Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Pathfinder Adventure

Every cloud has a silver lining. So while my arm is hurting and temporarily useless after surgery, I do have paid sick leave and can either watch Netflix or play games with one hand. And today one of the games I have been waiting for was finally released: Pathfinder Adventures, available both on iOS and Android. This is the computer version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game from Paizo, which had very good reviews. So how did the computer version work out?

Unfortunately, up to now, not so well. There are quite a number of bugs, some of them serious, like me unable to do the quest mode on my iPad. And that in spite of a long beta. Some bugs are not reproducible and weird, like skill checks that you roll the exact number for sometimes failing (which the rules say they shouldn't).

In spite of the bugs, I still like playing this. However I was familiar with the card game and the rules of it. The tutorial isn't really doing a good job of teaching the game, so somebody not familiar might well end up with several open questions. And the game's help system isn't always a big help, and has some bugs too. So right now I can only recommend Pathfinder Adventures to fans of the original who are willing to overlook the bugs in order to not having to shuffle so many stacks of cards.

P.S. There are three other games I'm currently playing on my iPad which I would rather recommend: Magic Duels, Gems of War, and Galactic Keep. I only discovered the latter recently, and it has a very old school pen & paper roleplaying feel to it, which I like a lot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Artificial intelligence and real emotion

The graphics card in my PC has more computing power than the mainframe that controlled the first moon landing. The latest games have such evolved graphics capabilities that faces become realistic enough to not cause an uncanny valley effect. We are close to virtual reality graphics becoming mainstream. A huge percentage of the development budget of games over the last 30 years has been attributed to better and better graphics, and the result is showing.

On the other hand my PC doesn't have an "AI card". The science of AI has evolved, with computers now being able to beat human grand masters at highly complex games like chess or go, or master much less formal tasks like answering Jeopardy questions. But the artificial intelligence in most computer games hasn't evolved much at all. Computer opponents frequently are mentioned in video games reviews for their extreme stupidity in cases where that stupidity is so obvious that it breaks immersion. After 15 years of development of AI in the Total War series of games, the AI hasn't become better at playing that game. Video game advertising will frequently mention graphics, but almost never AI. It doesn't appear as if AI development is a major part of the development budget of any new game.

Instead developers are increasingly relying on other players to provide intelligence. It appears to be far cheaper to make your game PvP than to create a half decent AI. Why bother creating NPCs which behave believably in a MMORPG, if you can develop a MOBA instead where the NPCs are by design extremely stupid, and any opponent intelligence is provided by another player? Any game which ran into trouble during development is released as PvP only, because apparently the graphics was all the team worked on for the major part of the development process, and slapping on an AI at the end was considered optional.

The problem of that is that the PvP is only inherently attractive to a part of the player base, the "killers" of the Bartle test classification. A lot of players would rather either interact peacefully with others, or interact with a virtual world powered by artificial intelligence. If you consider other players as a cheap replacement of artificial intelligence, you risk getting more than you bargained for: Players not only come with intelligence and believable behavior, they also come with real emotions. And in  a conflict-based environment those emotions can run high and become rather unpleasant. The above mentioned MOBA games are frequently mentioned for having "toxic communities". In order to contain the toxicity, game developers then try to limit communication between players, which further drives away social player.

I am currently enjoying Magic Duels very much, because it has a decent AI and I don't need to play against other players. On the one side that allows me to avoid typical interactions with angry opponents, like people playing deliberately slow to annoy you. On the other side I do not need to be careful not to hurt the feelings of my opponent, for example I can throw games when in spite of a mulligan I still haven't got enough mana or get mana swamped. And I don't get the feeling that, compared for example with Hearthstone's human opponents, I am really missing out on much if I play an AI instead of a human. You really don't need all that much of an AI before playing against that AI becomes better than the sum of the advantages and disadvantages of playing against a human. How often do people make friends with their opponents in a PvP game?

When the internet and online gaming was young, many people believed in huge opportunities for friendly online social interaction through games. We believed we would get virtual worlds which we would inhabit online, build communities, and find friends. Today "multiplayer online PvP" is often a crutch for game companies too cheap to develop a decent artificial intelligence, and the internet is full of horror stories of online social interactions gone wrong. If a friend is somebody who helps you move your furniture, and a true friend is somebody who helps you move the body, how many friends that qualify did we really make? Didn't we just cheapen the word "friend" by sticking it to any online acquaintance that wasn't horrible to play a game with?

