I don’t think I can stomach buying another booster pack after playing Legends of Runeterra. It’s a necessary part of physical card games where cards often have real-world value, but their prevalence in digital card games is just an excuse to sell the worst kind of loot boxes. It’s enough to make anyone cynical. But thanks to a generous reward system that avoids booster packs altogether, Legends of Runeterra is one card game that’s easy to love.
You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the thought of a free-to-play card game based on League of Legends. The card genre is full of these spin-offs. But Riot Games’ take is full of clever innovations and tense duels dictated by your skill rather than how much you spend.
With its colorful aesthetic and goodnatured charm, it’s easy to mistake Legends of Runeterra, which entered open beta last month, for a Hearthstone knock-off. It takes the familiar faces of Riot’s enormously popular MOBA and adapts their playstyle and abilities into a game where your primary objective is to build decks and play cards to reduce your opponent’s hit points to zero. Though it walks like Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra talks like a simpler version of Magic: The Gathering. That’s to its benefit, as Runeterra avoids cribbing many of Magic’s cumbersome rules in favor of faster, more aggressive duels.
For example: There’s no ‘summoning sickness’. Freshly placed creatures (called followers or champions) can attack immediately after being summoned and aren’t tapped out after, letting them still block during your opponent’s attack phase. It virtually guarantees that every turn both sides will take losses, making those clever plays where you bait your opponent or save a unit from dying feel extra rewarding. It’s hilarious (and devastating) to cast Deny thinking I’m about to cancel my opponent’s fatal spell, only to have them cast Deny on my Deny. I really enjoy the back-and-forth of Runeterra’s battles.
When interactions between cards get complicated, the game has a clever feature called the Oracle’s Eye, which shows you what the board will look like after a certain attack phase or spell has resolved. Not having to double-check your math or worry that a certain chain of abilities and spells plays will play out a certain way is a godsend.
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