Monday, September 14, 2015

First Impressions of Epic, by Rob Daugherty

$15 tuck box with four factions? Seems good...
Epic isn't just an exclamation anymore; it's also the next in the line of Rob Dougherty's genre-defining card games, which includes Star Realms and various Ascension expansions. Epic's not a deck-builder, so that's new territory from one of the hobby's giants, but the rest of the game will look very familiar to fans of Rob's previous work.

Epic was delivered to Kickstarter backers this weekend, and I've played about 10 games, including a quick two-player draft session. I've already had a half-dozen heated conversations on such subjects as "is it good" and "of course it's good" with my close gaming friends (also backers), so it's time for a quick first impression for those who aren't getting KS copies, or who may have a chance to pick up the game elsewhere. 

In Epic, two players use champions and events to deal damage to each other, in the hopes of reducing their opponent's life to zero. Sound familiar? Epic has a number of similarities to Magic, but strays in a few fresh and interesting ways. 

First, there's no mana in Epic. Players get one "gold" each turn, which can be spent on events, each of which costs either 0 or 1 gold to cast. Gold doesn't accumulate, which means you will almost always play at least one card on your turn, or risk falling behind quickly. Players get that gold on each turn, so each player typically casts at least one event on both players turns. 

Second, because there's no specific resources to speak of, it doesn't matter what color your cards are, or whether or not you drew the right types of cards - you can play anything at almost any time, and all the cards are powerful. Setup for Epic is as easy as dealing each player a random 30 card deck from the available 120 (or around 130, with KS promos) and starting the game. 

Third, champions are "prepared" (untapped) at the start of both players turns (edit: thanks to redditor Dapperghast who pointed out my error in reading the rules, this is not the case - preparing happens at the start of your turn only, as any rational player would expect). There is no "ramping up" period over the first few turns like you see in most CCGs and LCGs. Most of the time you can do whatever you want whenever you want to do it, and you have to hope that you can create problems that your opponent can't solve. 

Changing up the resources wouldn't be enough to make my jaw drop - the cards also have to do interesting things, and they do. The first champion I saw my opponent play in my first game was a 30/30 Wurm (players each start with 30 life). Many creatures have "Ambush", so they can be played on the opponent's turn, often with powerful enter-the-battlefield effects or synergistic combo abilities. Plenty of creatures have "Blitz", so they can attack the turn they come into play. It's easy to play a big, nasty card and present an immediate threat that your opponent can't afford to ignore. 

Fortunately, the champions aren't the only "broken" cards - the events are often fantastic, providing things like extra power, complete annihilation of the battlefield, or massive damage directly to the opponent. Most of the experienced Magic players I know reported a sense of shock at how quickly Epic presents seemingly-overwhelming situations, before settling in and realizing how there's a fair sense of balance within the insanity. 

My initial feel for Epic is that it will hit the table pretty often at game night, as many of friends are "old" Magic players who gave it up long ago, but still enjoy the idea of verbally sparring while slinging spells. The "phases" are simple, the keywords are well-defined, and an experienced card game player will have no problems immediately devising clever uses for powerful cards. 

The draft and random-deal formats mean we can start up a four-player mini-bracket in less than five minutes, and the quick playtime (15 minutes or less per game) means we can finish in under an hour. This kind of pace, combined with accessibility and time-to-teach on par with Star Realms, means we can introduce Epic to a completely new player and have them in their first game faster than most middle-weight board games we play. That means Epic will be on our table for as long as Star Realms was (almost a year), and I'm really excited about that. 

I encourage serious card game players to give Epic a shot. You'll likely be taken aback by the power level and lack of tempo in the game as compared to the slow ramp in Magic, Hearthstone, or Netrunner, but I think you'll quickly appreciate the fun of working out the most valuable ways to play your champions and events (almost all events can be cast for your choice of multiple effects).

My best description of Epic is that it's "Magic for Timmy" (the famous player archetype who loves big, explosive powers), and that's ok with me. Often, games hinge on "whose cards are better for this situation", and while that may be frustrating to a regular tournament player, it's a wonderful way to enjoy an hour or two with your friends who aren't interested in exploring the depths of a more complex game. 

Pick up Epic (at $15, it's the definition of value) and play it with your friends who want all the awesome moments of Magic without the rules lawyering. Introduce it to all the folks you played Star Realms with last year, and see if they're as enamored with Rob Dougherty's new titan as I am! 

JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. Some of his reviews are also published in Ravage Magazine or at Tabletop Gaming News

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