You Can’t Beta Good Card Game: Scrolls/SolForge And HearthStone Face Off

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As Blizzard’s Warcraft themed CCG Hearthstone enters beta we check it out, along with two other recent CCG betas:  Mojang’s Scrolls & Stone Blade’s Solforge.

For whatever reason, the past few months have seen a little clutch of collectable card games (CCGs) suddenly emerge with others being announced or in kickstarter. The most prominent, Blizzard’s Hearthstone, Stone Blade’s Solforge, and Mojang’s decidely un-Minecraft-like Scrolls, are all now in beta, all offering slightly different but very accessible takes on CCGs.
Cards have been in electronic form before of course, but there seems to be a real push to embrace the medium with this current crop and become more, well, ‘videogamey’. Despite being a card noob I popped on my best strategy hat and gave all a quick spin, starting gently with the one that looked the easiest:

Solforge – Beginners Start Here?

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Solforge: undoubtedly the simplest of the bunch. Very quick to learn and easy to play, whilst still offering plenty of satisfying depth. The playfield is two rows of five ‘lanes’. Cards only play opposite each other, so there is very little cross-lane strategy to worry about, bar the odd spell. It’s all very easy for the beginner: If there’s a nasty creature in the middle lane, you need to put something in front of him to prevent your taking hero damage. Easy.
Central to Solforge – and utterly reliant on the electronic medium on which it resides – is card transformation. All cards have three levels and playing a card will not only place that card on the field but also put a leveled up, more powerful version back into the deck. Fear not, this all makes perfect sense after a few rounds but essentially this means cards will most likely be better suited to either early, mid or late game play.

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Solforge’s economy has its good and bad points right now. On the plus side, you will probably earn plenty of in game wonga to unlock skins and basic booster packs, which means you will end up getting stuff everday. On the negative side, you can ONLY earn in game money from the three daily rewards, which means nothing at all for just playing matches. An unfortunate consequence of which is that after the rewards have dropped the game feels utterly fruitless, because it utterly is – until the next day.

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Presentationally the card art is really nice, but definitely obscured somewhat on PC by obvious re-use of the iPad assets – I shouldn’t have to squint at a PC game. High res art must exist, and hopefully this aspect of Solforge will get updated sooner rather than later.

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At the time of writing Solforge is easily the least developed of the three, and it’d be remiss to judge it too harshly at this stage. Despite that though, I have developed a daily Solforge habit as the core game and collecting new cards is compelling.
Solforge is available for FREE on Steam & solforgegame.com for PC and on the Appstore for iPad.

 

Scrolls – HEXcitingly Different

 

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For ‘scrolls’, read cards, or for cards, read scrolls. Mojang’s spin on CCGs is the addition of a HEXAGONAL play field, applying some old school placement & timing strategy onto the battlefield.

 

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Each turn a card, sorry – scroll, can be sacrificed for resources or two more scrolls/cards, while played creatures from your hand are deposited on the hex playfield as a unit. Once on the field it’s a mini hex strategy game as you position each unit to best effect for when its attack countdown reaches zero. Destroy three out of five enemy statues to win. If you wanted to stretch an analogy you could almost describe it as having the essence of a mini turn-based DOTA.

 

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Money is earned purely from wins, either online, against AI, or the trial scenarios. Trials are the most profitable by a fair margin, although they can’t be farmed repeatedly and the dedicated will rip through the challenges reasonably quickly. More challenges were added with the newly released Decay deck however, so presumably the number of trials will rise in the future.
Cash does feel fairly tight in Scrolls, one non-trial win usually nets 100-150 gold, regardless of difficulty, which is enough to buy one random card. This feels a little piece meal and introduces a strong tempation to grind easy matches to earn the pre-constructed starter decks that come with a whopping 50 scrolls, also opening up new play styles. You can pay real money to unlock these and in all fairness it won’t cost very much to do so.

 

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Back to the fake money though and the in-game shop which offers a variety of wares: random scrolls, randoms x10, faction specific randoms, and best of all showcase selection of cards the game thinks you might be interested in. These sales often last just long enough for you to go out and earn the price tag, and frequently give you access to the useful rare stuff that improves your deck. There is also an active trading community (in game gold only) if you’re after something specific.
Scrolls is undoubtedly my strategic favourite of the three, offering a very satisfying traditional board game vibe, albeit one fuelled by semi-random nature of cards.
Scrolls is available from Mojang directly at scrolls.com and is currently at a lower introductory price.

 

Hearthstone – Hey Good Lookin’

 

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Solforge, and to a lesser extent Scrolls, wear their beta status on their sleeves. The odd little visual glitch, menu options greyed out, poorly written and highly ambigous card descriptions, these are games that are still working things out. Blizzard’s beta, on the other hand, feels all about stress testing and balancing, because Hearthstone feels utterly complete -just waiting to be let loose on the world.

 

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Presentation is exceptional, everywhere, without fail. Cards are 3D. There’s a pub ambience to the soundtrack. Buttons clunk pleasingly, progress bars whirr, spells fizz and bang. The playfields are all interactive. You can click on doors and windows, dibble your mouse pointer in a stream and needlessly poke at a griffin. None of this stuff has any impact whatsoever on gameplay, but you can’t help but want to play it.
The tutorial for Hearthstone is delivered via Practice Mode where an unlock system for new characters awaits. Once you’ve got all heroes up to level 10, you’ll only gain XP & the gold to buy new cards in either regular Play or the Arena modes, where you’ll be up against real people.

 

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Online this game has taken what could be an intimidating experience and made it as painless as possible. Which is just as well as you’ll only complete most Quests or challenges away from practice mode. Now don’t get me wrong, you will still suffer HORRIFIC pummelings and OUTRAGEOUS bad fortune from time to time, but at least you won’t get any abuse through chat whilst doing so. The limited interactions available are all actually very polite and pleasant, so even if that ‘WELL PLAYED’ was sarcastic you can fire back an equally tonally ambigious ‘THANKS!’.

 

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Matches tend to be pretty quick with huge potential for last minute turnarounds. Just when you think all is lost you may well get a few lucky card drops and a pull off a major comeback. Nothing is assured until the victory banner drops. This makes Hearthstone perhaps the most exciting of the bunch to play, and coupled with its obvious visual appeal it’s not hard to imagine Hearthstone becoming MASSIVE on final release.
Hearthstone BETA is available for PC & Mac, for a chance to participate opt-in in at battlenet.com. The final release will be for PC, Mac & iPad.

 

Jim Smale

Gaming since the Atari 2600, I enjoy the weirdness in games counting Densha De Go and RC De Go as my favourite titles of all time. I prefer gaming of old where buying games from a shop was a thing, Being social in person was a thing. Join me as I attempt to adapt to this new digital age!

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