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Codex: Card-Time Strategy – Deluxe Set» Forums » Reviews

Subject: From a fan of sirlin and Magic the Gathering rss

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Richard Dolder
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I'm a fan of magic the gathering, I'm a fan of Sirlin and agree with a lot of his thoughts on game design even if he's a little too focused on competitive play at times. Still A lot of what he says are things I can agree with.

I was salivating at the prospect of this game, Super hyped, what I got was disappointment.


At the core of the problem is two things, the game is NOT fun when playing against large skill gaps, and the game feels very slow.

And that first one? It's weird, because Sirlin talks so much about getting people to play the same game right from the word go(one of the things I most agree with him on, make the game fun, make that game the competitive game.), and a big part of both problems is how you aren't.

So instead of having counterspells the game allows you to precounter things by attacking their source, tech buildings or heroes, alright cool. But then we come to the first problem on the slow and skill gap, if you have a lead the best way to cement your lead isn't to defeat your opponent asap but to slow the game down to prevent them from making a comeback. While knocking out tech buildings does 2 damage to their base you are still extending the game to prevent a comeback rather than going straight to the dome, which further means comebacks just aren't a possibility.
Another reason comebacks aren't possible is the two things you would think enable comebacks if i'm just picking on someone and they are accumulating giant stacks of gold, ultimate spells and tech 3 units...they won't get to, since building tier 3 means me letting tier 2 stay up, and ultimate spells mean a max level hero being alive the turn you draw them and then for all that work...they aren't that great, they aren't board invalidators that just read "No doesn't matter what was happening I've won now.". Nothing in this game really allows for solid comebacks.

Another problem I find is, there's just too many keywords. Too many keywords with very very little differences or effects. There's five different evasion keywords(Flying, stealth, invisible, unstoppable, overpower), three different anti-targeting keywords (invisible, untargetable, resist.), and sparkshot which deals 1 damage to a patroller when you attack a patroller except explicitly an adjacent patroller which is the king of minor effects.

So sparkshot leads right into the most unconscionable design decision, damage remains between turns. Heroes leveling up I can sorta accept even if the level up mechanic in mtg was awful because they are heroes and it was streamlined, that however? No. Just No. shake More counters, more things being tracked between turns, more slowdown.
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Guido Gloor
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Thanks a lot for the review! I guess skill gaps are a problem, yeah - I neither am skilled yet nor do I know and play with any skilled players.

But something I have to comment on:

Woomod wrote:
damage remains between turns

I love that. I don't understand games where damage is all or nothing. Like "I've got enough damage right now to nearly kill your big guy, but next turn he'll be right back at full strength"? I don't see where that's coming from, other than a simplification for the sake of not having to include tokens.

Tokens are a minor inconvenience for the design space this choice opens up IMHO.

But it's perfectly possible to think differently on the subject of course.
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Some interesting thoughts

I think only MTG players would consider damage remaining really weird. Most people expect it to stay.

I will also disagree with the fact that when you are ahead you should only clear board and tech building instead of the base. Consider for example the blue board clearing ultimate spell which can be played the turn the hero arrives.
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Robin Zigmond
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It's not ALWAYS true that, if you are in a winning position, it's best to "win slowly" by killing their tech buildings and heroes every turn. There was a recent forum game I played where I got in a pretty dominating position - I could have done a ton of damage to his base, but decided instead to wipe his Tech 3 building that he'd just built, and kill a couple of his guys along the way. He was playing all-blue.

Suddenly he brings out the Law hero (not previously seen that game), played Judgement Day to wipe the board - then Community Service to steal my best unit (now in my discard pile) and put it on the board. He then went straight for MY base, and I lost a couple of turns later.

This shows 2 things: that sometimes you should just go for the kill (had I hit his base I could have left it with about 6 HP, and meant I only needed to sneak one or two more things through to win even if I lost control of the board), and that comebacks sometimes are possible.

While we're on the subject of comebacks, Pirate Gunship, the Anarchy Tech 3, is near enough an "I win" card as soon as you play it - even if you were losing hugely before it hit the table. (Some other Tech 3s can allow a comeback too, but none has the huge instant impact of PG.) Sure you have to protect your tech buildings long enough to actually get it out, but you wouldn't want to allow huge comebacks based on just happening to get the right card in hand, would you?

Some of your comments are fair, and I can't make you - or anyone else - like the game. I agree that it is somewhat fiddly to keep track of everything (many players use dice for HP and hero levels, instead of the included chits - I've not played f2f enough yet to have a "solution" of my own), and this can slow the game down - that's perfectly valid. But I'm surprised at a lot of your criticisms, coming from the background you say you do.

