Archive for January, 2013

MTCG – Definitions

As I started writing my first Mobile Trading Card Game (MTCG) review, I realized that there might need to be some general information to help a new player understand the terminology I’m using. Rather than needing to explain that information multiple times in each review, I decided to create a topic for it instead. Note that most of the terms I use here are the way I think of things, not necessarily the way a specific game refers to them, for instance I may think of the list of cards that I’ve discovered as an Archive, but a particular game may call it Codex or Roster or something else.

Client Types

When I review a new MTCG, one of the first things I notice about it is the type of client that it has. I divide this into two primary types: Framed Web and Full clients.

Framed Web Client

When I say something is a “Framed Web Client”, what I mean is that the program does have client software which is installed on your mobile device. However the reality is that most of the functionality of the game happens within a web browser window housed within the game’s frame. This type of client has an advantage of having less of a storage impact on your mobile device. It also means that the developers can easily deploy new functionality without requring large client update downloads. However, the disadvantage that I’ve found is that you’re also subject to the problems you have with any web browser based game, network latency, overloaded web servers, etc. Also, in my experience, it seems that these types of clients require a great deal more network traffic. I have to make sure that I close and kill these clients when I’m done playing or else I drain my phone’s battery and chew up my data limits quickly.

Full Client

As opposed to the Framed Web Client, the Full Client style games have a more traditional client/server architecture for them. They probably still interact continually with a server on the backend, however the client on the mobile device has more of the game functionality built into it. The benefit I’ve seen to this is that the game normally feels more responsive on whatever device I’m using. It also doesn’t seem to need as much data transfer as the Framed Web Client style since graphics, etc. are kept locally. However, it does mean that this type of client requires more storage on the local device. Also an update to the game means an update to the game client, requiring additional download.

Cards

There are several ways to refer to the cards in the game. My terms mostly come from how I view them, the concepts are usually present in each game, however the terminology of how that game refers to them may use slightly different names.

Deck

When I think of the “Deck”, this is my current collection of cards. Some of them may be actively used in a Team, some of them I may be holding on to for other reasons. Unlike the physical games where “deck” usually refers to the set of cards you’re bringing to a particular game / battle, in this case I use Deck to refer to all of my cards in my collection.

Team

I think of the Team as being the set of cards I’m using for a quest / raid / battle. In standard card games, you might call this a “hand”. Various games have different limits on how many teams you can define and how many cards make up a team.

Archive

I call the record of all the cards I’ve ever collected the Archive. This is probably just because the first MTCG I played called it this. A card listed in the Archive just means that I have seen it at some time. If I sold it or used it for Evolving / Enhancing (see below), it isn’t in my Deck anymore as it’s not available to me, but it would still be in my Archive. Most games have some sort of achievements attached to the numbers of cards you have in your Archive, numbers of max level cards, etc.

Improving Cards

Most of the games I’ve played have one or more ways to improve the cards after they’ve been found. The terms I use for them is based, again, off the first game I played; so it’s how I think of the various improvement methods.

Evolving

Evolving is usually done by combining two cards of the same type to create a new version that is more advanced. For instance, I might combine a card called “Elven Archer” with another “Elven Archer”. When I do this, I lose the two Elven Archer cards, and get an “Elven Archer+” card instead, which probably has better statistics than the Elven Archer. Some games allow this to occur multiple times until the card reaches a “final form”.

Enhancing

Enhancing is similar to Evolving, but when I enhance a card, I’m sacrificing the donor card to give xp to the card being enchanced. In most games the cards don’t have to match types. So I can use an “Orc Fighter” card to level up my “Elven Archer” card. In this case you lose the donor card(s), but the target card remains, just with more xp / level. This typically gives a more minor boost to the card’s abilities than Evolving does.

Other Common Terms

There are some other terms which are fairly common among the various games I’ve played. I’ll define them here so that you can refer to them when I talk about them in the reviews.

Action Points

Action points constrain how many actions you can take within a certain time. Various games call this something different. Some call it Energy or Stamina. Basically any task you take in say a Quest (see below) requires a certain number of Action Points. Once your AP pool is empty, you either have to wait for it to refill or use a potion to refill it automatically.

Battle Points

Some games which allow Player vs Player combat use Battle Points to limit how many times you can attack. Often the BP pool is also used in Raids to control how often or how hard you can attack raid boss characters. Like the AP once the pool is empty, you have to wait for the BP to refill either with time or some consumable item until you can battle again.

Attack/Defense Strength

Teams are often constrained in how they are built by the number of Attack or Defense points you have. For instance, if you have 100 attack points and a particular card has a “cost” of 20 points, then when you add that card to your Attack Team, you have 80 points left for other cards.

