While you're waiting for the Hearthstone beta, why not try out a free CCG that already exists -- and is actually quite good?
By James Pinnell on October 10, 2013 at 10:12 am
On forums, blogs, game sites and social media, people are going absolutely mental about Hearthstone. It’s true, the game is phenomenal. Blizzard have managed to roll together the holy grail – a digital collectable card game that isn’t made for pseudo masochists determined to learn entire rulebooks in order to dominate. A 30 minute long tutorial is all it takes for even the more ardent Magic: The Gathering hater to fall between the cracks and unwittingly throw fat stacks of cash for a mystery box of virtual commands.
The only problem is that, well, the game is far popular than even Blizzard expected it to be – not only did our site get DDOS’d thanks to a whopping three keys, but entire YouTube personalities are being grown around this hype. Hell, a friend of mine dropped around on the weekend and won 3 games in a row based off the videos he had seen. As a result, the hype train is chugging along a little longer than is probably necessary.
Why? Because people are buying packs right now. There are stories of closed beta participants dropping hundreds of dollars a pop on the hunt for those elusive legendary cards, and dropping even more coin for Arena tickets. Hell, the game isn’t even feature complete yet and it’s making money. As a result, there’s no incredible need to get this bad boy out into the open just yet — since it’s F2P, hitting critical mass on the hype locomotive stands to net development costs and more back within the space of a month. Open beta is coming, my friends, just don’t expect it to be next week.
So what are your options, dear player, if you are gasping for some of the action but have broken your email client with too many refreshes? Well, there’s a few. Wizards of the Coast, the original beasts of the physical game, have produced a remarkably mediocre version of their game that fails to understand the transition to digital. Then there’s Mojang’s Scrolls, Hex and Infinity Wars — all featuring progressive, interesting and popular alternative models for CCGs, yet unfortunately stuck behind beta paywalls that ask for a handout before you even manage to open a digital foil yourself.
Ubisoft surprised almost everyone when they dived headfirst into F2P – trumping even the EA powerhouse by releasing a plethora of genuinely great titles. There was Ghost Recon Online, a thoroughly undervalued title that struggles due to a lack of promotion and thus a tiny player base. Then there was Anno Online and The Settlers Online, two interesting interpretations of browser based strategy. Followed by the host of iPhone and Android properties. Finally, they topped it off with The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, a very risky and very clever hybrid of previously vacant genres that ticks a lot of the right boxes in the right areas. Recently, and strangely quietly, they released Might and Magic: Duel of Champions — an impressively polished and slick CCG that shares a client across both the PC and iOS.
Fear not, however, as the UI doesn’t fall flat nor compromise for touch controls, especially since card games are basically designed for touch anyway, it’s win win.
Duel of Champions starts well — easing the player into a well designed tutorial that asks them to choose a Might and Magic-familar “side” and begins easing them into play, slowly introducing new functions and rules as each mission is played out. There’s some playful, albeit entirely useless, dialogue in between each match, but it’s skippable and during non-story play it doesn’t exist at all. But what’s clever is that Duel of Champions has its own unique style of play that arguably allows for significantly more strategy and more consideration to how resources are used than Hearthstone or MTG.
Now, once again, as I noted during my original CCG article, I’m new to this whole shebang. What I’ve learned about these games comes entirely from tutorials and play, so please don’t make me out to be some epic strategist or expert. I have no idea how Duel of Champions matches up against any other title besides Hearthstone.
The comparisons to other games are still there; cards have resource requirements, health and attack values. What’s different here is that they also feature secondary resources that are applied once per turn by the “hero”. For example, a card might need 2 “might” or 3 “magic” in the player’s static pool to be cast. On top of these, there are also “event” cards and “fortune” cards alongside the standard spells and minions that offer wildcard movies that can affect both players or offer benefits to particular minions or the board as a whole.
Then there are the rows — where Hearthstone features a single, ambiguous, row on both sides of the board, Duel of Champions has two — and placement matters. Minions are classed by their attack (melee, ranged or caster) and can only be placed according to their defensive posture. If you’ve played a turn based strategy game before, this is generally second nature — casters and ranged sit at the back, melee takes point. For the most part, minions can only hit each other if they sit adjacent, but can take a poke at the enemy hero if nothing stands in their way. Still following me?
Games are just as fast as Hearthstone, especially during enemy movements, which actually go “way” too quickly (in AI battles and with advanced players) and its difficult to understand some of the status effects or ramifications. Why did that minion suddenly die? Why was my enemy able to attack another on a different row? After a few games things tend to make a little more sense, but it can be bewildering at first. The resolution is higher and the cards are smaller and more detailed than Hearthstone, many with more complex chains of buffs and effects.
It’s easy to learn, hard to master — you will lose a lot at first and due to the slightly more advanced nature of play, getting some ironclad strategy down is essential to victory. It’s a little easier to work with what you have, however, since you are restricted to the cards of your initial class choice. You can use other classes, of course, but it becomes easier to focus on working within the initial boundaries of your first sets of cards.
While it might sound overwhelming at first, the game does a great job of breaking it down to its core — for all the many rows and resources, minions effectively do much of the same thing and its made very clear what cards can be played and how. Unlike Hearthstone, Duel of Champions even puts your cards in order and stacks same ones together to make things easier for you. But what makes Duel of Champions different is how complex things can get in play with others — after the tutorial ends, you’re essentially on your own to purchase packs (completing the tutorial grants a generous 3 right off the bat).
Duel of Champions tends to be a little more varied in how it deals with packs. While Hearthstone only has one type, Duel of Champions has two, plus a more expensive “premium” version that offers a higher chance at getting those illustrious rares. It’s also more expensive — two basic packs will set you back around AU$7, as opposed to Hearthstone‘s AU$3. You do get a larger selection of cards however: 12 per pack as opposed to Hearthstone‘s five, so it’s almost even. Duel of Champions also allows you to buy a full deck worth of cards, with a predetermined number of minions, spells and fortunes, or a temporary boost to XP or Gold generation. Thankfully, decks can be earned by play, albeit very slowly.
Building a deck can be overwhelming at first, but like Hearthstone, it’s simple to modify your cards after learning your lessons via a few tough losses. I think both titles really need to work on training players through deck creation however — neither game really gives a good guide on what constitutes a good deck, and how cards complement one another. It takes hours and hours of play before you start to work this out within a class, and it can be wholly frustrating for CCG novices who really have no idea what works.
That said, both do offer “quick creation” options that put together enough of the right bits and pieces to hustle the odd win and, at the very least, develop a foundation for eventual victory.
Duel of Champions is notably impressive — firstly, for beating Blizzard to their own game and actually climbing up onto a level that competes directly within the same market of new or uncertain players. Secondly, for getting cross platform support right and making the two work together seamlessly. I never knew if I was playing with an iOS player and it didn’t matter in the slightest (Hearthstone is also going down this route, so it will be interesting to see where both end up in a years time).
Thirdly, for creating an environment that fosters learning, and a store that isn’t regressive to people who aren’t ready to put money down straight away. Earning cards is a challenge but purchasing them isn’t wildly expensive either — after all, it is a “collectable card game” — buying packs is really half the fun.
My advice to those waiting with bated breath for their beta access is simple: download the Duel of Champions client and have some fun right now. You have nothing to lose, and hell, if anything, you might find yourself backing what was originally your poor mans choice.