One down-side of the sheer madness of planning for, scheduling meetings, and actually attending two back to back conventions (GDC and PAX) was the amount of things that slipped through the cracks during that time. I've been going back and pouring through releases from the last few weeks and one that sticks out is Shadow Era [Free], a collectable card game by Kyle Pool, the man responsible for bringing Battle for Wesnoth [$4.99 / HD]. Shadow Era is universal, and there's even a browser version that can be played at ShadowEra.com. There's also plans for additional clients for PC/Mac/Android, with all of your cards and decks synchronized online.

The one drawback of that kind of cross-compatibility is that Shadow Era requires an internet connection, but as someone who is constantly frustrated by having game saves that are trapped on a particular device, this seems to be a worthy sacrifice. Gameplay seems to be a cross between Magic: The Gathering and the World of Warcraft card game. An in-game tutorial does a great job of explaining how the game works, but if you really want to get in to the strategy of the game I'd recommend taking a look at this thread on our forums as well as the Shadow Era forums themselves.

Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response on our forums about this game, I know I'm in the minority here, but these kind of collectable card games drive me crazy. I've played Magic: The Gathering on a competitive level on and off for close to 15 years now and all of these home-grown CCG games just pale in comparison. The card pool is limited, gameplay feels like an amalgamation of elements from existing games, and so much of the fun of playing a CCG is the social aspect-- Something sorely missing from Shadow Era. But would you pick up on this if you haven't spent most of your life playing collectable card games? I doubt it.

That being said, the way Shadow Era is being sold is a fantastic representation of what freemium games should be. It's totally free to download and try, and you're given one starter deck from the get go that allows you to just go to town playing the game. Similarly, winning games awards you an in-game currency which can be used to buy more cards. You can either slowly grind this currency up by playing, or you can just flip out a few bucks and buy whatever you'd like. Also, because this is a strategy-based game, throwing money at it doesn't necessarily make you any better, so it's not like you're at much of a disadvantage if you only ever play with what you can get for free.

Even though it's easy for me to complain about nitty gritty CCG details that likely few people even care about, I still highly recommend giving Shadow Era a try. I hope the game is wildly successful too, as maybe it will prompt Wizards of the Coast (or Hasbro via EA or whatever corporate dragon is sitting on top of the M:TG pile of gold) to release a iOS version of either the Magic: The Gathering Online client or Duels of the Planeswalkers. I'd be satisfied with either.

  • Noah

    Finally! I was getting tired of all the whiners on the forums who were upset their precious Shadow Era game has yet to be featured on the main page of TA. =P

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JWMR5DSATTJX7T6WSUPOVDRQ64 TheWatcher

      "Finally! I was getting tired of all the whiners on the forums who were upset their precious Shadow Era game has yet to be featured on the main page of TA."

      +1,000.

      The over-the-top whining has left me with ZERO interest in taking part in SE multiplayer; that's just not a community I want any part of. And let's be honest about it: multiplayer doesn't work, anyway. Even the game's biggest fans have posted about how many problems they have with trying to play SE online.

      And, to be as frank as possible, the developer's attitude makes me not want to support anything he does. His sense of entitlement is galactic in scale. And I'm not a real big fan of the passive-aggressive way he rips other games.

      SE is a huge miss for me; I'll be spending my money on Orions 2.

  • mpx

    Very disappointing graphics on iPad. No antialiasing, compression artifacts on the card artwork and generally hard on the eyes. Also, the touch controls need serious work on input fields (why is the keyboard on the wrong side? and why does it take several attempts to even get a keyboard to show up?).

    • revlisoft

      A new update was submitted last night to improve a lot of the UI and guestures, cards, etc... just waiting on Apple to approve it. :)

  • Eleven

    There's a pretty big issue with people dropping matches at the start very often if they don't go first. In a game w/o interrupts and with expensive creature removal, you get a pretty huge advantage by going first. Nevertheless it's a nice stop-gap to the *finally* incoming Orion's sequel. I know the Orion's game will be good because it was on the windows mobile OS forever ago and I got a chance to check it out on a WinMo emu. It's really good.

    • Eleven

      Also keep in mind that M:tG is outrageously expensive and Duels of the Plainswalkers is terrible because you can't even make your own deck...only pre-made decks with the option to add and swap only new cards you pick up.

      I'm really dissapointed that there aren't more card games that don't include the collectible aspect. There so much potential for strategy but the first hurdle has nothing to do with skill but rather how much money you want to put into them. Imagine if shooters required you to collect and purchase guns with real money...or MMOs required you to collect non-vanity gear with real money. It's a tremendous shame that card strategy games somehow got sucked into this hell of "he who has the money has the most potential".

      • Eleven

        I wholeheartedly support anyone who wants to play Magic to buy a box (around the cost of a console game) then just proxy for the rest of the time you play the game. Maybe once a year buy another box. Spending several thousand dollars to have up to 4x of every card ever made is just plain LOL and sad because there's so much you can do. Paying Wizards what they should get (they spend a lot less developing cards than AAA video game makers spend developing a one-time $60 purchase game) and then using proxies from then on for the win.

