Perhaps Duel of Champions – Ubisoft’s free-to-play online card game set in the Might & Magic universe – was inevitable: after all, behind every multi-media franchise there’s always, eventually, a card-game. Does this also mean that it’s being taken-lightly? A throw-away product to help expand revenue? Ubisoft would say ‘no’. If you look at it closely enough, you’ll be able to see elements from other notable cards games, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering, Shadow Era – but Champions is very much its own game, with lots of Might & Magic motifs and traits, and it should feel like a natural extension of the franchise.
The debut title from Ubisoft’s Quebec studio, Duel of Champions has been described as something more akin to chess than anything else, and the strategic placement of cards and being aware of your surroundings is key. The board is divided into several different zones – you have your Heroes card which, like all good generals, sits at the back of your formation, then you have two rows with which to place regular creature cards ( a ‘front’ and a ‘back’ row). In addition to this you have zones to place magic cards, where depending on where you place them can affect a whole row of your troops, or just a column, but which affects both yours and the enemy troops.
In addition to this there are also ‘random events’ slots for global modifiers, which add an element of chance to each individual match. Champions is steeped in the universe’s rich lore as well – each of the four starting factions (Haven, Inferno, Necropolis and Stronghold, which is an ‘advanced’ faction) has their own play style which reflects what they are like in other M&M games. Inferno is more aggressive, Haven more for putting up a good defence, and so on. There’s even a ‘neutral’ faction to help people who are not sure what choice to make.
One of the main goals with this game though was to create something that was relatively easy to get off the ground, but also something that was easy for people to pick up and play, even if they’d never played a card game before. Granted, this is something you here quite often during the pre-release stage of a product, but still – I had a feeling they may be on to something when I sat down to play a round and found myself winning, despite all the cards being in French. Then the computer did a typically French thing and surrendered (Read: crashed to desktop), and so I started again in English, but still, they seem to have the accessibility thing down to a T so far.
Duel of Champions also has a ‘single-player’ component, which is mainly to help ease newcomers into the dynamics of the game and allow up to get some boosters so they can bolster their decks before going online. This section, more than any other, evokes classic Might & Magic elements, as it involves a linear campaign of sorts that even includes big ‘boss fights’ at the end. The studio is looking to do major content updates on the game every quarterly to half-yearly (new cards etc) and the campaign is also going to get updated as the game evolves.
It might not be the most important Might & Magic release coming up, but it’s a logical step in the franchises online strategy. This is a free-to-play title, which will be client based and even supports cross-platform connectivity between the PC and iPad, which at the moment is the only tablet device being supported.
The base game, obviously, is free, and whilst it’s possible to eventually earn all the cards in the game the ‘long’ way by levelling up and spending any in-game currency you earn, you can also use real-money to buy that currency and to acquire booster packs more quickly. Ubisoft would argue this is more paying to play faster, as opposed to playing to win, but we’ll let you be the judges of that. The levelling and match-makings systems though should help separate out the player base to keep it fair. There’s no firm release date, but the game is currently in closed beta in France and Poland.