Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 24, 2017
Eternal Card Game

There is a new digital collectible card game around on Steam and mobile platforms, called Eternal. It copies rules heavily from Magic the Gathering, and is thus more on the complicated end of the spectrum, as opposed to simplified games like Hearthstone. So, what's not to like? Well, the single player options. And that for me is a killer.

Eternal lets you play against the AI in three modes: Campaign, Gauntlet, or Forge. Campaign is like the story mode of Magic Duels, a tutorial that gets you started with the rules and gives you basic cards, but doesn't give any more rewards if replayed. Gauntlet is a mode where you need to play and win 7 games against increasingly difficult AI decks. Playing Forge costs you money, being similar to a "limited" rules in Magic, you have to buy cards to play but then keep them. What is missing is a simple player vs. AI mode you can play as much as you want and earn currency / cards, like Magic Duels has. Instead you are pushed to play PvP.

Unfortunately this is a general trend with games these days. PvP is cheaper to produce than PvE, because you don't need to program a good AI or lots of content. And players tend to be more competitive in PvP, so in a Pay2Win game like a collectible card game that results in higher earnings for the game company.

Me, I refuse to participate in this trend. If a game can't bother to create a decent PvE mode, then I won't bother to play it.

I tried Eternal - I found it was like a simplified version of Magic.

One issue with Magic-style games: it's quite hard to program a good AI because due to the ability to block freely and the unlimited number of cards on the board, the possibility space expands exponentially. I've observed this going back to Shandalaar about two decades ago - fun game but the AI just locked up if too many cards went on the board. (I don't say a good AI couldn't be done - even Go seems to have been cracked recently - but as with 4X games the AI just seems to get worse and worse.)

Lane-based games are much better suited to computers. (I strongly recommend Elder Scrolls Legends, if you're interested. You'll even like PvP as you get an even-ish match-up in 20 seconds or so, and there's a lot of randomness so you are never without hope even against a very strong deck. There's a story mode too, with a fair though not huge amount of content.
And it's a little more complicated than Hearthstone, having two lanes with slightly different rules in both.)

I'm with you on the "We focus too much on PvP and not on AI" issue. PvP gets the attention because it's meta neutral, if one person figures out a strategy, that new strategy spreads by osmosis through the community, keeping that part of the equation 'fair'.

The problem with competitive PvP is there is no "civility floor" by default. The anonymity of the internet lets people be all the asshole they want to be, but would never be directly to your face.

As for card game AI, I would think the "hard part" would be making the deck. Well, you have humans that are good at the game do that. After that, you have a limited set of actions that can be done with the cards that get drawn, and each card has set abilities with a finite set of strategic uses. It would be a coding challenge? but it could be done, if we would just stop slobbering over PvP.

I've been playing a bit and found that the Gauntlet mode is basically the vs AI mode. You can replay it infintely with any deck you like and keep earning rewards.
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