What went wrong with Hecatomb? (Severely long post)

Hey fellow (retired) endbringers,

I doubt anyone will read this. But I’ve developed a casual interested in Magic design and game design, so I thought I would try my hand at understanding and remaking Hecatomb. I’m not a professional and most of my ideas were probably already considered and rejected by the Hecatomb development team. I’ve never played Blanket of Lies either. But whatever; I’m a high school junior with some free time. Let’s start:

Hecatomb had one of the best concepts I’ve ever seen for a TCG: an ‘adult’ card game based around the macabre and the concept of pentagonal abominations. It offered quite a few unique ideas and was poised to become something big, but instead died off. Why? I’m hardly an expert at the game, but I think there were several reasons. Here’s a few:

1) Hecatomb tried too much to be like Magic. Other than the abomination mechanic, nearly every aspect of Hecatomb can be traced back directly to something found in Magic. Many people called it Magic-lite, and with good reason: it played like Magic but slower and clunkier because the stack didn’t exist. Stuff like tapping, reaping, and reaching 20 souls are all obviously reminiscent of core Magic mechanics.

2) The game was too slow. It was too difficult to get more than a couple successful attacks in each game. Often whoever managed to get a 4-size hit in and play Loki simply won the game without anything much happening. Obviously this was exacerbated by the ‘soul clock’ mechanic in which each player got an additional soul each turn.

3) Gameplay was too basic. There was only one or two viable archetypes, and both of them revolved completely around creatures. Magic is interesting because it allows six or seven basic archetypes: suicide, aggro, midrange/tempo, combo, control, burn, alternate win con (mill), et cetera. Hecatomb didn’t have enough support for a full-blown aggressive deck nor a control deck. The former was ruined by the ‘one at a time’ nature of combat and the latter simply didn’t function well under the ‘soul clock’.

4) Another reason why there was only one archetype was because card advantage rarely mattered. Drawing two cards a turn gave an obvious edge to creature-based decks over traditional resource-control decks. I do kind of like this though because it clearly distinguished Hecatomb from Magic: the strategy was based around tempo rather than CA.

5) The mechanics weren’t interesting enough. Tapping was cool (although I disliked it for other reasons), but Survivor and Rager were both kind of lame. I liked all the mechanics that interacted with the abomination concept: Host, Parasite, Ripper,

5) The card flavor was silly. The 15+ label on the back of each booster pack promised something frightening and edgy and perhaps risqué. I was hoping for something mature with mature themes that couldn’t be explored in other ‘kiddy’ games. Instead, we got ridiculous cards like Meat Shooter and Hellevator. The game was parodying itself from the get-go.

6) There wasn’t enough actual game flavor. The Mana Zone was pilfered from Magic, as was Play, the Graveyard, and Removed from the Game. Stuff like the Endbringers was cool, but it wasn’t even incorporated into actual gameplay. (Actually, in some cases there was too much flavor. In order to save space developers used terms like exile and exhume instead of ‘return to its owner’s hand’ and ‘return from your graveyard to your hand’. I don’t know if this is better, but at the time I was put off by it).

7) Some card types were extraneous. I still don’t understand the difference between a Relic and a God. They both play like enchantments but one has a comes-into-play-effect and is harder to kill. So what?

8) The dooms themselves were lame. It is very difficult to distinguish between the four dooms in terms of mechanics and flavor. I felt as though many cards could have gone to a different doom and no one would have noticed.

9) The card design, while unearthly awesome, suffered from several fatal flaws. The biggest one is the bottom ‘conditional’ textbox that was meant to incorporate both the conditional trigger and the flavor text. There was so little room that everything had to be abbreviated, and often there was no room for flavor text at all. This is a HUGE concern: Hecatomb’s selling point was its ‘grotesque’ flavor and mood. This is a game tailored solely for Vorthos who don’t necessarily care about tournament-caliber decks and care about summoning infected, pus-festering abominations to end the world. Also, the box next to the strength indicator was pretty small. That meant you couldn’t print reminder text for the mechanics, which put off newer players.

