Collectible cards games (CCGs) rose to popularity over multiple generations. Console giant Nintendo got its start making their own brand of playing cards in Japan in the late 1880s, 100 years before CCGs became the global hit they are today. Since the introduction of Magic: the Gathering in 1993, multitudes of great playing games have come and gone with relative ease.
For every big-name game with a commercial, a television show, or a magazine dedicated to it, there were another 50 card games sitting on store shelves. As players move from physical cardboard stock cards into the digital age, more of these failed attempts at CCGs are being brought online, with iOS transitions and online play added as bonuses. But the main problem, which also plagued the tangible version, remains: How does someone play a competitive card game against other people who aren’t there?
Kingdoms CCG has solved this problem with its campaign setting. In this “story” mode, you walk throughout the lands on a drawn map, battling knights and deserters of the crown. If nothing else, here’s a game you can play by yourself, learning how to time attacks, build decks, and use basic strategies and timing. And you can gain powerful cards you can later use against real players in head-to-head and arena play modes. The ability to raid castles and battle the computer AI is still challenging enough for a new player, even one who hasn’t played similar games like Hearthstone, Magic Online, or Ascension: Chronicles of the Godslayer. In the three games mentioned, all have AI opponents, but none feel challenging, not even early on in the game. In those games I felt that the opening hand drawn decided more about the early game than strategy.
Game play in Kingdoms is “lane-based,” which means during combat each player has their hero and three open card slots to place cards. In the three open slots, there is a direct line horizontal to the opposing hero’s open card slot, indicating whatever creature or soldier you place on your side and their options to put someone similar, smaller, or larger, on theirs. During combat phase (also known as “the end of the turn,”) the creatures not deceased will attack their opposing targets. If other creatures are in the way, they attack those creatures; otherwise, the hero loses life. It is as simple as subtractive math. Each player can only have five cards in hand at a time; however, the cards not used at the moment can be turned into the ever-useful mana by banishing the card before the start of the next turn.
Kingdoms CCG also possess a solid story within its campaign mode. In the world around the players are seven different kingdoms: three of the light alliance (Holy, Ancient, and Mystic,) three of the dark alliance (Dark, Elemental, and Alchemy,) and one “unknown” which unlocks later and is not aligned with either faction. The light and dark factions are natural enemies; with Holy alliance, you aren’t allowed to play any of the Undead cards in the deck. However, you’ll notice that many of the Holy cards have bonus damage dealt to specific Undead alliance creatures. Each kingdom has an enemy and knowing what area or who the other player is playing with is a large advantage.
For new players, I would suggest everyone start in the campaign mode. Without going into too many juicy details, the arena handed me many losses before I fully understood how the rules of Kingdoms played worked. The campaign gave me the skills required; a handful of gold and gems to purchase extra packs of cards to help boost my decks; and extra promo cards that one can only gain by earning special achievements in the campaign. There are many achievements, more than I could ever count, which all give some small piece of happiness to the player.
For player vs player (PVP), the rest of the game is yours. Arena offers a Limited format similar to Magic: the Gathering, where the deck can only hold a specific number of rare, legendary, and epic cards; and a Standard format, where you can have four legendary cards and unlimited everything else (but be prepared to fight the best players in the game.) There is also a rotating formula, which changes every 50 hours, and the rules within the rotating format change within it, so it depends on when you play. For example, today you can have 30 cards, with 5 rares and 5 uncommons, and no epic or legendary cards.
Tournaments are also against other players, but they cost real money. The way around this is to host your own tournament for free, which is either constructed (like normal PVP), Sealed Deck (open packs of cards and build a deck), or Draft (open a pack, pick a card, pass the rest of the pack.) In this format, 50 percent of the winners gain tickets they can use to enter other tournaments. According to what some of the other drafters told me, unless you pay real money, you do not get to keep the cards you draft during the free tournaments, but you do during the real tournaments.
I had a few complaints while playing Kingdoms. The “tap creature to continue” not on my turn, is annoying, but since there is no other way to view a card on the iPad version, this is the only time one really gets to see what is going into play. The other gripe I had is that while I was still learning the game, it was next to impossible (except through trial and error) to learn all the little keywords and spell effects since I could not find a spot in the game that said “Shield: takes one point of damage each turn.” Instead, the creature has a picture of a shield on them and I can’t hit them. What ended up happening is I had a 1-3 creature with shield against his 1-3 creature with shield who sat the entire game wasting space since they canceled each other out.
Graphics are bright and crisp with a nice blend of cartoon-style animation blended with fantasy sci-fi card artwork. Overall, the graphics were never a distraction. Playing solely on the iPad was perfect for this game and the view. The animations leave a lot to the imagination, however. Attacking shows the card move toward the opposing hero with claw marks indicating damage. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the sound and musical score for Kingdoms CCG is a masterpiece work of art by itself. Rarely do I find myself increasing the background music for a game—especially on an iPad game.
Kingdoms CCG for the iPad had me from the first time I played it. Despite the strange mana system (still not sure why the +2…) and the lack of animation, I found myself in love with the game play itself and the overall charm of the players and cards. Add in the fact that this is a free game, I believe Kingdoms is one we’ll hear about for a long, long time.