Warning about Auto Teams

One thing to note, most games that have this mechanism allow you to build different teams for different purposes. Since calculating the “best” team for a particular purpose can be difficult, they also tend to offer “auto” or “suggested” team buttons. What I have found is that the method they use to calculate this is often flawed. The math behind this gets a bit difficult (probably deserves it’s own post), but suffice to say that if you spend the time building your teams by hand, you can sometimes significantly improve your performance in PvP battles.

Quests

Quests are the typical way that you advance in one of these games. Through quests you’ll find money, items and new cards. Quests usually have multiple stages each of which needs to be completed (sometimes requiring multiple steps for each stage). One thing you’ll see prominently in my reviews is how I feel about the current standard when it comes to MTCG quests … let’s just say I’m not a fan. 😉

Collections

Many games have special items as the reward for completing a quest line. Sometimes these items are random drops which occur during the quests, sometimes they always drop when you complete the final stage. Collecting an entire set of these items usually provides some soft of a tangible bonus in terms of items or cards or money. Collectible items are also typically the target for PvP battles. One frequent “pass time” for MTCG players is to get 4 or 5 of a 6 item collection, then go try to steal the missing items from other players.

Events

Events are special occurances that happen for a limited time in the game. They usually have special quests or raids associated with them. Often they are also used to introduce new card collections. While events are definitely fun and add a lot to the game, keep in mind as well that Events are a primary way to entice you to spend money on the otherwise “free” game. They like to use the “for a limited time only…” tag to get you to buy special cards, etc. which may only be available during the event.

Raids

Raids are fights against special “boss” style monsters. Often taking down these special creatures requires assistance from other players. No matter how advanced your Deck/Team may be, killing a boss with 10,000,000 hit points is probably beyond a single player (at least without spending a lot of real money on potions and other items). The advantage, however, is that there are usually special rewards for helping your friends take down a boss.

Card Packs / Picks

I’ve noticed that MCTG’s have kept the Card Pack nomenclature despite the fact that cards aren’t actually sold in packages wrapped in plastic or anything. Basically getting a Card Pack really means that you can ask the game to give you a random card. There are all sorts of variations on how this works, but the concept is generally similar. You click on a button, watch an animation, and the game gives you a random card. Cards given in this manner usually vary in the rarity of the card, with the more rare cards being restricted (or at least more common) for those who have spent more of their real money on getting the Card Pack. Almost every game claims that you “can” earn a super rare card via the standard card packs, but in reality I’ve found it very difficult to actually achieve.

Login Bonuses

Most games want to encourage you to be loyal to their game. It’s a solid concept. If you’re logging into my game at least once a day, you’re more likely to spend money on my game. So I offer you something to entice you to do that. These rewards usually come in terms of items, card packs, currency, etc.

Social Terms

The social aspect of MTCGs is also important to how they are designed. While they may have various terms for how they refer to them, most of them have very similar concepts.

Friends / Allies

Most games allow you to define a set of other players who are your allies. This is usually limited in number in some way, often tied to your level in the game or some other achievement. These friends typically provide a couple of different benefits. First, they can be sent some sort of support message which earns them (and you) points (see Supporting below) which can be spent in varioius ways. Second, when the game provides raids, you can typically call on your allies to assist you in taking down the raid boss monster.

Guild

Some of the games allow you to go beyond having an allies list and allow you to join guilds or some other similar player-run organization. The usefulness of these guilds varies widely between games. Some games allow the guild leader to spend guild points (earned through the actions of the guild members) on some sort of perk which provides benefits to all of the members. For instance a perk which adds 5% to everyone’s defense strength. Some games also have events designed for guilds to participate as a group. Wars between guilds is a popular option where the guild earns ranking points when its members defeat the members of other guilds.

Ally Points

As mentioned in the Friend / Allies section above, one of the benefits to having allies is being able to earn Ally Points. Games call these wildly different things. Some that I’ve seen include Ally Points, Rally Points, Yell Points, etc. In most cases, accumulating a certain number of points allows you to exchange them for something else in the game. For instance, you may be able to spend 200 Ally Points to get a free Card Pack. In games where there is a significant benefit to doing so, sending (and receiving) these Ally Points to (and from) your allies may be an important part of advancing in the game.

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Mobile Trading Card Games

Recently I’ve gotten into playing some of the trading card games on my Android phone and tablet. I figured I’d offer some of my observations here about the various games I’m playing (or that I tried and decided not to continue). I guess you could consider these “reviews”. Hopefully something I have to say helps someone else who is looking for this sort of thing.

Technical Information

I’m only playing the games on my Android devices. I have a Samsung Galaxy 3 phone and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.2 device that I play on. So anything I say about the performance of the game comes from that standpoint. It also means that I don’t play any games which are exclusive to the iOS platform.