So there’s the flaws (or what I think are flaws. I honestly don’t have enough experience with Hecatomb to know whether or not these were the best solution.). Here’s my proposed solutions:

Flavor:
-Change the names of the dooms. Yes, this is huge. But I feel having four dooms based around the same basic emotion, hate, muddled them together too much. So I propose to change them to something evocative and simple – flowers. Destruction becomes Rose, Deceit becomes Lotus, Greed becomes Thorn, and Corruption becomes Moon. Obviously these each have their own connotations in regard to flavor, and I’ll go over this in detail later.
-Change many in-game terms.
-Doom becomes Cult. Your endbringer has a ‘cult’ that they utilize to end the world. An example would be the Cult of the Rose.
-Mana cards become Altars. Instead of ‘playing a mana card’, you ‘create an altar’.
-Mana itself becomes Blood. When you generate mana, you ‘draw blood’. Cards can be played by paying their ‘blood cost’. This is to reinforce the idea of you as a pseudo-deity endbringer who uses sacrifice as a ritualistic, magical tool.
-Stitch becomes Graft. I personally don’t like this, as Stitch is wickedly trippy, but Graft is much easier to say.
-When you play a minion, you have a choice: you can ‘play’ it as a size-1 abomination, or you can ‘graft’ it onto an existing abomination.
-Destroy becomes Slay. Doesn’t really make much difference. But I have a severe crush on the phrase ‘if this card would be slain….’
-EVERY CARD HAS FLAVOR TEXT. Well, not really. But I love good flavor text more than anything. In Magic I have entire decks built around Horrors and whatnot because they look cool and have creepy flavor texts.
-Also, the flavor text has to be good, original, evocative, and affective. No offense to the original designers, but much of Hecatomb’s flavor text sucked (probably because of space issues).

Gameplay:
-Reap now means this: “Choose one – your opponent loses souls equal to the number of souls reaped, or you gain souls equal to the number of souls reaped”. This severely nerfs reaping and forces the player to make an interesting decision each time they reap. This is still iffy, though.
-Get rid of Rager, Survivor, Regenerate, and Martyr. Those are narrow enough that I think just printing the entire ability on a couple of cards is better.
-Some new mechanics:
-Amputate (You may pay this card’s blood cost to graft it to another abomination.)
-Symbiote X (Lower this card’s blood cost by X if you played it grafted onto another abomination.)
-Altar: Ability (Can only be used if this card is an altar.)
-Monstrous X (This card gets +X Strength for each other minion in this abomination.)
-Blight X (This card gets –X Strength for each other minion in this abomination.)
-A new card type: Curse. Curses are like Auras and can be attached to existing minions. They have two purposes: beneficial or detrimental depending on whose abomination you play it on. It also takes up a minion slot if you need it to, which can be good or bad (it activates tap abilities, it means you can’t play more minions on it, whatever).
-I HATE GOD CARDS. I don’t see how they differ from Relics other than being expensive and activating Follower. Still, I like their flavor.
-Gameplay is significantly less about combat and significantly more about abominations. My favorite creatures in Magic are cute multi-purpose utility guys like Nightscape Battlemage, Mulldrifter, and Zur, the Enchanter. I want to encourage that kind of play.
-The biggest change: Size-1 abominations can now attack and block. Also, an abomination can attack the turn you play a minion onto it.
-This improves gameplay so much that I’m astounded it wasn’t implemented in the original game. I tried several games with my decks and it smoothed out so many issues. It does not mean games end radically faster. It means there is much more back and forth between players. There is always tension between deciding whether to play your abomination as a size-1 or to stitch it onto an existing abomination to essentially ‘give it Fanatic’. Combat is much more interesting.
-Obviously this does fundamentally change the game though. A key concern is that players would rather play their minions as size-1’s rather than make abominations from them, which is the point of the game, but I think there’s still more than enough incentive for both.

Whew.

That’s what I propose to make Hecatomb a better game. Again, this is solely the opinion of an amateur card designer. And speaking of card designs, here’s one:

Casket Case
5M / 3S
Minion – Undead
Whenever this card is dealt damage, reap that many souls.
Rose: Deal 2 damage to a minion you control.
Life has robbed me of my treasures. I will spend death regaining them.

You read it like this:

Name
Cost (for example, 5M means it costs 5 and is of the Moon cult) / Strength
Type – Subtype
Primary ability
Conditional Cult: Conditional ability
Flavor Text

Something that is very important to me is the integration of abilities to become something cohesive. In the case of Casket Case, it’s quite obvious: it’s a damage-soaking wall that also has a conditional ability that lets you reap a couple free souls. Some more:

Nhilosopher
3M / 3S
Minion
Whenever this minion deals damage, slay all minions that were dealt damage by it.
You may only play this card with altars of the Moon.
“Life is wasted on the living.”

