(I looked to see if this game had been reviewed on Destructoid before, but I didnt see anything. If I missed something and someone out there has tackled this one before, I apologize.)
I enjoy card games. I played Magic: The Gathering back in high school and rediscovered it recently. For the life of me, I can't imagine why there isn't a mobile version of the game, or any of the other popular ones for that matter. One alternative I did discover, though, is Shadow Era, collectible card game that exists entirely online and is meant to be played as such. (a launch of a physical card game is currently pending)
Being uniquely seated in a medium with little competition, I was curious to see how a new player in the card game, um, game, would stack up to it's competitors.
Shadow Era is simple enough to understand, and very easy to delve into. There are versions available for iOS devices, Android, Mac & PC, as well as a browser-based version build on Unity architecture, all of which are free to access and are all unified. Which means that, thankfully, your account, decks, and rankings can be accessed from any device, anywhere.
Anyway, on to the game itself. A match is played between two players and each is dealt a hand of seven cards from their own custom-built decks. The players discard cards to build resources, which are spent each round to put various cards in play. The play field is divided into two sections, labeled "allies" and "items" where each respective type of card is put into play. Allies are various creatures, each with it's own attack power and health and may or may not offer some special abilities. Items are cards with lasting effects, such as allowing players to draw additional cards, protections or status ailments.
Every player also brings to the table a Hero card, which sits to the left of the playing field, Hero cards cannot attack on their own, have more health, and each brings its own special abilities to the game that can be activated once every three to five turns.
The object of the game is simple: Drop your opponent's hero to zero. Attack it with heroes, sling spells, however you want. Just get it done before he does the same to you.
The deck-building screen is pretty easy to use, but limits the number of decks you can have at one time to one per hero. Personally, I would have liked to create a few different variants.
Additional cards can be bought two ways, gold and shadow crystals. Gold is earned through playing and winning matches, and can be used to buy and sell individual cards. Full decks and booster packs are purchased through shadow crystals, which are in turn purchased with real money. These are comparitively cheap, coming in at about one dollar for a booster pack and two dollars for a deck. The amount of gold earned through playing the game is so minuscule, however, purchasing your cards outright is a much simpler option.
Twenty more matches before I can buy a new rare card! (I leave it to you to decide if that's a problem for you or not.)
Visuals and Sound
There really isn't any sound to speak of. Just a continuous, looping music track. If you mute the game, you will miss out on nothing, I promise.
Visually though the game is rather impressive. The cards are rendered in 3d and the camera moves dynamically around the table as the game progresses. By table, I just mean a static background, but it's a nice background. Some customization options there would be nice, but it's a small gripe.
Despite some slight antialiasing on the cards themselves, the card art is one of the highlights of the game. The names on the other hand, can sometimes just be silly. No matter how good the game looks, playing cards with names like Bad Santa, Boris Skullcrusher or What Big Teeth does leave the game feeling a little amateurish at times.
When you create a Shadow Era account, you are asked to pick your first hero card and are given a starting deck. The single-player side of the game is surprisingly limited. You are presented with a map and a small selection of enemies to choose from. Also, you can choose "Custom AI" and as you might have guessed, create a custom opponent to play against.
Multiplayer challenges, however, is the meat and potatoes of Shadow Era, and it features a full ranking system and leader board. In addition, if you play the game on an iPhone or iPad, game center allows you to track your rank against your friends, although it doesn't feature any Achievements, and seems to rank you by your accumulated gold rather than a win/loss record.
Shadow Era's own ranking system, though, is more robust, although not by much. You can search by username, create a match, or quick match. However, there are at current no ways to keep a friends list or organize private tournaments.
Getting into a game is one thing, playing it is another. When everything is fine, the gameplay is smooth and rewarding, but it's plagued by frequent bugs and disconnects. Players drop out of matches frequently, leaving you staring at your screen and waiting for the game to realize it. Plus, context buttons don't always display when they should. To be fair, however, this can usually be remedied by simply putting a card down and picking it back up again.
Despite all of its flaws, it's still a solid game. It's a smooth, simple, addictive distraction you can access anywhere. It's not going to replace your usual Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh game nights anytime soon, but if you need something to tide you over between them, or if you can't justify spending the money on physical booster packs, or if you're looking for a gateway game into the card game scene, Shadow Era is a sure bet that will keep you going for hours on end.
If you give this game a try, look me up! My player name is Sparky the Great. Hey, it's better than most people on there. Less offensive, too. To be honest, I don't think they police that kind of thing at all.