Digital CCGs/TCGs - My Experiences
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For those of us who grew up playing lots of CCGs (be they Magic, Shadowfist, Spellfire, or whatever), the addiction factor is strong. I spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on Magic, and while I don't so much play any more, the big reasons I don't play (very expensive, need local interested players who also play and have cards) don't really apply to online CCGs. Consequently, I've played and tried out a lot of them. I'm not actually adding Magic Online to this list, because there are like 74 versions and honestly I have no idea which one I tried. I just know that it felt very clunky, and I felt Magic was ill-suited to be played online, and didn't enjoy it.

I began playing lots of other CCGs online instead, and the ability to acquire cards without paying, as well as always having a game available, means my addiction has returned. Here's a list of games I have tried, and how I felt about them.

TL;DR List:

AWESOME

SolForge
Hex
Hearthstone
Elements
Eternal

AMBIVALENT
Magic the Gathering: Arena
Astral Heroes
War of Omens
Spellweaver
Scrolls
Faeria
Star Control CCG
Shadowverse

DISLIKE
Scrolls
Infinity Wars
Might&Magic: Duel of Champions
Tyrant
Battlegrounds of Eldhelm
Rise of Mythos
Forge of Gods
Ironbound
Prismata

JUST PLAIN WEIRD
Card Hunter
Card City Nights
Spectromancer
Chess Evolved Online
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1. Video Game: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:433] [Average Rating:7.40 Unranked]
Video Game: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
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This is currently the most popular game, or at least the one that gets the most press, so it seems like a fine place to start. It's also a natural place to begin a list about games I played after being dissatisfied with Magic, because Hearthstone is like a Magic specifically streamlined for online play. Magic suffers from all the phases and interrupts, whereas Hearthstone offers some no-nonsense changes; you can play secrets that may be triggered on opposing turns, or play taunt minions which must be attacked first, but during your opponent's actual turn, you do not interrupt it at all, which keeps the game moving at a good clip.

Mana was also removed, another excellent online streamlining, with a result that you simply get 1 more max mana every turn, and start the turn with your full capacity. Cast spells and creatures, many of which interact in familiar Magic-type ways, and attack your opponent in the face until death.

Rather than having colors, Hearthstone being based on WoW has 9 classes, and while there are many Neutral cards usable by any class, there are also many class-specific cards usable only by that class, so Warlocks get various demons, Paladins get more minions with divine shield, &c. Each class also has their own innate hero power, which allows you to pay 2 mana for a special effect.

The two biggest draws of Hearthstone, however, may not even be about the gameplay. Firstly, due to the high popularity, you can pretty much always find a game on hearthstone, and in the ranked ladder, probably against someone of vaguely your level in ability. And the biggest plus about hearthstone may be Blizzard's usual high production values. It's a very good-looking and good-sounding game, which shouldn't matter as much as good gameplay, but it does enhance the experience and make it feel a bit nicer than many flash CCGs. Everything is very smooth.

F2P-wise, Hearthstone is probably slightly below average to average. It gets a big plus for starting players out with a full roster of basic cards, but as the game has progressed few of the basic neutral creatures are good enough to put in a real deck, although each class has a few basic cards that remain strong. There are no login rewards, but daily quests offer gold rewards, and every 3 wins earns you a small gold bonus as well. On average, 2 days of rewards will buy you a booster pack and 3 days will let you play a draft (arena). The downside is that a booster packs is only 5 cards (1 guaranteed non-common), and you do not get to keep any cards you draft.

Overall, Hearthstone is an excellent default CCG. It's got high production values, a large community, a solid game that's interesting but not overly complex, and some nice bonus features like purchaseable single-player adventures and weekly odd formats (Tavern Brawls). While it isn't my favorite, I think most CCG players will like Hearthstone, even if they don't love it.

EDIT: Single-player mode has really pushed this one over the top. Single-player is phenomenally good, requires zero collection, and although Dalaran does have a cost, many of the wonderful single-player campaigns are completely free and due to the random bonuses/cards after each fight, are super-high on replay value.
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2. Video Game: SolForge [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:1739]
Video Game: SolForge
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I will try not to rant endlessly about SolForge, my favorite CCG, and most-played game of any type on Steam, topping 1000 hours of playtime.

SolForge hits a sweet spot for me. Plenty of tough decisions to hold my attention, but isn't as annoyingly complex as Magic so individual turns can go quite swiftly. While many CCGs (Hearthstone, Hex, &c) have been content to be a slightly-tweaked version of Magic, SolForge does its own thing. It's a CCG without a mana-type resource, which I find fascinating. Instead, you have a deck of 30 cards, each turn you draw 5 and play 2. The cards you didn't play are discarded, and the cards you DID play are Levelled-Up and discarded. After 4 turns, your discards are shuffled into your deck, and now you can draw Level-2 cards. Also, rather than assigning attacks, creatures are simply played into one of 5 lane slots, and every turn they will attack whatever's across from them -- either another creature, or your opponent's face.

