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Subject: Dimension-0 : long review rss

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Alan Kwan
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Dimension 0
Long Review
written by Alan Kwan

Dimension Zero is designed by NAKAMURA Satoshi, the game designer
of Yuhodo (Fairy Tale, Masquerade) who participated in the
development of Duel Masters as an advisor. The former Magic: the
Gathering world champion has created some interesting games.

A quick summary of the verdict: the game plays well like a
light-weight German board/card game, rich in strategy, options
and interaction during play, even (yet) without deck construction
and with very limited cards available.

Setting and Bits
----------------
The game is set in a mixed fantasy/SF setting, with both fantasy
creatures such as dragons and elves, and robots. In fact, there
are robotic versions of fantasy creatures too. The cards are
beautifully illustrated, and the layout (where the playing cost
and important numbers are put) is well functional.

Game System
-----------
Essentially, the game is Magic: the Gathering with several
improvements in the mechanisms. Each player starts
with a 40-card deck, and draws 5 cards into his hand. The
players then alternate taking turns, with a turn sequence not
unlike that in Magic:

1. Release (Untap)
All the player's "Frozen" (tapped) cards are Released. That
means mostly Energy cards. Units (creatures) are played Frozen,
and they Freeze to perform the "Smash", but otherwise they don't
Freeze when they Move or Battle.

2. Draw
The player draws a card. The first player skips this on his
first turn.

3. Energy (land)
The player may play one card (per turn) into his Energy Zone.
One nice thing is that, this game does not have "Energy" cards;
any card can be played into the Energy Zone as an Energy of its
own color. This simple mechanism removes the unnecessary lucky
element of a bad draw (you won't be screwed because you draw too
few lands, nor because you draw a land in the late game), and
gives the player lots of options: which card do I throw away as
Energy? In the early game, it is important to play an Energy
every turn, but in the late game, when *both* Energy and hand
cards are tight, whether to play an Energy or not can become an
agonizing decision. Sometimes, the game can later develop into
the situation that the player needs the cards he has put into the
Energy Zone, which is funny. ("Arghhh, why am I so stupid ...")

Yes, this system is inherited from Duel Masters. Being a
children's game, Duel Masters is not really deep enough to bring
out the full potential of this system, but in D-0 we can really
see how this system gives us a game which is fun and tense every
time, instead of a game in which a player is sometimes
mana-screwed plainly by bad luck (which is no fun to both
players).

4. Main Phase
This is the phase in which cards are played. In this game, most
cards (including "Units" and "Bases") can be played as "Quick"
timing, which means that you can play them during your opponent's
Main Phase. Thus the game is always full of surprises and
interaction. (Unless your opponent has used up all his Energy or
hand cards, in which case you can act without fear of
retaliation, at least for this turn!)

The "Battle Space" is a 3x3 field of 9 "Squares". Units are
(usually) played in the bottom row, called the "Self Area". From
there, you can pay its "Move cost" to advance it into the Middle
Area, where it can "Smash" your opponent for damage. (See
below.) If it moves all the way into the Enemy Area, it will do
one more Smash damage, if it is not promptly dealt with, that is.
(By paying its move cost, you can move a Unit one Square in any
orthogonal direction, and a Unit can move several times per turn
as long as you have enough Energy. But Moving is "Normal" timing
[Sorcery], which means that you can Move only on your turn, not
your opponent's. And a newly played Unit is Frozen and cannot
Move this turn.) You can play a Unit directly into the Middle
Area, mainly to Battle an enemy unit to prevent it from Smashing;
such unit (yours) is automatically destroyed after the Battle
(even if it wins the Battle). (If there is no Battle, the Unit
is destroyed immediately, so there is little point in playing
it.)

Only one of your own Units can occupy each Square. When two
opposing Units meet in the same Square (when a Unit Moves into or
is played into the same Square as an enemy Unit), they Battle.
Each Unit has a Power rating and a Smash rating. The Power
rating serves as both "strength" and "toughness" (in Battle, a
Unit inflicts damage equal to its Power, and if a Unit receives
damage equal to or exceeding its Power, it is dead), so a Battle
is essentially a comparison of which Unit has the greater Power;
the Unit with the lesser Power will be destroyed. Of course, cards
can be played before or during the Battle (with Magic-like timing
rules) to modify the Power, or to deal extra damage or do other
effects (for example, the White card "Pegasus Wing" allows you to
flee the Battle).

This 3x3 Battle Space system, in addition to giving the game a
"board game" feel and room for maneuver and strategy, also avoids
the "large creature stalemate" situation sometimes seen in M:tG,
as Battle is always one-on-one. Instead of the stalemate-prone
and overpower-reliant attack-and-block system in M:tG, the Battle
Space system in D-0 fills the game with interaction and
strategy, and is a huge improvement.

