Which Digital CCG Should You Play?
The last year or so has seen an explosion in the number of digital collectible card games, or CCG s, on the market. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is frequently cited as the reason why, as its phenomenal worldwide success has encouraged established print games to enter the digital arena while inspiring a diverse array of digital-only competitors. It can feel overwhelming to try to pick a digital CCG to get into with so many options available. This article will provide a synopsis of seven different digital CCG s, including a brief overview of how each plays and the viability of playing without investing any real money.
It is only logical to start with the game responsible for the glut of online CCGs. In Hearthstone, players choose one of nine heroes from World of Warcraft lore and duel another player in a turn-based card battle. Each hero begins with 30 health, and the object of the game is to reduce your opponent’s health to zero before they can do the same to you. Most damage is caused by minions, or cards that attack, though all heroes have one-time effect cards called spells that provide valuable support.
Cards in Hearthstone have a mana cost, which is printed in the top left-hand corner of the card. Players automatically gain one mana at the start of their turn, such that a player has one mana on turn one, two on turn two, and so on to a maximum of 10. This means that games progress over time, with more powerful cards becoming options only in the latter stages of the game. Each hero has exclusive cards and a unique hero power that may be used once per turn, making hero choice a critical component of the game.
Hearthstone uses a freemium business model, meaning that players may download and play the game for free with optional in-app purchases. Players who pay significantly speed up card acquisition, though there are no cards that cannot be earned with gold, the in-game currency. Gold is earned for every three wins (10) and for completing daily quests (40-120), such as winning with a specific class or playing X number of a type of card. One pack costs 100 gold, so a pack can be purchased every few days. New expansions come out frequently, forcing newer players to pay to catch up to more experienced veterans.
Most official events use the Standard format, which uses only the most recent two years of cards in its card pool. This helps newer players by limiting how many cards they need to compete. Unwanted cards may be disenchanted to create dust, a resource that can be spent on any desired card. An Arena mode allows players to draft a deck from random cards in order to win gold, dust, and card packs. Its 150 gold price tag is expensive, however.
Shadowverse is extremely similar to Hearthstone in terms of mechanics, though they renamed everything. For example, Hearthstone’s minions are called followers in Shadowverse. Players choose from one of seven heroes and aim to reduce their opponent’s defense (health) to zero. Mana in Shadowverse is called play points, and functions the same way it does in Hearthstone.
There are a few gameplay differences between the games, however. Shadowverse has a third card type called amulets, cards which cannot attack but nonetheless produce an effect as long as they remain on the field. The game also has an Evolve mechanic, by which players can give one of their followers a big boost a limited number of times per game. This mechanic virtually ensures that the game swings back and forth, while many games of Hearthstone are effectively over well before they actually end. Defeated or discarded cards return as shadows in Shadowverse, serving as another resource cards can draw upon.
Shadowverse is also far more generous than Hearthstone. Shadowverse players get three daily quests per day instead of Hearthstone’s one, allowing them to get triple the rupees (gold). Free packs are also frequently given out to all players. If a player decides to invest real money, the first pack purchased each day is half the usual price. Hardcore players may also appreciate the game’s minimal luck component, which stands in stark contrast to Hearthstone’s frequent use of random effects.
- Magic Duels
If Shadowverse is largely derivative of Hearthstone, Hearthstone owes a great debt to Magic: The Gathering. Magic was the first CCG ever invented, and its rules are extremely complicated. Mana is not automatic but instead generated by Land cards, with deck sizes of 60+ instead of Hearthstone’s 30 to accommodate them. Lands also come in a variety of colors, with cards requiring a specific color combination in order to play. Cards labeled Instant or Flash can be played on the opponent’s turn if the mana is available, and Enchantment cards may be equipped to permanently affect Creatures (minions).
The biggest difference from Hearthstone is the blocking mechanic. Creatures that were not used, or tapped in the game’s parlance, can block an incoming attack during the opponent’s turn. This allows the defense, not the offense, to decide what attacks what, generally making games last longer. Games are more strategic as a result, and nearly every Creature has another ability besides attacking and defending.
Magic is available in two digital platforms, Magic Online and Magic Duels. Magic Online costs $10 up front and requires players to pay extra for cards. Digital packs are approximately as expensive as the physical game’s cards, while the game’s user interface is almost universally hated. Magic Duels is free-to-play, and booster packs are rigged such that it is impossible to pull more of a given card than you could put into a deck. The rarest cards (mythic rares) can only be singles in a 60-card deck. This forces even veteran players to play a lot of commons, helping newcomers get acclimated to the game.
- Hex: Shards of Fate
Hex is what Magic would be if it had access to digital-only random effects like Hearthstone. The defending player may block incoming attacks with any Troop (minion) that was not Exhausted (tapped) on the player’s turn. Mana costs are paid with resource cards that operate like Magic’s basic Lands, and 60-card decks are standard. The overall similarities are strong enough that Magic creators Wizards of the Coast sued Hex creators Cryptozoic Entertainment for intellectual property infringement.