I do believe that today the "online multiplayer" feature drives away at least as many potential customers of a game as it attracts. Time to start working on artificial intelligence instead. We can still hope for great virtual worlds to live in, but there better be a lot of AI-controlled NPCs to interact with to make that a pleasant experience.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
WoW Legion launches August 30th

Blizzard announced that their next expansion for World of Warcraft, Legion, will launch on August 30th. Which is a) a bit less than 2 years since the last expansion, and b) faster than I expected. Not that this really changes anything. World of Warcraft is still following the universal MMORPG subscription curve described by Raph Koster, with each expansion bringing a spike of returning subscribers, followed by relatively fast drop back to the original curve. Providing an endless stream of material for sensationalist WoW-haters who each time write a "WoW lost millions of subscribers again". If you sum those up, you'll realize that WoW lost 20+ million subscribers over the years, which is more than it had at any point. It's a bit like Time reporting national debts without mentioning national assets.

As I made an impulse buy during my last period of playing WoW and pre-purchased Legion, I will most certainly play this expansion at least for a while. And as I bought a bunch of WoW tokens before they doubled in price, everything I need is already paid for. Having said that, I don't expect much from Legion. I have grown increasingly impatient with the lack of innovation in MMORPGs. Every expansion, even every new game, feels like more of the same, minor variations of a theme I've grown too familiar with. So I'll play a character or two to the new level cap, and then that's it.

I don't think I'll like Legion as much as I like Warlords of Draenor, mainly because of the loss of my garrison. I know very well that different players want different things from player housing: Functionality, decoration, or social aspects for example. Personally I am very much in the functional camp, so losing the more functional garrisons to get the more social class order halls for me is a distinctive loss. And who are they kidding with a story line which makes every single player the leader of their class order? If you have any actual social interaction it should become rather obvious that only the NPCs will pretend that you are a leader, and that pretense will run very thin very soon.

I do expect Blizzard to provide polished work, because they always do. And as every game feels the same and I really don't want to play MMORPGs all year long any more, two or so months of Legion will suffice for my annual MMORPG quota this year.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Once upon a time in the late 70's, teenage Tobold decided that he wanted to learn how to type. That was an unconventional idea at the time, as typing was a skill needed only by secretaries, and "keyboards" were musical instruments. Kudos to my parents to supporting any of my efforts to learn something, and so I learned how to type blind, using all ten fingers, and at a good speed (albeit below that of professional typists). That turned out to be an immensely useful skill in my life, as these days typists are nearly extinct and everybody in a company types his own stuff on a computer.

All that to say that blogging for me is very much an activity that uses both hands. And so is most of my gaming: Many PC games have me using the mouse with my right hand, while the left is controlling for example character movement with WASD. On a console I use a gamepad, which very much needs both hands. The problem with that is that I'll have surgery next week that will temporarily rob me of the use of one hand. So how will I game?

Apart from dirty jokes ("Best one-handed game? Bayonetta!"), advice on how to play games with just one hand isn't all that common on the internet, as it is a problem that affects only few people. But looking at my Steam library and thinking of the games I've played, there are some trends I observe. First of all, action games nearly universally require two hands. Whether it is shooters or action adventures like Shadows over Mordor or racing games or MMORPGs, pretty much anything fast and real-time needs two hands. The chance to find a game that can be played with one hand goes up a lot as soon as you move towards turn-based games: Strategy or tactical games like Civilization or XCOM, point-and-click adventures, as well as board-game simulations or card games usually all need just one hand on the mouse.

As far as platforms go, consoles are nearly useless for the one-handed gamer. On the other side of the spectrum tablets are excellent if you don't have the use of both hands. Many games apparently are designed with the idea that you hold the tablet in one hand and play with the other. So if you manage to balance the tablet on your knees, you only need one hand. PCs are somewhere in the middle: Some games can be controlled with just the mouse, others need mouse and keyboard but not necessarily simultaneously. That is a bit more complicated, but still feasible. Only when the game demands both mouse and keyboard at the same time am I out of luck.

As I mentioned above, I type with both hands and find "eagle finger" typing with one hand tedious. Between that, surgery, the after-surgery pain, and the drugs against the pain, I probably won't be blogging much in the coming months.

Far Cry 3 motion sickness

After only 3 hours of playing, I just uninstalled Far Cry 3. That isn't counting the 1 hour I spent surfing the internet trying to find out how to turn of the extreme head bob of that game. Apparently there is no way, and the general advice of increasing FOV only made me even more nauseous. These days there aren't many games any more that cause me motion sickness, but Far Cry 3 is rather extreme.