Hand of Denial
4L / 2S
Minion
Whenever you play a Fate, you may graft Hand of Denial onto another abomination you control.
Whenever you graft Hand of Denial, draw a card.
A substance far stronger than stone or steel surrounds the palace of Vault - the materia of will itself.

Witch Doctor
6T / 3S
Minion
Whenever an opponent’s minion goes into a graveyard, graft it onto this abomination instead if it had 3 Strength or less.
Monstrous 1 (This card gets +1 Strength for each other minion in this abomination.)
"Afflictions of the body are reflective of the soul."

Still with me? Sample cards of other types:

Exogenesis
7T
Fate - Ritual
Reveal the top five cards of your deck. Take all the revealed minion cards and graft them into one new abomination.

Exodus, Vol. 1
4M
Relic – Memoir
Only one abomination may attack per turn.
Words kill more surely than any war.

Smothering Grief
3M
Curse – Affliction
This abomination gets -3 Strength.
Whenever this abomination reaps, its controller loses 3 souls.
Sorrow bleeds darker than blood.

Lucifer, Patriarch of Lies.
7M
God
Players do not gain souls at the beginning of each turn.
When a player has no souls, they lose the game.
Not all light is illuminating.

Anyway. This is all just for my personal entertainment, as I severely doubt Hecatomb will ever relaunch. Me and a couple friends of mine are making our own set with the aforementioned custom rules, and despite being braindead teenagers we’re all semi artistic/literary types, so I hope it turns out decent. I loved Hecatomb, and in the fathomless tide of mediocre TCGs it really stood out as something with potential. Ah well. I don’t have a fitting eulogy for the game at 5AM in the morning, I’m afraid, but this post will have to do.
Well that was long.

I do agree about some things that you said but not all of it.

I do think that Hecatomb did come out like a Magic knock-off by using terms and mechanics too similar to Magic.

I did like the idea of calling mana cards altars and also the idea of altar abilities.

What makes gods different from relics is that all gods have a coming into play ability and a lasting ability. Also each player can only ever have a single god card out and if they play another it replaces the first while any number of relics are allowed.
I check back, and someone responded! I thought this forum was long dead.

So Gods play like World Enchantments? Didn't know that. That makes me like 'em a lot more, but still not enough to justify them as a separate type.




For others who might be tuning in to my tard ramblings, I’ve done some more testing and here is my conclusions:

-The main problem with Hecatomb was the LACK OF INTERACTIVITY between players. For example, combat. It is simply too difficult to get the conditions necessary to interact in battle. You first need two minions to attack, and then your opponent ALSO needs two minions to block. Otherwise there is no interaction between players. Given that Hecatomb is completely based around the combat step, this is a problem.

-There also isn’t much interactivity during the other player’s turn. The only time a player can do something during their opponent’s turn is during combat, and even that is limited. I feel tempted to make all Fates instants and get rid of Combat Fates altogether.

-I love the Stack. But I also love how simple Hecatomb is. Not having a Stack function means many cards suck and you lose design space, but it makes the game a billion times easier for players to understand. I lean towards the latter.

-The number of Souls is too few. Assuming you start with 5 souls and an average game goes for 8-10 turns, that means you only need to reap 5(!) souls more than your opponent does. Any early game advantage will easily ride you to the end if you just hold fast. I propose increasing the starting number of souls to 10 and the necessary number of souls to 30. This means you need to reap 10 more souls than your opponent in a 10-turn game, which is comparable to Magic (20 life but dealing damage works differently than reaping), and allows other deck types to function.

-What also irks me is drawing two cards a turn. I increasingly find that this makes many, many cards useless because card advantage does not matter as much as board presence. However, this is the one thing that separates Hecatomb, more than anything, from any other card game. I feel a free Honden of Seeing Winds is so drastic that Hecatomb does not play like any other CCG. Is that a good thing?
Those are all interesting thoughts, but I don't know that anything would have saved Hecatomb. All in all, I think its theme killed it more than anything else did. So many people I've talked to regard it as being too dark for them, or were just plain weirded out by the art and flavor. The theme is one thing I love about it, but its probably just too niche.
Those are all interesting thoughts, but I don't know that anything would have saved Hecatomb. All in all, I think its theme killed it more than anything else did. So many people I've talked to regard it as being too dark for them, or were just plain weirded out by the art and flavor. The theme is one thing I love about it, but its probably just too niche.

