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Archive for the ‘SolForge’ Category

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Don’t get me wrong, SolForge is my first love when it comes to digital CCGs.  I think the concept of a digital CCG with everything it has to offer is brilliant, and the gameplay of SolForge is equally brilliant, resulting in a winning package that I can’t wait to dig into.  The problem is development in SolForge is a bit… slow right now.  I’m sure there is lots going on behind the scenes, but the game remains at the level of a glorified tech demo.  At present all you can do is use the pre-set decks to play against the AI.  Granted, there are 6 pre-set decks now (though 4 of them you have to buy) and the AI is pretty darn challenging, so there is some gameplay there.  But with no deckbuilding and no online matchmaking or even playing against friends the experience remains pretty limited.  This is especially true for the PC client version which is still stuck at an earlier even more limited iteration.

So when Penny Arcade featured Ubisoft’s “Duel of Champions” digital CCG on a recent comic/post (profanity warning) I was tempted to check it out, partly just to see what a more mature digital CCG actually looks and plays like.  I’m especially interested to see pricing and that sort of thing as my past experiences with real life TCGs have largely revolved around the money issue and I’m pretty familiar with pricing for games like Magic: The Gathering.

Pretty easy to install, simply go to the Duel of Champions website, download the client launcher, and the client then updates itself automatically.  Something like a 160MB download, not too large.  Right away you are supposed to pick a faction (I remember 3 choices though there are more factions than that in the game) which gives you a starter deck from that faction, and then you are off.

The game has the typical free-to-play dual currency model:  Gold is earned from progressing through the single player campaign and from playing online and can be spent to purchase a variety of different kinds of packs from the original set, while Seals are earned from leveling up and by paying real money and can also be used for packs from the expansion set or for various consumables that increase the rate at which XP and Gold are earned.  Each time you level up you get a few Seals but as this becomes a slow process purchasing Seals with real money becomes a factor, though there doesn’t appear to be any “pay to win” that I can see; you just unlock cards faster if you are willing to shell out bucks.

The game art and theme is set in the Might and Magic universe, not one I know well, but it has your typical stalwart human faction, blood-crazed orc faction, undead faction, elemental faction, etc.  The art on the cards is a consistent style and looks quite good; on the PC client you can right click on cards to see a very large version of them which shows the art off well.

The actual gameplay is lane-based combat with four lanes (as opposed to the 5 in SolForge) but each lane has two ranks.  Melee units go in the front rank, while ranged units go in the back rank.  When there are no opposing units in a lane your units can damage the opposing champion and when the opposing champion runs out of HP you win.  There are a ton of different unit abilities and a lot of area effects which make the game quite tactical.  There is also a shared event deck that both players put cards into at the start which is an interesting twist.  The UI is pretty good, though I miss the ability icons from SolForge which make it a lot easier to remember who can do what.  Duel of Champions requires you to mouse over everything to read a summary in the box on the bottom or right click to see the big version of the card.  UI is definitely not as good as it could be when it comes to understanding attributes of cards that are in play but I imagine this comes with experience.

What is interesting is the resource system used, which is somewhat simplified; both players have a fixed amount of resources that replenishes every turn and steps up by 1.  So turn 1 you have 1 resource, turn 2 you have 2, and so on.  The bigger cards are gated instead by champion attributes; you start with limited attributes but you level up an attribute every turn to allow you to play your larger cards over time.  The champions also have unique abilities and the option to allow for increased card draw which seems like it helps keep the pace up later in the game when you are swimming in resources.  The champion system in some ways reminds me of the World of Warcraft TCG but with more versatility.

I played through the first half-dozen campaign missions which are basically tutorials, and then spent my gold on a few packs just to see what that experience was like.  It’s strange but definitely similar to opening a real life booster pack… though they can do things that real life game companies can’t do, like sell a booster pack with 2 cards in it.  Also interesting is that you can build decks but when you do those cards are physically gone from your collection; you can’t have infinite decks built from any combination of your cards, it’s just like a physical game.  There is a system to burn up excess cards you don’t want though once you reach a certain level.

I’ll continue to dabble and see how it goes but so far its kind of an interesting take on the whole concept of digital CCGs which are definitely here to stay.

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I bought the Alloyin starter deck for Sol Forge using my iTunes gift cards I get from work.

SO AWESOME!

