Digital card games are everywhere you look at the moment and generally, the meta of many of these games is in a really healthy place. The various games offer a great variety of modes to play, from constructed to limited formats to autobattlers, puzzles to solve and special duels. Each has its own pace, skills to learn and perfect and fun bits to tease out.
But I just can’t play them right now.
I have often wrestled with playing a digital version of a game I generally played the physical version of, face to face with an opponent. Playing against the same people every Friday night in Magic: The Gathering tournaments was a pretty social affair, and you met a lot of interesting people with at least one shared interest. After a while, you got to learn your opponents or which decks they were using. One might always play the long control game. Another loves to ramp into huge creatures. One might prefer strange decks that you wouldn’t see on a netdeck website, sussing out weird combinations and strategies.
I loved the various social aspects and seeing people trading cards or even just showing off their collections. Some people only wanted foils or specific lands for their decks, while others had foreign language versions of the cards with different artwork.
As you played the game, thinking about your turn and the following one, you watched your opponent. Were they looking at their hand all the time and not at the board? How did they sort the cards in their hands? Did they leave some mana slightly to the side of the rest, or keep asking how many cards you had in hand? Did they seem nervous or happy about your last play? Some players were like poker masters, with stony faces and no visible tells, while others would fidget. It was a layer of the game that is sorely missing in digital and after being effectively locked away from friends for so long, I yearn for those tabletop gatherings, where I could watch people and chat to friends, which gave me a lot more to think about besides my next turn and what they might be holding.
For a while, Hearthstone Battlegrounds gave me a great place to play card games and not worry about the social element. An autobattler wouldn’t really work in physical format and I didn’t have to sit and wait for my opponent to take every. single. TURN. to the rope.
But in the last month, I don’t even enjoy that anymore. Too often the timer between rounds feels too long for me, and I end up looking at internet tabs or my phone. I have learnt that if a game does something that makes me swap to a browser or hit my phone, then it has probably lost me. I am no longer invested and my brain is busy with other things.
I don’t even know what caused it because I loved Battlegrounds and its top 4 system. But I no longer feel like I “won” when I come in the top 4. Even in second place, I get no joy seeing my rating go up for a “win” because I don’t feel like a winner. Not at all. That feeling of satisfaction is gone. It probably has to do with being more anxious than normal, but I don’t have an answer to that and it will be a while before vaccinations hit my age group.
All I see is how much more powerful the person that beat me was and feel like I just wasted several minutes of my life hunting for good cards and triples. That endorphin rush, that sense of accomplishment, is gone.
And I hate the hole where it should be.