Let’s be honest, like cliches, digital card games are a dime a dozen. They are currently being churned out almost as quickly as match-3 games were during the Candy Crush era.
Games that find traction are usually backed by strong IP (e.g. Hearthstone or Gwent), are online versions of existing physical card games (e.g. the Pokemon Trading Card game online), and/ or blend deck building elements with other gameplay genres in a novel way (e.g. the rogue-like Hand of Fate). Success is otherwise found by games that offer a new mechanic. According to a recent media release, this is exactly what Infinity Wars: Reborn is offering.
“Infinity Wars: Reborn‘s launch will bring a wealth of new content to what was already the most innovative and original trading card game available,” said Ian Underwood, Lead Designer of Lightmare Studios. “With a plethora of factions and strategies, Infinity Wars: Reborn will offer a truly one of a kind experience.”
To find out if Infinity Wars: Reborn lives up to the hype, I sat down with Henry Fong, the CEO of Yodo1 (publisher of Infinity Wars: Reborn) at PAX Australia last month, and then went hands-on with a beta version of the game.
In Infinity Wars: Reborn, players construct decks from the arsenals of eight distinct factions from the Infinity Wars universe and bring them into battle against human or A.I. foes. During battles, players spend mana to summon characters to their attack or defence zones, cast spells to manipulate the board state, and use the abilities of characters they have in play to defeat their opponent. Simply, characters summoned to the attack zone seek to deal damage to the opponent, while characters summoned to the defence zone seek to block incoming damage.
‘There are multiple win conditions- the most basic one is reduce the health of your opponent’s fortress down to zero,” explains Fong. “We also have a secondary win condition, which is related to morale. If you reduce the opponent’s morale down to zero, you win the battle. In order to reduce the health of your opponent’s fortress, you have to have defeated all the characters in their defence zone. However, morale is drained whenever a character is killed. Multiple win conditions add a layer of depth to deck building and gameplay. For example, some decks are purely morale drain decks.’
At a glance, Infinity Wars seems to be an amalgamation of mechanics popularised by contemporary card games- from staples like “summoning sickness” (like in Magic: The Gathering), to independent ramping mana generation at the beginning of each turn (like in Hearthstone and Plants vs Zombies: Heroes), and the presence of Commanders (like in Commander or Gwent). However, Fong is quick to point out the elements that set Infinity Wars: Reborn apart from the rest.
‘What differentiates Infinity Wars from Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering, or other card games of its ilk? Firstly, the simultaneous-turn battles. In most card games, you play your turn out and then the next player sees what you’ve played and they respond to it. In Infinity Wars: Reborn, both players play out their turns simultaneously. So you really have to anticipate what the other player is going to do. It’s almost 5 parts card game, 5 parts poker.’ Anyone familiar with the competitive Pokemon video game scene will appreciate the psychology involved in predicting an opponent’s next move and the game-changing effect of making a successful prediction.
Fong admits that this style of gameplay rewards more experienced players. ‘We had some new players coming into the game who were claiming “Oh, this guy is cheating, he hacked my game”. When we asked “How did he hack your game?” they responded “I played 5 turns in a row and he knew exactly what I was going to play and how I was going to play it”.’
Other notable aspects that differentiate Infinity Wars: Reborn from existing digital card games are the presence of an undo button, that every card is beautifully, fully-animated, and the unique commander system. Similarly to Commander and Gwent, each deck has a powerful commander card that sits in the command zone from the beginning of the game. Having commander cards present on the battlefield from the beginning of the game reduces the RNG but means your opponent is immediately aware of the style of deck you’re playing. Uniquely, each deck in Infinity Wars: Reborn features three commanders.
‘When constructing a deck, players must first pick three commander cards. The faction that those commander cards belong to will determine which other types of cards can be included in the deck,’ explains Fong. ‘For example, if you have three commanders from the flame dawn faction, you can only play other cards from the flame dawn faction. However, if you have two flame dawn commanders and an exiles commander, you can play a wider variety of cards.’
Naturally, the ability to construct a good deck is a strong predictor of prolonged success in Infinity Wars: Reborn. ‘Not only do you need to be able to read your opponent and predict what they are going to do, but you need to have the cards to counter those moves and go on the attack at the same time,’ says Fong. ‘But you don’t need the best cards in the game to be the best player. Many new players will come in with legendary and epic cards and lose to a more experienced player who uses commons, uncommons and a couple of rares. It’s not all about the shiny cards.’
The final beta release added 61 new cards to the game, bringing Infinity Wars: Reborn’s total card count to more than 800. Most of these cards can be earned in game through winning and losing battles. Some may be more easily purchased with hard currency. One feature that is particularly excellent is the rotation of free weekly decks- a la the free champion rotation that occurs in League of Legends. The provision of an ever-changing line-up of pre-constructed decks goes a long way to reducing the steep learning curve of the game.
This was something that Fong and the team were particularly interested in addressing. ‘We know that we won’t have any problems in terms of depth of strategy and gameplay. What we have been trying to do before the launch of the game is to make the first time user experience more friendly. We have a bigger campaign that helps new players learn the lore of the game and the core factions, and learn some of the more advanced strategies. My experience was that when I first played the alpha version of the game, I got slaughtered. It was pretty bad. I lost 6 matches in a row slaughtered. The campaign in the beta makes it easier for new players to progress.’
For the most part, this is true. Unfortunately, though, the simultaneous-turn gameplay complicates things for newer players. Card games are usually procedural. However, when all effects happen at once, it is difficult to follow the procedure. There are abilities that activate, but the game does not inform you the order in which they activate or what exactly is happening. Further, it is assumed that the player understands what the attack and defence numbers on the card indicate, but not everyone has a trading card game background.
Infinity Wars: Reborn leaves early access on December 13th, 2016. It is free to play and download, and boasts a significant full player campaign and a variety of different types of PvP tournaments for different players. There are swiss tournaments, leaderboard touraments that reset on a weekly basis, and a ranked leaderboard that resets monthly. If you’re familiar with digital trading card games, jump in and have a good ol’ crack.