When Magic: the Gathering debuted in 1993, it did more than just present an entirely new genre of game. It also got that genre of game about as close to “right” as it ever got. It took some time before anyone really improved on it, usually because the people racing to get in new collectible card games didn’t actually pay attention to Magic and sought only to clone it. Some of the clones were better than others, but nearly all of them suffered from not really understanding what it was they were trying to copy and why it worked. (The most misunderstood concept? Rarity.)
One of these clones was Heresy: Kingdom Come (it was a requirement in those days for all CCGs and RPGs to have a colon in their name).
Let me see if I can summarize the theme of the game. The barriers separating the physical, spiritual, and digital world have fallen. Angels, demons, mortals, artificial intelligences, and mixtures thereof all vie for control of this Forsaken Earth. So yeah, it’s a mixture of enigmatic and powerful supernatural beings, cyberpunk techno-human amalgams, and gothity-goth-goth ubercool humans. Why yes, this did come out in the 90’s. How did you know? To win the game you have to store a certain amount of tau in your Matrix to open a gateway that will something something something.
The mechanics of the game are almost entirely a search-and-replace on Magic. You have locations (lands) which you open (tap) to gain aura (mana) that you use to play other cards, such as characters (creatures), alephs (artifacts), enhancements (enchantments), celestial powers (sorceries), and miracles (instants). Most cards are of a certain conviction (color): acquisition, devotion, evolution, preservation, rebellion, stagnation, technology, and tradition. You know how it goes. There are some cards that you can literally look at and name the exact Magic card it’s copying.
Where Heresy differs from Magic mechanically is slightly interesting. For one thing, there are two different arenas: the Wilds and the Matrix. Characters can move back and forth between them to do battle. Also, locations have defense values, so they can be attacked as well. And finally, there is a voting element tacked on as well — Some cards call for votes from some of the characters to have a large effect on the game. Many of these ideas, while unfamiliar in Magic, were already found in other CCGs such as Jyhad/Vampire.
The most notable difference to heresy were the cards themselves. They were of an oddly elongated size, making them look something like Tarot cards. This gave them much more room for the artwork.
Ah, the artwork. Many praise it, and there’s a lot of cool stuff to be found in here, but much of it seems like the artists just grabbed something they already had handy and submitted it as “Memunim”. Since most of the cards in the game represented esoteric beings, just about any artwork would do. As usual, Tim Bradstreet is on hand with urban-gothic pics of whoever else happened to be at the club that night.
And this image makes me laugh because I am immature.
Also, it looks like Magic wasn’t the only thing that was ripped off here!
But it’s not all cheapness and light. Hell, Bernie Wrightson did a card for this game, which I guess I got autographed?
I should hang on to that because really, who the hell else got Wrightson’s autograph on that card?
I can’t say that Heresy was any worse than a number of other bandwagon CCGs that flooded the market between 1994 and 1996. Its theme, goofy as it is, was certainly original, even if none of its mechanics were. That alone wasn’t enough to make it work, though.
As I said in the opening paragraphs, many CCG clones didn’t really “get” a lot of the mechanics of Magic, and Heresy was no exception. Like many others, it confused “rare” with “powerful”. There were rules and timings questions that are inevitable when creating a game like this that simply weren’t answer. And it was clear that little playtesting was done. In their efforts to not exactly ape Magic by adjusting casting costs, they didn’t bother to see if what they were doing made much of any sense.
For example. There is a Heresy card called “Grigori” which are a straight up copy of Magic’s “Prodigal Sorcerer”. Open/tap them to do a point of damage to another character/creature. Only in Magic, the Prodigal Sorcerer costs 3 mana and is fairly easy to get rid of. In Heresy, the Grigori cost one aura. It’s not that hard to get two or three of them out within the first few turns and completely annihilate your opponent since, in Heresy, locations (land) can be killed as well. They took a card from Magic and kept everything the same except the casting cost, which they made cheaper, thus making a fairly innocuous card in one game into a ridiculously overpowered one in theirs. But since the card they were copying from was no big deal, why bother to check to see if it was a big deal now?
I know all this because I fell prey to Heresy. My friend Brady and I bought a bunch of this game and played at during lunch breaks at work for a couple weeks. We wanted to like it, but eventually we realized it was just hopeless. Despite not touching the cards since some time in 1995, I kept mine around and still have them right here. I don’t know why I didn’t get rid of them before. They are pretty neat to look at, and they do make you wish there was a good game in here. Still, the reason I’m talking about them now is because someone on BGG is interested in buying them, so I’m seeing what I have for him.
If I get rid of these cards, it’ll be one less thing I’ve held onto. However, Heresy isn’t the only dead CCG I still have a bunch of cards for. And it’s by far not even the worst.