Ever since I first played Dominion I’ve been hooked on deck-building games. Coming from a background of playing Magic: the Gathering, I was all too familiar with the form and function of a game played with a deck of colorful cards. Dominion was something very different and something that greatly appealed to me. I quickly bought my own copy of the game and played regularly with friends from college. Over the next few years the genre exploded and games like Ascension and Dominion grew rapidly in popularity.

At the time of writing this there are 517 live gaming projects on Kickstarter. Sorting them by what Kickstarter refers to as “magic” brings me a project to restore old Nintendo consoles, a Russian resource-management board game, a point-and-click computer adventure game, and a deluxe edition of the 20th anniversary version of a game I’ve never heard of called Wraith: the Oblivion. I need to filter this a bit further.

I change the category from “games” to “tabletop games” and scroll down a bit to find a Numenara box set, an offensive card game named Lap Dance about being a strip club manager, and a French translation of Cthulhu Wars. I tentatively click the “load more” button. Still no deck building games. I change the sorting from “magic” to “most popular.” I no longer trust Kickstarter and defer my search to the whims of the internet’s masses.

In the fourth row I find the second edition of Funemployed. I backed the first edition of this game. I consider getting the new edition but continue my search for the deck-building game I’ve heard so much about (and have titled this article after). After clicking “load more” one last time I find it, in the eighth row on the page of most popular tabletop games, Emergents: Genesis.

What the Heck is Emergents: Genesis?

This is the question a lot of people were asking themselves when the Kickstarter campaign launched on November 19th. The driving force behind all of the hype was the creative force behind the game: Brian David-Marshall. If you’re reading this website then odds are high that you’ve heard that name before. In fact, you’ve probably heard it a lot over the past few days. BDM, as he is known, is the official historian of the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour and a regular writer for dailymtg.com and a regular fixture on the coverage of high-level Magic tournaments including the World Championship being held in Nice, France this week.

So what’s a Magic guy doing designing a non-Magic card game? In fact, it’s a lot of Magic guys. BDM teamed up with local game design studio Urban Island Games to collaborate on Emergents: Genesis. Urban Island Games was founded by local Magic player Anthony Conta who is the lead designer of the game. His team includes many local Magic players including Matt Ferrando, Kyle Gallagher, and Miles Rodriguez. Also working on the game is Matt Wang who has had some success as a Magic player.

I had the pleasure of joining Anthony and Miles for a couple of games of Emergents: Genesis at NYeek, a weekly meetup for board gaming at Amity Hall in NYC. It was apparent from the start of the game that this is not the kind of deck-building game that Dominion and Ascension are. Where many games in the genre generally allow players to craft their deck with only indirect interaction through the battle for shared resources, Emergents encourages and requires all-out direct interactions from the very start.

The game starts with everyone choosing between two heroes to play as. I knew from the notes in the Kickstarter that Moxie is Miles favorite character and one he had a strong hand in designing. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. As a Magic player Miles is known for beating face. When we played regularly he was very fond of a Commander deck led by Ruhan of the Fomori. I had the choice of Moxie or a character named Bookworm with the ability to heal themselves. I decided to try to beat Miles at his own game with his own favorite hero.

The game play of Emergents: Genesis is fast, especially for a deck-building game. I began my first turn with two Punch cards and spread the love by dealing a point of damage to both my opponents. The two basic cards in the games are Punch and Focus which give you the option of smashing face or purchasing better abilities/gear. I went for Moxie’s linear mechanic of punching and kicking things as fast and as hard as possible.

Once we’re through with the opening punches we get down to business. I start stocking up on cards that deal damage, cards that make my next attack deal more damage, and cards that make my attacks deal damage to all other players. You can kind of see where this is going and I’ve soon built Emergents: Genesis’s equivalent of a burn deck. The battle is fierce as Anthony builds up several clever combos and Miles explains the game to an onlooker. Miles focuses on eliminating Anthony giving me an opening to finish Miles off and I’ve won my first ever game of Emergents. I suspect the designers are holding back to curry a positive review. They accept my challenge and we shuffle up for a second game.


For the second game we played we roped in a random attendee of NYeek named Lex. Miles had previously been explaining the game to him and he decided to jump on in. I was dealt the same two random heroes to choose from again, but this time decided to try out Bookworm instead of Moxie. There were a lot more cards to explore so I decided to make the most of it.

While Moxie had plenty of linear mechanics, there is a lot more going on in the game. Two aspects of the game are highly interactive. The first is defending and countering. Many cards, such as Wide Play (pictured above) have the ability to defend. You play them in response to attacks to prevent some amount of damage. A card that says counter does the same, but then also deals that much damage to your attacker. Counter-attacks can then be defended or countered by the original attacker leading to some very exciting chains of events.

Another interactive effect, called Erase, is more of a staple of the deck-building genre, and that is the ability to remove cards in your hand or in the communal piles from the game. A special ability in Emergents, called Forge, triggers whenever a player uses an Erase ability and will amplify the effects of some cards. For example, a card may say Heal 1. Forge: Heal 4 instead. I attempted to build a deck around these sort of mechanics and culminate in a very special card which features a fixed version of Magic’s storm mechanic.

Aside: Emergents has a mechanic called Flurry which is, essentially, a slightly less broken version of Storm from Magic. Now, I’m pretty sure it’s still a horribly broken mechanic and could still fuel fatal versions of Mind’s Desire. However, for the purposes of Emergents it works. It reads as “copy this effect for each different costed card you’ve played this turn.” So if you play three cards that cost 0, two cards costing 1, and a card that costs 3, you would get three copies. I like this very much and try to build a deck around it.

Of course, I fail miserably and we all lose to a very fast combo deck assembled by Miles. The experience is still great and Lex, the new guy, has a fantastic time learning the game. Once we wrap up the second game it’s time for me to get going. Thanksgiving is only a few days away and there’s lots of preparation I need to do back at home.

Anthony has big plans for Emergents. The world setting is from the creative mind of Brian David-Marshall and he has plenty of fully fleshed out characters and ideas for Urban Island Games to work with.  The two are working together to bring this game to life. With just under two weeks remaining on the Kickstarter campaign they’ve achieved over 80% of their funding goal already. Another $3,000 will get the game created. Full disclosure: after testing out the game at Amity Hall I pledged $34 to lock myself in for a physical copy of the game.

All-in-all Emergents provides a fairly unique deck-building game that plays out somewhat as a cross between Super Smash Brothers and Dominion. Most of the mechanics are, on the surface, very linear, but the interactive nature of the game means that the experience should be fairly unique increasing the replay value. Games are relatively quick, taking about 30 minutes, meaning you can get a game in on a limited schedule.

It should be easy to see the appeal for Magic players as well. The interactive nature of the combat mechanics should make the game feel more intuitive to those who’ve played Magic compared to those who’ve played Ascension. It will be interesting to see if this game starts showing up at Grand Prix tournaments as something people can jam in-between rounds or back at the hotel.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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