The result is a game that feels very different than Magic, so while MtG veterans can jump into Hearthstone/Hex/&c and quickly evaluate cards, SolForge is quite different thanks to the fact that there's no mana cost to balance creatures, simply a creature's relative powers at levels 1, 2, and 3.

My own favorite thing about the system is that because you draw 2/3rds of your entire deck every four turns, rather than the annoyance in most CCGs where you suffer from never drawing any of the cards you need, if you have the max 3 copies of a card in your deck, you are exceedingly likely to draw at least 1 -- and probably 2 -- within your first four turns. Not to mention, no mana screw.

The result is that it's a lot more feasible to make janky theme decks, a topic on which I have previously written:
https://videogamegeek.com/thread/1319759/theme-decks-why-i-l...

With 4 factions (choose up to 2 for a deck) and a vast card base, there's a lot of room to experiment making tribal decks, mechanic-themed decks, or basically just to pick a weird random card or two and try to set up as many synergies as possible.

Turns are oft quite fast if you're playing with a friend, since your whole turn is play two cards and click the attack button. (some random players queue to play a few games at once, and consequently take longer to move, a vicious cycle problem). I love a lot about SolForge.

F2P-wise, SolForge has the most generous rewards for free players I have ever seen, bar none. Log in and beat up the AI (even on easy) thrice a day, and you get a draft ticket, 2 booster packs, and some silver. 3 draft tickets lets you do a regular draft where you build a deck of 30 cards, and then get to keep all your cards. Just by logging in daily for a month or so, you can build yourself quite the formidable collection.

My own advice is here:
https://videogamegeek.com/thread/1306939/advice-new-players-...

Also, here's a blog by a guy who made a brand new free account, and within two months spending no money, went 4-0 in the competitive queues, facing against 3-year veterans and whale spenders: https://f2psolforge.wordpress.com/

So what's the downside of SolForge? Well, twofold. First of all, some have worried that it is in fact TOO generous to free players, and consequently, it has not been making much money. This has driven a lack of updates, which in turn has driven away a large portion of the player base. This makes me sad, but it's definitely a real problem.

Also, the UI while functional is a bit clunky. They've promised a new UI to fix problems such as slow deck selection load time, lack of in-game ladder, low production values, &c. And the new UI if it fixed all these interface issues, might also help address the player base issues as well. But sadly, it has already been delayed multiple times since being announced. Still, videos from development do look promising, and if the new UI ever DOES come out, I will definitely once again heartily recommend this game to everyone.

In the meantime, while I totally understand people who don't want to jump on a bandwagon until it proves it's still going somewhere, SolForge remains my favorite. The levelling mechanics are really neat, the variety in abilities is fun, and even on weeks I don't play I still log in for rewards.
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3. Video Game: Hex: Shards of Fate [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:5539]
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I tried this a while back and it felt a lot like Magic Online, so I quit after one game and didn't look back. But Wytefang had recommended it to me, and it was just added to Steam, so I decided I should take a second look at it.

And I've got to say, I'm really glad I did. There have been a lot of improvements here, especially in production value. The game now looks and sounds very good, in a way it certainly didn't before. The gameplay is still fairly similar to Magic, with the biggest difference being that mana cards grant generic mana and 1 colored threshold; rather than cards costing X white mana, they cost X mana and require a Y color threshold. So, for example, if you had played 2 red resources and 1 white resource, you could summon 3 copies of a 1-mana card that required 1 white threshold.

Otherwise, the gameplay remains fairly similar to Magic. One interesting tweak is that many cards force you to choose what improvements you wish to bestow them with -- either in the form of "socketable" cards which can have their sockets filled with different color gems for different beneficial effects, or in the form of equipment where the wearing of a certain helmet might give all your Shield Trainers +1 health.

But the biggest reason why I've moved Hex from the MEH category to the AWESOME category is the single-player campaign. Many CCGs have little to offer after the bare-bones tutorial, with a campaign that feels like an afterthought. Hex's campaign feels incredibly well fleshed-out, an actual sense of adventure and progress, rather than just a series of duels with some flavor text stapled on. As a new player knowing you'd get stomped in PvP matches, it's really nice to be able to start playing the game over an extended campaign, rather than just going from practice matches vs. AI and leaping into getting slaughtered by other players.