While I would have liked to follow the story a bit more, the 3 hours were sufficient to understand the Far Cry 3 game concept. It is the famous Ubisoft Formula, an open world where you climb towers to unlock side quests in various sub-regions. Just instead of Assassin's Creed close combat, Far Cry is a first person shooter. I didn't see more of the story because the open world part determines your gear. The obvious solution is to *not* follow the story, but go hunting after various animals the moment you leave the tutorial. Once you have all the necessary skins for weapon holsters, backback, ammo pouches, etc., you don't constantly run out of ammo or inventory space any more, and the game becomes a lot more playable. If it wasn't for the head bob causing me motion sickness.

The good news is that I didn't pay full price for Far Cry 3, but had picked it up at some Steam sale. And for once I wisely refused to buy Far Cry 4 before trying out Far Cry 3. Apparently even the brand new Far Cry Primal has head bob which can't be turned off in the options, which is really a design oversight. I just wished there was a list available somewhere which games have head bob that can't be turned off, so that people who are susceptible to motion sickness can avoid those games.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016
When private sounds like pirate

Activision Blizzard didn't make itself many new friends when they sent their lawyers to shut down a private vanilla server this month. But from their point of view a "private" server is a "pirate" server. There is at least a probability that somebody playing on a private server decides not to pay Blizzard to play on an official server as well. So private servers are a potential loss of revenue for Blizzard. And as "running a World of Warcraft server", regardless of what edition impinges on Blizzard's intellectual property rights, shutting down the private server is totally within Blizzard's rights.

"But they don't shut down all private servers" or "but they let that server run for some time, they can't shut it down now" are not good arguments. That is just a problem of agility, a big company can't always react immediately to everything what is going on. And then a lawyer costs money, so they only send one if the target is big enough. If they could, Blizzard would shut down all private servers immediately.

The only hope here is that Blizzard noticed from the large number of players on the vanilla server that there is a demand for retro servers. Some other games have them, especially Everquest. Gamers are a nostalgic bunch who always think that games were better before and that developers work tirelessly to make them worse. Many has-been devs have learned to exploit that nostalgia to their benefit by running Kickstarter scams projects. As player numbers on the main servers are in constant decline, starting a vanilla server themselves would be a great idea for Blizzard.

Friday, April 08, 2016
Capped Free-to-Play

I was reading an article on Pocket Tactics on the Free-to-Play model of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, soon to be released on iOS (a game I'm waiting for). The game gives you between 100 and 300 gold for beating a scenario, depending on difficulty level, plus very small amounts of gold for stuff you do in those scenarios (e.g. 1 gold for killing a monster). You can then use that gold to buy characters and adventures. There are 5 characters costing 2000 gold each, and 4 characters costing 4000 gold each. The first adventure costs 750 gold, but the other 5 cost 4000 gold each. So if you want to buy all characters and all adventures, that will cost you 46,750 gold. If we estimate generously that you'll make on average 250 gold per scenario played, you'll need to play 187 scenarios to buy everything.

Or you can get all characters and adventures for $25.

I find that a very interesting and fair business model. $25 for all the content in the game is probably something I am going to buy. Unlike other Free2Play games which can ask for endless amounts of money, the money cost of the game is capped at $25. On the one side you'll get people who "buy to own" Pathfinder Adventure Card Game for $25, and on the other side you'll get people who refuse to pay anything but can still unlock all the content by grinding a lot. Not sure what intermediate options there are going to be.

And this isn't the only game that works like that. Magic Duels just released the latest version on the iOS and added not one, but two expansions to the game: Oath of the Gatewatch and Shadows over Innistrad. If you decide to buy all cards instead of playing for them, you still can't spend much more than $50 per expansion to get all the virtual cards. That might seem expensive compared to other iOS games, but for the Magic player that sounds dirt cheap, as buying enough physical cards to get one expansions is easily 10 times that expensive. Personally I am using a mixed strategy here, I spent enough money so that with the gold I had already accumulated over the last months I got the complete Shadows over Innistrad, but I'll earn the cards from the other expansion by playing.