The fact that experienced players will have an easy time beating new players is just something that you're always going to get in any game worth playing competitively. Yes, sometimes you can get in a dominating position and guarantee a "slow" win by just killing your opponent's tech buildings every turn - but you can just concede the game early if you can see no possible way to come back. (At least half of PBF games on Sirlin's site seem to end this way.) I've never actually played Magic, but that has a thriving high-level competitive scene, so I find it hard to imagine that a Magic newbie like me (if I ever learn it) could sit down against a national champion, even if given the best deck available, and do anything other than get crushed. It's in the nature of competitive games. And I think it's much more dangerous to design a game with built-in comeback mechanics (even though Sirlin himself did it in Puzzle Strike - I've not played enough PS to know how much it impacts the game), because it can easily lead to a situation where you *want* to get behind in order to let you take advantage of the comeback mechanics. I think if you played better than your opponent for several turns and established a superior position, your opponent should have to work hard to come back. If it's completely impossible to come back, you should have done more earlier to prevent the situation! (And, by the way, I'm not an expert at Codex - I'm not much beyond beginner, and get my butt kicked in most games at the moment. I still love it though.)

I agree that stealth, invisible and unstoppable are probably too many different keywords for similar (but still different) effects, and that one of them (probably stealth) could have been cut out. I don't know why you're listing overpower with them though - that's got nothing to do with evasion, it just lets you carry over "leftover" combat damage to something else. And Flying, although in some ways similar to stealth etc. in letting you get past patrollers, is different and special enough that I think it works well to have it as a separate ability. (It's also directly linked to the RTS games on which Codex is based - but as I've never played those I won't comment any more on this aspect.)

Apologies for the wall of text, and I'm really not trying to be argumentative. Codex clearly isn't for you, and I'm happy to agree to disagree. I just wanted to comment on a few things which struck me as strange in your comments
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Beau Bocephus Blasterfire
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Thanks for the review.

While I will agree with you that the game is NOT fun when playing against large skill gaps, I'd like to argue what game is? The only ones I can think of are games where they are either multiplayer where the group can beat on the leader or games with more randomness and are more swingy. I'd like to argue that any competitive game that is both strategic and/or tactical is only fun when playing with small skill gaps and random factors minimized.

I believe this game allows for comebacks, but they have to happen from turn to turn and can only turn things around so much. Even in MtG I have played numerous matches where once one person had things locked down, there really wasn't much for an opponent to do. I don't believe MtG allows for any more of a comeback. In fact I'd argue that the outcome is even more predetermined to even before a game starts as each player more or less plays their deck without any ability to adjust during the game and that the game offers even less of a chance for a real comeback. Sure you can change your deck up a bit between games, but even then you are limited, at least if you go by tournament rules.

Part of what allows for comebacks in Codex is damage remaining between turns (minus any healing). Having units fully heal between turns while appealing from an accounting perspective takes away from the possibility of taking a unit down over multiple turns. It becomes more of an all or nothing endeavor.

Every action or non action in this game comes at a cost. If players finds that they have a lot of gold left, chances are that they aren't playing optimally. Perhaps they should have bought an add-on, upgraded, play an extra hero or two, leveled up a hero or two or three, teched in more costly/powerful units on an earlier turn. The player that hoards their gold to use later, is playing to lose. You should more or less use most if not all your gold every turn. If you do save up your gold, it definitely it should only be a bit and it shouldn't be multiple turns in a row.

I think part of what may make the game feel slow is that it is still new and there is a lot to process each turn like all the new keywords and things to get used to. With repeated play, I'm quite positive that the game won't feel like it drags. I am surprised that you found the game slow as I find myself engaged the whole time thinking about one thing or another.
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Woomod wrote:
There's five different evasion keywords(Flying, stealth, invisible, unstoppable, overpower)


robinz wrote:
I don't know why you're listing overpower with them though - that's got nothing to do with evasion, it just lets you carry over "leftover" combat damage to something else.


As robinz explained, Overpower in Codex is pretty much like Trample in Magic.
 
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Mike Forrey
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Please tell me what game out there that is any good has a small skill gap? Games that do have small gaps fall squarely into the "filler" category and aren't meant to be challenging.

I certainly hope you are not trying to say MTG doesn't have a skill gap? MTG not only has a huge skill gap but also an extreme monetary gap. However neither of those two problems has kept the game from being successful and good.

You just need to keep playing more games and/or play against opponents of your own skill level.
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Walter Greer
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So to paraphrase, you dont like,

1. the more skilled player winning
2. no run away wins, when ahead
3. no counters when losing
4. too many keywords, with some too similar.