I doubt it. If my friends and I are any indication, there is a huge audience for this kind of material (not just gore, but stuff like the occult, UFOs, and the paranormal). The majority of Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh players are people in their late teens - young adults, the ideal market for a 'dark' game like this.

I think the problem was that the game wasn't good enough to match the flavor.
Some more concrete rules that we came up with:

- A turn is split into six basic phases: the Opening, Main, Attack, Defend, Damage, and End Phase. This is done in order to clarify rules and to let Fates work.

- Fates work like this: you can use them during any player’s turn, but only during specific intervals – at the end of each phase. The active player first has an opportunity to use Fates, and then the nonactive player. If the nonactive player plays a Fate, the active player may respond with another Fate.

- There is no Stack. We’ve decided that Magic-lite isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so by removing the most confusing part of Magic the game is much more newbie-friendly. That means counterspells and burning-in-response-to-pump does not work. It also means strategy is drastically different regarding pump and burn. In Magic you always wait until the last possible moment to pump, but in Hecatomb you have to do it depending on opportune moments before your opponent reacts. If your opponent burns, you can’t pump in response. Timing is much more important.

- Your opponent’s fates and abilities can only target the top minion of one of your abominations. If you have a 2-Size abomination, your opponent can only use It Was Only a Dream on the top one. I’m not certain whether this was in the original rules (I couldn’t find it though). Because of our rule that size-1 abominations can attack and block, we needed incentives to play minions in abominations. The two we came up with were that when you graft a minion onto an abomination it effectively gains Fanatic, and that lower minions couldn’t be targeted by your opponent’s cards. I think there is enough incentive now to play minions both as size-1’s and to graft them onto existing abominations.

- The flavor is different. I’m personally doing all the flavor for the game (and most everything else!), and personally I prefer the strange to just pure shock factor. There is a lot more emphasis on traditional ‘paranormal’ concepts rather than the semi-parody horror Hecatomb aimed for. To reflect this, we needed a new name. Hecatomb, while it sounds cool and is reminiscent of polygons, doesn’t have anything to do with the game. We thought of several: Paranormality, Horror: the Game, The Black, Unexplained, Seams, Stitches and other crap emo-sounding names. Personally, I like The Weird. Just childish enough to be intriguing and perfectly describes the game.

- The four cults each have a distinct personality (not necessarily related the original Dooms):

Moon: A sparse cult based around the concept of isolation and total emptiness. Their idea of an apocalypse is the end of everything – including themselves – so that the universe can return to its empty, primordial state. Only the lack of something makes it perfect, according to them. Mechanically, this translates into three major themes: kill, losing souls, and prevention. Rather than reaping souls, Moon likes for the other player to lose souls – to bleed away into nothing. They are primarily concerned with defense and have many preventive spells to allow them to win a slow struggle of attrition. They have the power to easily slay and exile minions. Basically Magic’s black and white condensed with a hint of blue. The opposite of Thorn.

Lotus: A cult truly based on the word ‘abomination’. The cultists of Lotus are obsessed with the strange and the novel: alternate dimensions, extraterrestrials, and hallucinogenic transdimensional states are all within their domain. Their idea of the apocalypse is to open all the rifts to the billions of other existing dimensions in the universe, causing total bedlam in which everything merges into another. Mechanically this means that Lotus is the king of grafting tricks and multi-abomination tactics. Their abilities allow them to gain a cumulative, unstoppable advantage through continuously bouncing around minions and using incremental cards to whittle your opponent away. They are also adept at exiling or forcing the opponent to discard through induced agnosias. In Magic terms they’re Simic with a touch of black. The opposite of Rose.

