The One Game, Season 2

Let’s try this again.

Those of you with us last year might remember my well-intentioned, but ultimately flawed idea to play and write about a single game in order to see myself improve at it.

The idea is that I have lots of games in my Steam and Gog (hell, even Origin) accounts that I’ve played to some extent (and enjoyed even), but as I pointed out, nothing that keeps pulling me back in. Given my chronic lack of enthusiasm for MMOs, there’s not really any particular game that I have a focus on, that I want to master. Last year I tried this with The Banner Saga: Factions, but ultimately found it too uneventful, and once it was out of beta, far too much of a grind. A year later, I’m ready to try again, ready to pick a new game and run with it.

But which game?

Once again, I came up with a list of criteria, much of which I’ve repurposed from last time.

It should run on a Mac. Again, it should play well on both a Mac Pro and a MacBook.

It should be predominantly skill-based. In my assessment last year I ruled out roguelikes for having too much left to chance, but I think I wasn’t being fair to the genre. After all, there’s no question that you can improve at playing roguelikes over time (which is probably why that awful “endless runner” genre is so popular on iOS).

There must be objective ways to measure ability and progress. Ah, now this is a little bit trickier to nail down, but I consider it absolutely crucial. But, anything with a leaderboard, or other measure of progress that doesn’t amount to just clocking up hours will do.

There should be no upper level on skill. In other words, I don’t want to just reach a “game over” screen, or a point where I’ve beaten every challenge. I want to pick something that will be a continual learning process.

There should be a strong, active community. This is more about giving me the opportunity to learn about the game outside of the game, read up on strategy from people who are better than I am. It also means that whatever I happen to be writing about can be considered “relevant” to some degree.

Gameplay should be fairly quick. I’m short on time, enough said.

It should not be team-based. See also the previous condition.

I should have no prior experience with the game. I want something that I can start at the absolute beginning and chronicle my progress entirely.

It should be enjoyable. I’m going to spend a lot of time playing it, and if it feels too much like work, there’s little point in playing it. This is where I went wrong last year. That said, it’s going to be hard to pick something that I haven’t played previously, and that I find enjoyable.

So where does that leave me? Well there are a bunch of games that seem suitable to some degree:

DOTA 2. This seems like an obvious choice. It ticks all the boxes except for the fact that it’s team-based. I could just team up with randoms the whole team, but eventually I’ll hit a wall. And I’m not sure the process would be all that enjoyable.

Borderlands 2, Diablo 3, Dungeons of Dredmor. The problem with each of these is that I’ve played them a great deal already, and it’s not particularly easy to gauge improvements in my skill level.

Door Kickers. Very much on my watch list, but I’m not sure it will have a sizeable enough community to give me enough to write about each time. Also there’s no multiplayer. I’m tempted by the sheer depth of ToME, but there’s no good way to measure improvement.

Path of Exile, Terraria, Spelunky, Dark Souls, Magic The Gathering Online, Planetside 2: each ideal in their own way, with a single problem: none of them have Mac versions.

Card Hunter. I’ve probably played a little too much of this to call myself a beginner, but it has a lot going for it that I’d be willing to overlook that. It’s turn-based, has multiplayer, and what I’ve played so far has been good fun. The problem that I have with it is that I’m not convinced I’ll want to keep playing once I’ve beaten the campaign.

Still there’s no denying I seem to be zeroing on a particular genre: trading card games (I also briefly considered pinball, but that wouldn’t exactly make for entertaining reading). Let’s have a look at some other candidates:

Scrolls. Scrolls got a beta release, everyone was talking about it for about a month, and then it seemed to go quiet. It’s still going, but the fact that they’re now giving extra copies of the game away for free doesn’t fill me with much confidence about its future.

Hmm. So last year I noted that Blizzard had a tendency to making games that fulfilled these criteria. As it turns out, a year later they have a TCG in beta, one that ticks all the boxes, and is really gaining popularity even amongst naysayers. Thus I give you my one game for 2014:

HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft

It’s currently in a half-open beta, in the sense that you need an invite, but everyone (myself included) seems to have received one already. I’ve spent a brief bit of time with it (just the tutorial, really), but that was enough to know it has potential. The only thing I’m not sure about is that it will have enough depth to keep me happy in the long-term, but this being Blizzard, it’s likely that it will. So it’s time to update it to the latest version, and begin walking down the long road to mastery.

Each week I’ll write about my progress. You can follow it via this tag.