A "Base" card is played in one of the three Squares in the "Base
Space" below the Battle Space, and typically affects an entire
Line (column) with effects such as increasing the Power of
friendly Units of a specified color in the Line. Because Bases
are not easily destroyed just by destroying "the attached
creature", they are much more useful than (creature) enchantments
in M:tG.

A third card type, "Strategy" cards, corresponds to the instants
and interrupts in M:tG. They have an immediate effect (some of
which lasts until the end of the turn), and are then discarded.

In M:tG, there are two main constraints against which the player
can do little against, especially if he gets unlucky. One is if
the player doesn't draw enough mana (lands); in D-0 this is
avoided by the Energy system, by which any card can be played
optionally as an Energy card. The other constraint is available
"spell" cards: if you don't get spell cards (or don't draw the
right ones), you can do nothing. In D-0 not only is every card a
"spell" (there are no land cards), but also there is the "Plan"
system to allow the player to always make good use of his Energy.
During your Main Phase, you can pay 1 colorless Energy to make a
"Plan Zone": you flip over the top card of your Library. This
card can then be played directly from the Plan Zone by paying its
normal playing cost. This means that, even if you haven't got
hand cards, you can still do something useful, as long as you
have Energy. If you don't like the card in your Plan, you can
pay another colorless Energy to renew the Plan: you discard the
Plan card and flip over another one. Note that while you can
play the Plan card, this does not allow you to take the Plan card
into your hand (until your next Draw Phase, as your one normal
Draw per turn), nor can you play the Plan card during your
opponent's turn (any card played from the Plan is "Normal"
timing). Thus hand cards are still an important resource: they
are needed to be played as Energy, and for response to your
opponent's moves during his turn (in addition to giving you
more options to choose from, than just one Plan card).
Using the Plan allows you to play more cards if you have the
Energy, but you cannot increase your hand size easily with it.
(Though you can preserve your hand size by playing Plan cards
instead of hand cards.)

In M:tG, you normally draw only one card per turn, so taking
useless lands into account, you draw an average of fewer than one
spell card per turn. Because of this, you need only just enough
mana to play your spell, and extra lands are pretty worthless.
Thus "per-card efficiency" is a dominant concept, and the luck
factor is high. But D-0, with the Energy and Plan systems, is a
much tighter game of resource management and less luck: the
Energy cost is more a real cost (than just a luck-of-the-draw
factor, determining that you either can play the card or cannot
depending on how many lands you draw), and a player with enough
Energy is not limited to playing his one Drawn card per turn.
Knowing when to use the Plan (and when not to, as you don't want
to be one Energy short of playing an important card!) is an
important playing skill in D-0.

5. Smash
If the player has Units in the Middle Area (the center row of 3
Squares), each can now "Smash" the opponent for damage equal to
its Smash rating (which is usually "1", but a few cards are "0"
and some cards are "2"). Units in the Enemy Area (your
opponent's bottom row) Smash for +1 damage. The opponent takes
the corresponding number of cards from his deck, and places them
face down in his "Smash Zone". When he accumulates 7 Smash
Points of damage, he loses the game.

One very nice thing in this game: cards in your Smash Zone can be
Frozen for colorless Energy. This gives a badly Smashed player
more Energy at his disposal, so one cannot relax even if he is
ahead! Also, this leads to the climatic endgame when both
players have accumulated many Smash Points, with lots of powerful
cards flying around, fueled by the Energy from the Smash Points.

The Smash system vaguely resembles the "shield" system in Duel
Masters, but it is much better with the Battle Space system here.

6. Recovery
At the end of a turn, all damaged Units are automatically healed.
This is just the same as M:tG.

Cards
-----
The above summarizes the basic play system of D-0. Of course,
all this is meaningless if the game hasn't got interesting cards.
And it seems that the game does include an abundance of this,
based on the card previews on the official website. The game
uses the traditional 5 colors in Magic: the Gathering :

Red - includes direct damage (only to Units, not Smash) and Units
with heavy Smash abilities.
e.g. Meteor-Bringer Dragon: 2 Smash with the ability "When this
Unit wins a Battle, you immediately inflict 1 Smash point on
your opponent."

Black - includes many fragile Units with powerful abilities, and
some control over the Graveyard.
e.g. Evil-Eye Assassin: low-Power Unit with the ability
"If this Unit deals Battle damage to an enemy Unit of play cost 5
or less, the enemy Unit is petrified (killed) at the end of
that Battle."

Blue - includes many Units with extra movement abilities, extra
control in summoning and unsummoning (called "Bounce") Units, and
extra card draws. However, there are no plans to include
"counterspell", which is simply too almighty and makes the game
less interesting.
e.g. Coral Witch: low-Power unit with the powerful ability
"Summon - same Area". You can play Units in vacant spaces in the
same Area as in your Self Area, and they are played Released.

