A long, long time ago (when I was in junior high, more or less), I dabbled somewhat in Magic: The Gathering. Video games were my life as a kid, but there was something appealing about a physical card game that brought so much of the lore and style that I loved about SNES RPGs and D&D. After it turned out that playing Magic was an expensive hobby, my mom put her foot down and said I had to choose between that or Pogs. I chose Pogs.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I slowly but surely got back into TCGs with Hearthstone. It was addictive and I could play it on any of my devices without having to tote around a physical card collection. Naturally, when I was offered a chance to meet with Cory Jones of Cryptozoic Entertainment to discuss a new entry to the digital TCG genre, Hex: Shards of Fate, I jumped at the chance and hauled my butt to San Francisco for a hands-on preview and meeting. HEX was being billed as the first MMO/TCG, and naturally I was pretty intrigued.

Prior to the meeting, I was sent a beta version of HEX to try out and familiarize myself with the game. Truth be told, it isn’t as easy to just jump in and play as Hearthstone, but for those willing to spend some time learning the mechanics of HEX, you’re in for an incredibly deep and engaging experience. HEX is at the same time both familiar and unfamiliar, with a ton of different concepts that I have not seen in a TCG (at least from what I’ve seen in my limited experience with TCGs). Its focus is much more on the social aspect of trading as opposed to simply amassing a huge collection. There are a lot of RPG elements, and a full campaign mode is in the works. HEX is rather beefy.

At its most basic level, HEX does what pretty much any TCG does; collect cards, build a deck to bring into “battle”, and hope you have a good enough and varied enough deck to outlast your opponent. Throughout any battle, you’ll be playing cards to use as resources, which are collected to allow tasks to be performed. Each card is associated with a resource (colored gems), so a certain troop might require red gems and a total of 3 total resources in order to actually unleash its attack. The nice thing is the total resources needed to perform tasks is not strictly tied to the color of the resource on each card. So for instance, the red gem troop that needs 3 resources could attack if you’ve collected one red gem and two blues. You just need to make sure you have a red gem played at some point and a total of three gems.

This brings about an interesting strategy when planning your decks. Since you’re allowed a minimum of 60 cards at a time, how many resource cards should you play? And how many of each of those should be each color? Maybe you should build separate decks based off of each gem color and bring only a deck of 70 green gems and cards to each battle. Maybe you can have a little bit of everything in your deck, but what if you draw a crappy hand and end up with a bunch of cards without drawing any resources to back them up? There’s a lot to think about when your resources actually make up a portion of your deck. It’s already mind boggling before you’ve even set foot into any battles.

In addition to the detail needed to create a decent deck, HEX also requires you to associate a champion with your deck. Most of the familiar fantasy archetypes are here; from the human to the orc and a weird bunny-like character called the Shin’Hare . Each champion can be fitted with various pieces of equipment like in an RPG, and of course, each piece of equipment offers modifiers to enhance attacks, defense, magic, etc. To further your chances of emerging victorious, certain cards are “socketable,” where you can add a set number of modifiers associated with specific gem colors. There’s a lot of different variations between your champion, the makeup of your deck, and socketable abilities. In this sense, it’s more RPG-esque than something like Hearthstone.

HEX is still in development, and because of this, there aren’t a ton of different game modes yet. The campaign is listed as “Coming soon,” so all you have is the Frost Ring Arena (sort of a challenge “tower” mode) and online PvP. I’m extremely curious to see what the campaign mode will entail, but for the time being, there’s plenty of card playing fun to be had, despite there essentially being one PvE and one PvP game mode. The deck building experience in itself could basically be considered a game in itself, if I’m going to be honest.

If playing the game gets to be a bit mundane, there are plenty of other things to do. You can purchase new packs the old fashioned way (with money), engage in a thriving trading community to try to get that one card you’ve been craving, participate in a draft (eight participants submit three packs each and conduct a draft), or you can earn colored chests and roll them in a slot machine game (which costs gold depending on the color of chest) to gain rewards.

HEX: Shards of Fate is not so much a TCG game, but more so an entire TCG community based around a solid game. You still get a full fledged game, but you also get a huge trading community and a variety of different community based modes to participate in. It’s free to play, but not based off of the “free to play” model that we see in mobile games. Cory Jones mentioned that he’s reluctant to place the F2P moniker on HEX because it has become somewhat of a bad word in the industry (often rightly so), but HEX is free. Cory referred to the game as “free form entertainment.” You get a nice amount of cards to start with, and you’re more than capable of playing anytime, anywhere with just that. Of course, if you want to give yourself into the addiction of collecting as many cards as you can get our hands on, then yes…you can purchase as many packs as your heart desires with real money. Just know that unlike many other games out today, there is no handicap to moving forward with your starter pack only.

Keep your eyes open for more news about HEX: Shards of Fate as we move forward through the various updates to the game. I’ll be circling back once the Campaign goes live, and I’ll be sure to let you fine folks know about any further updates and features that go live in the near future! Seriously, give HEX a shot! It’s free; there’s no excuse not to try it out!