Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 31, 2010
Warstorm on Facebook

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook will have noticed that I was spamming a lot of Warstorm messages this weekend. I played this game for several hours, and spent too much money on it for *cough* testing purposes *cough*. The game also exists outside of Facebook, but I only played the Facebook version.

Warstorm is a collectible card game with a difference. Collectible card games in general consist of two parts: Building your deck, and playing with it. Normally building your deck is something you tend to do alone, while for playing you need another player to battle against. Warstorm uses the interesting approach to make playing the game fully automated, with no input whatsoever from the player. While that sounds a bit crazy, it actually has two advantages: You can play against other players while they are offline, and you can play against the computer without the computer being at too much of a disadvantage for not being as clever as you. Thus nearly the whole game of Warstorm is in the deckbuilding.

A deck in Warstorm consists of 1 to 4 squads, with each squad having exactly 7 cards, one of which is a hero. Each card has a ready value, which determines how many rounds after drawing a card it comes into play, and thus basically represents the card's "cost". Besides heroes, there are spells, artefacts, and units, with the hero card saying how many of each of these are in the squad, and most cards being units. Each unit has an attack value and a number of hitpoints, plus possibly some special abilities.

The completely automated gameplay consists of the two players taking turns. In each turn a player draws a card from his deck to his hand. If he already has cards in hand, every turn (his and opponents turn), the ready count on each of his cards in hand decreases by one. If the ready count is zero, the card comes into play. The playfield is two opposing rows, in which cards automatically take the left-most position possible, thus if the two players have an equal number of units in play, every unit faces an unit of the opponent. Every turn every of your units in play does an action, in its most simple case dealing its attack value in damage to the opposing unit. When a unit is down to zero hitpoints, it goes to the graveyard, and the units to the right of it slide over one spot to keep the row without gaps. Units which don't have an opposing unit deal their damage to the morale counter of the enemy. If one side either has all its cards in the graveyard, or runs out of morale, it loses and the other side wins.

Cards with lower ready cost are generally weaker than those with a higher value. So there are several possible strategies, either going for a zerg rush with low ready cost cards, or balancing the deck, or putting mainly expensive but powerful cards in. But that isn't all there is to deckbuilding: Many cards have special abilities, and are often vulnerable against one type of other card, but strong against another. For example archers deal double damage against infantry, but cavalry deals double damage against archers, while infantry with pikes deals double damage against cavalry. Unless you battle a random opponent, you can after a loss edit your deck to exploit the weaknesses of your opponent's deck and have a better chance to win on the next try.

Warstorm has both PvP and PvE. PvP can be played against your friends, or a random opponent. PvE is played on a map, where each area of the map has a campaign consisting of several missions, and you can conquer the territory by finishing all the missions. The first areas are the tutorial, where you fight simple opponents, and get lots of hints what cards to use to counter the AI opponent's strategy. Winning battles gives you experience and silver. Owning territories gives you additional silver every day. And then you can use the silver to buy booster packs with new cards. But that is quite slow, and the "novice" boosters which you can buy for relatively little silver contain rather bad cards, which brings us to issue of money.

In Warstorm you can buy "Warstorm Cash" for real money, with one unit of cash costing between $0.20 and $0.25, and then use that warstorm cash to either buy access to new PvE areas with new campaigns, or to buy cards in various ways. You can buy random boosters of different types, or boosters in which the cards are random but all of the same faction, or you can buy of a small selection of single cards (with the selection available changing every 8 hours), or even some preconstructed decks. A 6-card booster ends up costing about $1, while a PvE campaign costs up to $5, but comes with generous silver and card rewards. While you can theoretically play completely for free, you will not have access to all cards that way, and also can access only half of the areas on the map.

But where Warstorm gets downright insidious is in the rarity of cards. To a larger degree than in other collectible card games rarer cards are better than more common cards. Many cards even exist in several rarities, with the rarer version having the same properties but a lower ready value, thus being strictly better than the common version. Thus if you repeatedly lose against an opponent in spite of having built your deck right, you'll notice that your opponents deck is full of very rare cards. That "encourages" you to buy more cards for cash. That way Warstorm can quickly reach the cost of a full triple-A PC or console game, which is probably too expensive for what it does. And you can't even trade cards with your friends, which is another big part of the attraction of most collectible card games.

Another problem is that the special abilities of cards aren't all that well balanced. For example flying and flaming are somewhat too powerful for the cost of their cards, which makes the preconstructed dragon deck (lots of flying and flaming dragons, expensive, full of rares) rather overpowered, and the few existing anti-dragon cards highly desirable.

If you ever spent some time studying deckbuilding in any collectible card game, you know that the more cards are in a deck, the less predictable it becomes. Thus in the early PvE campaigns on Warstorm you can still easily build a cohesive strategy and follow its outcome. In later campaigns, with up to 4 squads on each side, the outcome appears more determined by chance. On the one side that enables you to overcome opponents by simply battling them often enough until you get lucky and win, but on the other side it makes the game less interesting. If deckbuilding is the only thing you *can* do, you rather want it to have a big influence. You would need a lot of cards before you could build a multi-squad deck with a coherent strategy, as the different factions have different strengths and weaknesses.

In summary I found Warstorm a fun enough game, but you need to watch yourself and not fall into the typical trap of collectible card games that you end up spending too much money on them. Warstorm offers hours of fun, but probably not months. Nevertheless I recommend trying out at least the first, and completely free, part of the game.
How does Warstorm compare to Magic?
Don't keep up on Facebook games (or Facebook in general for that matter) but have you tried out PoxNora? I read that they recently put out a version of the game for Facebook, and as a long running, digital CCG, I've been interested in trying it.
I feel a bit disappointed in you for spending money on this game. It's not entirely rational -- it is after all, your money and your choice.