Points 1 and 2 are benefits imo. point 3 conflicts with 2 and in my experience, isnt true. point 4 is a legitimate concern. simpler is usually better. however i think that point only extends to stealth vs invisible. the other examples you use are too tangential to be explicitly relatable. in other words, the distinctions between overpower and stealth, to use your example, are so vast that it makes comparison incomprehensible.

I have to say that i believe you need a few more games and a deeper understanding of just the basic rules. your criticisms reveal some fundamental misunderstandings of how the game plays.

sirlin's idea of balance is to start people at the same point in the beginning. sirlin explicitly wants the more skilled player to win. in fact that's a theme that permeates his thought process in all his game designs. the fairness is that the game is balanced and no player starts with an advantage. humanity has a long history of fair play in games with the victory going to the better player.
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Richard Dolder
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haslo wrote:

Woomod wrote:
damage remains between turns

I love that. I don't understand games where damage is all or nothing. Like "I've got enough damage right now to nearly kill your big guy, but next turn he'll be right back at full strength"? I don't see where that's coming from, other than a simplification for the sake of not having to include tokens.


Well it really depends on "How many things keep ongoing damage" and the answer is...
Heroes, Units, Tech buildings, Add-ons, Other Buildings and the Base. Bare Minimum that's 3-4 things right there from buildings, with probably 4-5 things per side added ontop.
We are talking damage counters potentially split between 10 some different things, that's a bit much book keeping don't you think?

Glencannon wrote:
So to paraphrase, you dont like,

[quote]1. the more skilled player winning
2. no run away wins, when ahead
3. no counters when losing
4. too many keywords, with some too similar.

Points 1 and 2 are benefits imo.


I said it was boring to play with skill gaps and that was the problem not that the more skilled player was likely to win, and as a board game you are going to deal with skill gaps they are just the nature of the hobby.

Quote:
sirlin's idea of balance is to start people at the same point in the beginning.


And it's a big reason why I find the game so disappointing.
Think of the complexity barrier in the game(all the fiddly keywords, knowing what every card is and does, etc.) as the execution barriers he rails against in fighting games so that everyone can immediately get to the real game(codex choices, when to play what, what to play as workers.).
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Guido Gloor
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Woomod wrote:
We are talking damage counters potentially split between 10 some different things, that's a bit much book keeping don't you think?

No, I don't. But then, I also like FFG games.
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Jonathan Maisonneuve
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Woomod wrote:
Quote:
sirlin's idea of balance is to start people at the same point in the beginning.


And it's a big reason why I find the game so disappointing.
Think of the complexity barrier in the game(all the fiddly keywords, knowing what every card is and does, etc.) as the execution barriers he rails against in fighting games so that everyone can immediately get to the real game(codex choices, when to play what, what to play as workers.).


I find brain surgery so disappointing. Think of the complexity barrier in the profession (all fiddly keywords, knowing what every parts of the brain is and does, etc.).

If the game is not for you, move along, go play something like Settlers of Catan or I don't know. Codex is in the play level of MtG. A card game with many keywords and require a deep knowledge of the game itself.
 
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Are the keywords really even a problem for learning this game? Sure, there are a lot, and a few of them have similar effects (Invisible is basically a stronger version of Stealth, for example)

But... in practice, I never once had to reference a rules booklet or anything like that to find out what an ability did because the cards themselves did a good job of teaching me. Most cards have reminder help text of what the keyword does and same keywords seem to appear repeatedly in the same specs, so by the time you get to higher tech cards that have no room for help text you've already seen what the ability does

I actually found the keyword barrier in sharp contrast to Mage Wars (a game I consider on the extreme end of keyword overload), where I had to constantly look them up to see what they did.

One might want less keywords as part of a theoretical design philosophy, but in reality I didn't find the amount of keywords actually caused any problem

Finally, what I saw as the main point in this review, that the ability and incentive to hamper your opponent when you are ahead slows a hopeless game down too much would be a good point if it were true, but I'm not convinced it is.

If someone is ahead enough to repeatedly destroy one's tech buildings and ALSO not cut any corners (which would leave an opening for opponent to comeback), then it shouldn't take many turns of doing this before they have enough attack power to just finish off the opponent in one attack, since their power has just been snowballing and opponent can't play much.
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Alex Churchill
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Yeah, I think there are basically 2 real points in the OP's criticism: (1) Too many keywords, which is probably fair; and (2) that when you're winning, you're incentivised to attack tech buildings rather than the base.

