Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
What took them so long?

While I don't claim to have a complete overview of all the new Free2Play games coming out, I did notice a kind of a trend: More and more "free" games on various platforms are using game elements coming from trading card games like Magic the Gathering. Many then combine classical Free2Play elements like leveling troops or fusing them with the trading card method of finding cards of various rarities in random boosters. As the potential as money pit of random boosters has been known since the 90's, I'm just wondering what took them so long. A completionist wanting every most rare card fully upgraded can spend thousands of dollars on such a game, so the attraction to the game company is obvious.

What is less obvious is that the system isn't actually all that bad for the players either. There is always a limit to how many cards you can take into a battle, so having twice as many cards doesn't make a richer player twice as strong. Frequently there are even other resource elements in the game, so the more powerful rare card is costing more resources, which somewhat balances them out. Yes, to some degree this is Pay2Win, but it isn't as blatant and unbalancing as other systems where money buys you a linear increase of power.

You know trading cards are main stream when Supercell releases a game that has them, called Clash Royale. Supercell tends to make highly popular "free" games that earn them millions of dollars per day. Having said that, I find Clash Royale not a very good game. The basic premise of playing a single-player MOBA / tower defense game with trading card troops has promise; but every win rewards you with a chest, and you either need to wait hours for a chest to open or pay to open it. As you only have 4 chest slots and even a simple silver chest takes 3 hours to open, you quickly get to the point where you are informed that you won't get any reward for winning any more, because you have no room for those chests.

So I'm sticking with Gems of War, which has trading card games in a Puzzle Quest type of game, and which doesn't push me all the time to spend money. And my level, currently 65, depends on games played, not on money spent. Spending money on cards is more like spending money on added content, as it allows me to build different decks and try out different strategies.

So far Gems Of War has been my best experience with a "free to play" game. It's very well done and overall I didn't feel forced to cash out real money. But it's also true that leveling your troops past level 8-9 becomes painfully slow: souls, diamonds and wings are scarce and you either farm them via PvP (which is not PvP at all, to be honest) or pay some money (in which case I feel it becomes too expensive, the money <=> diamonds exchange ratio is horrible).

The best thing of Gems of War is that you can play infinitely, without "energy" and crap like that. It becomes slow but you don't get any energy-wall and/or waiting queue. That's cool, I think more games should incentive "infinite gameplay" with some slowdown.
@Rugus, I totally understand the issue of getting enough souls to level your troops up. But I was wondering whether you feel that you need higher level troops to advance further in the game. Are you "stuck" at some content that would really require higher level troops?

Regarding PvP, I noticed that I can work my way up to the highest rank of PvP because a) you can't lose rank by being attacked, and b) as attacker you can beat players with better troops because the AI plays less well than a human does. In a way that is a solution to the old "somebody has to lose in PvP" issue; in Gems of War it feels as if it is the AI that loses, rarely the player.
> I was wondering whether you feel that you need higher level troops to advance further in the game. Are you "stuck" at some content that would really require higher level troops?

Yes and no. I could do challenges forever, they're quite easy in my opinion... but most of them are also painfully boring (at least the first 3-4 stars). Progress can be a issue, yes, at some point you start slowing down because the enemy plays with level 16+ cards (while you're 8-10) and the amount of his life/shield is so high that every fight takes too much time, compared to what you get as a reward (some gold, some materials). And if your opponent has some kind of life/shield regen (knigts, wall, ...) it's just a waste of time.

Along with souls/diamonds farm, ascension and traits are horribly slow too. By the time you get enough materials to do ONE single trait upgrade (just one)... you are forced to choose what card deserves that upgrade and you're going to waste almost every material. Then you're stuck to zero-materials once again. Not to mention that traits cost isn't always worth the bonus, some of them are just pure crap.

The ascension feature is great on paper but -again- collecting the same card multiple times takes forever: from white to purple you need 15 and the good ones are extremely scarce. If you don't have any kind of constant card influx (example: VIP bonuses, chests, ...) you have to spend diamonds and wings... which are so slow that you need to farm for hours (or pay some €/$).

> in Gems of War it feels as if it is the AI that loses, rarely the player.

That's because it's not PvP at all, it's PvE with player-selected cards, nothing else. It's not a real match like Magic or Hearthstone. Very often you win just because AI was dumb enough to let skulls align in the next move, for example. And the AI never "steals" your mana, there are almost no tactics and often it's just a matter of starting with decent gems to win.

I think it's a great game and I love the no-energy design. It works very well. But the leveling process at some point becomes very tedious and repetitive. Few materials, few cards, extremely expensive upgrades, etc. All in all it requires too much time for what it offers, in my opinion.
If you want free souls, do lots of PvP and spend the glory on treasure maps, which in turn generate lots of souls. O)f course that presupposes that you like doing treasure hunts - for me they are the part I like best.

Arena yields 400 souls, but you have to win eight battles without losing more than one. Just pick wisely, and it should be fine. I only played it once, but won eight without losing any.

I have a couple of troops maxed out now. Some benefit more than others, IMO.

You can up the AI difficulty in 6 levels, giving increased rewards. Unfortunately the later levels just increase enemy attributes which will make for longer games - but the first level seemingly just improves the AI. Don't worry, it's still no genius!

I suppose they have to make their money somehow, but luckily for me I'm not the target payer and the penalties don't hurt me. Real extra content like Card Hunter treasure dungeons, or permanent bonuses as in Mush is the best way to get my dime. OFC Gems of War does have a permanent bonus of sorts, but it's not very strong.
Also, you can use a Valkyrie in your team...
Quick note re Arena.

I also won 8 in a row on my first go. It seemed like it was rigged to make me win the way the last few games went at the end.....

Not complaining just saying.
Why would they rig it? It's free, essentially. Costs a little gold, but gold is free.
Well you can buy gold. And giving that sort of "reward" encourages the player to want to try again. Seriously I was amazed at how the gems were dropping at the end of the last 3 games or so, looking like a definite loss and complete turn around.

But yes, you are probably right, if it was this obvious everyone else would have the same story and word would spread.
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