The Alloyin faction is all about armor, damage mitigation, and creatures which are increasing in power over time.  They seem to want to play for a longer, slower paced game to outlast their opponents and build up an overpowering force.  Also they have some cards with a new mechanic, the ability to “activate”.  This means you can use their action every single turn that they are alive and in play at the start of your turn.  Their downside seems to be generally low attack, especially early, and a lot of units with weak stats.  Overuse of their special units early can put you in such a deficit that you can won’t alive long enough to enjoy your higher level cards later.

One complaint about the UI for this though… it’s hard to see when creatures like Synapsis Oracle and Munitions Bot have an action that is usable.  The cards have a slight glow around them similar to the ones in your hand but I miss it many times, it needs to be more obvious.

One other note, I really like that the Alloyin robot buffs have a special animation.  Playing a card like Matrix Warden, selecting a target, and then having it play a little animation when the effect triggers is very cool.  One of the things I really like about this game UI concept.

I have only played a few games so far and I got solidly trounced several times by computer normal before dropping down to computer easy, it definitely takes a while to get a feel for the new cards and how the deck works.  I moved back up to computer normal and seem to be doing better but I am mainly playing the sample decks and they are not that strong compared to the starters I feel.  It will be interesting to play the other starter decks.  I’m scared of “computer hard” if they ever make it…

Decklist:

Synapsis Oracle x 1 – Lets you discard a card from your hand to upgrade it every turn as an action.  This means you want to keep her alive as long as possible, that is a super powerful effect!  She has high health but very low damage.  Not a robot.

Brightsteel Sentinel x 1 – Heavily armors all your robots on the turn he enters play only, can be a powerful effect for swinging a lot of battles your way.  But I often found myself not playing him because I didn’t have enough robots in play to be worth it.

Scrapforge Titan x 2 – Tiny weakling that grows to an enormous beast by Level 3.  Very nice to upgrade with Oracle or Technosmith so you don’t have to play him at the lower levels.  Really fun to buff up at the higher levels but annoying when it gets taken out by “Cull the Weak” or something similar.  You need a little breathing room to get him leveled up so I don’t play him every game.

Technosmith x 2 – Already seen him before, he’s pretty good but his level 1 version is a little weak which means playing him early can weaken your early board position in return for a stronger deck later.  Not a robot.

Steelshaper Savant x 2 – I’m not a big fan of (more…)

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SolForge Cometh

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I want to use the awesome vehicle of information distribution that is my blog to share a brief post about an upcoming game that I am very excited about: SolForge, a new digital trading card game that will hopefully be coming out later this year.

SolForge has a pretty exciting pedigree, being designed by the makers of Ascension, Stoneblade Entertainment (originally Gary Games) who also happen to have some serious Magic: The Gathering credibility.  This includes Richard Garfield himself, the original creator of Magic: The Gathering.  Ascension: Chronicles of the Godslayer, if you never played it, was a light and quick playing fantasy deckbuilder with a surprising amount of strategic depth.  It was criticized by some who disliked its art style or the degree of randomness present, but it was certainly a highly successful game that has seen numerous expansions.   In fact, I would consider Ascension to be one of the original pillars of the deck-building genre along the same lines as Dominion and Thunderstone.  Most importantly it saw a very successful release on the app store for an iOS version which I have played extensively, including in-app purchases of expansions.   SolForge looks to expand on this business model and also include support for PC and Android.  SolfForge was kickstarted August of 2012 and raised an impressive $430,000 and is set to launch late summer of 2013 (hopefully).

SolForge will be a digital trading card game meaning you buy and/or earn cards which are stored in a digital collection, which you can then use to build decks and play in a digital environment.  Some players have an inherent distrust in this model since if the game and/or servers ever go away your money spent is worthless, vs. a physical game that you can continue to play years after it’s no longer supported.  To allay that fear SolForge will be free to play meaning you can gain cards by simply playing without spending any money at all, something not possible with a physical game and a business model that is already seeing a lot of success elsewhere particularly in mobile gaming.

But none of this matters that much if the game itself isn’t that good.  So, is it?  The game design uses the basic card archetypes from Magic of “creatures” and “spells”, where the creatures have attack and HP stats as well as abilities while spells alter the game state in some substantial way.  However, SolfForge departs substantially from Magic in two ways:  there are no resources, and cards level up as you play them.

No resources?  That’s right, (more…)

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