Aside from the slightly clunky Magic-type gameplay and occasional lag-freeze spikes even when playing against the AI, the biggest issue with Hex may be the difficulty of acquiring packs. F2P-wise, Hex is far from generous, with packs only sold for premium currency, and drafts costing premium currency in addition to a few unopened packs. In-game currency can be used on the auction house to buy individual cards, or can oft be exchanged in chat to get premium currency, but certainly for a new player the amount of time you'll need to play before you can afford anything is non-trivial. Still, this is a feature rather than a bug. Because Hex offers an auction house where players can sell any card in their collection to other players, it's more TCG than CCG, giving value to the cards and keeping it that way by not handing out buckets of ducats for free.

Haven't played this one enough yet to make a final verdict, but at minimum I expect to go through all the single-player content which is quite compelling indeed. Recommended.
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4. Video Game: Elements [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:6194]
Video Game: Elements
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Elements has the distinction of being the best Flash CCG I've ever played. Sadly, this is another game where updates stopped happening, but it's still a fantastic game which does a lot of unique things.

Most obviously, elements is a game based around 12 elements, where most games have no more than half that many colors. This makes for a lot of variety in gameplay. Each element has its own flavor, with air having a lot of flying monsters, chaos having many cards with random effects, darkness offering life-draining abilities, death offering bonuses when creatures die, &c. Mixing and matching these is a lot of the fun of the game

And secondly, The resources in Elements are all auto-producing with no cap or disappearance. Which is to say, if you play an air pillar, it generates 1 air mana for you every turn, and if you do not use the air mana, it will sit around and be there for next turn. Consequently, even if you only have a few lands, you can play expensive spells if you wait a few turns.

There's a really neat system where in addition to the various levels of AI duels available, there are also player-submitted decks piloted by the AI, and you can receive gold not only for beating the AI playing someone else's deck, but also if the AI beats people while playing your deck. Getting a few consecutive victories in single-player mode awards a spin of the jackpot wheel, which offers various cards (Some rare, or even upgraded) as prizes. And yes, upgraded is a thing.

Cards can be upgraded by paying gold, which is the primary grind of the game (as card acquisition is surprisingly easy). This is what makes the game somewhat grindy, because while there aren't many rare/legendary/&c cards that you can't just buy quite cheaply from the in-game currency store, the cost to upgrade them all is quite expensive. And even though the upgrades are relatively minor (usually a 1-mana reduction in cost, or a +1 power boost), it's necessary to play on the highest levels. Still, there are no-upgrade formats, so it's not a necessity.

And while it is a grind, the game remains F2P; donations can earn you a rare shard card, but there's no buying of packs or premium currency. This is a game you must play, and if anything, the only game I'd say is insufficiently kind to payers.

I'm sad they stopped working on this game, as it was a favorite for a while. I go back to play a round or two occasionally, but nothing has been new for a while, so I stopped playing as much. Still, if you want a really fun CCG to try, without even having to do a big download, just find it in your web browser and give it a go. (Just be sure to make an account so you can accumulate cards!)
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5. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG
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War of Omens

This flash game is one of the more original CCGs online, because the game plays a lot more like a deckbuilding game. You build your own queue of 10 cards, of which 4 random cards will be available at the start of the game. Each turn a new one will be added to the queue, and if there is no space, the oldest one will be removed.

You start with a deck consisting of 10 coins. Coins give you 1 dollar when played, and money persists between turns. You use the coins to purchase cards from the queue, half of which are creatures. Creatures attack the opponent unless opposing creatures are available to attack, win by reducing opponent to 0. But the interesting thing about the game is that any played card, be it coin or purchased creature/spell, goes to your deck, and then at end of turn you draw 3 cards from your deck up to a hand max of 4.

The gameplay is pretty cool in this one, and there's even a draft mode where people get broken combos.

The reason I do not give this game a high recommendation is the absolutely brutal grind it requires. F2P-wise, be prepared to grind a LOT if you are not willing to drop cash. Every single card in the game has 3 levels. When you receive a card, it costs 2 more to purchase from your queue than it should. You must receive 4 more copies of the same card, to reduce the purchase cost by 1. And finally, you must receive 16 more copies of the card, to reduce the purchase cost again to the proper amount.

That's not a typo. That's an actual fact that even for Rare cards that you will only open once every 100 packs unless you're paying to buy premium packs, you will need to get 21 copies of a single card to have it be playable competitively. And that is enough to keep this game from being great.

It is, however, still a cool idea, and certainly worth trying, even if I wouldn't recommend investing a lot of time in it like the 4 above.
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6. Video Game: Spellweaver [Average Rating:5.75 Unranked]
Video Game: Spellweaver
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This was a hot new thing recently on Steam, and I thought I'd give it a try. It has a weird mana system where your resource cards can be used either for Threshold or Max Mana -- Threshold being permanent qualifications (e.g. 2 green) to play various cards in a color, with the more powerful cards oft requiring at least 2 of a single color, and often 2 random as well. Mana, meanwhile, is your typical replenishing resource used to cast everything.