Right now I'm quite happy deckbuilding with all those new cards, doing a "vampire deck" and so on. Having access from cards from 4 expansions makes it easier to create theme decks that don't suck. I only wished that there were better filters, right now it is hard to find for example all cards containing the word vampire in the game without using external sources. But to come back to the business model, I am also quite happy with that, knowing that I did spend what I wanted to spend, and that the game isn't pushing me towards spending more.

Thursday, April 07, 2016
Rollable 4-sided dice

You might have heard me mention that I am not a huge fan of Kickstarter, as I consider it a platform where people who have no clue of project management can find funders who have no clue about the viability of the project proposed. Having said that, I did back some Kickstarter projects which seemed more realistic to me, especially when Kickstarter was the only way to get hold of the product. One of the projects I backed was for rollable 4-sided dice, back in 2014. While the project was late, I did eventually get my dice in 2015, and I am very happy with them.

Of course many of my readers won't even know what a 4-sided dice is, and why I would want one with a different shape than the classical one. These are random number generators pretty much exclusively used by people playing pen & paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. D&D uses 4-sided dice (d4) among many others: d6, d8, d10, d12, d20. Apart from the d10 and some exotic varieties like d30 which get little use, these dice are all platonic solids. The symmetry of the d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20 results in that when the dice land on a flat surface, there is a flat surface opposite showing up. Then there are numbers painted on that up side which give you the result. The 4-sided dice are the exception: When they land on a flat surface, a corner is pointing up. So to read the result you need to consult smaller numbers engraved on the edges. Furthermore the tetrahedron doesn't roll like the other dice, it just falls down when you throw it and sits there.

The rollable 4-sided dice solve both of these problems. While they are somewhat rounded and thus non-platonic solids, they can be rolled like dice and land with a number showing up. And now these rollable 4-sided dice are available on Shopify. Helpful if you missed the Kickstarter and want some of these. They offer both smaller quantities for personal use, and larger quantities in candy jars for resale in a games store. Recommended!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016
A European perspective

The view that most Americans have of Hitler is very much conditioned by the 4 years between 1941 when America entered the war, and the end of the war in 1945. Americans think of Hitler as some sort of boss mob they defeated, a war enemy, top of the list of several crazy dictators that America freed the world of. Europeans, because they were closer to the action during the pre-war and early war years also remember Hitler as a populist extreme right-wing politician.

Ever since Vidal completely derailed Buckley with the comparison on live TV in 1968, it has been very clear that the Republican party doesn't see any parallel between their politics and Nazism. But from a European perspective the more extreme right-wing populist positions mentioned in the Republican primaries bear at least some resemblance to some of the Nazi politics. You take proposals like confiscating money from Mexicans to pay for keeping them out, or imposing travel restrictions on Muslims and change the words "Mexicans" / "Muslims" into "Jews", and the resemblance to laws issued by the Nazis between 1933 and 1941 becomes quite eerie and a bit frightening.

That is not to say that Donald Trump is a Nazi or comparable to Hitler. There is absolutely no indication that even if elected he would somehow turn America from a republic into a dictatorship. It isn't even very likely that any of his proposals would ever be enacted if he became president. He probably doesn't even believe in that stuff, he just knows that it is what certain people want to hear and says it because it could potentially get him the Republican nomination. But the resemblance to anti-semitic propaganda and laws does explain certain European reactions to Donald Trump.

Personally I see Donald Trump more as a symbol of the schism in the Republican party between the establishment Republicans and the anti-establishment Republicans. There is still a greater than zero chance that Trump will split the party like Theodore Roosevelt did in 1912. And while I do believe that there is no way that the party can work around that schism and win the presidential election this year, I consider it possible that a split would actually strengthen the Republicans in the long run. Right now nobody really knows what the Republican party stands for, and some of the more extreme opinions on that matter look rather ugly from over here.

Zeitgeist: The Dying Skyseer - Session 04

In the previous session had planned an expedition to the haunted top of Cauldron Hill at the request of the dying skyseer Nevard Sechim. Mayor Reed Macbannin, the guardian of Cauldron Hill, had equipped them with amulets against dark magic, and kegs full of goat's blood to draw a circle around their camp. The idea was to have the spirits of Cauldron Hill follow that blood trail endlessly and hopefully ignore the group.

In this session the group reached the top of Cauldron Hill and set up camp. They heated stones to have a flameless source of heat, and built some cover against the wind. That was all very helpful when the temperature dropped sharply at nightfall. But with nightfall also came the spirits that haunted Cauldron Hill, a motley crew including a legless man, a hag, a serpent-maned lion, and an insubstantial phantom.

