Time to pledge for Allegiance

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Two mighty warriors take to the fields of battle. Though they arrive alone, each is possessed of powerful magic. What starts as single combat soon becomes a clash of armies as the rivals summon their own minions, from foot soldiers to legendary beasts. The casualties rise. One hero falls. The other starts reshuffling the decks.

The Magic: The Gathering players in the crowd are nodding thoughtfully right now, but the joke’s on you: I’m talking about Allegiance: A Realm Divided . If the premise sounds familiar, it’s because the game’s creator, Paul MacKinnon, is a diehard Magic fan (and a former pro-tour player). But he’s also gotten frustrated with uneven games and unlucky draws, and he thinks he’s come up with a solution — a game that, while he probably wouldn’t use the word “better,” contains more of what he likes about Magic, and less of what he doesn’t.

I won’t use the word better, either, but only because I’ve only played a handful of games of both Magic and Allegiance. That’s already enough to see that they are two different beasts, despite their similarities. The most basic difference is that Allegiance is self-contained. There’s no deck building, no purchasing dozens of packs in the hope of getting that one card that will finally complete your army. Instead, there are three shared decks, for basic troops, elite troops and actions. That means all the players — up to four can square off — have the same odds of drawing the cards they’re looking for.

The bigger difference — the one that makes Allegiance its own game and not just a streamlined version of someone else’s — comes from the heroes. These are, in a word, ingenious. Each player takes on the role of one excessively powerful character, from a forest ranger to a demon knight to a mad king who hides behind his royal guard. And each hero has special powers that drastically affect their play style. The Paladin is powerful out of the gate, but better at maintaining his forces than summoning new ones. The Necromancer’s army is slow to build, but eventually he’s summoning a half-dozen zombies and skeletons in one fell swoop. If you play one like you’d play the other, you’re missing out on the fun — and you’re going to lose.

Now, the trickiest thing about Allegiance is that it doesn’t, in the strictest sense, exist yet. MacKinnon, a local developer who has been working on the game for the last two years, was kind enough to let me try a work in progress; the actual game is basically complete, but the artwork — from a roster of fantasy art heavy-hitters — has a ways to go, and manufacturing is another thing altogether. The thing is, it deserves to exist. After playing twice, I spent the entire drive home thinking of moves I could have made differently so that I could end this column bragging about beating the game’s creator instead of suffering two decisive losses. I wasn’t trying to dwell on it, but the game was already stuck in my head.

So here’s the selfish request. The only way I’ll be able to play again is if some of you go out and pledge to the game’s Kickstarter campaign. As of this writing, it’s over halfway to its $50,000 goal, but that leaves over $20,000 to go and only two weeks to get there. So, I urge you to check it out; you’ll get to support a local developer, help a great new game get released, and give me a chance to redeem the mad king in glorious combat. It’s a win-win.

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