This is another game with champions that have various abilities, but the abilities are threshold-locked, so you may start the game with a really cool ability you can't use until you have 3 threshold (2 blue) in addition to 5 mana to use it. Creatures also have a Speed stat from 1-4 in addition to attack and defense, and creatures with a lower speed cannot block or attack creatures with a higher speed. This allows another axis on which to balance, and makes some interesting possibilities.

The gameplay, while not super-streamlined, plays swiftly enough, and the everyone attack button is certes appreciated. F2P-wise the game seems fairly reasonable; drafting is certainly possible to do repeatedly for free players.

The big downside here is the lack of variety. There's not really a lot going on here, so even though there are 6 colors, games mostly turn out the same. There are one or two broken legends which can be abused to destroy you (especially as removal outside 2 colors is rare), but there's otherwise not a lot in the way of varied theme decks.

It's possible this game will be worth revisiting in 2 years if it survives and vastly expands its card base; at the moment, it's just not capable of holding my attention.
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7. Video Game: Scrolls [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:4497]
Video Game: Scrolls
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Scrolls is a weird mid-game between the ambivalent and dislike categories. Or more accurately, for me it is definitely a dislike, but my readers may well like it more than I did. Scrolls may have popularized the genre of blending a CCG with a tactical grid, which I know games like Duelyst have done as well.

I did not bother trying any other games in the genre, as Scrolls proved to me definitively that even a well-executed, fairly streamlined, solid production value game does not appeal to me with this mix. I enjoy many CCGs, and I also enjoy some pure tactics games like Disgaea, but mixing the two for whatever reason does not appeal to me. When I sit down to play a CCG, I'm really in the mood for card-play, and not tactics grids.

Individual results may vary.
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8. Video Game: Infinity Wars - Animated Trading Card Game [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:5508]
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This is another one available on Steam that I did not stick with long enough to make a definitive statement about the F2P friendliness. The main tweak here to the standard formula is that your creatures can exist in the supply zone, the attack zone, or the defense zone. As you might suspect, only attack zone creatures attack, only defense zone creatures defend, and supply zone creatures can do neither.

The game feels a bit clunkier than I'd like, and the production values (interesting card art notwithstanding) are not terribly high. This one couldn't hold my interest for long, although at least the factions feel different and do different thing.
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9. Video Game: Might & Magic: Duel of Champions [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:3665]
Video Game: Might & Magic: Duel of Champions
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Probably the most popular game on my dislike list, MM: DoC just didn't work for me. I didn't mind the interesting option each turn to either increase your threshold, increase your mana, or get some character-specific bonus (e.g. +1/+1 to a troop). I liked the lore, the different factions seemed cool, and there was even a decent campaign.

But I absolutely hated the way combat worked here. In what I'd consider the worst of both worlds, there were 8 different board slots on your side to which you could place a creature, and then you still had to move them around and choose their attacks manually... basically, playing the game was very arduous.

A shame it was so click-heavy, because it was even surprisingly decent F2P-wise. Packs were very expensive, but you earned decent rewards by playing through the campaign and a few games against players daily, and legends weren't impossible to come by. But when it comes down to it, nothing is enough to save a game from gameplay that's too cumbersome for the amount of fun.
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10. Video Game: Tyrant [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:5548]
Video Game: Tyrant
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One of the earlier facebook CCGs to gain popularity, Tyrant likewise eschews mana for a different casting cost that involves Time. To wit, each card when summoned, rather than being summoning sick for one turn, has a varied number of turns it must wait before joining the fray. Thus, you could start by playing your biggest card on turn 1, but it would still be waiting 5 turns for it to do anything, and meanwhile you've lost tempo.

It was an interesting system, but with some major annoyances. First of all, you had zero control over anything once you summoned it, so things would attack the precisely wrong thing repeatedly. Secondly, in spite of the almost-endless campaign, the game ended up having a pretty rough ride for F2P players, with good packs hard to get without premium currency, and the best cards hard to get without good packs. And finally, the UI was pretty clunky flash style, and waiting for things to all autoplay and fire machine guns at each other was not very fun.

I wouldn't bother with this one.
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11. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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Battlegrounds of Eldhelm

This was a weird one. It really played nothing like other games I'd played before, with a bizarre system that's too hard to summarize here. Short version, each turn you can play 2 cards, they will add to your attack, defense, shields, or healing, and each of these cards may persist from 1-3 turns. Then at the end of your turn, your attack attempts to breach opposing defense/shields, doing damage if so, and then you heal.

There are also enchants, which do not count against your 2 cards per turn, can be permanent or last 5 turns, which can augment any of the above stats or effect other things like how many cards you draw/discard/play per turn. And cards cost mana which also fluctuates.

