Written by Angelo M. D'Argenio   
Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Collectible trading card games have been a popular pastime ever since Magic: The Gathering first debuted in 1993.  Taking trading cards and turning them into a game, the focus of TCGs (trading card games) has always been to collect the most cards in the most powerful ways to make interesting deck combinations.  Magic, Pokémon, Yugioh, The VS, system and many others, make up the front running games in this TCG world.

OCTGN screenshot

TCG’s however, have always had a few fatal flaws.  One of these flaws which stand out largely in player’s minds is the lack of ability to test decks before cards were purchased.  The best you could do was get some index cards and write down card names, running through mock games and hoping that your pseudo deck held up just as much in real competition.  A second and equally real problem that TCG’s encounter is availability.  Other than going to a local card shop, options for finding other TCG players in your area were far and few between, sometimes causing your well thought out decks to stay on your shelf collecting dust due to months of disuse.

Well, a few people have come up with ways to rectify these problems, and bring card games into the digital age.  New programs, essentially “card desktops” allow you to design decks and play them over the internet against opponents from all around the world.  These programs are simple but complex, not actually enforcing the rules of a card game, but allowing you to enforce the rules yourself.  Card desktops all need to include a few basic things.  First of all, they need to include some sort of representation of the cards you are playing with.  Secondly, they need to have some way to build and store decks, commonly known as a “deck editor” mode.  Third of all they need a place to reliably play with these card representations, or a “play area” and last, they need to be able to simulate basic functions of card game play, such as shuffling, hands, discard piles, and so on so forth.  Everything else beyond that is candy and icing and the cake.  Thus the quality of these programs, generally lies in how flexible the program is, as well as how well it simulates actual card game play, and anyone who has played a TCG online before can tell you this is no easy task.

One of the first “card desktops” available for download was MTGplay.  A tiny program with a small following, this card engine was one of the first to allow players to actually see their cards graphically, rather than in text format.  Well, eventually MTGplay grew too large, and couldn’t handle its following, and was soon removed from the market.  However, it most certainly did not die.  Enter OCTGN, the Online Card Trading Game Network.  Based off of the original MTGplay code, OCTGN is all MTGplay was and more!

Though OCTGN can “work” with any trading card game, it was obviously designed with Magic: The Gathering in mind.  The turn steps in the in game window include Untap, Upkeep, Draw, Main one, Combat, Main 2, End just like in Magic: The Gathering.  Resetting all your cards is referred to as “Untap All”.  Life is also set by default to twenty, the amount of life you have in a game of Magic.  Categories you can sort by in Deck Editor mode include name, power, toughness, color, casting cost and so on.  As such, when you load other types of cards into the interface, information starts to get unclear and befuddled.  Most other card games do not have casting cost, or mana, or power and toughness in the same way Magic: The Gathering does.  Thus, when other cards are loaded in to OCTGN, generally their information is stored within the Magic categories arbitrarily, making it hard to search for and find the card you want.  Luckily, there are a lot of independent mods out there, most notably for EVE, Yugioh, Pokemon, WoW, and the VS system, that change the built in card categories, steps, life, and other terminology OCTGN uses to better fit the game you are playing.

The interface itself is simple and easy to understand.  Most actions require a simple click and drag, or double-click to work.  Clicking and dragging a card from one area to another (such as from your hand to the playing field) simulates playing a card from your hand, and you can do the same for discard piles, temporary stacks and piles (needed for some games and game mechanics), out of game areas, and “sideboards.”  Cards have absolute freedom in the play area, and can be arranged however you like.  Double-clicking a card turns it on its side, and right clicking a card brings up a menu with options such as: turn upside down/right side up, turn face down.up, :”does not untap”, and many others such as “attack:”, “block”, and “Is Targeted” for games that use such terminology.  Players may reveal any number of cards to their opponent either by clicking and dragging onto the field, or by using built in “reveal” functions.  Players can also give complete control of their cards to their opponent, in case they need to manipulate them somehow.  Life is added and subtracted with + and – buttons, and shuffling, resetting, and even drawing starting hands are all built in quick functions of the game engine.