Consider how much you spent on Warcraft over the past month. Now consider what you spent on this game. In terms of relative value, how much MORE did you get from Warcraft?

Let's say that you just spent $5 on this game. Was it worth 1/3 of the price of a monthly WoW subscription in terms of relative value?

The thing that bugs me is that Blizzard doesn't have blinders on to this type of spending. An awakening of sorts is happening where developers are realizing that people have more disposable income to spend on these games.

This is where I fundamentally disagree with people who support Microtransaction models. We aren't going to get more options for more money. We are going to get the same or similar options for more money.

Today it's Sparkle ponies and tomorrow it's a Sparkle Raid Dungeon.

My fear is that we won't get MORE for the extra dollars we will ultimately spend. We'll just get tricked, cheated and forced out of those dollars instead.
An awakening of sorts is happening where developers are realizing that people have more disposable income to spend on these games.

Did I mention I spent 10 years of my life an about $10,000 on Magic the Gathering? If you don't count the PC and internet connection, 10 years of WoW only cost about $2,000.

But I don't see what is wrong with that. Why shouldn't somebody with more money be able to spend more on games? Do you think it is unfair that some people drive bigger cars too?
I've tried the game on Facebook and I think it's one of the better suited games for that medium.

The play style lends itself well to Facebook and I hope other card games start popping up on the social network with their own spins and twists on the genre.
Good review. I've been trying the game out, and it is fun, but I'm starting to get bored with it, since I can't seem to build a cohesive deck, and I can't spend real money on it right now.
"Do you think it is unfair that some people drive bigger cars too?"

Yes, of course.

The question is whether fairness matters. You may have noticed that's caused a few disputes over the last 2000 years.
Bhagpuss your comments are always of the communist sort ;)

Of course its fair that someone drives a bigger car.

However, this isn't the real world. I think that a rather large portion of the players in MMOs would much rather have an even playing field.

Yes you can waste your money on whatever you want, but you shouldnt get a significant advantage from spending more than another player.

Or why not just compare bank accounts instead of playing?

The difference in a game like MTG is that even without spending massive amounts of money you can build a competitive deck. As you mention, its when the rarest and more expensive cards are much better in every way that its not fair.

I think it's safe to say people don't play games to compare who is richer. Someone who wants to impress people with spending tons on a game is both foolish and confused.

The competitive nature of online games demands an even playing field, or whats the point?
Also, I do agree wholeheartedly with Sid.

Right now the big games are doing it right, charging extra for vanity items.

But I feel that participating encourages them to up the ante. I just hope that the population resists if this happens.

I suppose however you can't stop people wasting their money. You CAN just not play a game with what you perceive as unfair RMT.

So personally I will not complain, just not play games with a system enabling RL money to be the decisive competitive advantage.
I don't use Facebook a lot, but the games interest me. Here's what rubs me the wrong way, however, and maybe someone knows of a way around it?

I hate, HATE, hate a game that wants to go through my list of friends and retrieve their information. I DO NOT want any messages about me playing a game to be broadcast to them. I don't want any messages from the game to show up on my FB page. I just want to play.

For instance, I wanted to play a Scrabble-like game but didn't sign up once it told me it would comb through my list of friends. Why can't I just sign up and get a list of other players who have signed up?

I am not going to make a pest of myself with my friends. I don't agree with that.

So is there any way around this?
I played Warstorm, and before it by the same group, Duelz back before they fully integrated with facebook.

I would do anything in the world to be able to sell off what I bought in those games. I regret spending what money I did on them.

The reason I ended up quitting was finding out JUST how money-grubing the company is. Starting out I spent a bit just because it was honestly fun enough to contribute a little cash.

But they have a terrible track record of doing everything in their power to get you to spend, as well as really rewarding those people who were around earlier on in the game. To some degree that is needed to reward longevity, but when you make it so after a point you feel you can NEVER compare to those ceases being fun. And hell, I am someone who started at the beginning of each!
Tobold wrote: Why shouldn't somebody with more money be able to spend more on games? Do you think it is unfair that some people drive bigger cars too?

Sorry for the delayed response. No. Not at all. But my concern here isn't that some people are going to outspend me.

It's that WE, as a gaming community, are not going to get MORE by supporting this new model.

Instead, we are going to get the SAME but just pay more. Would you have felt better if you had spent $10,000 for 10 years of WoW instead of $2000?

You aren't going to get 5x the value you are paying. More likely, you'll get the same and still be paying 5x the amount.

I'm not in the habit of encouraging companies to rob me blind just because they think they are leaving money on the table.
The .com version of warstorm I think still has more cards, etc...

Its quite a bit of fun and it is possible to get the good cards without being a paying player. However a 6 card pack you can get by playing 250 auto-match battles. Unless you get something super-rare to sell on the AH its a slow process (note that I did on my first pack get something I could sell and buy about another 8 packs).

Also there are achievement cards for winning a certain number of matches with a 2-3, 4-5, 6 squad deck or just elves or just orcs, etc... OR for certain PvP ladder ratings. Most of these are very powerful and necessary for great deck builds. However the high Tier versions usually take 500 wins. So thats roughly 1000 matches per category and there are 10+ decent ones.

Good game, but potentially incredibly grindy.
No thanks! I did crack (MtG) once no more hitting that pipe for me!
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