Koth was a challenge. Between his Rockslide Elementals and his multiple copies of Spitting Earth, he was clearing my creatures off the table faster than I was able to play them. In the end, it took three tries to finish him off and unlock both his deck and the first upgrade to my own. That said, I didn’t care. An AI opponent to play against can sometimes be exactly what a collectible card game needs.
After the jump, why even the simplest AI can improve a collectible card game
My first collectible card game (and one whose design I still admire) was the Decipher produced Star Wars Collectible Card Game. I had discovered the two player box set in the games section of a local toy store, and was so taken by the game that my collection eventually grew to over 1000 cards. Star Wars CCG was in many ways a beautiful game. The resource model, with the idea of draining a player’s life by physically removing cards from his or her deck, was a fantastic way to make the concept of “in-game” life more than an arbitrary number.
Given all I loved about Decipher’s game, it still saddens me that I never actually managed to complete more than 5-10 games of it. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but in my small town there was no card game store, and my attempts to teach other people the game were mostly met with failure. The Decipher cards ended up in a basement closet where they were later destroyed in a flood.
My experience with Decipher’s game is why I have been so enthusiastic about Wizards of the Coast’s attempts to facilitate Magic playgroups. Their computerized attempts; Magic Online and the Duels of the Planeswalkers series; are two very different systems, yet both try to solve the “other player” problem in different ways. Magic Online pairs the full game of Magic with a matching and tournament system, with all the attendant bugs that entails.
Duels of the Planeswalkers never pretends to be the full game of Magic. Instead, Stainless Games appears to have two goals with the series. First, make the game as easy to play on a console as possible, and more importantly, cut anything that would make implementing a functional AI impossible. The first goal is a mixed bag. Some of the streamlining actually harms the game, with the most glaring example being the auto-tapping of mana. The computer does its best to tap the right mana, but occasionally it makes a mistake, and that can cost a player a game.
However, with the second goal, the game is much more successful. Stainless Games has restricted the cards and reduced the deckbuilding. The AI isn’t perfect, but it plays the decks it has been given at a high enough level to challenge a player. And Magic itself covers a multitude of AI sins. When I defeated Kosh, I was unable to say whether it was because Kosh played badly, or because he had a horrible draw to start the game. It may have been a little of both.
The biggest difference between the AI and a live opponent is that Kosh didn’t immediately blame mana screw or a broken combo when I beat him.
Tomorrow, I try out Archenemy mode, and make a new best friend.
Before his last move, Wader had starter decks for 15 different collectible card games hidden in a box in his closet. After that move, the number is down to 3. He currently lives with his wife and sons in Washington, DC; and is pursuing a doctoral degree in Economics.