The lights are on
The digital collectible card game (DCG) is a genre getting a
lot of love and attention in 2014. As we get more acclimated to a world of
digital purchases, owning and playing with a collection of digital items is
becoming a real alternative to shoeboxes filled with physical items that could
Certainly there’s some give and take here, as the social
aspects that drive physical card games can take a serious hit in the switch to
digital. Collections could disappear forever if a game closes its doors.
Assuming you’re ready to take the plunge into the online CCG
world, selecting a digital card game can be intimidating. If you’ve never
played a card game before, where’s a good place to start? And how can you avoid
the nastier “pay-to-win” free-to-play titles that cater to whales only?
Up until recently, the DCG could be found mainly in mobile,
Facebook, and web-browser titles. A few
solid options existed, but many of these were “card battlers” as opposed to
actual card games with significant mechanics. In 2014, we’re seeing a surge in
actual card games entering the market with their own clients and much less
offensive payment models. While many of the current options allow players to
purchase cards or pay to enter tournaments, they often have models that allow a
free-to-play player to progress and compete at a reasonable rate.
So where to begin? If you’re already a player of tabletop
staple Magic: The Gathering, you may have already explored Magic: The Gathering
Online or Duels of the Planeswalkers. If you’re looking to learn Magic or teach
someone else how to play, a Duels of the Planeswalkers title is the best option.
Players already familiar with the rules of Magic will find echoes in many of
today’s offerings and can dive in wherever they wish. Magic: The Gathering
Online may face some actual competition this year as the pricing for digital product
is tied to actual cards, i.e. a booster pack online costs just as much as it
does in the real world due to a redemption system that allows players to turn
in recent online sets for real copies. But what if you haven’t played Magic?
Perfect For Newcomers
Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which just entered open beta, is the
most accessible of the digital card games right now. There won’t be any
collection deletion moving forward and players are free to purchase packs
(read: soft launch). While World of Warcraft inspires the characters and
settings, you don’t need to be knowledgeable about the franchise to play. WoW
players will appreciate the themes, but they are completely unnecessary to
understanding and enjoying the game. I know quite a few people who dove in with
zero interest in World of Warcraft and still had a good time.
The turn structure in Hearthstone is simplified – the only
time players need to take action is on their own turns. This is combined with a
streamlined resource acquisition system that makes it one of the easiest card
games to learn and play. These design choices make Hearthstone one of the
fastest card games out there, with many matches taking around ten minutes to
Players searching for competition and challenge can find it
here as well, as it manages to have significant depth as well with ranked
ladder play via a rapidly shifting metagame and a variety of competitive decks.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of any collectible card
game is the format where fresh cards are opened and decks are built from
scratch, and Hearthstone offers this in the form of its “Arena” mode.
For The Seasoned
An option for more seasoned genre veterans is Ubisoft’s
Might & Magic: Duel of Champions. The title adds a tactical layer with a
front and back row featuring ranged, flying, and ground troops each with their
own deployment rules and perks. Fans of the Might & Magic franchise,
particularly the Heroes of Might & Magic series, should notice the faction
and spell school correlations. Like many other titles coming onto the scene,
Might & Magic’s resource system eliminates the possibility of being screwed
holding resource cards, and instead allows players to develop gradually over
the course of a game.
For The Gamer On The
As a mobile option that’s fairly painless to get into,
SolForge is worth a look. While the mobile market is filled with card battlers
and other pseudo-CCGs featuring expensive five-star cards that crush anything
below them, SolForge gives mobile players a real game. SolForge’s mechanics are
simple as they are designed for phone and tablet use, but there’s plenty of
depth there too. SolForge is available on PC as well, but shines as one of
For The Strategy
For a healthy dose of tactics and strategy mixed in with
your card game, Mojang’s Scrolls or Abrakam’s Faeria may be worth checking out.
While both of these games feature card-centric mechanics, there are elements of
board and tactical games mixed in. Scrolls hasn’t had a whole lot of fanfare
since its initial early access buy-in, and Faeria is still many months away
from launch, but both titles are hoping to fill a niche sector within the
digital card game space.
If you’re looking for something similar to Magic with
digital in mind? Hex: Shards of Fate is worth consideration when it comes out
of alpha later this year. While it features PVE and MMORPG elements, the PVP
portion of the game is firmly rooted in Magic’s core concepts.
A bevy of indie DCGs are also coming from Kickstarter and
Steam Greenlight. There are too many to mention, but up-and-comers like
Infinity Wars are looking to make a name for themselves on this frontier.
The digital card game genre isn’t new, but with big
publishers and developers turning their gaze to models that work within the
free-to-play space, expect to see many more this year.
Email the author Daniel Tack, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.