Monday, 2 February 2015

Star War: Realm of Omens

Two completely meaningless titles combine to form another! There was a Humble Bundle for computer card games recently, and I'm a complete sucker for card games so I instantly snapped it up. What I've played so far have been interesting, but nothing compared to the strategy and variety of Magic. A few of the games are in early access, so will doubtless have many more cards to come, and many of them are 'free to play' where you can pay to buy more cards, which obviously I'm not going to do! There's also the issue of how do you complete a card game? Obviously you could carry on playing forever, but the two I've listed here have campaign modes that I've finished (one on my phone and one in the browser), so I'm going to count them as complete for the time being. If they get picked by the randometer further down the line then I'll possibly revisit them to see what's changed, but my time with them is essentially done.

Both of these games, Star Realms and War of Omens are 'deckbuilder' style games - very similar to Dominion (which was also in the bundle) - where you start with a few basic cards/resources in your deck and buy more and more cards to add to it as the game goes on. You're constantly cycling through and reshuffling your library, so new cards you buy will be drawn as the game progresses. It's an interesting system, but I feel like it doesn't have the strategy of something like Magic where you build the deck beforehand so you can't build card combos or control the flow of the game anywhere near as much. It also feels a lot more random and restrictive. Obviously it's not supposed to feel like Magic, it's a completely different game, but that's my nearest comparison point.

Star Realms is the most traditional deckbuilding game of the two, where cards are dealt into a central pool and new cards are added as soon as old ones are purchased. Both players are buying from the same pool, so part of the strategy is denying the other player good cards while strengthening your own deck. The game's fine, but there's a very limited pool of cards - about 20 or 30 - so it doesn't take long to see them all. There are different factions with different flavours, but essentially resources are so limited that you're really buying cards based on cost rather than sticking to one faction. As far as I could tell, there are two key strategies here. The first is to get cards that allow you to scrap other cards in your deck - that way you can remove all the dead wood base cards that you started with and focus on drawing the good new cards you're purchasing. The second thing is to grab as many cards as you can that allow you to draw more cards. They're essentially free and will allow you to rapidly burn through your deck. The other thing I noticed is that you can essentially forget all about your opponent and just focus on building your own deck. Don't worry about attacking him or the cards he's got, that will essentially automatically be taken care of as your own deck evolves. Oh, and don't blindly hit 'play all' as I was doing to start with. The order you play your cards can actually make a big difference. Anyway, it was fun, but that's essentially it for strategy. There's no other variety because there's such a limited card pool. New cards would make a difference to the game, but as it is, I'm done. Apparently, it's based on a proper card version which has just received an expansion, so maybe there'll be an update to the app down the line.

The other game was War of Omens, which I played in the browser. This game follows the deckbuilding concept, but instead of a joint card pool, each player has their own card pool, so you also get a bit of deck construction strategy. This one is free to play, so you do have to purchase new cards. You do earn points by winning matches, so you can grab extra boosters every now and then, but it's clear they'd prefer you to be fronting real cash. This one again has different factions, but this time because you're building your own draw-deck to begin with, it means you do get to appreciate the different flavours of each faction much more, and they do feel quite different. The base two factions each focus on a single resource - one on food and one on money - so aren't too exciting (though they do have some good synergy cards), but the other two factions are mechanically much more interesting. The first focuses on one-off spells rather than getting permanents in play, which is what the base factions are all about. This feels very different because normally you're buying cards to add to your deck, but here they're scrapped as soon as you buy them. It totally changes the way you think about the game. The final faction (currently) is another game changer. Normally you want to play cards as soon as they come into your hand, but this faction's cards increase in power the longer you keep them in your hand. This not only slows down the rate you play cards, but also - because you have a limited hand size - slows down the rate at which you draw new cards and gain resources. It's a lot of juggling, but it does mean you have the potential of some super powerful cards later in the game. Overall, I really enjoyed War of Omens. There's a lot more strategic depth and variety in the factions, and I'm definitely interested in revisiting it later on. The game's still pretty early - for example, they've only created half a campaign for one of the factions so far - so there's a lot more to come. I look forward to seeing where it goes. Anyway, normal service will now be resumed.

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