Disclosure ‐ Thanks go out to Yodo1 Games for giving us an OKGames account, however, most of this article was based on my experiences from using a regular account.
It is hard to believe that it has been a month (as of completion of this piece) since PAX Australia finished. There were piles of games and pieces of hardware that we tried and wrote about. We will be continuing to write up stories about some games over the next few weeks as we get a good chance to play over them. Today we are following up from an interview that we had with Yodo1 Games about their new TCG called Infinity Wars, a game which redefines what trading card games can be.
It was the Friday Morning of PAX. Both Josh and I had been wandering the vast halls that held the treats that PAX provided. As the meeting time approached we combined our forces in search of the cavern that contained the elusive and exciting people from Yodo1 Games. Stumbling from room to room, seeing our meeting time crawling closer and closer we crashed through the final door, finding ourselves in the audience chamber of just those we seek. Sitting waiting is Matt, Matt and Henry. The discussions begin…
After simple introductions, we immediately dove straight into the meat of the matter. Trading card games and Infinity Wars. For those who have not been around the block for quite so long, trading card games, or TCG’s, are games which centre around personalising your own deck, which you then use to crush the souls of any poor critter you happen to meet. Of course, sometimes you are that critter.
TCG’s first made their mark about 20 years ago when Magic: the Gathering started. Set in a fantasy world, people laid down lands and summoned forth crazy creatures and amazing spells. That success created the inevitable influx of more TCG’s, the most successful of which were owned by Wizards of the Coast. With the advent of digital there has been an influx of new TCG’s; Hearthstone (based off the original WoW TCG), Gwent (from Witcher fame) and Hex: Shards of Fate. These all follow on from Magic: Online and other similar TCG’s which have not had quite the same success.
So what makes Infinity Wars different? This Australian made game is all about doing something which is not possible in the physical space, simultaneous turns. What?! How the fuzzy does that work?? Well, quite simple my dear friend. You play all your cards, put them where you want them to be, and the game does the rest. To understand how it all works let me walk through the base concept of the game.
Each of the two players fighting off have decks of 40 cards or more, depending on game format. Drawing from these you get your starting hand of 5 cards. Your fortress gets 100 health and your troops have 100 moral. Finally you place your commanders in their own little zone. These three leaders from orient are, bearing gifts they traversed afar. Leading your army into battle, these chaps are the ones which determine the colour of cards your deck can contain. Finally, there are a few different zones that live on the board: The Support area, the Assault and Defence areas, and then the normal grave, hand and removed from game zones.
Each turn players acquire one additional resource point which they can spend like mana. There are ways for this growth rate to be increased, stalled, or reversed entirely. Each turn you can play as many cards or abilities as you like, on the condition that you have the resources available. In general, cards are played straight into the support zones, and they are unable to use abilities or change zones unless they have abilities that state otherwise.
From here (apart from the simultaneous turn stuff) the game follows relatively common gameplay standards. Creatures attack, dudes at the front beat each other up first, while those at the back are more likely to breach the defences and strike at the fortress. The Moral is something that is not directly attacked in the same way as the fortress. Each creature when killed chips away at this number. The bigger the creature the more moral it removes, and when it hits rock bottom? You lose.
It was an awful lot to take in, but as experienced “TCGers” I think it is fairly easy to say we understood. However, the key factors that support the growth of a healthy TCG in the long term are the design, development and pricing approaches; therefor it was these aspects that drove the direction of our chat. Talking with the Matts and Henry, we immediately took to exploring the what it is about Infinity Wars that makes it much less about the draw, and more about the play.
It quickly became clear to us that the poker element of the game is quite strong. While strong cards will help, especially between two players of equal skill, it is not a game that you can just buy into, net deck and then expect to win. The number of choices, the need to get into your opponents head is much stronger in this game than any other that I have seen. For example, there is a card called Ashes to Ashes which destroys critters in a particular zone.
You can never be sure that the location in which you see a creature in the planning phase, will be where it ends up after you proceed to the interaction step where everything resolves. In this case it means that you may choose to play this card on a creature that is not yet in the correct zone. If the player moves it to the Assault Zone then it will die, otherwise you lose your card with no effect. You have to move away from just playing cards against cards, your attention moves to playing against the actions of the player.
While this does not mean that randomness doesn’t exist, it does mean that a skilled player will still be able to have a strong chance of outplaying a new or weaker player. This constant second guessing makes this game significantly more interactive than I ever would have thought.
Monetization is something which is often a dark horse of this genre. They are seen as expensive and that they favour those with more money. I am quite pleased to say that this is not so much the case here. It can be played for free, much like hearthstone, or you can sink a little money into it. Even your money will stretch a lot further, most boosters will set you back only a couple of dollars and, in general, things can be bought with in-game earned currency (but not all).
The manner of release is also a little different from normal. Rather than releasing a large 100-odd card set every 3 or 4 months, instead they are aiming to release fewer cards at greater frequency. As there is no intent, at this point at least, to create different formats which exclude cards, the balance for new cards has got to be perfect. This is one area which I did express some sort of concern. Having worked with Magic for many years, I appreciate just how much rotating formats help mitigate power creep. As more cards become available I am sure that we will see some changes in this space.
That said, it is pretty. The animated cards look absolutely amazing, as do the battlefields, cards and general animations. There are still some bugs that need to be ironed out (like having the correct hovering location for keywords) but I think this is a fantastic start. It manages to truly embrace the digital approach to card gaming rather than just putting flat cards on a flat surface. It does make it feel like you are playing in a Harry Potter style world though… which is a little weird.
Tomorrow is a big day for Yodo1 Games though, it is the day that Infinity Wars officially goes gold. To celebrate this achievement they are bringing out a new user interface and 2 new campaigns. As a free to play game I have no qualms encouraging you to go out and have a look. It is an exciting new take on what it means to be a TCG and it manages to push interesting boundaries that have been getting in the way of a game like this for quite some time.
Our thanks goes out to Yodo1 Games for taking the time to talk to us at PAX. It was fantastic meeting with you all and learning about what makes Infinity Wars unique!