Attack on Game: My (imaginary) ultimate fantasy battle card game

Valkyrie Crusade by Nubee is the only fantasy battle card game that I'm still actively playing today.

"Attack on Game" is not the title of the hypothetical game designed by me. It just implies that this post contains my personal criticisms on the state of battle card games I've played so far. I felt the urge to write this after I read an article about creating a mobile game without coding a few weeks ago (Cartegram, look it up on Google).

Cartegram has proven that making a mobile game is still possible without coding skills, which is something that is also absent it me. While I'm not going to doing a similar thing (making game without coding; I'd still prefer an actual game app) I think that would make a good idea for my own startup company. Now if only I could find actual programmer with passion in fantasy battle card game as much as I do (and find a good artist to draw the initial card design).

So far I've played Valkyrie Crusade (by Nubee), Guardian Cross (by Square Enix), Devil Maker: Tokyo (by Palmple) and Ayakashi: Ghost Guild (by Zynga). Out of the four game companies mentioned here I bet you rarely heard of Nubee and Palmple in comparison to more established names like Square Enix and Zynga. Each game has its own pros and cons but I ended up playing Valkyrie Crusade most of the time because I found it to be the most 'compatible' with me though I wish it could have borrowed some useful features from the other three titles.

My criteria in picking a fantasy battle card game is simple; it has to be anime-ish cute and somewhat Japan-ish (that explains why I didn't include Magic: The Gathering here because it was 'western-ish' if you ask me). The first fantasy battle card game I played was Ayakashi, which I didn't give it a second thought to try because it was from Zynga (not that I like Zynga but the fact that their name is established in the industry alone is enough to convince me). Besides the cards (well, about half of them) are anime-ish and cute too. The problem with this game however, like most other Zynga games, it's actually a browser game, except that they removed the browsing part of the app (Zynga simply packaged the browser into an app). In other words it's not a true game app like the other three titles. The game mechanics are also stupid that it's almost impossible to win (regardless it's monster battle or player battle) unless you have strong rare cards in your fighting team from the get go. Obtaining rare cards is not easy either. Unlike the other three titles that are generous enough to give you rare cards even through 'normal' ways (summoning or in the case of Guardian Cross, hunting), Ayakashi will never give you rare cards above 3-star in the normal summon. You'd have to buy summon ticket for that, but even with summon tickets it's still very hard to get a useful rare card. Not to mention it could even give you cars with 3 or lower star, which is ridiculous! Believe me I've spent almost 100 bucks and still failed to get even one 5-star card. For the record I've been playing since 2012. To make it worse, you can't 'tweak' the cards other than leveling them up. That said, this game is the worst fantasy battle card game I've ever played. The only reason I continued playing it for over a year was because I've already invested in it and would like to see some ROI, only to be keep disappointed with it. Remember when I said "about half of the cards are cute"? Well, that was because the other half are uglee. I have no interest in bishounen (hey, I played because of cute cards! Remember?), some girls look like men, there are also girls that look like shota. The only good thing I found is you could have virtually unlimited cards in your deck as long as you could afford it. The other one good thing would be that you don't really have to heal your cards from low HP/MP (it will recover over time), though you can do it if you need the HP/MP to be restored instantly.

I discovered Valkyrie Crusade sometime later after I started playing Ayakashi. I discovered it through Google+ posts when one friend posted the screenshots and his achievements in his stream. I quickly hooked up to it and never looked back. I personally think this game has the best card design of all four games mentioned here, made by established Japanese artists (nearly all of them can be found on Pixiv, which is great) and that's why it's the most anime-ish looking game here. The game mechanics also simple and pretty straight forward, a newbie would not have much trouble exploring and mastering it. The game is probably the most generous among all four (with Guardian Cross and Devil Maker come close, if not on par) when it comes to randomly giving high ranking rare cards to players for free either via achievements or summons. Some players actually managed to survive for more than a year or reached level 120 and above without even spending any money, though the only way to get the cards with the ultimate skill is via premium summon. However even that is not guaranteed to give you the card that you want though you won't get low ranking cards in the process (something that often happen in Ayakashi). Pay attention to your deck; the maximum number you can have now is 200 cards (default is 75, you'd have to make purchases to increase that). That is quite troublesome since the game doesn't have gifting system to donate your excess cards to friends so you'll have to find a way to manage. Unlike the three other games, Valkyrie Crusade is the only one that features building structures, resource generation and collection (if you know the browser strategy game Travian you will know what I mean). However this does not come without drawbacks too. It can't withstand even a slightly unstable connection. While other games would 'wait', Valkyrie Crusade seems to have very low timeout value where you'd find yourself being kicked out (lost connection) right before you start or finish a battle, resulting in a 'draw', which is a waste of Battle Points or Vitality Points. This is ridiculous considering that it's a mobile game, meaning that it should not expect a constantly stable mobile network, which does not exists at all. Since the game is (perhaps) the "most Japan-ish" of all four, it uses a visual novel-like approach for it's gameplay. However it doesn't apply all visual novel principles in the game, for example the sentence texts 'run' very slowly that is EXTREMELY ANNOYING; you can't even tap to finish it instantly because your tap won't do anything (in any visual novel, tapping/clicking would finish any 'running' dialog/text instantly). Also take note that you'd have to heal your 'injured' cards manually using the 'resources' I mentioned earlier. Also the structures you built in your town/city have positive effects on your team's strength so take your time and make sure you build all of them and level them up.