But that's a massive oversimplification. In some matchups and at some times, yes, attacking tech buildings is sensible. But a lot more often than you'd expect, it's probably better to attack the base. Basically because I get to rebuild my tech buildings for free, and play (non-ultimate) spells the same turn I summon the hero, I can spend 2-3 turns having my tech pummelled and then just about stabilise long enough to throw up one turn's defence. And then, okay, it's a question of whether I've got my Tech IIs in hand on the turn when you don't manage to destroy my Tech II again. But that certainly can happen, and I've seen it happen.

And on the flip side, I've had quite a number of games where my opponent has attacked my base rather than my tech, I've laughed and thought "That was silly" and played a bunch of big stuff, but then that early damage has meant that later in the game he can punch through for just enough to kill me when I thought I had the game in the bag.
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Jonathan
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Not every game is for everyone. It's helpful to have a variety of reviews before making a purchase. As many others have said, I disagree that comebacks are impossible or that attacking Tech buildings is always optimal, but I do think there are perhaps one or two too many key words. That's a minor quibble on a game I've really enjoyed.
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David Sirlin
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Regarding keywords, a lot of them are actually there only to make the game simpler (rather than more complex). When multiple cards have the same sentence of rules text on them, it becomes EASIER to parse when you put a bold keyword before the text. That way, when you get to the second card that does the same kind of thing, you don't even have to read the sentence again, just the keyword. The sentence is usually there in the helptext anyway, but in light italics so don't have to focus on it so much.
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David Jensen
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If I summarize it's to comment on the longevity of the game. We have never officially finished a game, not one single game. Every time even from the early days. We evaluate when a game is lost and scoop.
 
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Doctor Fedora
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I can definitely get behind this — when I'm playing with my friend, a lot of the time it'll be clear that things are looking pretty grim (one hero and no units on the board, with all three tech buildings destroyed? No need to stick a fork in that one to see that it's done), but there have been games where I'm just blindsided with 19 HP of damage to my base that I didn't expect at all. Those are pretty silly.
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notyetsuperman wrote:
If I summarize it's to comment on the longevity of the game. We have never officially finished a game, not one single game. Every time even from the early days. We evaluate when a game is lost and scoop.

...is that a good sign or a bad sign for the game now?
 
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Woomod wrote:

And it's a big reason why I find the game so disappointing.
Think of the complexity barrier in the game(all the fiddly keywords, knowing what every card is and does, etc.) as the execution barriers he rails against in fighting games so that everyone can immediately get to the real game(codex choices, when to play what, what to play as workers.).

IMO that's why the Starter Set exists, and why the Red vs. Green set is also designed differently from the expansion sets. There's a strong progression of keyword complexity between them, as well as reminder text. It's there to help people "ramp up" to the decisions enabled by those keywords, which are very high-skill and interesting.
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Richard Evan Lopez
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haslo wrote:
notyetsuperman wrote:
If I summarize it's to comment on the longevity of the game. We have never officially finished a game, not one single game. Every time even from the early days. We evaluate when a game is lost and scoop.

...is that a good sign or a bad sign for the game now?


I'd say it's fine. Competitive Starcraft always ends with "gg" rather than a player's last building being destroyed!
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Alright, so I played MtG from 6e to the introduction of Eldrazi (so about 15+ years, I forgot the set name for Eldrazi). First your complaint on skill gaps is completely invalid. This happens in EVERY PvP game there ever was. Chess, checkers, Go, MtG, Yugioh, Pokemon, Warhammer 40K, etc. there is always not being fun when playing skill gaps.
Next slow and comebacks. First off the game is built to play at tech 1 & 2. The T3 and ultimate spells are more of a bonus than a goal. To me the "slowness" of the game is a bonus. I never liked playing in MtG tournaments due to the game speed being way too fast. Winning in what is suppose to be a skill based game (MtG) in only about 5-7 uber short turns isn't fun. This game takes the amount of time as about 3 MtG games. This allows time to make mistakes and comeback. Comebacks are easy since your deck is never all that big (my deck+discard is never over 15 cards), so your tactics and strategy will be back on the table within 3 turns plus more.
Now something that really hurt my head. Too many keywords? This coming from a MtG player? A condensed list of MtG's keywords is over 100. Codex doesn't even have a quarter of that amount. (insert jackie chan meme here)
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OdinofDuckies wrote:
Now something that really hurt my head. Too many keywords? This coming from a MtG player? A condensed list of MtG's keywords is over 100. Codex doesn't even have a quarter of that amount. (insert jackie chan meme here)

To be fair, MtG rotates its keywords, so that each set has its own "star" rules adjustments and small bank of new or updated words. You're not playing with every keyword unless you're mixing cards from each and every set.

