Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Free Realms Trading Card Game - Deckbuilding 101
15 years ago Magic the Gathering became very popular, made a ton of money, and started a huge wave of trading card games. Magic and Pokemon were the most successful ones, but there were also lots of other games. But after a few years, the popularity faded, and although many of these games are still around, there isn't all that much buzz around them any more. Now Free Realms contains a online trading card game, of which a paper version is also available. And while this is a new game, it uses a lot of the fundamentals of Magic the Gathering. So in a blast from the past, I'm going to talk a bit about building a deck for the Free Realms Trading Card Game (FRTCG).
First some basic rules: A FRTCG deck contains a minimum of 40 cards, with every card having a maximum of 3 copies in the deck. Now picture in your mind two different possible decks: One that has exactly 40 cards, of which 13 have 3 copies each, and a second deck with over 40 cards, in which every card has only 1 copy. It is easy to see that the deck with the minimum number of cards and maximum number of copies of each card is "less random", and gives more reliable results than the more varied deck. Having 40+ different cards in your deck yields a lot more surprises, and can be fun too, but if you run into problems winning because you never draw the card you need, going for the less random deck is the more reliable way to success. That is an universal rule valid for practically every existing and future trading card game. Play random for fun, reduced randomness to win.
In the FRTCG, there are three different types of cards: Creatures, resources, and tricks. You can play only one resource every turn, so in your first turn you'd usually have 1 resource, in your second turn 2 resources, and so on. Creatures cost resources to play, so that big creature costing 5 resources can't possibly be played before turn 5. But unlike other trading card games you don't need to worry about the chance that you don't draw enough resources: You can play ANY card as a resource face down. Nevertheless it is a good idea to pack around a dozen resource cards (the ones with the chest symbol) into your deck, because a resource card can be played face up, and then turned face down at some point during the game for some additional effect.
Tricks (cards with a star symbol) in FRTCG can only be played during combat, and most of them make your creature stronger in that fight. Thus if you have a trick and your opponent doesn't, you can possibly beat a stronger creature of his with a weaker creature of yours. Again I'd go for around a dozen of these cards in a 40-card deck.
Creatures are the most important part of a deck, because they are the only cards that can hunt and win fights to gain the 12 points you need to win. If you put 12 resources and 12 tricks, you'll have room for 16 creatures in your deck. Creatures (like tricks) cost resources to play. So don't put a lot of powerful but expensive creatures in your deck, but rather build a pyramid of creature cost, with more low-cost creatures, and few high-cost creatures. By the time you have the resources to play an expensive creature, you will have drawn a lot of cards, so chances are you will have found one. But on turn 1 you can only play a cost 1 creature, and if you have too few of them, you won't have one in your starting hand.
Unlike many other trading card games, resources in FRTCG do not have a color. This makes it possible to build decks with cards of all colors, even true rainbow decks. Nevertheless there can be an advantage to building decks of only one or two colors, if you have cards that give special bonuses to other cards of a specific color. If you have a creature giving an attack or defense bonus to red allies, you're best served to build a deck around it which is mostly or only red.
The final thing to consider in FRTCG is the combat system. The attacking creatures attack value is compared with the defending creatures defense value, but both sides flip the top card of their deck and add the number of diamonds on the bottom of that card to the result. And many creatures trigger special effects if there are diamonds of the right color showing up that way. So cards with lots of diamonds, having the color of diamonds that your creatures need, are better than cards with just one diamond.
Of course all of these tips are just basic advice, and there might be tricky decks that are good without following these rules. But if you are new to deckbuilding, try a basic deck as I describe here first, play a couple of times against NPCs, and see how you fare. From there you can experiment, taking some cards out, putting others in, and see whether your deck improves or gets worse. Against NPCs you should always be able to win after a couple of tries, because you know what they will be playing, and can build a deck to counter their specific threat. For example a card protecting your creatures from stuns might not be all that useful in a regular deck, but becomes very useful once you found out that the NPC wins by constantly stunning your creatures. Experimenting with deckbuilding can be a lot of fun: Try it!