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A Comparative Look at Digital Card Games

Digital card games or DCGs for short are coming onto the market in force and the good news is that they are all rather diverse. The bad news: this one’st mean they’re all good. I will start by looking at what distinguishes these games from paper tcgs and then looking at what makes each game stand out. The three games that I will be comparing are: Duels of the Champions, Hearthstone and Solforge. It is important to note that another game, Hex, is coming out but it is still in development and thus can’t really be compared.

What’s in common 

All of these games are digital, with no paper counterpart and are designed with that in mind. What this usually means is the following: 1. more numbers are kept track of, damage and buffs can last indefinitely instead of ending with the turn in order to minimize book keeping.  2. More RNG, the ability to flip coins and roll dice is much smoother and allows randomness to be used in design space mroe. 3. Everything happens on your turn, compared to a game like Magic that allows each player to do things in nearly all phases in a game; hardcoding these possibilities into the game makes it less fun online wherein shortcuts are not as great. Look at how Magic Online handles priority to undestand what I mean. 4. F2P, all of these games have the f2p model in that it relies upon a few whales in order to financially support the game while the mass of F2P players give the game life. There is some system n place to earn things for free, but at a much slower rater than paying would yield.

Break down of each game

Duels of the Champions

Out of the three games I’m talking about, this one is middle of the road. The core gameplay is good and distinctive but the game has several things that turn me off. The biggest issue is that the game is cluttered and does a poor job in explaining what everything is.  This is minor problem with the UI in general but is very much a problem with the store and the cards themselves. There is just so much stuff in the store its ridiculous and the amount of currency that the limited campaign pays out is to be spent wisely in order to maximize utility. It creates a pit fall of feel bads that requires the player to do research on just how to spend everything. On top of that, there are too many currencies.  The biggest problem that the game has is that it doesn’t explain what these factions actually do in game, there’s no reason why this information should not be in the client itself.  However, one of the biggest problems that this game has is that it treats your cards like they are physical copies, you can’t have the same card in multiple decks unless you have enough copies to do so. Its daily reward system is rather clean though, log in you get something or you can delay it to get something better. The tutorials are also the best in explaining all of the game mechanics.  Matchmaking is also rather clear cut. The main reason why I stopped playing was that I felt confined as a new player in how to build my collection. Overall I’d give it a C+/ B-. it’s decent but it also requires a time commitment to understand.

Hearthstone

This game on the other hand, is terrible. While it is by far the prettiest game with the most moving parts, that’s the most it has going for it.  The biggest problem is that this game is actively trying to be a massive time sink. At the very least the interfaces are rather straightforward and easy to navigate. It starts with the tutorials, which are by and large useless in explaining much beyond the barebones basic. Actually establishing the differences between what the classes can do in any sort of detail is also ignored during these tutorials, many of the decks are very samey and rely upon neutral cards instead of utilizing class cards to distinguish what each class is good at by and large. To be fair, this problem goes beyond the starter decks, neutral cards are by and large some of the best cards in the game and there’s no reason to not use them. The result is that Hero powers, which are not balanced, become increasingly important. If you’re already making me sink time into these de facto tutorials, as most of them aren’t actually that but simply call for you to beat an AI who plays cards in a seemingly random order. The difference of being on the play/draw is insane. If you’re on the play you get to go first, if you’re on the draw, you get an additional card as well as a spell that gives you a free mana for one turn, in other words it’s a lotus petal from mtg. The game has plenty of mechanics and interactions that you either have to figure out on your own or read up on that are not clear cause of imprecise wording. As someone who usually listens to music instead of a game’s audio, I don’t care about all the bells and whistles, in fact they just slow down gameplay, making the game more time consuming.   The primary of getting more cards is via gold, which you get form grinding. 3 wins gets you ten and the daily quests can take much longer than to get. The only redeeming feature that this game has is a limited format called Arena, that has its own problems. It’s essentially a draft where you have to play all of your cards, and the neutral cards are neutral for neutral for any of the following reasons: general utility, flavor, or utility for multiple classes. Flavor implies synergy which seems like a trap since there’s no guarantee you’ll get anything to build with. Utility for some classes means you’ll still see it when you’re not one of those classes. The bar for what’s pickable and playable is rather high. The stuff that isn’t playable doesn’t really get a chance to shine because of the hero powers and the nature of Arean, so they’re just chaff. I give this game a F.

Solforge

Look, let’s all be honest here. If you follow this at all then you know I think this game is awesome and have the most familiarity with it.  Anyway, the big thing to keep in mind that this game really is in beta. It went into open beta in August and is very barebones right now. Drafting is expected sometime this month, and after that some sort of trading or crafting next year. The gameplay is fun with the biggest problems being bugs, which can fixed. Although there are some issues at the game’s core that are more pressing: specifically the fact that triggers are random does require the players to think less it also requires luck in certain cases that can just generate bad feels. Solforge is an A, go play it.

 

Overall, DCGs are in a good position and there’s a lot of variety, with more on the way. Things are going to get interesting.

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