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Friday, August 29, 2014

Might and Magic Duel of Champions: Forgotten Wars

By on 12:34 PM

Video card games currently enjoy a significant niche in the gaming landscape thanks to Blizzard'sHearthstone, Stoneblade's SolForge, and even paper stalwart Magic: The Gathering's abundant online options. The once-physical phenomenon that is the collectable card game is now being leveraged in the digital space thanks to the genre's easily-exploitable business models. That means more options and enjoyable experiences for card game fans, but also more iterations of what came before. Might and Magic Duel of Champions: Forgotten Wars stands in the middle of these two possibilities, offering a derivative experience that is at the same time fun and rewarding in its own right.
You don't have to look too closely to see what other familiar mechanics Forgotten Wars is stitched together from. Each deck requires a hero card be included--the mechanic Hearthstone is built upon--which determines your starting health, base attributes, and other abilities, some of which are unique to that hero. The resource statistic you expend to play cards is also reminiscent of Hearthstone: you receive a set amount of resources each turn, starting at one and progressively increasing by increments of one during each supply phase. Hearthstone caps this progression at 10, but Forgotten Wars expands the limit even further. Still, the idea is the same: you start each game playing less powerful cards and gradually play more powerful ones later in the game.
Positioning also plays an important role. You can play creatures, spells, and buildings in one of eight slots on the board, which form lines and rows that game effects can target. If a creature is unimpeded by an opposing one in front of it, it can attack the opponent's hero directly. Otherwise, you'll damage the creature standing in its way, though you also have the option of moving your creature to an empty space instead of attacking. This system is much like SolForge's, though Duels offers eight potential slots to SolForge's four, which greatly increases both the possible interactions and the complexity of play.
You may have noticed the not-so-subtle trend at this point: Duels of Champions aims to take proven mechanics from high-quality competitors, mix them together, and turn the volume up to 11, making for a bigger, badder end product. Since there is no ceiling to the amount of resources you can produce, you can create game states that completely turn the tables on opponents later in the game. The expanded positioning system gives the game a greater tactical crunch and multiple visual dimensions, allowing you to fight the enemy on multiple fronts. Grouping creatures into three different types that determine where you can deploy them--melees in the front, shooters in the back, and flyers anywhere--reinforces the emphasis on greater complexity and puts an original stamp on Duels's contributions to the genre.
While pumping familiar mechanics full of steroids is a surefire way to wring as much out of them as possible, that doesn't mean the experience you create in doing so is vastly different. The main crux is about poking holes in your opponent's defenses, which is exactly what you already must do in SolForge, albeit in a much more streamlined package. The same can be said for its handling of the hero mechanic so reminiscent of Hearthstone. And in some cases, the game's “bigger is better” mantra works counter to itself. The infinitely increasing resource counter does allow for some big late-game moves, but unless you've established a killer card-drawing engine, you'll have very few ways to spend those resources. The limited board positions also hamstring late-game shenanigans: if your board is full, you can't cast any more creatures, and you must sit on your hand until a space frees up.
Duels also suffers from balance issues inherent to the few quirks it claims ownership to. Each hero starts with three stats that determine which cards you're able to cast. Each turn, you may increase one of them by one; the problem is that the different types of cards each run primarily on one stat--creatures require might, spells use magic, and fortune cards need destiny--so you're forced down one route during the beginning of the game, usually the might path, so that you can start casting creatures. If you find yourself needing to kill an opposing creature, you have to wait until you increase your magic points across multiple turns. This dynamic means that the opening five or six turns of the game is an arms race in which both players play creature after creature, and the first player whose defenses fall is suddenly at a huge disadvantage. Because of this, bigger creatures take over fairly easily, forcing the opponent to spend multiple cards to deal with it. Removal spells are also pretty hard to play, with hefty magic requirements and symmetrical effects that can hurt your own creatures. As a result, creature battles bloom only in the later rounds of the game, which is unfortunate.
Still, Duels does make an impressive enough bid for a CCG player's attention, so it's a good thing its online play works well. Multiplayer is lacking in options--you can only play the base game--but interactions are smooth and the interface accommodates fluid play. Ending your turn requires you to hold a button for half a second, so accidental passes are rare. You also needn't worry about rushing unless you take an extraordinarily long time taking your turn, a good move for a game with so much going on at once.
The game rewards extended play as well. Not only does your ranking go up the more you win, but you also get free spins of the randomized card slot machine, which lets you buy additional cards from the base set using gold you earn from playing. You can also spend real-world money to add cards from any of four expansion sets to the reel (which you then need to spend gold on to get the actual cards), though to the game's credit, you never need expansion cards to have an effective deck. Daily quests that are basically repeatable achievements further entice you to keep playing.
Duel of Champions revels in the current video CCG boom, offering a light remix of some of the genre's best and most successful games contained within a pumped-up package. Duel of Champions is a quality mixtape of current trends, offering a fun, complex option for competitive card game enthusiasts. The problem is that, in this moment in time, we're spoiled for options in a genre where replayability is key. It would be a shame if Duel of Champions' lack of innovation caused it to slip through the cracks, because though it's stuck in the familiar, its commitment to making card games feel more epic is both fun and commendable.


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