White - includes high-Power Units to put up a stronger defense,
and abilities to prevent (reduce) Smashing.
e.g. Guren Ribet: a golem with 4000 Power costing only 1 White
Energy to play. But it has 0 Smash and is expensive to Move.

Green - includes the "Accelerate" ability (first strike) and the
ability to control Energy.
e.g. Rainbow Fairy: a Unit with ability "When you play this Unit
from Hand, you may put 1 card from your Hand into your Energy
Zone."

One point to notice is that, while each color has its own
specialties, powerful abilities are mostly correspondingly
expensive to play. There seems to be no clearly underpriced
"core" cards for each color. (No "Terror" or "Lightning Bolt".)
For example, "Goodbye My Angel" (Strategy which Bounces any Unit
back to Hand) costs 2 Blue and 2 Colorless, and "Chaos Hand"
(Stratey which turns any Unit into Energy) costs 2 Green and 3
Colorless. The colors are distinguished by the availability of
various abilities, not by unequal pricing of the same abilities.
"Prosperity" (Strategy: draw 2 cards) costs 2 Blue and 1
Colorless, which seems appropriate, considering that the Plan
system is available in this game.

Interaction
-----------
The best way to show the interaction in this game is by an
example.

It's a few turns into the early game. It's my turn, and I
advance my Spider (weenie) into the center Square. Then I
"pass", preparing to end my Main Phase, and then Smash my
opponent for 1 point.

+-+-+-+
| | | |
+-+-+-+
| |S| |
+-+-+-+
| | | |
+-+-+-+

But before my Main Phase ends, my opponent plays his Guren Ribet.
(Typically, players want to play Units from Hand only at the end
of the opponent's turn, so that the Unit can soon Release and
Move on his next turn. There is usually little advantage to do so
sooner, before the opponent says "pass" for his Main Phase.)
He can play it directly on my Spider, thus killing it, but he
will immediately lose his golem too (because he played it in the
Middle Area). Instead, he plays it in his Self Area, in the
bottom center Square, letting me Smash him for 1, but he can then
advance his golem next turn to kill my spider (with his golem
surviving).

+-+-+-+
| |G| |
+-+-+-+
| |S| |
+-+-+-+
| | | |
+-+-+-+

But my Main Phase doesn't end here. Although Units are "Quick"
timing and can be played on the opponent's turn, cards and
effects can only be played in the Main Phase, not in later
phases. My "passing" would end the Main Phase if my opponent
also passes, but because he played, my Main Phase has not ended
and I can continue playing. Unwilling to let my spider die for
so little, I Move it one step to the right, and then one step
forward, into the Enemy Area. Unless my opponent has the cards
and Energy to take care of it, I can now deal 2 Smash points
instead of 1.

+-+-+-+
| |G|S|
+-+-+-+
| | | |
+-+-+-+
| | | |
+-+-+-+

Of course, my opponent can still Move his golem sideways to kill
my spider on his next turn all the same. However, not only have
I already dealt one more Smash, but also after that Move, his
golem will be at a corner instead of the center Square. He is
farther from my Self Area where his golem can smash me, and he is
farther from intercepting anything I would later send down the left
Line. So it is advantageous for me to Move my spider this way.

Note that I could not have accomplished this without having waited
for my opponent to play his golem first. If I hastily advance my
spider into the Enemy Area first, my opponent can play his golem
directly on my spider. This means not only no Smash, but also my
opponent does not have to pay the Move cost to Move his golem
sideways to take out my spider.

Conclusion
----------
The Energy system and the Plan system means that, the resources
of Energy vs. cards are always tight: you can always find some
use for your Energy (because you can Plan for more cards), and
you are never "mana-screwed" for not drawing enough Energy to
play your cards (if you have got a handful of too expensive
cards, you put down some of them as Energy to play the others!)
Since every card you draw is both an Energy and a "spell", every
card you draw is useful (if it's not, you put it into the Energy
Zone and Plan for the ones you need!) The unlucky "mana-screw"
is avoided by the clever game mechanism, without the need for
specific cards; this eliminates unnecessary luck-of-the-draw and
leaves the game purely to the interesting interaction of card
effects, and of course play skill! (There is still some level of
luck of course, since this is a card game, but the luck is well
under control.) This game is full of strategy, tactics, options,
and interaction. Your play is not dictated by what you draw; you
must manage your resources (hand cards, Energy, Units, Plan,
etc.) carefully. With the 3x3 Battle Space, the game is one of
the richest light/medium games, with no less strategy than a
typical light/medium German board game.

At the point of writing of this review, I have only the first
pre-release structured deck available, which includes Red and
White cards (reviewed in another document). Surprisingly (for a
CCG), the game plays well even with two identical, fixed
starters, with the options and interaction of a typical good
light-weight German game, perhaps even more. We can only expect
the playability to grow astronomically when more cards become
available.

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