All of this was an interesting and unique system, and while not exactly smooth, the gameplay wasn't too bad. But it was incredibly hard to get anywhere, because players each had a Champion which levelled up, so in addition to matchmaking putting you with players who had better decks, you also got matched against players who simply started with twice your health, and/or have a constant bonus to Attack/Healing/&c which dwarfs what you and your cards can deal with.

This, combined with the fact that all the legendary cards just had way better raw stats/power than all the obtainable cards, made the game brutally punishing for players, especially F2P, which is why I quit and do not recommend it to anyone.
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12. Video Game: Rise of Mythos [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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This is probably the most anti-F2P game I've ever played. That didn't stop me from playing it for a while, but I regret that.

Rise of Mythos is the limit of how much tactical grid play I can tolerate in my CCGs. Technically, playing your cards lets you place your monster in one of a few rows on a rectangular grid, but after that, your monster just walks forward every turn, fighting monsters it encounters, or the opposing enemy if it reaches the last row.

And this was all pretty cool, not too much micromanagement once you'd played the monsters, an extensive campaign, boss raids where you team up with 3 other players to fight a ridiculous boss on a wider-than-usual field.

But the P2W force was absolutely brutal in this game. Just buying packs wasn't enough, you had to purchase successive levels of VIP status to qualify to purchase the better packs, which was the only way to get the legendary minions, which were in turn ridiculously much better than the plebian minions a human being could afford. Add to this a crafting system that likewise demanded lots of real world money to progress, and this was the most player-abusive CCG I've seen.

Avoid this one, for sure.
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13. Video Game: Card City Nights [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:4708] [Average Rating:6.48 Unranked]
Video Game: Card City Nights
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First of the WEIRD ones.

Card City Nights plays a bit like Final Fantasy's Tetra Master, only without playing on the same grid as your opponent. You play cards on your own personal 3x3 grid, attempting to create connections between cards with similar symbols (attack, defense, &c) to cause attacks on your opponent and defense for yourself. Drawing the wrong cards and being unable to make connections will leave cards stuck on the grid, which if it fills up, you also lose.

This is a cute little game, and pretty fun. It is also single-player only, which is exceedingly atypical for a CCG-type game, since it's not actually designed to make money with card purchases or get you addicted for life. It's just made to be fun for a little while, and consequently, I think it's worth playing but is not really a CCG proper.
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14. Video Game: Card Hunter [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:1447]
Video Game: Card Hunter
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Another WEIRD quasi-CCG is Card Hunter, a combination of a CCG with a tabletop dungeoncrawl RPG. Your Heroes and gear each put cards in your deck which will allow you to move, attack, defend, cast spells, &c. It's a pretty neat idea, and fun for a little while. Eventually I decided it wasn't what I was looking for, but unlike the various tactical-CCGs, this one I think is different enough that it belongs in its own category, especially because it was a lot of fun.


UPDATE:
It turns out, this game IS fun, but only co-op. And players need to be pretty close in level for that not to be pointless.
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15. Video Game: Spectromancer [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:2104]
Video Game: Spectromancer
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Another WEIRD one, this is not actually a CCG. Which is to say, you do not collect cards or build a deck. You start with all the cards, arrayed in a grid in front of you, and on your turn you may play one if you have the requisite mana. The card does not disappear, so you can play it again next turn if you have the mana, but mana is separated into 5 types and you only get 1 mana of each type each turn.

This is a very skill-intensive game, as you might guess. There is an extensive campaign of duels with weird conditions which is pretty entertaining, but the main gameplay is in a 6-lane format where you play creatures to a lane and they attack whatever opposes them. The fact that there is no randomness is super-strange, and so it means I really have nothing to blame but myself for repeated defeats.

So if you like CCGs, but don't love the randomness, this may be the perfect game for you.
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16. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG
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Astral Heroes

This was promoted on Steam and looked cool, so it wasn't until I started playing it that I realized - Oh, it's by the folks who made Spectromancer! Spectromancer (discussed above, an awesome but weird game) is pretty far from a standard CCG, but Astral Heroes sits somewhere between Spectromancer and a typical CCG. The cards and combat are similar to Spectromancer (only 1 side attacks per turn, lane-based, &c), but Spectromancer's unique choose any card mechanic is replaced with a more typical CCG built deck where you draw 1 card per turn and your max spellpower increases by 1 per turn.

That being said, the game is still fairly entertaining. There are 4 factions, of which up to 2 may be used to create a deck. Many creatures have powers they can activate from the board, and many more have triggered abilities that activate whenever cards of a certain type are played, or die, or do a thing. In spite of the not tremendously large variety of cards, there are a lot of cool combos here.