Rose: Where Lotus is the master of everything inhuman, Rose’s domain is everything human. All of humanity’s atrocities and vices are condensed into a single cult of agony and hate. Rose’s version of the apocalypse is the total degeneration of the world into a state of pure corruption – whether this is brought on through the slow, inevitable process of moral decay or though the sudden supernova of an atom bomb is of no difference to them – they are solely concerned with destruction and waste. Mechanically this means that they are adept at killing, and also at tapping, gaining temporary control, destroying relics, curses, and altars, and gaining temporary strength. Much of the Rose’s power is temporary: they can tap minions, pump them, or confuse them, but only for a turn or two. They are also adept at destroying almost every card type (even Gods), which make them an invaluable support cult. Magic: they’re the worst of Red, Green, and Black. The very antithesis of Lotus (and Thorn).

Thorn: Where Moon is concerned with emptiness, the cult of the Thorn directs their energy towards fullness and life. The most religious of the four cults, Thorn is adept in nature magic and is rife with Shamans and Priests far more benevolent than the violent Cultists that Rose and Moon nurtures. The Thorn’s idea of the apocalypse is the brutal, inexorable expansion of life to the point that it overcomes death. The universe would become a single, Gaea-like organism that sustains all its inhabitants in a neverending cycle that is very similar to Heaven. In mechanical terms this means Thorn is concerned with gaining souls, minions dependent on each other, and building altars and relics. They are adept at Strength boosting too, but unlike Rose these boons are permanent and remain on the abomination. In Magic terms they are most like Green with a touch of White. They are the opposite of the Moon.

- There are several ‘evergreen’ mechanics for the base set:

Host (You must play this minion alone.)
Parasite (You must play this minion grafted onto another abomination.)
Monstrous X (This gets +X Strength for each other minion in this abomination.)
Blight X (This gets –X Strength for each other minion in this abomination.)
Ripper (This may deal damage in any order).
Evade [Cult] (This cannot be blocked by abominations of the [Cult].)
Fanatic (This can attack the turn it was played.)
Grotesque X – [Ability] (This ability is only active if there are X or more minions in this abomination.)

- Mechanics for later base sets and expansions:

Amputate (You may pay this minion’s blood cost to graft it onto another abomination.)
Symbiote X (This costs X less to play if you play it grafted onto another abomination.)
Follower – [Ability] (This ability is only active if you control a God.)
Harvester X (You reap X additional souls whenever this reaps.)
Altar – [Ability] (This ability is only active if this card is an altar).
Regenerate (When this would be slain, you may return it to your hand instead.)
Stitches – [Ability] (Whenever you graft this, [Ability].)
Bond – [Ability] (Whenever a minion is grafted onto this, [Ability].)
Rampage (When this is blocked, it reaps souls equal to the number of minions more in the attacking abomination than in the defending abomination).
Illusion (This can only block and can only be blocked by abominations with Illusion).

- Numbers for the base set:

160 Cards
40 Cards of each Cult

24 Minions (8C, 8U, 8R)
8 Fates (3C, 3U, 2R)
4 Relics (1C, 2U, 1R)
2 Curses (1C, 1U)
2 Gods (2R)

- Themes for new sets:
Halloween (done)
Aliens (done)
Ghosts/Afterlife
Religions
Heavenly Bodies/Extraterrestrial Life
Sea/Ocean Depths
Western culture (Wild Wild West?)
Oriental culture
Antarctica/Polar Regions
Imaginary Worlds (Lovecraft)
Urban Life
802726 A.D.
Cyberpunk
Technology/Cyberspace
Psychic Phenomena
Paranormal Phenomena
Ancient Worlds (Egypt, Greece)
Imaginary Scenarios (in the vein of 28 Days Later or Year Zero)
Alternate Dimensions
Religious Planes (Hell, Purgatory, Hades, etc.)

- I feel like revisiting the Halloween and Alien concepts. LHE and BOL went nowhere near the depth I wanted. Some things that would help remedy that are 1) more cards, 2) better and longer flavor texts, 3) a more focused concept, 4) world-building fiction. Perhaps even an insert in the booster packs. Magic was able to describe Ravnica incredibly effectively through the sole medium of cards, and Hecatomb should be able to do something similar.
Some more concrete rules that we came up with:

To reflect this, we needed a new name. Hecatomb, while it sounds cool and is reminiscent of polygons, doesn’t have anything to do with the game.

The word hecatomb refers to a sacrifice of massive proportions (traditionally, 100). Considering that the game revolves around harvesting souls, I think that's very appropriate.
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