Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Legends of Runeterra - Card Games and Conversations

As someone with next to no interest in League of Legends, and someone who has been following news regarding Riot over the past few years, I was originally going to pass on Legends of Runeterra.

But as people I knew started playing it, and talking positively about it as a game, beyond being a good League of Legends tie-in, I grew intrigued. Now that I've tried the game myself, I've been having such a good time that I wanted to talk about it.

Overall, Legends of Runeterra feels like a healthy mix of the concepts of Magic the Gathering and Hearthstone, with a few unique twists thrown in to give it a flavor all its own. Like Hearthstone, there's no need to play mana-generating land cards, players just receive a full refill of their mana each turn, increasing the maximum mana by 1, and capping at 10, completely preventing the problem Magic can often have where players can get "mana screwed/flooded" by having too many/few land cards to effectively play.

Hearthstone keeps this in check by forcing players to only use neutral cards and cards within the same class, forcing them to stick with a pre-allocated subset of cards within the pool of all available cards. To impose some restriction, while still allowing for flexible and creative deck building choices, Legends of Runeterra assigns each card to one of the game's 6 nations, and players may use a combination of any 2 of those nations when building their deck. In addition, only 3 copies of a given card may exist in a deck, only 6 Champion cards maximum (representing characters from League of Legends), and 40 cards total, no more or less.

This is a smart compromise on their part, because it allows them to still impose the kind of restrictions on the card pool that are necessary in the absence of a colored mana system. However, those same limitations are loose enough that a high degree of customization and creative thinking can still occur within them. And though metas are always subject to change, I'm seeing a healthy mix of combinations of nations that Riot seems to have done a decent job giving each nation it's own unique set of powerful tools.

And within the game, the flow is significantly different than I'm used to from all of my days playing card games, such that it's very refreshing. Like all collectible card games, Runeterra has a concept of spell speed. Slow spells and creature cards can only be played by the person who has priority. Fast spells may be played in response to other cards, and to combat. And lastly, Burst spells can be played whenever a Fast spell can, except the opponent isn't allowed to play anything in response.

However, priority works different in Runeterra than it does in pretty much any game I have ever played. The only difference between one player's turn and other is who has the ability to declare attacks, indicated by whoever owns the Attack Coin, and who gets first priority. On priority, players may cast creatures, slow spells or attack if they possess the Attack Coin. The opponent then gets the chance to respond, and then whether they do or not priority passes so that they too can play a creature or a slow spell.

This means that there's almost never a turn where players aren't making proactive moves in order to advance their board state. In a traditional model, whenever it's "not that player's turn", they can only play fast spells, but that isn't the case here. While it's still necessary to have fast and burst spells in the deck to respond to big threats, this approach allows for an overall faster pace to the game. It's difficult to explain, but easy to understand once you've played/watched a few matches.

And that speed persists in Runeterra's combat. It's similar to Magic in that the attacking player declares their attacks, and then the defending player gets to assign blockers. However, not only is the Hearthstone concept of persistent damage in full effect here, but players are only allowed to assign a single blocker to each attacking creature. Both of these changes combined can make combat a much more interesting puzzle to solve and navigate, and that's before fast and burst spells come in to start turning the tide.

The sum total of all of these differences between Runeterra and the games I'm used to playing give it a whole new flavor that I'm still both coming to grips with and appreciating for the breath of fresh air it's injected into the genre.

On top of that, it's financial model is also a lot less predatory than I am used to, which has garnered some respect from me for Riot despite all of the horror stories I hear from that studio. Unlike other games in the genre, it is impossible to directly purchase booster packs. They can be earned in game through regular play, but they cannot be bought with real money.

However, players are allowed to buy a certain number of wildcards per rarity each week, and those wildcards can be spent on cards of the same rarity level from any nation. Additionally, they may collect shards through obtain duplicates out of packs, or again through regular play, which may be used to craft cards they desire depending on card rarity. Not only do players not have the ability to spend tons of money rolling the booster pack roulette wheel, but there is a built-in limit on how much they can spend on cards. That said, Riot will let you spend as much as you want on cosmetics without limit, but that still means that players aren't priced out of a strong deck, and nor will they either need to or be able to spend large amounts of money to stay competitive.

In it's totally, this means that Runeterra is a direct response to better much everything that I active despise about my favorite genre, while keeping and perserving all of the aspects that drew me in. While I had no interest in League of Legends lore prior, and still don't wish to play the game itself, I might start finding myself knee-deep in wikis reading up on the "story" of League at this rate.

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