However, the main downside of this game is grind. You start by choosing a pair of factions to receive your starter deck in, but unlike most games where you can quickly acquire more cards to build the deck you want, that's simply not possible here. There are no packs of cards to buy, nor can you trade with other players. Winning games will earn you "hero points", enough of which will net you a single new card at an ever-increasing threshold. In addition, a deck-building constraint prevents you from filling your deck with the strongest cards until you own a higher raw number of cards. And many of the game's strongest cards are only available to those who are in a Guild.

So, while the game itself is pretty fun, and I expect to keep playing, the roadblocks between a starting player and building a strong deck you want may be the largest I've seen in a CCG.
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17. Video Game: Faëria [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:5394]
Video Game: Faëria
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It's a game on a map, like Scrolls, PoxNora, Duelyst, etc. As it turns out, I just don't enjoy the hybrid of CCG and tactical combat. You can basically see my comment on Scrolls for this, but apparently I'd forgotten I wasn't going to try any other tacticalmap-CCG hybrids. And apparently my toleratnce has only diminished. I don't know why I dislike this combination so much. I enjoy CCGs. I enjoy tactical games (FFT, Disgaea, Phantom Brave, etc.) But for whatever reason, the combination of the two is something that quickly fills me with annoyance.

This actually seems like a pretty cool game if you like that sort of thing, though. Good art and animations, some interesting gameplay, a cool streamlined deckbuilding, various options for building out an attack path... I feel like people who like this combo-genre really ought to give this one a try, as it seems pretty good for what it is.

But what it is, is a genre I don't like. Here's hoping I can remember to avoid the rest of them.
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18. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG
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Forge of the Gods

BundleStars was giving away a big DLC/IAP pack for this, so I figured I'd give it a try. It was amusing for a little while, but... second only to Rise of Mythos, this may be the most anti-F2P game I've ever played. Premium currency is earned 2-5 gems at a time, and you need hundreds to get a pack with any monsters higher than level 1-2. Oh, and monsters go up to at least lv7, but you'll mostly have crap 1-2s for the first while.

This isn't really a CCG, it's a P2W troop management simulator, but for whatever reason either Bundle Stars or Steam classified it as a CCG, and since I spent half my evening playing it, I'm writing about it here -- mainly so you avoid it. Pay for more fights, pay to get rarer monsters, pay to level up monsters, pay to heal mid-battle, pay, pay, pay to win. I coasted a bit on my free DLC purchase, but this is a cash grab that doesn't merit anyone's time or money, mine included.

Deleted.
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19. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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Star Crusade CCG
A.K.A.
Hearthstone in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace

Seriously, this is such a Hearthstone knockoff it's ridiculous. I mean sure, Hearthstone itself is an M:tG knockoff, streamlined to avoid playing during the other player's turn and with a few tweaks. But Star Crusade just lifts from Hearthstone wholesale, not only the same Streamlined Magic base game rules, but also the various character classes with a once-a-turn ability you activate for 2 mana (sorry, 2 "support"), including heal 2, or do 1 damage, or summon a 1/1, etc. I noticed many cards the same also (1/1 guy that gets +1 power every turn, etc.), so basically, if you are looking for a new an innovative game that isn't just a clone of a clone, look elsewhere.

Once you get past that, however, Star Crusade is actually reasonably fun. Even with the new set, Hearthstone hasn't been exciting me lately, so it's neat to jump into Hearthstone in a parallel universe. Of course the usual new player caveats apply; my starter deck gets completely annihilated in the ranked queue (even at the lowest rank) thanks to opponents packing lots of much fancier cards than I have. But in the casual queue, I managed to take my starter deck and win against players who were a few ranks higher than me, and/or who had one or two fancy legend-type cards as well as a slew of rare cards.

So while the power of rarer cards certes exists here, good play does matter too. Haven't played enough to see how long it takes to gather enough good cards to build a deck beyond the starter nonsense, but at only 5 creds per WIN (and none for losses), it seems clear that like Hearthstone, a lot of grinding dailies will be required to build up a collection.

Will it be worth it? Maybe. The main thing Star Crusade adds over Hearthstone is an Energy mechanic, a separate resource which increments by 1 whenever you hit the opponent, and by a few whenever opposing creatures die. This energy can be used for either your secondary/tertiary character ability (which activates for energy, as opposed to your primary which activates for mana), or to fuel certain cards which use energy to power up. (The latest Magic set also has this mechanic.) You can actually loadout your secondary/tertiary abilities, which adds a nice bit of customization to your character.

Will probably play this one for a while more, at least enough to get all the easy money from starting quests and spend it all.
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20. Video Game: Shadowverse [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:4691]
Video Game: Shadowverse
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Another somewhat standard Hearthstone-esque CCG, this one has an anime theme and limits you to five cards on the table at once. The big wrinkle is that each player has two or three *Empowers* per match, which allow them to soup up a creature they just played to give it "Haste but cannot attack player this turn" and often +2/+2 but occasionally some other boon depending on the specific creature. So you play with those for a bit but once they're gone, you're left with just a sub-par Hearthstone.

