Will you be the cool guy?
In a certain episode of Adventure Time, the writers had Finn and Jake play a very affectionate parody of Magic the Gathering called Card Wars. Then after a flood of fan feed back, it became a real game on iOS and Android and a real physical TCG. Tonight, resident card shark, the Inverseman will be reviewing the iOS/Android game application. It’s time to… Click the Read More button.
To play Card Wars, you have four lanes to summon creatures onto. When a lane is empty, the player can deal direct damage to the opponent’s life points to reduce them to zero. Very simple stuff. Before going into battle, the player chooses which “Landscapes” he or she wishes to use from the five types of landscapes, very reminiscent of the five colors of Magic the Gathering. And a creature can only be summoned onto a landscape that matches its color. To assist, the player can also support his or her creature army with various buildings, spells, and hero abilities.
Each type of landscape plays differently and reflects not only the cards but the decks the characters play too. Jake plays his beloved Cornfields cards and his personal “hero power” give bonuses to all Corn creatures. Finn plays tricky Blue Plains creatures that let him negate effects and draw more cards. Princess Bubblegum plays defensive Nice Land creatures that focus on defense and healing. The list goes on. The creatures and spells themselves are incredibly quirky having all that Adventure Time flair. This game is chock-full of flavor and everything fits when you play. Almost as if you were actually in the episode yourself.
The game differentiates itself from Magic a fair deal. Buildings and lane focus add strategy to figuring out where to position your creatures and which buildings to put onto which landscape. Managing your lanes is a big skill in the game, and it really adds a different dimension from other more popular TCGs. Combat is a breeze and everything is simple for even a kid to learn, making a single match fast-paced and fun. The Battle Wheel, a spinning wheel that the player stops to determine a hit, miss, or critical, adds a dimension that can only be done in a digital card game but I personally found it frustrating and toggled it off in the settings.
To improve your deck you collect randomly dropped chests from fallen creatures and can pay a large sum of in-game gold or rare (mostly cash-funded) gems for chests containing one card. For certain cards, you can visit the card forge to obtain much rarer and exclusive cards. It’s here though that we run into the game’s first problem, the difficulty of obtaining cards in the first place. There’s no guarantee you’ll obtain a single card from a match, let alone a new one. To make matters worse, if you want to try landscapes other than the Corn deck you start with, you’ll have build a collection completely from scratch. Certain quests during matches require certain decks (i.e use only Useless Swamp creatures), so tedium sets in when farming cards off Marceline only to see a Rainbow creature from the only chest drop in the match. Having a deck is great, but collecting the pieces to one is a chore.
While the creatures are simple in design and in art, not all cards are created equal. Now granted, this is true of any card game, but the power level discrepancy is even more real. A beginning creature that only costs 1 Magic Point to summon might have 3 attack and 2 defense but a later creature that also costs 1 Magic Point might have 9 attack and 11 defense and the exact same Floop ability and rarity. The game has plenty of clones of creatures that are outright stronger than others for no real apparent reason, not even rarity, forcing the player to go back, grind more chests, wait for stamina (the limit to how many matches you can play) to refill, and repeat.
Being a phone game, in addition to the five dollar payment, there are additional fees. In-game gold can be used for forging cards and sometimes a chest, but gems (cash) are far more potent. The only way to get them for free is by doing quests, which can present problems like in the earlier Swamp example. Paying real money for gems also presents the only way to reliably refill stamina outside of waiting. The most egregious case is that gems are the only way the player can increase the maximum collection size. If the player wants to hold more cards (and not pay more money), it would be most wise to save every gem just for this feature.
While it is understandable that some monetization help keeps the game afloat, mixed in with the constant grinding, limiting the player’s capacity to play the game hurts a little more than simply having the player wait like in other “free”/”semi-free” games. On the bright side, there are in-game events that hand out gems or increase the frequency of obtaining rare cards, and most quests are very doable without grinding, relying on the player’s skill instead.
On the technical side, the game sometimes fails to completely render objects and lags at times, not enough to make the game unplayable though. The dreaded Battle Wheel sometimes toggles back on but that also does not present a game ruining nuisance. What is annoying though is the UI of the game. When managing cards and collection, scrolling through a one line list slowly is rather cumbersome, and there probably exists a cleaner and more refined system. The vocals are all spot-on from Jake rambling about the glorious kingdom of Jakoria to the expressions of characters upon defeat. Great care was put into the presentation, well, when it loads.
Overall, in-spite of technical issues, grinding constantly for cards, and additional fees, Card Wars is actually quite fun. While the game experience outside of a match may be occasionally annoying, the matches themselves are great fun. You can really see the spirit of the show in the game and it makes for the perfect time-killer on the bus. Quirky mechanics, enjoyable combat, and dripping with flavor, if you enjoy Adventure Time to any extent, you’ll have a good time with Card Wars. If you really enjoy it though, you’ll probably pursue the physical card game at a local game store, but that story is for another time. Join me next time when I fake my death 25 times
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