The other day, Play This Thing featured Spectromancer as their game du jour. Since I already had a copy from one of those holiday bundles on Steam, this seemed like as good a cue as any to finally give it a try.

A glance at a screenshot is enough to make it clear that this is a Magic: the Gathering imitation, but that’s a misleading thing to call it for a number of reasons. For one thing, it carries the connotation that the designer is riding on Richard Garfield’s coattails, trying to find an untapped vein of the gold mine he discovered. But Spectromancer was co-designed by Richard Garfield himself, apparently with an eye towards correcting the flaws in the original, or what he perceives to be the flaws. The result is something that shares certain mechanics with M:tG, but not the really important ones.

This isn’t really a CCG at all, you see. It’s more accurate to describe it as a CCG-themed board game. Controversially, there’s no deck-building (just like in Duels of the Planeswalkers — perhaps they’re aiming for the same casual used-to-play-Magic-a-little audience). There isn’t even a deck. I once described how Etherlords simplified the “deck” concept into something easier for computers to deal with. Spectromancer takes this a step or two further. The cards that are available to you are chosen at random at the beginning of each match, and every spell that’s chosen is always available to be cast. The only limitation is your mana.

The gameplay does have a very M:tG-ish feel, but it’s almost unbelievably simplified. In M:tG, turns can run pretty long: you untap your cards, perform any upkeep resulting from continuing enchantments, draw a new card, tap lands to get mana, cast spells, choose creatures to attack, resolve combat, cast more spells. Obviously some bits of this can be simplified by a computer interface, but there’s a tendency for certain cards to mess that up, forcing you to make decisions during the upkeep phase or whatever. Here’s what you do on a turn in Spectromancer: You cast a spell. That’s it. You usually have to choose a target (in the case of a summoning spell, a target location), but that’s the only complication. Turns are short and sweet.

There’s more to say, but I’ll say it tomorrow, after I’ve played a bit more. It’s engaging enough that I’ll probably stick with it until I finish it.

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