The main advantage this game has is that there's a robust set of single-player campaigns, one for each character. I got as far as I could in a few of them, but eventually it seemed like my cardpool wasn't good enough to deal with the much better cards my opponents had, and with Hearthstone reportedly coming out with single-player campaigns at the end of this year, I don't see myself returning to this.

It's not bad, it just doesn't do anything good enough to hold my attention.
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21. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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Chess Evolved Online

So, here's a weird combination: CCGs and Chess. Even weirder is the fact that I do not like chess, but somehow got drawn into this game. Because part of what I don't like about chess is that moves are all studied and written about and people have scripted openings and responses and it feels like people are just carrying out their carefully studied board rules and the game is over before it starts.

Some chess variants like Screen Chess or Fisher Random Chess attempt to address this -- which at least slightly throws off people's usual openings -- but it doesn't solve the problem for me.

What does solve it, it turns out, is a board with nearly 100 piece types to choose from (including all the standard ones) and a point-based army-building system where the only mandatory inclusion is your King. So you can run your standard 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, queen. Or you can run 4 archers, 4 militia, a warrior, a minotaur, an angel, a giant slime, a frostmage, a berserker, and a valkyrie.

The mix of Chess and CCG oddly manages to cover each others' weak points in some ways. The CCG grind for more pieces is real, and it takes a while to get any legendary pieces at all, let alone upgrade one (did I mention there's a piece-upgrading mechanics which upgrade their abilities as well as their point cost?). But if you're good at standard chess, you can totally destroy people who have a much cooler army using even the standard chess army. And conversely, even if you're not the best at regular chess, this evens the playing field somewhat since opponents won't have studied how to deal with your particular weird army the way they know how to deal with an opposing standard chess army.

All that being said, if you hate chess you probably won't love this. But if part of what you hate about chess is how everyone has studied 1000 hours of scripted openings and moves and gambits, this shakes things up and is pretty neat. Worth a look, anyway.
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22. Video Game: Eternal [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:5004]
Video Game: Eternal
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Recommended to me a while ago, I was too burnt out from other CCGs to try this until this week. And that's a shame, because this is one of the better CCGs I've played online, and my first new addition to the Awesome category in a while. I guess I'd triangulate it as being somewhere in the midpoint between Hearthstone, Spellweaver, and Hex.

Mana is threshold/power based, via sigils in your deck which you can play one per turn, providing one max power (refills each turn) and one symbol of appropriate type. Cards have a power cost to cast and also need a certain threshold of the appropriate symbol. Combat is like traditional Magic; you declare which of your creatures attack (all towards opposing face; no attacking opposing creatures directly), opponents choose which if any of their creatures block, damage happens, and injured creatures heal at end of turn if not killed.

The production value is solid. While not as polished as Hearthstone (and let's be frank, few things are), the gameplay and cards all feel pretty smooth rather than clunky.

In spite of the ability to assign blockers (which slows the game somewhat in comparison to Hearthstone), the game moves at a fairly decent clip. The exception, my main frustration, is that the game uses fast effects (instants) which can be played during an opponent's turn, and consequently if you are holding one of these you must click a "proceed with play" prompt multiple times during each turn, both your opponent's and your own. I'm honestly tempted to avoid fast effects in my deck for a while just to not have to deal with this.

Other than that, so far Eternal looks fairly promising. From a single-player perspective, the game gets solid marks -- there's a 5-part tutorial campaign, lots of "win this turn" puzzles, and a gauntlet mode vs. the AI, all free. For more single-player goodness here are also two purchasable (with in-game currency or cash) campaigns and a Draft vs. AI mode which lets you pay to draft without having to play against all the sharks in an actual draft.

F2P players also seem like they'd be on solid footing here; in addition to all the aforementioned good stuff, you get a free pack per day for your first win against a human, as well as daily quests, achievement bonuses, and various other ways that cards and in-game gold pour in. Packs themselves are more like Magic than the tiny packs of Hearthstone/Solforge -- each one gives you a dozen cards, 8 common, 3 uncommon, and one either rare or legendary. So each pack guarantees you a card of the penultimate rarity, and occasionally you'll luck into a legend. There's also the usual destruction of duplicates and crafting.

I haven't delved into the multiplayer meta heavily, so I can't yet say how pricey it is to build a competitive deck. But for smooth gameplay and ease of access for an F2P player, I'm giving this one my nod.

Also, as a point of information, I'd say it sits roughly halfway between Hearthstone (simple) and Hex (complex).