While there are a few gameplay tweaks relative to Magic, Hex truly differentiates itself by offering a full single player campaign mode complete with a detailed story. Players select a race and class for their story mode champion, impacting the cards they can use, their charge ability (hero power), and starting life total. Story mode rewards players with cards and gold, making it an advisable starting point for new players.
Unlike the games above, some cards in Hex may only be acquired with platinum, the game’s premium currency. Many of the story’s cards are not allowed in matched games against other players, making premium cards the only way to compete. The game supports player trading, including an auction house where free players can sell gold or story cards for platinum or premium cards, but they may still have a hard time competing with the game’s best players.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Generation
While there are plenty of ways to play Yu-Gi-Oh! online, this mobile game is the only official offering from parent company Konami. The basics of the game consist of bringing your opponent’s Life Points down to zero (from 8,000) using a combination of Monster Cards, Spell Cards, and Trap Cards. Monsters attack and defend like Hearthstone’s minions, and a player can only be attacked directly when they have no monsters on the field. Some spells and all traps may be played on the opponent’s turn, allowing players to react to opposing plays like they can in Magic.
The game has no mana, with players limited only by the cards in their hand. Only one monster may be played per turn, but the game offers a variety of Special Summoning techniques to skirt around this rule. The deck minimum is 40 cards, allowing players to draw desired cards with more consistency than they could with a larger deck. This allows powerful plays from the very first turn, making some games short if the opponent cannot respond.
Duel Generation does not make card acquisition easy. There are two types of cards in the game, premium cards and cards found in bonus boosters. Bonus boosters are purchased with Duel Points, a currency earned by playing the game’s single-player campaign mode or multiplayer matches. The amount of points earned depends on how the player won, with bonuses for things such as avoiding Special Summons and winning on the opponent’s turn. The bonus booster card pool contains over 6,000 cards, making pulling specific cards a mostly luck-driven affair. It is possible to construct a viable deck using only free cards.
Premium cards include those popularized by the Yu-Gi-Oh! TV shows. This is actually good for free players, as the cards they do not have access to may not be that strong anyway. Some of the stronger cards are also premium, but even paid players need to sift through the massive bonus booster card pool for cards that complete their intended strategy. Support for the game is mixed. While the game does not include characters or cards from the most recent Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V anime, a new challenge and log-in bonus are available each week.
- Poké mon Trading Card Game Online
The digital version of the Pokémon card game plays exactly like its physical counterpart. Players compete to be the first to draw all six of their Prize cards, with one drawn for each opposing Pokémon knocked out. A Pokémon is knocked out when it has accumulated more damage than the HP total on the upper-right of the card. Damage is dealt by attacking with an Active Pokémon. Each Pokémon has one-to-three attacks to choose from, while some have special abilities as well.
Each attack requires a certain number and type of energy cards to use. Energy cards are the game’s mana, and they are attached to specific Pokémon rather than accessible every turn. Only one Energy may be attached per turn, and it can go to a Benched, or reserve, Pokémon rather than the active one. The game’s spells are called Trainers, and they are very powerful.
Card accumulation is easy without spending any money. Daily log-in bonuses provide players with Trainer Tokens redeemable for starter decks and booster packs in the game’s shop, event tickets allowing players to compete for prizes, and booster packs. Completing a daily game provides additional Tokens, while daily quests yield more Tokens and booster packs. If a player watches the Pokémon TV show or plays Pokémon games on Pokémon.com, they earn additional Tokens. Cards obtained with Tokens cannot be traded, but are otherwise indistinguishable from paid cards. Paid cards come from code cards found in physical Pokémon TCG products. There is no way to spend money directly in the game client.
Faeria has a board game component in addition to being a CCG. While cards are drawn from a deck, they become board game pieces on a “living board” after they are played. Creatures can move around from space to space on their player’s turn, while Structures occupy a space without the ability to move around. The game ends when a hero is reduced to zero health, a winning condition that generally requires traveling to the opposite side of the board from a player’s starting position.
Mana is called Faeria, and players automatically get three each turn. Faeria not spent on one turn carries over to the next. There are also four Faeria wells on the edges of the game board that a player’s creatures can harvest each turn, increasing the mana available to them. Faeria can also be obtained from the Power Wheel, a mechanic that gives players their choice of a draw, Faeria, a colored platform for their Creatures to walk on, or two neutral platforms that allow for greater board movement.
The game has a system similar to disenchanting in Hearthstone, allowing free players to collect any card they want in the game. Packs may be purchased with in-game currency or real money, and players looking to commit to the game may spend $50 for the entire collection.
Hopefully, this guide helped you make an informed decision about which digital CCG is right for you. Completing daily quests can get time-consuming if you play more than one, so it is best to stick to only your favorites.