Plus, nothing implies the same criticism isn't applicable to MtG. Being careful not to have overlapping keywords is important in either game, and it's fair to expect a one-shot, top-down design like Codex to be better about a detail like this.

Regarding skill, I'm inferring that the issue is that, going back to MtG, some decks are just more frustrating to play against or lose to than others. If Codex channels folks into playing a frustrating (to the opponent) strategy when they have the lead, that's also a very valid criticism.
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So I figure I'd kind of somewhat-but-not-quite hijack this thread to post my own concerns. So far I've played Codex just once, Midori vs. Zane. I liked it. Started thinking about eventually getting the expansions (while trying to arrange for more plays).

Then I read this review - 'Calm Sober Codex P/review'. Quite an interesting read. To summarize it, ignoring non-game related issues like how much Codex copies from MtG/Starcraft/Warcraft, censorship on the Sirlin forums, and racism in the White/Black factions, it's basically also a review from a MtG-centric view.

From what I've gathered, the main criticism are:

* Too many keywords with overlapping effects (stealth vs. invisible, swift attack/flying vs. long-range)
* Despite being portrayed as having thousands of valid combinations, many combinations are clearly inferior to others.
* Lack of combat tricks due to lack of instants
* Indications that despite 10 years of development much of it seems to be slapped together at the last minute given bad wording in card text, keywords missing in the rulebook, other questionable decisions
* Sparkshot is useless (this is quite harped upon)
* Obscure interactions are not explained in the rulebook, and in some cases are not explained in the card database even though they should be.

This is then followed by reviews of each spec, with criticism such as:
* Future: Since the only cards that interact with forecast cards are Past/Present, this disadvantages any non-purple combination with it.
* Past: Wait, if you play this in multiplayer and another player removes your last fading token your hero can't die from fading anymore? What?
* Bashing: Useless in most faction combinations because it was balanced for the starter set and then Midori got nerfed.
* Fire: Why are the spells all the same?

There's some comments about some heroes being nearly strictly inferior to others, but I'd assume (other than for Bashing) it's balanced out in general by spells and tech. Some of the criticisms feel like they were more theorized than based on actual play.

In the end, it feels like Codex doesn't match up to MtG in terms of variety in the faction selection or combat decision aspects, but I don't see that as a problem, since there's still quite a bit of depth to the game. The bigger issue seems to be the lack of streamlining in the implementation, what with so many keywords and strange interactions to explain to new players.
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Jonathan
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The Calm/Sober Codex review is interesting, but I don't think it's spot on. I don't know if Sirlin is a victim of his own statements, but there is a perception that his games are either perfectly, 100% balanced, or they are awful. That isn't the case. Codex is very well balanced, but every single match isn't 50-50. How could it be?

There are some legitimate criticisms of Codex...an experienced developer might have made Sirlin clean up maybe one evasion term, and get rid of the odd extra keyword here or there. Some of the heroes do seem a bit better than others, the odd spell or unit may not seem all that great. Overall, Codex is still a fantastic game, and I definitely got my money's worth. Any time a game goes from a playtesting scenario into the wild, the odd thing is going to slip out, and this or that spec may be a little too powerful, or a little too weak, but they are all fun to play, and there are no glaringly obvious mistakes in design that I could find. The review seemed awfully nit-picky in some areas. Some Sirlin fans are a little nuts...there's definitely a hard-core crew that won't hear a word of criticism against his games (I've purchased and enjoyed almost all of his stuff, but didn't care for Pandante), but that group seems to be a minority.

I wouldn't be upset if some day there was an updated deck with replacements for a few cards, but given the storm of criticism Sirlin has received for revising his games in the past, I wouldn't count on it. One criticism I think is unfair is that Codex is tough to teach to a new player. I've taught it to a bunch of serious Magic players, and they've taken to it immediately. It certainly isn't as complex, as, say, Agricola. On the other hand, the reviewer who took Magic cards and drew direct parallels to Codex is correct. Some cards seem like blatant rip-offs...I see it more as a nod to experienced Magic players, but YMMV.
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Yeah, at the time I was reading the review, it was quite the dampener but when I tried to summarize the criticisms, I started to find that I couldn't really list a lot of them. In particular, complaints about a particular hero/tech selection being underpowered/inferior can mostly be ignored, because it's likely to be balanced out by the spec as a whole (except Bashing?). Other complaints about the limited cross-faction synergies are notable but not really a problem for Codex because it doesn't need to be a full, 100% replacement/fires-MtG-for-everyone - as a boardgame at its price range it has enough customizability for the cost.
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