Corrections: Familiar – Mythic Arena is a strategy (“living,” as termed by Fantasy Flight) card game and not a collectible card game. I am reviewing the base set, in which all the cards are known beforehand. Additionally, it was incorrectly stated that 6 creatures needed to be defeated to win, while it is actually only 3. These corrections have been made to this review.
Recently, our club got sent a game that was trying to be the next Magic the Gathering (MTG). With MTG having an estimated revenue of $500 million each year1, it is easy to see why so many game designers aspire to create a similar card game. Does Familiar- Mythic Arena (FMA) have a chance to be the next MTG?
- Deaux, Joe. “Ove Over Monopoly: Hasbro’s Next Big Growth Engine Is Magic.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 7 July 2019, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-07/hasbro-s-free-magic-the-gathering-arena-official-launch-is-2019.
In Familiar- Mythic Arena, players take turns playing a creature and then battling with them. The first player to defeat 3 opposing creatures wins the game (they also win if the opponent has no creatures in play). The combat system is borrowed from the popular Pokemon CCG, except instead of attaching energy cards to Pokemon, in FMA the special powers of each creature can be used only if you have a certain number of cards in hand. Creatures can also be upgraded through attaching Runes to them- which grant either one-time or persistent bonuses. Finally, players can play Item cards that grant special effects, but these have limited usage before being discarded.
In order to keep track of each creature’s health, each creature has a separate stats card. Cubes are used to keep track of how much health a creature has, and what status conditions it has. Creatures are played into one of 3 rows: the front, middle, and back rows. There are advantages to playing certain creatures into certain rows, such as being able to attack with creatures in the front row, and have creatures in the back row automatically heal health.
Part of what makes MTG (arguably) the most popular CCG in the world is the phenomenal artwork. To this day, MTG hires in-house artists to create detailed and cinematic card art. The advantage of having in-house artists is thematic consistency- each card seems to “feel” like it belongs in the greater Magic the Gathering universe. FMA gets the art right- the cards are extremely beautiful and durable. Additionally, the cards are borderless- a new trend in board games that can help make cards feel more modern, and allows the art to take up a larger portion of each card.
What needs improvement?
It is extremely difficult to break into the card game market, and not due to the lack of trying. Hundreds, if not thousands, of games similar to MTG have launched and failed. Part of the issue is the fact that players want a game that they can play with others- they want a community. Why play an unknown card game that no one has ever heard of if you can just play MTG? Due to this extremely tough competition over CCGs, a game really needs to stand out to have a chance at competing, and at the moment I don’t think FMA is competitive enough.
The average game length of a Magic the Gathering game is around 6-8 minutes. According to data from the online Shadow Era CCG, the average game length is 9.5 minutes. FMA took us over an hour to play for the first time. According to the game designer, we may have simply built decks that encouraged a grindy playstyle, but they also mentioned that even under ideal conditions, game length will be over 20 minutes. This is way too long for a CCG. If there is one change that needs to be made to the game, it is finding ways to make the game takes less time. As of right now, creatures tend to have over 100 health, but only deal 40ish at a time. Not only that, but creatures have a chance to miss. By eliminating the hit/miss mechanic completely, games will speed up as there won’t be as many wasted turns and die rolls. The worst part about all of this was the fact that I was practically certain to win in one of our games, but it would have taken another half-hour to decide the victory (my opponent ended up deciding to concede). This is a big issue in all board games, but it is especially an issue in CCGs.
Complicated (for the genre)
Our club has a huge appetite for complicated games. In the past, we’ve tackled games that take over 7 hours to complete, and others that have thousands of tiny cardboard components. We thought that FMA was too complicated- not because we can’t handle complicated games, but because it is too complex for a CCG. Tracking all of the different stats for each creature was quite difficult, and the cubes used to track these health values often shifted during play- making it hard to keep track of how much health each creature had. In addition, there are a bunch of small rulings that are difficult to remember, such as remembering to heal the health of creatures in the back row each turn. This game felt more like a complicated arithmetic problem than a grand battle between creatures.
That’s one big advantage MTG has over other CCGs- there’s no need to track all the values and stats for each of your cards. If a creature is damaged in MTG, it doesn’t keep the damage- it either dies or survives. This simplicity makes MTG a lot faster, more beginner friendly, and less complicated. I feel like games that require a lot of tokens and trackers should not be CCGs. If the designers want to have a complex strategy game, they may be better off looking into converting FMA into a proper board game.
We felt the need to be critical of this game due to the competitive nature of the card game market. We can’t reasonably recommend this game to someone who enjoys CCGs while other games such as Pokemon or MTG exist. That being said, board gamers who enjoy a nature theme will be very pleased with the phenomenal artwork, and those who like a game that feels grindy with incremental wins may want to look further into this one. You can find out more about FMA here: https://gryphonmountgames.com/how-to-play-familiar-mythic-arena/.
What are your thoughts on CCGs? Is there a CCG that you enjoy playing regularly? As always, thanks for reading!