The group had previously undergone a ritual that shared their life force with Nevard, and as a consequence they were linked to him in a way that allowed them to share his visions of that night. At first they had a vision of Nilasa, the girl whose death had kicked off this adventure, appearing to warn them that the man who had killed her was coming. She described the man as being scarred so much that he was now wearing many faces as disguise. In a second vision they foresaw the factory of Heward Sechim, Nevard's nephew, burning down in the early hours of the next day.

Before they could decide on a further course of action, a dark figure matching the description of the person who had shot Nilasa appeared outside the camp and threw a grenade at the group. While the grenade did little damage, it did contain brightly burning magnesium. The combination of the noise of the explosion and the bright light completely shattered the plan to remain undetected by the spirits, and so the spirits now all attacked the group.

This was designed to be a hard fight, and so it turned out to be. There was a bunch of minor spirits, minions, that just had an aura doing small amounts of damage. The legless man had a powerful attack that grabbed Aria the sorceress, but she was able to push him away. The hag had an attack that could dominate a player character, but fortunately people were lucky with saving throws and the dominations all just lasted one turn. The paladin tanked the serpent-maned lion, who had poisonous attacks.

That left the insubstantial phantom, mostly ignored by the group, which turned out to be the problem. The phantom always touched the character closest to him, leaving a mark and a small amount of automatic damage. Having one mark enabled a character to see the phantom even when it phased out for the others. A second mark enabled a character to do half damage to the phantom. At three or more marks the phantom was fully solid for that character, visibly wielding a big scythe, and taking full damage from that character's attacks.

It is one of the strengths of 4th edition to have the tools to create more complicated monsters with multiple powers that result in events more complex than a simple exchange of blows. Players can use knowledge skills to find out about those powers in order not to be surprised by them, but in the heat of the battle people often forget about that. And so it came that Eldion the invoker misjudged the danger of the phantom. Being not too worried about the small automatic damage round after round, the invoker basically "tanked" the phantom and chose not to move away. What he didn't realize was that the phantom had another attack which required three marks on the victim. And that attack, due to being so complicated to set up, dealt really substantial damage (5d12). So after dealing 5 damage per turn for three turns, the phantom hit Eldion for 27 points of damage with a scythe attack. That not only completely surprised him, but knocked him unconscious and even would have killed him if he hadn't had a 5 point resistance to necrotic damage. And that made the player extremely angry, claiming that this strong attack was "unfair" and threatening that he would quit the game if I killed his character.

Meanwhile the group had dealt with most of the other spirits, and by tanking the phantom with somebody who had high armor and hit points was able to defeat that one too. But with the player so angry, and me not being happy about his "meta-game blackmail the DM to survive" attempt, we ended the session on an unhappy note.


Sunday, April 03, 2016
RPG story complexity

I started playing pen & paper roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D 1st edition) in the early 80's. The target audience for the game was clearly teenagers and young adults, with the D&D box saying "for age 10 and up". As a consequence the stories told by the adventures frequently had rather simple plots, like "go into the Tomb of Horrors and defeat the lich Acererak". Players were encouraged to play characters of good or neutral alignment, with the story frequently featuring an arch-villain of evil alignment. Even at higher levels the enemies just got more powerful, without acquiring a more complex personality. The challenge of the game consisted of beating the dungeon with its traps and monsters, not figuring out who was the bad guy. Even more complicated adventures like the original Ravenloft left very doubt who the arch-villain to beat was.

Compared to that, the Zeitgeist Adventure Path is far, far more complex. We are in the middle of the second adventure, and the group has no idea yet who the arch-villain is. Adventure one had "a" villain in the form of Duchess Ethelyn, the king's sister, but she was killed at the end of that adventure. Instead the campaign features a whole panoply of conflicts: Adventure one was about the conflict between those in Risur who like the king want to modernize the nation with technology against the conservatives in Risur who prefer to stick to old ways of druidic magic. It also features the conflict between Danor and Risur. These two conflicts still feature large in adventure two, but the group already got into a battle between different criminal gangs, and came across a social conflict between workers and industrialists. And as the adventure and the campaign progresses, the group will come into contact with more and more different factions and power groups and individuals.

