Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Without Wildstar: Duel of Champions

It's been a productive weekend; lots of laundry and apartment maintenance. Today my girlfriend is taking me out for steak, or through creative use of grammar she may have tricked me into taking her out for steak.

Back from a dinner, she paid.

I've spent most of the evening reading for a certification test that I will need to pass in the next few months in order to keep my job. Interesting stuff...I'd rather be playing video games...I'd rather be playing Wildstar!

Since I've been focusing on srs business stuff this weekend I haven't had a lot of time for games. I've been "farming" Steam cards in games I own that added cards after I'd finished with them, or games that I didn't turn out to enjoy. A good use of time as I read this resource book. I did take a bit of time to enjoy some Duel of Champions, an online collectible card game set in the Might and Magic universe. It's important to understand the difference between a collectible card game and a trading card game. You cannot exchange cards with other players, this is purely an acquisition process. To some people that will be an immediate turn off, and to others a turn on.

Previously I looked at a game that focused on growing your character's legacy by constructing his home. Then I looked at a game where you could terraform a world and manipulate it and its people to your amusement, much as the Eldan did. So I'm sure you are asking, "How does a card game relate to Wildstar?" Great question! It's free to play, and hints coming from Gaffney has suggested that we could see a F2P option in Wildstar, so why not get some experience behind the wheel with an F2P system?

Before we talk about the way the game is played we should address the elephant in the room with us. CCGs and TCGs are "pay to win" they always have been. In the digital environment as long as there is a path to earn cards through play at a fair rate then it's time or money, your choice.

When you join the game you are allowed to choose one free starter deck, it comes with fully playable deck. A deck includes 1 hero who represents your life pool, 8 event cards which are shuffled with the opponents event cards and rotate throughout the match for use by either player and finally 50 cards of any other type make up your draw deck. Once you begin a game you'll see the game board. The primary play field consists of 4 rows and 2 columns per side. Ranged creatures go in the back column, melee creatures in the front. Flying creatures can be placed in either column. You'll notice extra spaces for action cards that can be played that target a row or column.

The art is quite good and card text is usually very clear.
The goal of the match is to reduce the enemy hero to 0 health before your hero suffers that fate. You do this through tactical placement of creatures and use of spells and events to manipulate the game board and create attack lanes for your creatures while blocking the enemy's route. You'll have the opportunity to learn the basics of the game through a tutorial campaign that starts easy and ramps up quickly to teach you some core tactics before you face players. At the end of each match you are rewarded with experience and gold. In the tutorial you'll also earn some Seals (the cash currency) but you won't see that in normal play against players.

What I have found through play against players in the Duel section of the game (random matches paired via some sort of ELO.) is that win or lose you will get around the same amount of gold. In 3 quick matches I just played the match I lost actually rewarded me with the larger sum of cash. From what I can tell it is mostly time related.

How do the rewards stack up? Well, the cash currency will run you $5 for 250 seals, at the lowest buy in, with discounts for larger purchases. You can also purchase gold at a rate of $5 for 25,000 gold. You can also convert Seals you own into Gold if you would like. This is a one way street, Gold cannot be converted into Seals. There is a daily log on bonus which culminates in some seals each week, so you are not completely locked out if you want to keep it a free experience, but it will be a slow process, which is to be expected.

Some weeks you get lots of Tickets.
Note the gold value difference between day 1 and day 6
Certain items in the shop are only available for purchase with Seals. The F2P standard Boosts are available for gold and experience gains, When it comes to cards, certain bulk discounts are purchased with seals, additionally the most recent card set is only available for Seals.. All of the older sets are available for Gold at various prices, when a new set is introduced everything slides down and one assumes a monkey falls off the bed. The dollar value of card packs seems to float around $3, or in terms of winnings, you'll be able to purchase a pack of cards every 20 games or so, depending on the set of cards you are looking to purchase.

I enjoy the design of this card battler. The mechanics are simple and complex. It's not quite as straight forward as Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft has been shown to be, but it is not as complex as HEX: Shards of Fate appears to be. There is some real nuance in the deck construction, which is difficult to even understand until you've doubled or even tripled the size of your collection. Every spell has a magic school, and every creature has a faction. Each hero only has access to certain schools of magic and certain factions. There are some very interesting combinations that can be leveraged with this.

I was disappointed that when you directly challenge a friend to a game there is no gold reward at the end of the match. If you want to play a friendly game with a person you know you'll have to leverage that against the 17 cents worth of gold you would have earned otherwise...and put like that it seems kind of silly.

Cards in a physical collection exist physically. As a result if you put them in one deck they are not available when you are constructing other decks. In a digital system that seems silly. Since you can only play with one deck at a time it seems punitive to remove cards from your collection for deck building purposes that are being used in other decks. I'm not interested in constantly swapping out cards from decks, trying to remember where I put what card and keeping hand written lists, that's physical card stuff. Especially in an environment. where trades cannot occur it feels like a Nickle and Dime move

As this is a recommendation, my overall experience and judgement is that this is a fun game with good mechanics, my caution is to watch out for those micro transactions. Learn from them and take that knowledge forward into Wildstar when the team gives us pricing details

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