Okay, let’s try this again…

Upon re-reading my first review of this game, I realized that it was not simply a review, but there was also an editorial on where this part of the industry was headed. It was all muddled together, and came off as a luke warm review of the game. This is not what I intended, so I went through, sifted out the two sets of opinions, and separated them, so people can understand just what it is I am talking about (a rare privilege – savor it, people). Ready? Hang on.

Sanctum by Digital Addiction is a collectable card game that has taken the Internet by storm. It has crossed whole new boundaries, and is even changing what it means to be a CCG.

In the world of Sanctum, the player can be a wizard of one of twelve houses, each of which focuses on two of the six different types of mana (the magical energy used to cast magic, which are in three sets of paired opposites). The whole setup is very elegant when you consider that opposing houses (Life and Death, for example) each have two ends of two pairs, and the only combinations not used are the three paired opposites. Mana is generated by towns, recruits (either trained for combat or to generate one of your house’s two types of mana), or spells. The wizards use this to cast more spells, each of which are of a house so have costs consisting of the appropriate mana types.

But unlike Magic: the Gathering, or any other collectible card game for that matter, the cards are all virtual. You are given a free ‘starter deck’ of 60 ‘cards’ which you can play with right away. You pick one of the twelve houses, and the deck is supposed to be ‘tuned’ toward your house (most of the cards are of your house, and most of the rest are of a house that has one mana type in common with yours). It is actually playable as is, but I’d use the rather functional deck editor to trim some chaff.

Also unlike other CCGs is the environment in which you play. You start by looking for opponents in a typical Internet chat room, challenge or be challenged, and off you go to battle. The game board (another major difference) is created, with your castle (or sanctum) on one end and your opponent’s on the other, and towns and various bits of terrain in between. You generate armies (from your sanctum or towns you control), plan your strategy, give orders to the troops, and prepare to cast spells (which are dealt to you from your ‘deck’), while your opponent does the same. All actions are then performed once you both confirm. Combat ensues between opposing adjacent minions, and then you repeat as necessary. The player who has minions in his opponent’s sanctum at the end of a turn wins.

Since it’s always both players’ turn, there is never any ‘casting spells out of turn,’ which is probably the single element that makes MtG so complicated at times. Spell stacks, be gone! The artwork seems to be all done by one person, so if you don’t like his stuff, you’re stuck. But personally, I think it’s really cool.

Don’t feel your 60 cards are doing the job? Well, you’re in luck, because 15-card ‘booster packs’ are available, and you can buy them right over the Internet. You can buy one at a time for $2.99, but if you buy 40 (which I’m told most do), the price goes down to $1 per. I don’t really understand the desire to own cards that don’t really exist. I mean you can’t take these virtual cards and put them in a binder to show your grandchildren. But I must be in a minority here, because people are spending cash in droves for them.

Sanctum is a well though out, cleverly constructed game that is going to change all the rules. You might think that would make everyone happy, but I can’t be, for I have seen the future. (Note: in case you couldn’t guess, we are proceeding from game review into raving editorial.)

I was a Magic player early on enough to remember when a little romance was still attached to the game. This has since changed, with expansions coming out one right after the next, constantly requiring one to spend and spend just to attempt to keep up. Soon, it became a hard truth that skill and ingenuity meant less and less, and the money you’d spent meant more and more. The magic just kind of went out of Magic.

And now enter Sanctum, with virtually infinite print runs of cards, the sales and trading of which must be strictly controlled by a central server. Simple logic will tell you that whoever buys the most cards has the best chance of winning. In a completely closed system like the Sanctum universe, this is even more evident.

Next year, there will be something on the order of five new games out there, all trying to be just like Sanctum. And if Digital Addiction is smart, they will follow up with whole new expansions of cards, that require people to spend more and more…well, you can see the pattern, can’t you?

Yes, my friends, I have seen the future, and I am sore afraid.

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