I started the other game, Guardian Cross around the same time I started playing Valkyrie Crusade. It's from Square Enix, and as a fan of Final Fantasy series I found myself to be quite compatible with this game too, though maybe not as much as Valkyrie Crusade. Remember, most of Square Enix games have never about 'cute' but more of "humanly beautiful" (I'm specifically talking about the 'female' cars of course). I think the best way to describe the card design is, if you've played any of the Final Fantasy games, the cards in Guardian Cross mostly feature the "Guardian Forces" and bosses you'd find in Final Fantasy, making it the least anime-ish game here. IIRC there was even an event featuring "character cards" from Final Fantasy. The gameplay is quite simple but not the kind that I would like (I still prefer Valkyrie Crusade's battle mechanics). Both Valkyrie Crusade and Guardian Cross feature a turn-based battle system, however unlike Valyrie Crusade which feature a manual control, in Guardian Cross, each card would fight until it's lost (king-stay system) and once it's lost the next card in turn will take over until all the enemy cards (or yours) are lost, thus the team that still have remaining 'alive' card(s) will be the winner. That's why the positioning of the cards in a team is important. Tweaking the cards are more complex than Valkyrie Crusade but still relatively easy to learn. The hard aspect of the game however is to obtain a card. There's no summon but instead you'd have to 'hunt' for them in special hunting maps using a special capturing gun, provided that you have a ticket. I think this is the most tiring part of the game as it makes me feel like playing an FPS. At least the game is generous enough to give rare cards even with normal tickets. One more thing that I found hard to get used to is the fixed value of your energy point; you can't tweak it and leveling up won't increase it either. Good thing the decks could seemingly hold unlimited number of cards as the limit increases with every level up. One advantage only this game have over the other three is that it has a built-in messaging and gifting system. Also gifting a certain type of card, such as the silver or gold slime (which is useful for leveling up cards) doesn't take that card away from you, meaning that you actually able to give a clone/copy of that card to your friends.

The most recent fantasy battle card game I've played, also the last one I mentioned here is Devil Maker. I noticed that game having its own category in tcgapp forum which gave me the impression that this game must be great that it has its own category in that forum. If other games appeared anime-ish or 'Japan-ish', I think this is safe to say that it's 'Korean-ish' (they look like they came straight from Korean manhwa). The cards are still cute and if I were to pick (with exception of Valkyrie Crusade which is win by default), I would place this game above Guardian Cross and Ayakashi. It seems to have almost everything I want to see in a game like this though I haven't played it for a while (I'm not sure if there's a gifting system, maybe not but if I'm not mistaken there's a built-in messaging system?). The game mechanics is perhaps the best among all four; still featuring a turn-based battle system almost similar to Valkyrie Crusade's style but I really like the exploration. Every step in map exploration would give you something, either a card (low ranked card of course, that you can sacrifice to tweak other cards), or potion, or HP restoration (yes, something I'd love to see in Valkyrie Crusade) and of course enemy. The game animation is perhaps the fanciest I've seen in a game like this; it feels like playing a console game. The card limit in a deck also seems to be increasing with the player level but since it was too easy to obtain a card from exploration (in addition each winning battle will be rewarded with a card) and I can't easily 'sacrifice' those cards because I don't know which card should I sacrifice/tweak due to the complex tweaking system. Yes, I think this game has the most complex card tweaking system of all four, with super lengthy learning curve. I found it to be quite confusing and very hard to master, in fact I'm still struggling to do that. The only reason I took a break from playing was because the game took awfully long time to update. It's as if the game redownload everything with each update. Feeling that it wasted so much time to update alone I left the game sitting idle in my tablets (both iPad and Asus Memopad) and never fired them up for several months now.

Now it's time for me to tell you what kind of fantasy battle card game I would make, by borrowing and mixing the best features from all four games I mentioned above while discarding the trash features. For card design I'd take something that look like Valkyrie Crusade (that anime-ish look of course!). The exploration system would be taken from Devil Maker while for card tweaking I'd take something moderately easy+complex like Guardian Cross. For card deck limit I think the best would be from Ayakashi (despite being the worst game here) because it allows you to increase the limit regardless the level, and it's a sure way to make money from the app. For summoning I think any system will do except the hunting system from Guardian Cross. Speaking of Guardian Cross again, I'd be sure to include its in-game messaging and gifting system because that would make in-game friending system more fun and meaningful rather than just being a mere friend that sits in the meaningless friend list that have nothing to contribute to the gaming itself. I could make it happen but like I said, even if I could provide the art, I'd still need a programmer to make it into reality. How about you? How would you design a good fantasy battle card game that you could enjoy? Or maybe you'd like to help me in creating this game I'm talking about?