns activating one dude from your army.


One army unit which may be one or more dudes.

Just clarifying for any of the readers that may be confused. Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly.

If you'd rather be playing Age of Sigmar or whatever, go for it. This isn't that. For what this is, it's not bad.
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Marc Conrad
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vliam wrote:
stoic wrote:
Players take turns activating one dude from your army.


One army unit which may be one or more dudes.

Just clarifying for any of the readers that may be confused. Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly.

If you'd rather be playing Age of Sigmar or whatever, go for it. This isn't that. For what this is, it's not bad.


The above dude is right about the plurality of dudes; e.g., squads. Thanks for the clarification.
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Reggie P
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Thank you for the enjoyable read! I also enjoy both Heroscape and this game. I also appreciate your not delving into a detailed rules explanation.
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