If you were paying attention to Magic related news last week, you may have seen the announcement and reveal of a Magic the Gathering strategy board game. The first sneak peak of it took place at this year’s Essen Spiel (an annual tabletop game convention in Germany of epic proportions), and while the game is still very much a work in progress, there’s a lot we can talk about.
First things first; this thing looks a lot like Heroscape. As some of our readers are sure to remember, Heroscape was a strategy board game developed by Milton Bradley and later Wizards of the Coast (both subsidiaries of Hasbro) that featured combat across hexagonal interlocking board pieces. The game board was set up featuring many different kinds of terrain (lava, deserts, glaciers, roads, etc) and players would build armies from a variety of different real world, mythological and made up troops (cowboys, samurais, dinosaurs, secret agents from the future and more) and duke it out. The pieces could move and interact with the terrain in different ways, and the board pieces could be stacked, allowing the game to function in three dimensions.
Heroscape was produced between 2004 and 2010 before ultimately being discontinued by WoTC to focus on their core games, Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering, but it may very well get a second life from the Magic strategy game (name pending) if the pieces are compatible, even if the rules are different.
Here’s what we know so far about the rules: After the game board is set up, between two and five players pick a Planeswalker character of their choice. The players choose their Planeswalker’s starting locations near the back of the board, and the starting locations for two of their squads. From what we’ve seen so far, each of the starting planeswalkers will have two available squads; and from the looks of it they’re broken into a smaller, more fragile, but ultimately more maneuverable squad; and a bigger, slower, more hard-hitting squad.
During each player’s turn, that player will choose one of their squads (the walker themselves counts as a squad) and go to work, moving across the battlefield and attacking enemy units. Combat is determined by dice (6 sides; 3 swords, 2 shields, 1 blank) and will vary depending on a number of criteria. The squads are backed up by a deck of spells. The deck represents the variety of spells that your chosen Planeswalker character has access to, and they provide additional affects to your army not provided by the units themselves.
The board demo’d at Essen featured six pieces of board that could be changed into different configurations including water for different maneuvering rules, terrain that added three dimension rules (in Heroscape attacking or moving uphill gave you penalties under most circumstances, pieces of wall to block certain paths, and glyphs that gave certain locations on the map unique importance. Given that Magic is famous for its multiple wincons, I imagine there will be different game modes here other than “defeat everyone!”
A large component of the game seems to be translating Magic lingo and feel into traditional strategy board game terms. Many Magic keywords like haste, deathtouch and first strike were observed on the game units; and a number of the spells in the decks had names, art and effects that matched well-known spells from the MTG trading card game, classics like Firebreathing and Unsummon, next to new favorites like Twinflame.
Beyond what we know about the mechanics (which are still very much WIP) we’ve also learned about some of the story behind the game. The game is taking place on the world of Shandalar. Shandalar is noteworthy for being the setting of the 1997 Microprose game, and more recently, for being the hub world featured in the more recent core sets, specifically where the new breed of slivers are from.
They likely chose Shandalar for the same reasons it was developed in recent core sets; to represent an archetypal high fantasy setting. Planes like Theros, Innistrad and Tarkir are great, but Shandalar has developed to be closer to the ‘dragons and knights’ default that many people think of when they talk about fantasy. I don’t doubt that (provided the game does well) that there will be expansions that delve into Magic’s more unique settings, but I think this is a good jumping off point.
Next are the characters. 5 is the Magic number in, err, Magic; and the base game at launch will have five playable characters, one for each color in Magic. Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess and Chandra Nalaar are all in. They were three of the original Planeswalkers introduced in Lorwyn, and even after all these years, they represent much about their respective colors mechanics and philosophies.
Nissa Revane is the green Planeswalker of choice. Garruk has recently become a hulking Jekyll-and-Hyde styled green-black killing machine, so they had to go with someone else. After her failures on Zendikar, Nissa softened consdiderably in her original Nazi-esque “elves are the master race” mindset, and the most recent Magic coreset highlighted her status as the current ‘default’ green Planewalker. Same thing going on here.
Of note, the white launch character was deliberately left out, and I have two ideas as to why. First, the character is a secret. This would make sense if Wizards has plans to resurrect Elspeth (something I am personally against as a Vorthos, but that’s another article for another time), or if the character is someone new. Potentially someone that shows up later in Khans block or in next year’s large fall set. This product is slated for release at next year’s Gen-con (which is taking place from July 30th to August 2nd). Second, the figure/rules weren’t ready yet. A mundane alternative, but the game is still being made. Given its proximity to the fall release, I suspect the white character will be a new character of importance in next year’s fall set.
- 2 to 5 players take control of a Planeswalker and their summons to do battle
- Many mechanics made to be reminiscent of Magic adapted to a 3d space
- Deck of spells adapted from notable TCG spells
- Release planned for late July, 2015
Heroscape wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroscape
MTG Board Game press release http://s3.gatheringmagic.com.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2014/10/16/mtgsg-press-fact-sheet.pdf
MTG Board Game interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHN2NpEOYSg
Imgur Album http://imgur.com/a/OoZOx>>