Review: Age of rivals (Android)
- Release Date (NA): February 21, 2017
- Release Date (EU): February 21, 2017
- Release Date (JP): February 21, 2017
- Publisher: Roboto Games
- Developer: Roboto Games
- Genres: World building, strategy, card
- ESRB Rating: Everyone
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
- Also For: Computer
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
If you have to picture the mental image of the elevator pitch for this game, it's best pictured as the producer franctically reaching for the lift's "eject" button while the programmer is trying to pitch the concept. Why? Because Age of rivals is best described as "a virtual card game that you can't play with actual cards". But whether that's madness or a stroke of genius will have to wait until the end of this review...
WTF did I just play?
In terms of actions and end goal, age of rivals is deceptively easy: you are dealt three or four cards, of which you pick one. Then some stuff happens. Then you'll assign damage to your cards. Then prestige points are scored. If you have more prestige points at the end of round four, you'll win the game. Easy, right? Well...unfortunately that "some stuff happens" is actually quite a lot. And that gives an incredible depth to the actions you'll have to perform.
You see, in AoR, you are pitted against a single opponent in some sort of economical/political/strategical dispute. You both start with 20 coins, 8 income, 0 prestige points and eight empty card slots. You'll play four rounds, each broken up into five different phases. These phases are as follows:
1) Building: You and your opponent both get four cards, of which you each buy one (at the same time). Then you swap the remaining three cards with your opponent, and again purchase a card. Then four new cards are pitched, and this cycle repeats. This goes on until both players have 8 cards (note: not having enough money results in a 'wasted' purchase; you'll get a card that does almost nothing, as well as a few coins).
2) conquest: all cards with 'an attack' on them are put next to each other. Then three separate castles are raided with these number, based on how many attackers you have and their strength. You'll gain prestige points when one of your army cards knocks down a castle.
3) War: this is where the attacks actually damage your opponent's cards. More specifically: you assign on which of your cards the damage of your enemy comes.
Note: if the health of your card is less than half the given damage, your character will not only die but the remaining half (rounded down) will be split off to another card (for example: if assign 9 damage to a card with only 4 defense, it'll generate another 4 damage you need to put on another card elsewhere).
4) scoring: this is the main gist of gaining prestige: all remaining cards that have prestige on them add that number to your score.
5) repairing/cleanup: from your knocked out cards in phase three, only one will effectively remain dead. The remaining gets revived, albeit without previous treats and with less health than before.
Also happens in this phase: on rounds 1 through 3, your income gets added to your coin total. At the end of round four, half of your current amount of coin is added to your prestige instead.
Before the start of round 2 and 3, four of your previously picked cards get randomly put in the first four card slots. Round 4 shows you all previously bought cards in trio's, and lets you repurchase them when you want them.
You got all that? No? Too bad...because it ain't going to be less complex from here on out.
Intrigue, economics, combo's and synergy
The above shouldn't be too complex if you've played similar games. Besides: the game teaches you all this in depth in three pretty good tutorials. Where this game really starts to shine is in how this all comes together. It's a lot like magic: the gathering, really: the base rules aren't that hard to grasp, but the open ended-ness makes it a game of endless variety. That goes for Age of Rivals as well: there is almost no end to how the different elements of the game interact with each other.
For starters: the economy. In order to build a proper empire, you'll need to both earn and spend money wisely. The former is mostly done through mines (okay "economic", but most of 'em are actually mines). These are cards that increase your income and/or give you access to a resource. The income is already explained (at the start of rounds 2, 3 and 4 you'll get your income in coins). Resources are a modifier for purchases. Most if not all cards not only have a monetary cost but also consist of a few resources. As such, the benefit of this resource is twofold:
-you get a purchase discount for each resource you have
-you get a coin for each resource you own on the card that your rival purchases
That's of course all pretty cool, until you realize your opponents get the same benefits. And that mines might increase your future income but they take up space that could be spent on an army as well (infantry and mounted). Or as buildings that generate more prestige points (artistic and holy). But as you might have guessed: these cards are more expensive. You can also 'purchase' a card that is too expensive to you. This card becomes a so-called 'waste': a simple 2-defense grave that somehow grants you three coins. So you're not totally screwed when you buy too expensive cards early on, but you really want to avoid it.
Why? Because synergy. A lot - in fact: the majority - of cards have some sort of ability that trigger based on other cards in either your or your opponent's territory. Some examples:
* one card infantry gives all other of your infantry 2 extra defense
* a creature gives your temple an attack equal to its prestige points
* a ballista generally directly damages your opponent's cards (like...deal 3 damage to the card in the first slot of your rival)
* a theater that gives your mines 2 prestige points each
* a wall that makes another of your cards indestructible
* a card that gives itself +1 prestige for each conquest you win
* a thief (with -4 prestige points) that lets you swap itself with a card of an enemy when you have two thieves
As you can guess, this makes the simple "pick one of these cards" a pretty complex affair. Not only do you need to balance cost, attack, defense and prestige points of each card, but having the right abilities is what really swings the rivalry in your favor. Especially considering that most of the given bonuses remain on the cards for further rounds. That means that that wall that absorbed nearly all of your enemy's attacks is almost worthless in the next round. It's also why I describe this as "a card game that isn't a card game": not only is there so much going on that a computer that does the bookkeeping is a must, but if you'd play this out on paper, you would need to scribble so much on each card that it would become unreadable before you could play five games.
