A couple of us Cave dwellers got to play around with some Hecatomb TCG starters early last week. You would’ve heard about it in our OgreCave Audio Report last week if not for the aforementioned pooch-screwage. Now that I’m back from a cross-country jaunt, let me summarize what conclusions we came up with about WotC‘s latest CCG experiment.
In Hecatomb, each player tries to win by bringing about the end of the world. To do this, players gather souls, and therefore count up to twenty rather than whittling opponents down to zero. Players automatically gain a point (or “soul”) each round, creating a built-in time limit: eventually, just by the passage of turns, someone will win.
So how does one reap these all-important souls? With demonic and monstrous minions, that merge together to form the far more useful abominations. Using four colors (“dooms”) of power (“mana”), players tap these resources and bring in creatures or effects. Sound familiar yet? Yes, these creatures have a strength, varying cost to bring into play, and frequently have special abilities. Other spell cards can augment individual minions, entire abominations, or certain activities in the game.
Here’s where it gets weird: the Hecatomb cards are pentagonal plastic, with artwork and individual minion stats in the center, and abomination-affecting stats along one of the five card edges. The other four edges are transparent. Why? So the minion cards can merge together and form Voltron, silly. Well, a demonic, twisted critter called an abomination, actually, which are the warriors of Hecatomb‘s battlefield. Up to five minion cards are placed atop one another, adding strength and abilities to the whole. Looking at a stack from above, players can easily see entire range of an abomination’s abilities, as they’re written along the edge of each component minion card and show through the cards stacked above (far better than the transparent cards in Atlas Games’ Gloom). There are also conditional, one-time abilities that are triggered by playing the appropriate color cards atop each other.
Once an abomination has formed (requiring at least two minions) it becomes capable of defending, attacking, and gathering souls. When abominations attack (which isn’t a Fox special yet), other abominations can block, and damage is dealt to the topmost minion on each stack, downward. Unblocked abominations reap a number of souls from the defending player equal to the size of the abomination, not it’s strength (3 minions = 3 souls reaped).
As we played, the frustrating parts of CCGs peeked out now and then, but weren’t nearly as bad as some games. In theory, coming from behind in Hecatomb should be easier, since reaping of souls comes directly from the opponent’s points, reducing his total while increasing yours. There was less “mana screw” as well (I refuse to call it “doom screw”), since any card can be used as mana of its color by simply designating it as such on the table, but “minion screw” came up for me during one game. Of course, we were playing with a pair of untuned starters, a situation that can magnify any game’s frustration level.
The game can get rather nasty if a “God” card comes up. These are essentially “Enchant Player” cards that have an immediate effect when they come in, and a continuing effect as well. I managed to play “Great Cthulhu” in our first game, who caused all enemies to discard their hands, and anyone who attacked me thereafter to discard a minion each time they had the audacity to threaten me. Even the God cards can be played as mana, though I assert that anyone who does so should lose automatically. Or the God card itself should reach up from your mana pool and throttle you.
Mike was figuring out all the ways to cheat in tournament play, say, by fingerprinting a certain edge of all the minion cards or the like. This could work for you cheating types, since the plastic used for the cards gets a fingerprint build-up pretty easily. I spoke with a guy at the local game store who said his friend was putting one of the store’s demo decks through a dishwasher to get the accumulated fingerprints off. I’ll be curious to hear if the game’s dishwasher safe. Maybe WotC will add it to the game’s marketing.
As a minor aside, Hecatomb‘s counter sheet, used to track the amount of souls players have, is poorly printed. At a glance across the table, it was difficult to tell a “1” from a “5” due to the stylized blurring used for the font. Bad move, that, but certainly not crippling to the game at all. Coins, paper clips, dice, a pad of paper – all viable solutions.
My conclusions: Hecatomb is CCG demons and mutations done right. There’s still a feel of “Magic lite set in Dante’s Inferno” to it, but I think players will get into the idea of pulsating amalgams of beasts that go into battle, get bits hacked off, scurry back to their lairs and grow new, disgusting beast bits. Or indeed, grow entire new beasts that will separate from the host somehow and go start their own band. Experienced, jaded CCG gamers should give Hecatomb a try as well, as the frustration points most CCGs have are smoothed over a bit, and the artwork is just fun to look at… in a disturbing sort of way.