Also also, if you sign up via my referral link you get 3 free packs upon beating the tutorial campaign (and I get a pack too):
Clicky here
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23. Video Game: Prismata [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
Video Game: Prismata
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I know, I wasn't going to add this one to this list, since it stretches the definition of card game. It's technically represented by cards, but it's absolutely a turn-based RTS game with no map. Basically you produce resources, build units and resource-producing infrastructure, and attack your opponent into the ground.

As a puzzle, for people who like solving puzzles, the single-player game may be interesting. But it seems like a lot of rote openings to the point where even in the little tutorial campaign, it seems like you basically have to build specific things in a specific order to kill an enemy within a certain number of turns.

The one saving grace of the game is that at least it isn't a grind-fest. But it's still the case that not only is it not really a card game, but also so much of the game seems scripted, and there aren't really interesting interactions between cards, just two turn-based starcraft sides smashing into each other, which eliminates all the twitch skill, which basically means there's an optimal order in which to build things, and if you don't go units fast enough, zerg rush will destroy you, but you need 2 turns or so of economy first or your zerg rush will be beaten out by enemy zerg backed by one more crystal mine.

Worth trying if it sounds interesting, but not a game I'd stay with.
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24. Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Video Game: Outside the Scope of VGG
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IronBound

Saw this pop up on Steam today, and you know me, sucker for trying new CCGs. Well, this is another game that is not a CCG. You have an (immutable?) deck of cards from which you draw 1 each turn, but they basically modify your attack/defense abilities, as your character swings weapons at the other character.

This is Grind/P2W city, because your equipment determines your damage all game, and of course expensive equipment does double the damage of cheap gear, plus you can buy permanent health upgrades for your character, all of which costs gold that you can either grind out from winning PvP matches (against people who have better stuff already, good luck) or buy with cash.

So yeah, played this enough to try all four classes, buy a non-starter weapon or two, and then decided I was done. I wouldn't even bother installing this one to try; even at free, it's not worth the price.
 
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25. Video Game: Magic: The Gathering Arena [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:2722]
Video Game: Magic: The Gathering Arena
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I know, I know, I wasn't going to add Magic. I played some mediocre ones years ago. But then I played IRL with a friend over New Years and then ads popped up and I'm a sucker and old addict and long story shorter I gave it a try.

And it's... okay?

I'm not going to describe the gameplay details of Magic, because it's Magic, it basically spawned the rest. Creatures have gotten a LOT LOT stronger than back when I played, so things that used to cost 7 mana and come with a drawback now cost 5 mana and come with bonus abilities. 2-mana creatures are now serious threats that could single-handedly win games if left unmolested. I am old.

Anyway, the production value is fantastic, better than all the previous Magic games. And the Free-to-Play friendliness I should probably address in two parts.

Reward-wise, free-to-play is solid. Packs cost 1000g, there's a daily quest that offers 500-750g as a reward, and you get 250g for your first daily win and 100g for the next 2-3, so you can earn a pack a day if you can grind out wins, or a pack at least every 2 days even if not. You can't burn cards for scrap/dust/craftcurrency to buy other cards, but you do earn "Wildcards" of each rarity which may be redeemed for any card of that rarity. Overall, very reasonable.

Gaming-wise, free-to-play is a little rougher. Even in casual mode, you're going to run into people with ridiculous combo decks (although I may be biased here, as to an old player like me, all these new cards seem like ridiculous combos). I am still facing enough fellow beginners to get a few daily wins, but ranked (or, heaven forfend, tournaments) is quickly difficult. Any game out for a while has a meta, and this one has the backing of Magic pros with decades of IRL experience in addition to the online CCG experience. So, wins can be rough. But so far quests seem to not require wins, so at least you can build your collection.

Which brings us back to the game itself. Magic is still the best physical CCG I've ever played. The cards are very versatile, can be used in unexpected ways, provide countless interesting synergies, etc. It's a phenomenal game. And yet I find myself enjoying it less than Hearthstone/SolForge/etc., and the reason is clear: It's the best physical CCG.

Magic just wasn't designed for online. Yes, this is the best implementation of it in a while, but it's still filled with annoyances. Because of the billion effects, you have to click "resolve" while each effect is pending to let it process. I played against an opponent whose deck was all triggered effects of gaining life and dealing damage, and one turn well over a dozen effects stacked up and I died by running out of time on my opponent's turn for not clicking "resolve" fast enough on all of them. There is a "Pass" button to automatically pass everything, but this basically abandons the game to your opponent. The fact is, Magic is clunky on a computer, because it's a clunky game filled with phases and interrupts and instants and lots of things that work great face-to-face, but I find cumbersome when I'm looking for a quick game.

So Magic fans will probably love MtG:Arena, but for players looking for an online CCG, I think it's just clunkier than some of the other options.
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