OCTGN’s deck editor unfortunately leaves something to be desired.  Cards are listed in a spreadsheet type format, and no visual representation, other than a “close up” view of the card when clicked is provided.  Information about the card is all done in text, and shorthand, such as R standing for red underneath “card color.”  In addition, the only way to tell whether or not a card is in your sideboard (secondary deck) or main deck is by a 1 or 0 in the SB column, making it hard to tell just what the main meat of your deck is.  OCTGN allows you to store a lot of information when you save your deck, including its theme, description, creator, and legality, but most of this is rarely used.  In addition, OCTGN seems to encounter several errors that everyone just ignores when trying to import decks from text files, or trying to change the information (such as name or legality) of a deck after it is first made.  Luckily, OCTGN makes up for it with an ASTOUNDINGLY powerful search function.  Allowing you to search by name, type, text, flavor text, official rulings, power, toughness, cost, set of origin, subtype, and much much more, OCTGN allows you to find EXACTLY the card you are looking for, even if you don’t know what it is yet.  This makes the actual action of building your deck and formulating new strategies quite easy, simple, and fun.

OCTGN definitely goes above and beyond in the graphics area...  As opposed to other card playing engines on the market like Magic Workstation or Apprentice, OCTGN allows for multiple running resolutions to fit the preference of the user.  Pictures show up nice and clear (or at least as clear as the original picture was when imported) both in the “up close” window, and on the “card” that has been played.  The official text and card rulings of a card are kept in a miniature text box which can be expanded by mousing over it, allowing most of the play experience to be visual, and blocking little if any of the original card artwork.  Unfortunately, the pictures for the cards can take up some space, and entire games sets end up being 1-4 gigs large.

OCTGN is also one of the only card engines that allows for Multiplayer (more than 2 player) games.  The game area is completely open, and you can move your hand and deck anywhere you like on the playing field.  In addition you can simply turn the resolution up high to allow room for more players.  The engine also has built in functions for random “sealed deck” play, and draft play, which even more so ties into the multiplayer theme.  Unfortunately, the draft option still has some errors in it and dosen’t work with some of the more interesting and out of the ordinary expansions of certain card games (such as the Timesprial block of Magic). 

In fact, this is one of the major flaws in OCTGN, the inadaptability to new card games or new concepts and expansions in existing card games.  In fact, complete updates to the OCTGN engine were needed for the past 3 Magic the gathering expansions.  Also, installing OCTGN updates, and new sets are sometimes more complicated than need be, including several patches and sometimes a total reinstall.  The engine can also prove to be less than stable sometimes as well, and if it shuts down any way other than normal (due to an error or computer lockup) many times you have to restart your computer to get it working once more.

By far, OCTGN’s greatest draw is its community.  All games are connected to either by private or public server, and arranged in an IRC chat room.  At any given point and time, there are about 20-30 people in the room, all wanting to play different games.  In addition, several private rooms have been made for specific games such as WoW, VS, or Magic.  Thus, you tend to get to know everyone who plays OCTGN on a regular basis.  The intimate community definitely reduces the “asshole factor” many internet games unfortunately have.  In fact, I have never once heard the word n00b used on OCTGN.  The good thing about this close knit community is that people will help you install the program, get the latest updates, and learn how to play, making the whole experience much easier on newcomers, and making the sometimes overcomplicated install much less painful.  The downside however, is that the lack of a constant flow of members causes a scarcity of open games, causing many people to wait half hours to hours at a time to find a game to play.

Overall, OCTGN is a magnificent card desktop system for people just starting out with internet card games.  It is easy to learn, and the community is very welcoming.  However, don’t endeavor to play OCTGN unless you have patience and a little bit of technical know how.  By far the worst thing about this engine is its instability, which rally can punch you in the face if it causes errors in the middle of a game.  Luckily though, OCTGN 2.0 is being developed, which is looking to overhaul the system and make it ten times better and more stable, which is something OCTGN fans can look forward to.

OCTGN screenshot OCTGN screenshot OCTGN screenshot OCTGN screenshot

Related: N/A
Developer: Cardfloppers.com
Website for Game: N/A
Publisher: N/A
O/S: Windows 98/ME/XP
Year of Release:

Tested on:
Intel Core2Duo 1,86 GHz, 1 GB RAM, Windows Vista

Score 7

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