Monday, April 18, 2011

Online CCG Review - Shadow Era

I don't have an iPad. I want one real bad, and I'm saving up for it. I even took a second job so I could afford it. And I want an iPad because all the cool games are on there. Yes, I'm a little shallow.

So when my friend called me a few weeks back and mentioned this great game he was playing on his iPhone, I got all grumbly. But then he told me that you can also play it online, and so I checked it out, and was almost immediately hooked.

The game is called Shadow Era. It's a free collectible card game that you play online (or on your iPad, if you have one and aren't still trying to get caught up on some bills so you can drop six hundred dollars without feeling incredibly guilty). If you've ever played the World of Warcraft card game, it will be dreadfully familiar. In fact, I'm not entirely sure how they're avoiding a cease-and-desist, because you do nearly the exact same thing.

There are two factions, human and shadow. Then there are categories within those factions, like hunters and warriors and wulven and elementals. You'll get a hero who combines a faction and a job description (human mage or shadow green-grocer, for instance), and then you'll build a deck and summon allies and throw spells to try to kill the other hero. The game keeps track of your life points, and your allies can get hurt while you play, too. You can attack with your hero if you have a weapon, and you can put special items into play that help you out, like war banners and power crystals and clean socks.

You get a free deck when you sign up, and there are two ways to get more cards. One is the free way. With the free way, you get 20 gold every time you win a fight, and when you've got 100 or so, you can buy one card. The other way costs actual green money, which I actually appreciate because it means that the game is not just a throwaway. For five bucks, you can get enough cards to be competitive with two or three different decks, and for ten, you can play just about anything you want. The money you'll spend is negligible, really, unless you're a rabid collector. Why you would become a rabid collector in an online card game, I can't say, because it's not like you can sell your cards six months later when you get tired of the game and decide to get rid of everything at once.

Shadow Era is a relatively deep game, especially considering it's cheap and online. It doesn't have the complex brilliance of Magic, but it does have several clever moves and tough deck-building decisions. You can build your deck one card at a time and play just the kind of game you like, and as with many far more expensive games, you can still lose with a great deck just because you play it poorly. I've had many tense games where I beat players who should have won, simply because they played the wrong cards at the wrong time. I've also lost many games just because I screwed up.

Shadow Era is a lot of fun, and I'm really enjoying it, but it's not without flaws. Possibly the biggest strike against it now is that there just aren't enough cards. If you're playing a direct-damage mage, your deck is probably very similar to every other direct-damage mage, and if you're playing a warrior, the only difference will come in the incredibly expensive cards that the other guy bought and you can't afford. More cards will make Shadow Era a far better game, and so I'm looking forward to future releases.

There are also bugs, and from time to time, balance issues. Very few people play the wolfmen, because their main talent is losing. For a long time, everybody who wanted to win a lot played elementals, because they were crazy overpowered and had cards that were not only exclusive to them, but against which there were no counters. Not to mention the number of times allies get stronger at random, or die at bizarrely inappropriate moments, or the variety of other bugs that have plagued the game since it began. The computer-controlled enemies are prone to making idiotic mistakes, like playing a card that permanently renders one of your allies useless, and then firebombing them when they could have hit someone else.

However, the developers of Shadow Era are very involved with the game. Updates are regularly released that address those irritating bugs, and just recently, a badly overdue update to elementals fixed it so that they were not as blindingly overpowering as they had been. A very active forum allows players to discuss strategy and interact directly with the guys in charge of the game, and so many bugs are fixed as soon as they are discovered.

Shadow Era isn't perfect, and it's still in its fledgling stages, but I am very excited to see what will happen with the game over the long haul. More cards would be great, and maybe more hero types, but those will probably appear as time goes by. You don't have to be a genius to win (though it helps), and because the cards are so incredibly affordable, it takes almost no investment to have a very competitive deck. It's fun, it's damned pretty, and you can play it wherever you go.

Well, you can play wherever you go, if you have an iPad. For the rest of us broke assholes, you can use a web browser.


Play against the AI or other real people

Great art
Very affordable
Fun and easy to learn
Plenty of meat without being overwhelming

Not enough cards
Minor bugs and balance issues

If you can read this review, you can play this game. It's available for iPhones, iPads, Android phones and regular old web browsers. You can try it out for free, and theoretically, never pay a dime for a game you could play for weeks. If you want to give it a spin, it's right here:


John Biggs said...

This game is awesome. Thanks for making me aware of it. Do you have any idea if they're making this into a game in real life? The art is awesome and the gameplay seems pretty solid.

And on a broader note, thanks for the site and reviews in general. I've gotten Arcana, Key Harvest, and Metropolys, mostly entirely based on your reviews (and even my purchase of Runewars was aided by your review of fruitcake). And your review on Colosseum has made me stoked to get it. Someday... So, pretty awesome. Thanks! Have a great week.

MikeDSC said...

I don't have an i-pad either, but my wife does and thanks to you she yelled at me 3 times tonight to "hurry the f*** up and gimme my i-pad back, a**hole"!

Cool game and, yes, I dropped 5 bucks to get some crystals. Thanks for the review and keep up the good work!

Matt Drake said...

Glad you guys are liking it. I think it would make a very fun tabletop game, but they would need to make a whole hell of a lot more cards.

And thanks for reading. I love fans almost as much as I love getting free games in the mail.

Jean-Christophe Gareau said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean-Christophe Gareau said...

I tried the game and I loved it ...! Again, thank you for your advice!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this game is really fun. I've been playing it for a few days and really enjoyed it. I am, however, one of those fanatical collectors, so CCGs typically are bad for me. This one wasn't, since dropping $20 got me basically a full set of cards and plenty of left-over gold which I'll use to buy new cards when they're released.

John Biggs said...

So it does seem like this is incredibly similar to the warcraft you feel like, if I wanted to play Shadow Era in real life with real friends, I could just pick up some warcraft decks? Warcraft does seem to be deeper but are they similar enough that if I really enjoy Shadow Era (but want more cards) then Warcraft would be a definite?