Also, I tend to play games which are published through Mobage. I like the fact that I can spend $10 on some Mobage coins (their version of in-game currency) and be able to use that on any of the 5 or 6 games I’m playing at the time.

That doesn’t mean that I have never tried any other games, but since Mobage is a pretty major player here, you’ll find most of my reviews relate to their games.

Purpose

I’m writing these reviews for a couple of reasons. First when I first got into this hobby, it was hard to find information about the games. Granted the Google Play marketplace has reviews on it, but those are usually fairly limited. Hopefully by talking about some of these style of games that I’m playing it will help others as you make decisions about what you may want to try out.

Second, I have in mind (and have started on the system design) my own TCG. So by reviewing the various games critically, it has helped me think about what features I like and dislike in the games. So I guess by reading this, you’ll get a feel for what I may put into a game of my own.

About the Genre

The grandaddy to these sorts of games are the physical trading card games like Magic the Gathering or Pokemon. In translation to the mobile device, they’ve had to make some adjustments, however. For instance, most of the games don’t really have the back and forth “battling” like you may be used to in the physical games.

However, several features are there. Like the idea of a “rare” card. In a physical game you buy packs of cards hoping to find some rare card in one of them. In the mobile versions there are usually several ways to get cards (see the Free to Play? section below) and the scarcity of certain cards and the thrill of finding a rare one exist there too.

Free to Play?

Most of these games are listed as “Free” in the Google Play marketplace. Now, as you might suspect, some of these games have large studios of artists and developers behind them. So they obviously have to pay those people somehow, right? The standard way is to offer premium items through their in-game shop. For instance you might be able to buy a potion which refreshes your Action Points (allowing you to keep playing longer).

The most common way to get money from you is to offer cards. These typically take the form of some random pick from the pool of available cards. The higher the cost of the card pick, the more likely that you’ll get a rare card in the draw.

One of the parts of my reviews will be to discuss how viable it is to think that you can play the game successfully for free. Most of the games you can play for free. However your ability to be successful in battle, the rate of your progression through the game, however will be more or less limited by how much money you’re willing to spend.

I’ve often said that “Free to Play” is a misnomer. Game companies are in the business to make money. If all they just give away 1000s of hours of work, they won’t be in business very long. I’ve often found that “free” game developers are usually very good at finding ways to entice you to spend money on the game. Mobile TCG’s aren’t the first time that I’ve disocvered that I spent more money on a “free” game than I ever have on subscription based MMOs (for example).

Review Strucutre

So, my plan is to use the following basic structure for each of my TCG reviews…

  • Overview – Explain the concept of the game, the setting, etc. I’ll also provide a Pro/Con list in this section for the attention deprived so you can see at a glance if you want to keep reading or not. 🙂 Note that if the game has a referral system, I’ll also list my referral code here. Most games encourage the players to recruit others. By using a referral code when you sign up for one of the games, it gives you a special card / item and it would also give your referrer something too. There is no difference to you in using my referral code or someone else’s.
  • Gameplay – I’ll review the flow of the game play for the game. How do missions / quests work? Are there other special features that bear discussion?
  • Combat – I’ll spend a bit of time talking how combat works in the game. One thing you’ll find for me is that in general I find the combat in most of these games to be less than engaging. In some cases, I find them to be plain boring.
  • Cards & Artwork – Part of the fun of any TCG is the artwork on the cards. I’ll talk about the style and my personal preferences on whether I like the style or not as well. I’ll also talk about the collection aspect of them as far as quantities of cards available, number you can hold at one time, etc.
  • Free to Play – I’ll talk about how viable it is to play the game without spending real life money. This will talk about some areas where it is obvious the game design is such that it encourages you to spend money. Note, all of the games do this. They are businesses after all! But some are more obvious than others.
  • Events – If I’ve played the game for some time, I’ll offer my views on the special events that they have run.
  • Social Aspects – Almost every game I’ve played has some sort of guild / order structure. They also have Allies or Friends that are seperate from there. I’ll talk about the features of this system and what I like / dislike about it.
  • Recommendation – I’ll wrap up by talking about my overall feeling about the game, who it might appeal to, and whether I would recommend it to a friend.

Moving On…

Ok, that’s enough about my plans for now. I’ll try to add some reviews over the next few days. I’ll create some category tags so it’s easier to find these on the blog. Also, if you have any suggestions on what I might want to try, I’d be willing to hear them. 🙂 My current list of games that I plan to review are:

  • Currently Playing
    • Deity Wars
    • Rage of Bahamut
    • Marvel World of Heroes
    • Hellfire
    • Transformers Legends
    • Fantasica
  • Tried But Not Playing
    • Dark Summoner
    • Legend Cards