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.