Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: August 21, 2016

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Hi, guys. I didn’t forget you, I’ve just been dealing with housing issues (my house is constantly under construction) but you don’t want to know about that. You want more games. This week’s Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer is brought to you by video game versions of collectible card games. I know I cover tabletop games with my other reviews, but there are plenty of free-to-play video games that use the collectible card game model. Just to clarify, you collect cards (of varying rarity) in a collectible card game and make decks out of the cards you collect. It’s a decent game model for a free-to-play game and there are plenty of free-to-play collectible card games out there. Let’s get started.

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Final Fantasy Portal: Triple Triad

Full disclosure: there’s a lot more to the Final Fantasy Portal besides Triple Triad, but the only thing I’m covering here is Triple Triad. Ah, I loved Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII. It’s the collectible card game within the role playing game. Players would collect cards of characters found within the game and challenge random non-player characters to card duels. The rules are simple.

You play on a 3×3 grid. Every card has four values for each one of its sides (left, right, up, and down) and these values are printed in the upper right-hand corner of the card. You play cards in the 3×3 grid and if your card’s value on one side is greater than your opponent’s you take control of their card (kind of like Othello). Whoever owns the most cards at the end of the match wins. In the original game, players only obtained characters from Final Fantasy VIII, but Final Fantasy Portal’s version of Triple Triad includes all numbered entries in the Final Fantasy franchise and that’s a lot of fun.

The original Triple Triad weaved in elemental play—the card based on the Brothers summon had an earth element and its values were doubled against cards with a lightning element—but Final Fantasy Portal’s Triple Triad omits elements and adds same and plus to the gameplay. Same is okay; if you play a card that matches the values on cards that share two or more sides, you flip over any opponent’s cards adjacent to the card you played. Plus functions similarly to Same but you add the values of the cards on all sides and if the sum is the same, you flip over all opponent cards. I hate the Plus rule.

Plus can negate any good card you may have. If one side is an 8 and the other is a 9, all your opponent has to do is play a 2 to the 9 while playing a 3 to the 8; both sides would equal 11 and you just lost some of your best cards. You can dictate which rules you play in versus mode, so you can avoid the Plus rule and it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of Triple Triad, but how hard would it have been to assign an element to each character? Still, Final Fantasy Portal’s Triple Triad is a faithful port of the popular Final Fantasy mini game. And wouldn’t want to construct a deck with the best characters from Final Fantasy lore? This one’s staying in my collection, but I’m not sure how often I’ll play.

OrderAndChaosDuels

Order & Chaos Duels

On the surface, Order & Chaos Duels looks like a Hearthstone clone, but there’s more going on beneath the surface—not much but a little. Like Hearthstone, you assume control of a hero who has their own innate ability and you’re trying to knock your opponent’s hero’s health to zero. You cast minions and spells to buff your minions or debuff your opponent’s minions. All of this should sound familiar to Hearthstone fans. Order & Chaos’s twist is that it matters where you play a minion.

You have five locations (one row consisting of five spots) you can play your minions, each minion has attack and health, and if you lower your opponent’s minion to zero health in a spot or there is no minion in the spot, your minion attacks your opponent directly. This simple addition offers more strategy, and that’s a good thing, but I never felt as if I had agency in a game of Order & Chaos.

Sure, you set up your minions to defeat your enemy, but unlike Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, there’s no way to counter anything your opponent does—or at least these counters are few and far between. Most of the time you’ll set up your minions during your planning phase, pass the turn to your attack phase, and once you’re done attacking, your turn’s finished.

There are also alternate ways of winning in both Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering (namely you helping your opponent run out of cards: milling their deck) that just doesn’t exist in any tangible way in Order & Chaos. The play styles don’t offer much variety either, so I’d say Order & Chaos is a pass.

EpicCardsBattle

Epic Cards Battle

I’m not sure if Epic Cards Battle even qualifies as a collectible card game. Sure, you collect cards but you don’t build a deck so much as you pick your best card or two and play them ad nauseam.

If I didn’t like the lack of agency in Order & Chaos, I hate the lack of agency in Epic Cards Battle. All you do is pick the card(s) that has the best combination of attack, health, and speed and see these cards battle it out on their own with no input from the player. Some of these characters/cards have special abilities but gameplay boils down to those three statistics and whose cards have the better of those statistics. Epic Cards Battle puts more emphasis on scantily clad women than it does gameplay. If you’re into that sort of thing, Epic Cards Battle might be a decent game. If you want something more from your gaming experience, I’d skip it.

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Card Lords

Card Lords combines elements from several games in this review and it does so in a satisfying way. It could be that it deploys a similar art style as Card Wars 2 (which I’ll cover later: foreshadowing, baby) and I like that art style, but it does use the best part of Order & Chaos, which is “card placement matters.”

Akin to Epic Cards Battle, Card Lords has players select their best cards. Unlike Epic Cards Battles, it feels more like you’re building a deck, or at least assembling a team with abilities that play off each other well. There’s a lot of repetition to Card Lords’ gameplay but it’s enjoyable in small doses, and players will get small doses because Card Lords also uses the ubiquitous energy resource found in free-to-play games. You’ll play a few matches before you have to wait an hour or so—or spend money (and that’s how the developer’s get paid). But unlike most free-to-play games that use energy, you don’t have to wait long; it’s literally an hour or less.

