Games are beautiful.
In the grand scheme of life, gaming is not something "necessary" for us to live, however, gaming holds such a huge place in our society for its ability to both entertain us as well as bring us together. From basketball to checkers, games are a major part of the cultures of the world as well as our day to day lives.
Games themselves are comprised of rules, competition, and in most cases, pieces. Sure, there are some games that don't actually require anything external to play (think Rock, Paper, Scissors or tag), but for the most part games have certain components or pieces that make them work. This can be something as simple as a ball and net for something like Soccer, or as complex as Magic: The Gathering which has over 20,000 unique game pieces.
Games are an art form that deserves to be admired, so today I am will be going over my five favorite game pieces across five different games that I enjoy. I'll be comparing them back to Magic as well, but there's also a lot to be learned from other games even if the direct correlation isn't there.
Let's start with Magic!
Magic: The Gathering - Fact or Fiction
While it's no longer the juggernaut it once was back in the day, Fact or Fiction is in many ways the perfect Magic card.
In a lot of ways, Fact or Fiction presents an entirely new game within the game, as once cast your opponent enters a subgame that tries to deny you the most value possible. They must be able to assess the current state of the game profitably, as well as deduce the relative value of each card presented to you at the current time, and do all this without being able to see your hand or know your exact plans.
So many interesting things happen when a player casts Fact or Fiction, as the mere timing of it can dictate how it plays out. A popular thing to do with Fact or Fiction is to cast it in response to a key spell to make it look like you are looking for a counterspell, which makes your opponent overvalue any counterspells revealed in the piles. Then you just cast the counterspell you already had in hand while taking the larger, non-counterspell pile!
On top of all that, it's also a powerful card for any deck wanting to play an instant speed game and looking for card advantage. This intersection of skill-testing, enjoyable, and powerful makes Fact or Fiction an all-timer when it comes to Magic.
Starcraft - Zergling
Moving away from tabletop games and on to computer games, we come to the lowly Zergling.
Starcraft is a real time strategy game set in space about three waring races that must build bases, collect resources, and then amass an army to defeat their opponent in a battle of army control and resource management. It's also one of the original esports titles and longest running esports of all time, especially in Korea where Starcraft 1 is basically considered the national pastime.
The Zergling is the cheapest and most basic unit of the Zerg race, which is essentially the "bug alien" race. Individually, a single Zergling is almost worthless. It only has a melee attack, has very low hit points, and can't win a one on one fight against any other unit in the game. However, the strength of the Zergling is speed and strength in numbers. While a single Zergling is never a threat, a fast-moving pack of 20 Zerglings can get in and out a deal a ton of damage in a way that no other unit in the game can. They also have upgrades that you can access as the game goes on, making them the rare game piece that is useful both early in the game as well as late.
In a lot of ways you can think of a Zergling like a Memnite in Magic; cheap and weak, but hits fast and once you've got a bunch of them alongside a Cranial Plating or Tempered Steel things start to get very scary very fast.
Marvel Snap - Galactus
Marvel Snap is the most recent game on this list, as well as one I've been enjoying a ton lately as it's perhaps the best mobile card game ever game.
The games are quick and simple; you've got six turns to deploy cards from your 12-card deck and populate three horizontal lanes. The resources system is similar to Magic, giving you one additional energy (mana) per turn to use on cards of varying costs and power levels. The goal is to conclude the game with a higher power number in at least two of the lanes and you win. There's a bit more to it than that, but that's the basic idea.
Galactus is the exact opposite of a Zergling, in that it's a huge, expensive, and splashy effect.
Galactus costs 6 energy (the most a card can cost), but also has only 2 power which is usually the amount that a 1-drop has. However, the enter the battlefield effect is out of this world. Galactus destroys the other two lanes that it isn't in (and everything in them), making the game only about the one single lane that it is in. The catch is of course the cost, as well as the fact you can only play it into an empty lane.
Galactus is your classic puzzle card. At face value, it should cause you to lose the game almost every time, as you can only play it on the last turn and you'll only ever have 2 power which should never be enough to win. But once you dive into the card pool there are a ton of fun and creative ways to build around these inherent drawbacks - there are cards that affect your opponent's side negatively rather than yours positively, cards that respawn to new positions when they die, cards that give you more energy faster so you can ramp out Galactus before turn six and then play good things on turn six, and more.
In a lot of ways Galactus resembles the card Indomitable Creativity in Magic.
At face value, Indomitable Creativity is an odd card that feels ultimately unpredictable and random; why would you want the unpredictability of getting random cards from your deck for such a steep cost? But the reality is that you can build your deck in a manner where you set up exactly what you want, it just requires some deck-building ingenuity, which is very satisfying when it works!
Chess - Pawn
From a very new game to an all-time classic game, our next entry is the noble Pawn in Chess.
Like the Zergling, the Pawn is the weakest piece on the Chess board, but also the most numerous. However, despite its relative weakness as an individual piece, the Pawn may be the most important piece in the entire game. Because of how the board is structured and how every piece must move out from beyond the wall of Pawns to effect the board. This mean the entire game is about Pawn placement, and most importantly how all the other pieces are going to interact with the Pawns as the game goes on.
Having a strong Pawn placement and developing your board properly are two extremely important skills in Chess, as is utilizing your eight Pawns more effectively than your opponent.
In Magic we can think of Pawns like cards that do the job of "setting the table" for the rest of the cards in our deck. Something like Visera Seer providing some early game smoothing and a sacrifice outlet later in the game once an engine is established, or Thraben Inspector being somewhat small and insignificant but providing a whole bunch of value in many different ways that makes our other cards better.
Muxus, Goblin Grandee and Thalia's Lieutenant are awesome, but not without the grunts to let them shine.
The Legend of Zelda - Hookshot
Our last game piece for the day is an interesting one, as it's an item from the classic The Legend of Zelda series... the Hookshot!
The Zelda series has been one of the premier action-adventure game series in the history of gaming, with award winning entries from the original The Legend of Zelda released in in 1986, to the most recent Breath of the Wild released in 2017. While amusingly the Hookshot was in neither of these games, it has been a prominent item in most titles in the series, both of the 2d and 3d variety.
What makes the Hookshot such a fun and interesting item is that it is extremely useful, but is almost more of a tool than a majestic weapon. While you need the mighty Master Sword or the Light Arrows to defeat Ganon and win the game, the utility of the Hookshot and its ability to reach new places, access new areas, and effect your environment in new and unique ways makes it an invaluable item as you progress the game. In a lot of ways, you can almost classify your progress in each game the Hookshot is in by what the game was like before getting the Hookshot and then after getting it.
For a Magic comparison, it's not too hard to look at a card like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and see a similarly effective, hard-working card. Like the Hookshot, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is the ultimate utility card that makes everything around it better, despite not being extremely flashy or exciting. Often, it's not Fable of the Mirror-Breaker that is the backbreaking play of the game, but its often the card that sets it up.
Games Are Art
Aside from the fact that games are art and it's wonderful to analyze and talk about them, looking at games outside your normal range of games can also help provide you a new perspective on the ones you do play.
Thinking about how tempo effects a game of Chess vs a game of Magic, or how the resource system of Marvel Snap compares to Magic can be illuminating and key you in to concepts you may have not considered.
Games are great!