Finally, I can't get around an important feature of the game: randomness. You might have noticed that some of the examples I gave were targeted (as in "this card does <something> against a TARGET other card"). This may sound contradictory to my earlier explanation that your only choices were what cards you'd pick or where you'd assign damage to, but it really isn't. The reason: you don't get to pick the target. There are times that there is only one possible target (if you only have one temple on the table and play a card that gives "a temple" an attack equal to its prestige points, it's obviously going to be that one). But when there are multiple valid ones, the computer picks one for you at random. And while this certainly leads to some frustrating moments, it helps the game flow more than I would've thought possible.
Bells and whistles
A card game of this nature obviously needs comparisons to Collectible Card Games (CCG's) like Magic: the gathering and Heartstone. In terms of feelings, I must say that I got the same vibe as when I was young, playing free-for-all magic: the gathering with 3 friends back when we were just playing with all cards. That scenario (now more reminiscient of Elder dragon format, IIRC) leads to some sort of stalemates where you'd play a card with a "I wonder how THIS will affect the entire board" effect, as there was so much on the table that influenced everything else. And for all the difference in scale, rules, atmosphere and so on, age of rivals manages to give that same vibe. And that's a very good thing.
In terms of visuals, the game is "okay" at its very best. Every card of the same type looks alike, which makes the game more of an abstract premise than anything else. Despite that - or maybe exactly because of that - I really felt like I was actually building an empire. I wish I could say something similar as to sounds, but alas...I honestly can't give this a passing grade: basic sounds, run-of-the-mill music and no slider options to adjust it (heck...you don't even have a menu option during the game!).
There is plenty of metagame outside of the duels. At first I feared this was going to be a pay-to-win setup, but this game manages to do achievements right. The game rewards you royally with coins for many things (finishing a game, playing the tutorial, beating objectives), but two things really stand out. The first one is that Age of Rivals is at best very partially a CCG: you can only choose up to three slots with 'guaranteed cards', and these are limited in scope as well. So while they can put some accent on matches, they are nothing compared to CCG's where you base your entire deck on a certain strategy.
The other aspect is that there are no doubles. Maybe the card packs are randomized, but they're not loot boxes because you never get cards or rewards you already have. More so: the purchase screen tells you how many packs there are left. So while it is a bit grindy, it's more something of a cosmetic thing than anything else.
Then there is the campaign mode. Here you'll be pitted against someone who has a single guaranteed card. These are pretty tough matches, but fun ones even when losing. It's hard to say how long this campaign is, but seeing how an average match takes about 10-15 minutes, it's usually doable. It's also good for those short periods of gaming (bathroom breaks or while commuting on the train), so it's probably good news that it plays fine on any given smartphone.
And...*sigh* I feel like I could go on an on about this game. I haven't talked about the nice balance between cultural and military in this game. Or that you can play this game for free on kongregate (though I should probably warn you that card packs there HAVE doubles, so it might be better as a demo). Or that you can view all locked and unlocked cards. Or that some cards only appear in the first rounds and others only in the later. Or...well...this is going to be an incomplete review, I guess. Sorry about that, but it'll have to do.
I mostly wanted to talk this game because it's so darn interesting. Conventional wisdom has it that luck is bad, that CCG's are money pits (I don't want to KNOW how many money I've pumped into magic: the gathering! ) and that simplicity and complexity don't match. Yet this game turns these conventions on its head by utilizing it in an elegant, beautiful way.
It's available on steam, but really: this is about as tailored to your phone as you can get. Yes...I know some hardcore gamers don't want to be found dead with an actual game on their phone, but if you're above that shenanigans, I'll gladly point out this game to you.
+ Interesting (unique) concept
+ Multiple ways to victory
+ Many things that'll make you come back for more
+ Achievements and randomness done right
- Sound options are lacking
- No ingame menu?
- No local pass-and-play
This is a "it gets the job done" approach. Things certainly aren't ugly or out of place, but it isn't special either. Then again: this can run on a potato.
Gameplay takes some getting used to. I certainly didn't expect to give a simple "pick one card" game this much of gameplay, but it absolutely won me over with its mechanics. Meaningful choices, people: this game has them!
I was hesitant whether to give this an 8, but then I saw that the average user review on steam had around 20 hours. For this sort of game, that's nothing less than impressive.
out of 10
(not an average)
I you really care for innovation, this is almost a must-buy. It's magic: the gathering in a small format. It's a proud marriage of simplicity and complexity. It's civilization in card form. And most of all: it's a fun game.