The last element Card Lords introduces is developing your cards. You can power up your cards so they’ll gain special abilities (another thing we’ll see again in Card Wars 2) and you get a sense of developing your team/deck. You also have slightly more control in Card Lords than you do in the previous two entries (Epic Cards Battle and Order & Chaos), but it still doesn’t have as much strategy as I would like. There are few moments when you wouldn’t use your cards’ special ability as soon as it’s available to you and battles still come down to who has the best stats. Still, Card Lords is worth a look.

Cardstone

Cardstone

Cardstone is a Rogue-like dungeon crawl that just happens to use cards as its means of combat. You collect cards as you journey deeper into the dungeon, but if you die, your deck resets and you have to rebuild your deck the next time you enter the dungeon. That’s curious.

Cardstone plays more like a deck-builder game (a game with set cards and you build your deck each time you start a new game) instead of a collectible card game (a game where you build your deck over time and your deck remains the same unless you make changes to it). I like the idea of a free-to-play deck-builder game, but I’m not sure if Cardstone’s combat works as well as I would like.

Players face a new creature in the dungeon with each round. Sometimes a creature will run away if you have too high a level—you do gain levels and increase your health, even if your deck resets—but when a creature stills around, you cycle through your deck on a timer. Every three or four seconds, you draw a new card from your deck. You’ll see that card rotate on the screen until you use it or it disappears (gets discarded). This mechanism leads to players drawing healing cards when they need to deal damage and damage cards when they need healing. It doesn’t matter early in the dungeon, but the deeper you get in the dungeon, the harder your opponents get and the less likely it is you’ll get the right cards. Funny how that works. This perceived cheating by the AI makes Cardstone the most frustrating game of this bunch. I don’t know how many times I fought a creature to a first one who deals damage wins scenario, only to draw into five consecutive healing cards. Note: do not play Cardstone if you’re easily irritated.

I like Cardstone’s concept but I’m not sure how long it’ll stay in my collection. It’s another game that’s worth a look. You may find it enjoyable.

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Dengen Chronicles

I was intrigued when I first downloaded Dengen Chronicles. It’s a collectible card game, but the cards are hexagonal shaped and the board is laid out like a honeycomb. Unfortunately, there’s little to no strategy.

Like many other games in this list, the winner of Dengen Chronicles boils down to who has the best stats: attack and health. But the board factors into the equation. Character/card placement matters, but it matters in the worst possible way. During the first turn, whoever has a character/card in the top point of the star deals damage first to the first, opponent character/card located clockwise on the star. So, whoever gets to play their card/character first typically wins. Sure, the next round shifts who deals damage first to the next point clockwise on the star, but by then the damage is already done.

Dengen Chronicles overlays a convoluted element chart on the board. Each section of the honeycomb represents a specific element and only characters with that element can be played there—you get bonus attack if they have multiple copies of that element printed on their card—but all you have to do is build a deck that has a strong showing in the first, third, and fifth elements, and you can dominate most games.

The only issue with that strategy is that everyone tries to use it (player versus player) and who wins is the person who goes first. At that rate you may as well flip a coin and call heads or tails instead of playing Dengen Chronicles. For me this game is a strong pass.

CardWars

Card Wars 2

Full disclosure: there is a physical, printed version of this game and I haven’t yet played it, but I have seen Adventure Time and like the Card Wars episodes. Card Wars 2 is one of those few games where I don’t ever mute the game. John DiMaggio’s Jake the Dog walks you through the tutorial and the rest of the cast voice the characters they portray in the cartoon.

The game itself is a good representation of the Card Wars found in the animated series. They’ve got everything, including Jake’s favorite element: Corn. You can pick any element you want to play. Each element has a distinct play style, which is something that’s missing in many of the other games on this list. You can even mix-match cards from various elements to build an awesome deck, and it’s a lot of fun to experiment. Compared to the other games on this list, Card Wars 2 is a must play.

But Card Wars 2 isn’t all sunshine. It uses an energy system, which isn’t bad, and players can also upgrade their cards. I’m not against upgrading cards either but how you upgrade cards matters, and with how Card Wars 2 is set up, you could spend real-world dollars trying to upgrade your cards the preferred way. The first way you can upgrade your cards is by leveling them up. The problem with this method is that your decks are capped off at a certain numeric level, based on your player level. So if you level up your cards, you might only be able to put a 40 levels of cards in a deck, and if you have a card you want to use that’s level 40, one card could be your entire deck. The better way to upgrade your cards is to enhance them, and to do that you’ll have to collect items and merge them with your card. These items are difficult to acquire and this is where Card Wars 2 tempts players to make in-game purchases.

If you’re patient with leveling yourself up as a player and then leveling up your cards, Card Wars 2 can be enjoyable and free. If you’re impatient, you could spend a lot of real-world money or you could get frustrated. Card Wars 2 is the most enjoyable game on this list and a must play for an Adventure Time fan.

Well, I hope this longer group of games makes up for the couple of weeks I missed. Until next we meet, thanks for reading.

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