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Subject: Harald vs. CCGs and Deckbuilders rss

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Chris Williams

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This review will not cover the mechanisms. I'm reviewing what the game feels like to play and how it compares to the other big styles of competitive card games.

...

There are many known flaws to CCGs (games like Magic: The Gathering); staying competitive through spending more real-world cash, having lots of boxes of random cards to store, trying to find decks that are well balanced against each other, etc. But there's the allure of being able to create your own unique strategy and duke it out with your bud or partner, without having to carry a big box around, without having to take up a lot of space, and still having a good mental puzzle to solve.

Deckbuilders, to me at least, seemed like they should have addressed these flaws, while leaving the good bits still in place. In my experience, though, they've always taken their cue from Dominion and played like multiplayer solitaire (at best) or as "take that" games (at worst). I have yet to encounter a deckbuilder that feels like a grand, strategic battle between you and your foes.

Harald's mechanisms don't match either style of game in almost any way. And I won't say that it is the answer to this problem. But, after a few plays, I feel like it's the start to a solution.

Like a deckbuilder, you are selecting the cards to add to your hand. Like a CCG, you're deciding how best to deploy your forces to strengthen your side or diminish your opponents' side. And that gives the sensation that one would want from the sort of Holy Grail game that I would want. You both have an equal chance to win at the start, there's no external real-world money market for cards, there's a strategy over building your deck, and there's a real interactive competition between you and your opponent that feels like a struggle, not just a "take that" back and forth.

That part is excellent. The simplicity of the rules is also quite desirable.

The problem is that after you've wrestled your opponent around for however many minutes, you have no idea whether you won or lost. While it doesn't take an excessive amount of time to score, it takes long enough to disconnect the rapid back and forth of card play that you had just been in from the score you receive. You might have though that you were winning, just to find out that you didn't. You might have had a sense that you were winning, but by the time you get the score, it's been too long a gap for you to pump your fists about it. The end scores are just an, "Oh. Okay, that's what it is." It would be better if, like Magic or Star Realms, you knew where you stood at every moment through some simple metric that updated through the duration of the game.

And, of course, the other problem is that the cards only have symbols on them, and while the scoring symbols are sufficient for you to read and grok, the special power symbols really aren't. It will take a bit of repeat play before you're going to be able to remember all six cards and be able to use them instinctually. Ideally, you would have text on the cards.

Looking forward to the potential of being that Grail game I speak of, there's the problem that the game assumes block sets of duplicate cards. You could expand it by adding new animals. But if you added too many, then it would make many of the sets useless, because it would be too hard to get all of them. If you remove one set, you might as well remove another, because its scoring depends on the one that was just removed. With this system, there can't be the infinite creativity of strategy invention as Magic. I haven't played it enough to confirm, but I would assume that like your average deckbuilder, there are going to be some set strategies that are simply better given the sets that you have put into the market. Once those have been discovered, you're simply a worse player if you don't know and use them.

Overall, it's a solid game. You'll need to accept that you will need to play 5-6 times before feeling comfortable with all of the cards in the game and how they play, and until then you're going to be a bit disoriented with each play. If you're willing to put in the up-front effort, and have a regular partner willing to do the same, it's probably going to be worth your faith.

But, for me, I mostly look at it as a good first step on a path to something better. While I don't think that this game was meant to be the type of game that I'm envisioning, I do hope that some designers will take it apart and figure out if there are some next steps on this path. The "feel" of the fighting, once you're under way, is quite good. The question is whether that could be preserved if you made the scoring less obtuse and each card more unique, or would that just make it a "take that" game?
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RĂ©mi GRUBER
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Hello,

Thanks for this interessant analyse of "Harald". I'd be honored if the gameplay would inspire other designers! :)
As you noted, the game was not thought for expansions, because of the conditions with other character. But sometimes, I'm thinking about it. Maybe later...

About the game, I like that you don't really know who is winning. Because it force you to fight until the end. But I understand your point of view.
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Chris Williams

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Remi wrote:
About the game, I like that you don't really know who is winning. Because it force you to fight until the end. But I understand your point of view.

If you're still working on the game at all, one thought I might have for you to trial would be to score the card you have just added to your village at the end of every turn (taking a chit with the value). Score sheets are awkward in general.

Personally, I'm quite happy with MtG as it is, so I don't really need the style of game I talked about. I don't need to buy more better cards and I have enough space for my pack of cards for deckbuilding. (And I just don't play Dominion and other deckbuilders any more.) I'm happy with Harald as it is - except the score sheet and lack of text - and I don't feel like it needs to be much different. But MtG does make a lot of money, so it might be worth thinking about even if it's not what you would usually aim for.
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