Hearing the term “real-time strategy” instantly brings to mind certain genre tropes: harvesting resources, building bases, climbing up technology trees. But EA is releasing a new IP this year, an RTS for the PC called BattleForge, that takes a completely different tack: it’s based on a collectible card game akin to Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering. The game has been in development for the past three years at EA Phenomic, the mega-publisher’s smallest studio, which is located in Germany.
Online gaming has been huge on the PC for a long time, so that’s where Phenomic decided to go with BattleForge, which is an online-only game. The set of cards at launch will be known as the “Twilight” edition; it will contain 200 cards. Each copy of BattleForge will ship with four decks (one per element) of 20 cards each, which is the maximum you can bring into battle -- so obviously, there will be many different tactics you can try once you start combining various elemental factions. In fact, the game offers a sandbox mode, the Forge, for you to test out your battle sets and hone your strategies.
Every card belongs to one of four categories: fire, shadow, frost, or nature (there are fifty of each in the Twilight set). The cards are split up into units, spells, and buildings. Fire is, as you might expect, a destructive element, used primarily for offense (with most spells, you don’t have to worry about friendly fire). Meanwhile, frost cards are played for defense -- for example, one of the frost cards brought out a group of archers as protection. Shadow is tougher to play, since its cards will hurt your own cause as well as your opponent. Nature cards heal you, but their main attractions are their creatures. These run the gamut from basic werewolves to, on the upper tier, beasts such as the Colossus -- a massive endgame unit.
Along with the initial set of cards, the game will come with 3,000 BattleForge points -- enough for 12 booster packs (if you do the math, that’s 250 points per pack). Microtransactions are the foundation of BattleForge’s business model: just like Wii Points, $1 = 100 points, and Phenomic won’t be charging for anything but the cards and the initial $50/€50 purchase price (in other words, it’s not a subscription-based game). Each booster pack comes with eight cards: one rare/ultimate, two uncommon, and five common. If you don’t feel like paying for random chance, the game has a significant community component, including a marketplace with an auction. Players can also join tournaments and guilds.
Phenomic has been running a relatively small beta of BattleForge for a few months, and they recently expanded it to the US. You can get in on it if you pre-order the game, or you can just wait until the full game comes out on March 24th. I was very impressed with what I saw at Comic Con; it’s obvious that Phenomic has put a lot of work into the game. Check out its official Web site for more information.