YC-Backed Orbs CCG Takes To Kickstarter To Reinvent Magic: The Gathering For Asynchronous Online Play

Hey, remember Magic: The Gathering? Maybe you’re like me and you played the game religiously as a teenager, only to abandon it as you got older. (For those of you don’t know what I’m talking about: It’s a collectible card game in a fantasy setting. Also: Stop looking at me like I’m weird.)

Jeff Pickhardt, founder of Y Combinator-backed developer Jerpix, loved Magic too. He said he used to play, then after stopping for a while, he tried to pick it up again, but he found the online version “just kind of hard to use for a number of reasons.” At the same time, he was playing Words With Friends, and he realized that collectible card games could be improved by cribbing from the Words With Friends playbook.

There’s one big drawback to playing Magic Online, he said — for complicated reasons involving spells and counterspells (don’t ask), the games have to take place in real-time. But wouldn’t it be great if you could play asynchronously? It might seem like a minor improvement, but I still remember my first time playing Words With Friends and thinking, “Holy crap, I don’t have to wait for my fried to take their turn! Holy crap, I could sneak turns in while I’m at work!”

Pickhardt is betting that his upcoming game, Orbs CCG, will be similarly liberating for players of Magic and other collectible card games. And with its convenient gameplay, it could lure new and lapsed players into the fold, too.

Pickhardt comes from the tech world, having worked for Optimizely and Google. One thing that’s missing from his resumé — actual game design experience. Yet he’s doing most of the work himself, down to writing the “flavor text” that connects the cards to the game’s larger story and setting. He said he’s drawing on his experience as a serious player of collectible card games, and when he sat down to create Orbs, he took a close look at what worked and what didn’t in other titles. He also recruited Tom Martell, game designer and winner of the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Gatecrash (a tournament Jerpix describes as “the Wimbledon of Magic”), to help.

And now they’re hoping to raise at least $40,000 through Kickstarter for the game’s development. Even though Jerpix has funding from Y Combinator, Pickhardt said it’s not enough to build the game. Plus, he’s hoping to use Kickstarter to connect with the larger gaming community.

And the campaign addresses one of the questions you may be asking: Is this just a ripoff of Magic? Or, as the Kickstarter FAQ puts it: “Asynchronous play is becoming more and more standard. What differentiates Orbs CCG?” Here’s the answer:

Orbs CCG strikes a delicate balance between a complex, strategic gameplay, while still allowing for asynchronous play. The game has not been dumbed down. For instance, there is a colored resource system in the game, which is important to strategic deck building and gameplay. It also has a number of unique innovations, including spreading combat over two turns, the Bench and the energy system.

It is also the first ever HTML5 collectible card game, playable through any browser. The benefit? It’s much quicker and simpler to play your turns throughout the day, from within a browser, rather than having to install software, download all the cards, and launch the game. It might not seem like that big a deal, but reducing the friction to playing the game makes it more compelling to play more frequently.

I also asked if Pickhardt sees Orbs as just the first title as he turns Jerpix into a larger game company. Instead, he said he hopes to turn this into an “evergreen” title, where he continues releasing new content that keeps players engaged.