pax14Last weekend I saw A LOT of iOS games over the three days of PAX East.
If there was one game play mechanic which appeared the most in the games I was demoed, it had to be card collection and deckbuilding.

Whether as the crux of the game or just a single element, deckbuilding (of some form) appeared in at least ten of the titles that I had the pleasure of demoing over the weekend, the majority of which are (or will be) free-to-play at launch.

I myself am a huge fan of this mechanic as it gives the player a sense of control, interaction and customization and, as you will see, when used in conjunction with some of our favorite genres, it can really enhance and change-up the game play, offering a fresh, new gaming experience.

Lets start with the straight up CCG, card-battling games and more specifically with the biggest titles in this genre, and probably the most instantly recognizable, Magic and Hearthstone.

magic-2015Magic 2015 – Duels of the Plansewalkers
by Wizards of the Coast

Perhaps the most well-known collectible card game / deckbuilder on the planet is Magic : The Gathering. For the last few years, Wizards of the Coast has been releasing iPad versions of Magic and this year’s Magic 2015 – Duels of the Plansewalkers, looks like it’ll be jam-packed with all sorts of nice new content, story and enhancements.

In the interest of full disclosure, while I have played a number of CCGs and deckbuilders, I have never played a lick of Magic, however, brand managers Mark Purvis (@WotcPurv) and Liz Lamb-Fiero (@elambferro) were super friendly and did an excellent job of running me through the basics, showing me how the upcoming release is perfectly suited for introducing new players (such as myself) to the game in an easy to follow way, but ensuring that there is still loads of rich and engaging content to thrill and surprise seasoned fans.

Magic 2015 will put players at the center of the action as the deadliest hunter in the Magic Multiverse, Garruk Wildspeaker, as he shifts his hunter’s instinct away from beasts of the wild to the ultimate quarry—you! New features include the ability to build customized decks, new booster packs with premium downloadable content, and an even more robust deckbuilder, players will take on their fiercest opponents culminating in the ultimate battle against Garruk.

I was able to get a sneak peek at the iPad release and the interface was smooth and uncluttered, the cinematic video content looked amazing and the deck building tool is infused with all sorts of great AI which allows players to build a deck from a single card, fill out their deck automatically, quickly see stats on the speed and strength of their deck and more. While the idea of not having access to pre-constructed decks may seem a bit daunting at first for new players, it is apparent that a lot of work has gone into the deckbuilding functionality for 2015 to make it robust and friendly.

5.-EN-Deck-managementFor the single player campaign you simply select two colors (in my demo it was green and black) and the AI generates a deck for you, which you will then be able to improve over time as you unlock multi-card booster packs which will always contain several cards that fit perfectly with the deck colors you’ve chosen and one that doesn’t. You can craft multiple decks (each with their own unique name and box art to easily keep track of them). Boosters can be earned through gameplay or purchased via real money.

Due to its built-in smarts, the enhanced deckbuilder tool will be a great resource for new players to learn strategy and see what makes gives decks certain characteristics or just help them build a proper deck. I’m really excited to finally try out Magic and Wizards of The Coast are making a concerted effort to not only captivate and satisfy experienced players, but also remove some of the anxiety which may overwhelm new players as well.

The game is due out on iOS sometime this Summer, and will likely feature the same free to start, pay to unlock model used in the previous two Magic iOS releases.

625257520_512x512Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
by Blizzard

Last year at PAX East, Blizzard (World of Warcraft, Diablo) delighted and surprised event-goers by revealing their upcoming digital strategy card game, Hearthstone : Heroes of Warcraft. Then last month, nearly a year later, the game was released on the PC and shortly afterwards, a soft launch of the iPad version appeared on the Canadian App Store.

Though (between the PC and iPad) I’ve only been playing for a few weeks now, Hearthstone is easily one of the most enjoyable deckbuilders I’ve experienced, with a great variety of heroes, each of which brings their own unique characteristics and special abilities to the table, allowing for a good deal of variety.

The iPad interface is excellent, giving players as close to a physical card experience as possible. It is without a doubt, THE way to play the game. In fact, I had a chance to speak with Game Director Eric Dodds and Production Director Jason Chayes at PAX East and both agreed and that the iPad is the way they themselves prefer to play Hearthstone.

battle-2While iPad owners outside of Canada are finally just getting their hands on the iPad release of Hearthstone today, there was some other big Hearthstone news that came out of PAX East. Curse of Naxxramas, the first Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Adventure, an optional new way to play the game and collect very special cards will be arriving soon.

Players will battle against bosses in this single-player mode that will test their ability to build decks, adapt strategies, and conquer the creepiest of villains

In total, players will receive 30 cards from this Adventure. After players win the cards in Curse of Naxxramas, they can add them to their decks for Play (or Practice) mode. These cards are completely optional and aren’t necessary to continue playing and being competitive at Hearthstone—if players want their collection to be on the less spooky side, that’s totally fine!

I won’t go into too much more detail here other than the first wing of Curse of Naxxramas will be free with subsequent wings purchasable via earned gold or with real money.

You can watch the full announcement below thanks to Board Game Geek’s Bradley Cummings.

Download your copy of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft:

586470098_512x512Little Alchemist
by Kongregate

On the much more casual side of things, I also go to check out the recently released Little Alchemist. It is a collectible card battling game with a more casual slant and a focus on combos. Players collect spell cards and combine them to form more powerful spells and deal more damage to their opponent.

For instance, players can combine a water spell and a zombie spell to form a Pirate Zombie. As you progress through the game you unlock new cards and new combinations, which once ‘researched’ are able to be performed by the player (assuming they have the necessary cards in their hands).

little-alchemist_586470098_ipad_03Little Alchemist has some stellar comic style art and a lot of content to unlock and explore. The entire game can be played for free or there are in-app purchases for reducing wait times, so check it out.

Download your copy of Little Alchemist:

The Dreamland Chronicles Digital Trading Card Game
by Protobird Games

Currently being Kickstarted, the Dreamland Chronicles Digital Trading Card Game is designed to bring “the joy of card collecting, trading and playing” to kids through 3D art and animation.

The game features a huge number of beautifully illustrated and rendered characters from Scott Christian Sava’s award-winning The Dreamland Chronicles web-comic/graphic novel series. Your kids will be able to collect, trade and combat with one another in a safe environment which keeps parents in the loop and makes them the ultimate gatekeepers. In my discussions with Protobird’s Scott Hyman, it was very clear that child safety and accountability are key concerns and important areas of focus during the development of the game.

This family friendly title features a nice looking 3D art style geared toward 6 to 12 year-olds and instead of just static cards, each card comes to life and is its very own virtual toy, which can be interacted with by the child via taps and swipes. The developers have plans to build an extensive card trading system which would allow kids to trade collected cards with their friends whether they are online at the time or not and to queue up lists of cards you are willing to trade.

I didn’t see too much of the combat portion of the game, but it appeared to be an easy to learn lane-based system where players take turns attacking and where random disasters and “colossal creature attacks wreak havoc for both competitors”.

6b9a4dd513812151d91e84df8b46df83_largeAll in all, I really liked what I’ve seen of Dreamland Chronicles thus far. It looks like a fun, safe and less expensive way to introduce kids to CCGs and get them interested in the hobby. Hopefully their Kickstarter will be successful.

CONTINUE TO THE NEXT PAGE for a look at games which use the cards / deckbuilding as a secondary mechanic to enhance the gameplay…