Artifact is the upcoming collectible card game developed and published by Valve in collaboration with Richard Garfield, designer of Magic: The Gathering. It will be the first major launch by the company since Dota 2 five years ago. Valve recently dropped a mass of information on the community in the form of the appropriately named ‘ArtiFAQ’. Today I will be looking at the details and comparing it to Garfield’s earlier work that has inspired many clones over the years.
First, it is worth noting that Artifact is a paid game. This is an important fact, as many card games in the online space are free-to-play with optional card pack purchases. This is the way Blizzard runs Hearthstone, and their success makes the game the most profitable in the market. Hearthstone offers only a single deck to players initially, with more available as the player defeats opponents of that class. For the sum of $19.99 (£15.99), Artifact offers players two starter decks, ten card packs, and five event tickets (more on these later).
A card pack in Artifact contain twelve cards, more than twice the number found in Hearthstone packs, but roughly equal to or slightly less than most physical card games. These cards are spread between different types, but guarantee a hero and two items in each pack. Cards are associated with one of four colours, much like Magic’s five colours, and also similarly, each colour has its own personality.
As Artifact is based on Dota 2, many of the latter games concepts are carried over to the former. A game board consists of three lanes, each of which contains a single hero to begin with. Each lane generates its own mana each turn with which to play cards from the players hand. Cards can only be played in a lane if a hero of the corresponding colour is situated there. Play take place in a single lane, with players taking turn to play a card, before combat happens. Combat takes place between heroes and creeps that spawn randomly in the lanes, after which play moves to the next lane. Each player has a tower in every lane, and should that be destroyed, an ancient replaces it. The goal of the game is to destroy an ancient of the opposing team.
At launch Artifact will offer the usual casual games against bots and human opponents, but it will also have expert play modes that are similar to tournament play in Magic. These expert gauntlets (like Hearthstone‘s arena) require an entry fee or the use of an event ticket to enter, but offer prizes for consecutive wins. The modes on offer will be Expert Constructed, for players who want to bring their own decks; Phantom Draft, a limited game where players build a deck on the fly from packs of cards which are discarded at the end; Keeper draft, which is the same as Phantom but requires the player to bring fives card packs to the game and the drafted decks belong to the player.
Gauntlets are hosted by the game, but players are able to host their own tournaments, publicly or privately, though these will not support fees and prizes at launch. Tournaments will have a huge variety of customisation options and should prove to be a key feature in Artifact that keep communities together, from a quick evenings play with four players, to extended league-like marathons played over weeks.
Card will be bought and sold over the Steam marketplace, though Valve hope to keep the cost of individual cards down by ensuring that rarity does not equal power. Unlike Hearthstone in which players can generate currency and therefore card packs through regular play, All card packs in Artifact will be generated through purchases or prizes, the latter of which are paid for though purchasing event tickets. This likely means that enough common cards will be found that players will be able to pick them up for pennies.
All-in-all Artifact is shaping up to be an interesting experience. The play modes have already be seen elsewhere in a digital format, but between those, tournaments, and the global reach of Steam, Valve are in a position from which the could potentially knock Blizzard out of the top spot in the market.