I completely removed alignment from my Zeitgeist campaign, as it isn't really needed for the 4E ruleset, and isn't really adequate for the setting. You can't simply label one side in a conflict between conservationists and technologists as "good" or "evil". I insisted from the start that every player character needs to have a fundamental loyalty to the king and kingdom of Risur, but that doesn't mean they don't have leeway to navigate between the different power groups. They are currently gaining a favor with a skyseer who offered to broker a negotiation between them and the "eco-terrorist" they are tasked to arrest, but I have no idea what they will actually do once they encounter her. The campaign is designed to give the players the freedom to choose sides in various conflicts, without any of those choices leading to a standstill.

While the complexity, the maturity, and the freedom of choice have many obvious advantages, there are also a number of disadvantages. One is to get the group act as a whole, without a single player spoiling the freedom of choice of the others. For example the discussion already started in the previous session, and will have to continue in a future session of how the group should react when they encounter the eco-terrorist: Will they attack on sight, or ally with her, or at least hear her out and then choose? It is situations like these where one player saying "I attack on sight" can negate the choice of everybody else.

The other problem with complexity is remembering everything you learned about who is who. I don't know if you have the experience when for example watching the first episode of the next season of Game of Thrones, having watched the end of the previous season months ago. It always takes some time to remember all the plot-lines going on and how all the characters are connected. Even for me as the DM it is quite a task to know everybody in the story, and for the players who just play no more than twice per month and don't get to read all of the background information the complexity is even more daunting. I am currently playing as a character in another D&D campaign and I am experiencing the problem of being in the middle of a story I don't understand first-hand.

So right now I am wondering how much complexity I need for my campaign. Of course many of the factions and characters in the story are necessary for the campaign to make sense at all. But there are also a bunch of characters and locations that are pure fluff, designed as filler for the role-playing enthusiasts: Two-page descriptions of various characters in a location that the players will only visit once and that will only give them a minor clue towards the main story. I am very much tempted to cut out some of the fluff, seeing how many players in my group are more interested in the tactical wargaming aspects of D&D than in elaborate role-playing. In the end I need to tailor the campaign towards what is fun for the players, and getting them completely confused and lost isn't really the way to go there.


Saturday, April 02, 2016

Rugus wanted to know what I thought of Earthcore, so I gave it a try. I must say the game is unusual and gets points for originality. But otherwise I don't think I will play it much longer.

What Earthcore basically is, is a Free2Play version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. You get 4 cards, and you and your opponent play cards alternating on three different lanes. Then on each lane water beats fire, fire beats earth, and earth beats water. The most basic cards have a "risk" of 6, so if you lose a duel with that card on one lane, you lose 6 life. First player to run out of lives loses (and the lanes are handled left to right, so you can win by bringing your opponent to 0 lives on the left lane, even if the middle and right lane would have spelled your doom).

What makes Earthcore more interesting is that more risky cards have skills, like the ability to switch into a different lane. You can use one skill per turn, but so can your opponent. You can also "forge" hero cards by sacrificing other cards and giving their skill to a hero. I used that to give my hero the vampire ability, but the process ate all three of my vampire cards, so I'm kind of regretting that now. Heroes can have up to 3 skills, so they can be quite powerful, but of course also rather risky.

You can play Earthcore in PvP or against an AI through various chapters of various books. Each chapter has three rewards, one for winning, one for winning with a medium amount of health left, and one for winning with a lot of health left. So it is worth retrying the same chapter until you beat it overwhelmingly and get all rewards. Rewards are gold or cards, and the gold buys you boosters with cards. Of course you can also spend real money to buy gems that buy boosters, which works out at about a dollar per 7-card booster.  Cards come in 4 rarities, and rarer cards tend to be better, even if that might be attached to higher risk. So far, so normal for a Free2Play game.

The point that made me quit after being only half through the first chapter is that Earthcore after all those added features still inherits a terrible disadvantage from its ancestor Rock, Paper, Scissors: It quite frequently can feel very random. Using the same deck against the same AI deck I have won some games with maximum health left, and lost others with the enemy having maximum health left. As you only get 4 cards to play in the 3 lanes, and you can't discard cards other than before the first round, sometimes you just end up with a terrible hand. You can to some extent modify your deck to counter the frequently used skills of an opponent you've played against, but that option is still very limited. Sometimes you just don't have the element in your hand that you need, or a skill that turns the game around.

On the positive side I didn't have the feeling that I could win if I just spent enough money on the game, which isn't uncommon for Free2Play games. On the negative side I had the impression that I would eventually beat any AI opponent if I just played against him frequently enough and would eventually get lucky. Somehow that didn't motivate me to continue.


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