    • Harrispa13

      the "go first" argument is just form ppl that dont really know the game... i am a top player atm and i dont care if i go 1st or 2nd... i won both top2 players by goign 2nd... u have +1 card and +1 shadow energy which makes a hige diferrence if you playt he correct strategy. Its all about adapting ...

      • http://twitter.com/iShadowEra Shadow Era

        That's correct, our statistics show that over all the multiplayer games played in Shadow Era, the player that goes first has won almost exactly 50% of the time...

  • Jeremy Clarke

    FWIW there are a lot of issues with the old/current version that were beat to death on the forum thread and will be fixed in the update which Kyle submitted but hasn't shown up yet (in Canada anyway). If you are just hearing about this for the first time you may want to avoid Multiplayer until the update comes out, as the game is so good it already has intense players who have figured out some balance issues and exploit them.

    The update will add a lot of new cards that should seriously diversify and balance the multiplayer, I can't wait for it to land!

  • Anonymous

    I've never been able to get into online CCG's that don't actually exist as a real CCG. I have folders and folders and boxes full of cards from a misspent youth collecting all sorts of CCG's. While the only one I play these days is the WoW tcg, I still flick through all the others on occasion to look at the artwork. And still try to convince the mrs that she really wants to play a quick game of Rage just for the hell of it.

    I can see the appeal, but Shadow Era does nothing for me when I picked it up. I think like Eli, it's just missing something for me. Theres no emotion in plowing through a box of new packets looking for that elusive Vader ultra rare, or the look on your friends face when you pull an ultra rare Dana Scully from the packet he was going to buy but didn't. Digital CCG's pack an emotional punch on a par as buying seeds for a virtual farm.

    On a bit of a tangent, physical card games, check out Space Hulk: Death Angel. it doesn't involve any deck building but is probably the most BRUTAL card game for 1-6 players I've ever played. it's amazing.

    • http://twitter.com/iShadowEra Shadow Era

      I agree to a certain extent, as I'm a big CCG collector, as opposed to a CCG player. We do have plans to launch a physical version once the first set of 200 cards is nailed down.

      • Anonymous

        That is really interesting to know! Thanks for responding. The ridiculous thing is, I would be all over that in a second, because I do like the way Shadow Era plays, I guess because I like the way WoW TCG plays. I just, yeah digitally. yeah can't get into it.

        And also you know what. I try to get the 'non history of board gaming' people I play games with with interested in WoW TCG, and they're 'Warcraft, no way man.' I'm gonna try and fool them into it with the Assault on Icecrown Citadel raid deck. But I'd have a way easier time selling them on an actual Shadow Era game. 'Give this a try guys, its good, oh not convinced check it out on your iPhone if you like.'

  • Anonymous

    I hadn't heard about this game, thanks for writing a piece up about it I'm having a ton of fun with it. I even bought $30 worth of cards :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608565744 Justin Vela

    Is it just me, or does this look a LOT like the World of Warcraft TCG? It almost seems like copyright infringement!

    http://www.gamesetwatch.com/090722-wow-tcg.jpg

    • http://twitter.com/iShadowEra Shadow Era

      I liked how you used an image with He-Man and Skeletor to illustrate your point! :p

      Shadow Era was definitely inspired by both MTG and WoW TCG, but has many differences that were made to support quick multiplayer games. If you want some more reading, you can see http://www.shadowera.com/content.php?129-A-closer-look-at-Shadow-Era

  • Anonymous

    I'll check it out, but I find it hard to believe that this isn't a spend your way to victory game. My only experience with collectible card games is pokemon as my kids were into that for a little while and I played in a league with them, and everyone who had huge collections of cards was unbeatable. They had bought tons of cards in order to get key ones that make it impossible to beat them. Fortunately my kids lost interest because we weren't going to buy them hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of cards just so they could compete.

  • Anonymous

    It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. I find Shadow Era takes me back to the Alpha days of MtG. Both had/have broken cards, some clunky mechanics, and the odd glitch, but there's real energy.

    I'm sure SE will have it's growing pains, MtG has had it's fair share (anyone else remember putting those first beta cards into their alpha deck and realizing the card edges were different?).

    Let Kyle and the gang iron out some kinks, add a few more releases of cards, and implement some new features (voice or text chat could really pull it together nicely). Then we'll have a better idea of what this game can become. Until then, I'm just enjoying the game, and having a blast watching the creative process unfold.

    And for those wondering, you really can grind your way to a winning deck without paying real money. The AI is beatable for early money gains, and then things can really take off when you get enough of a deck together in the PvP games.

  • Juz

    I once was a designer for the Star Wars and LOTR CCGs from Decipher, and enjoy casual CCGing now and then but rarely have the time to put into the tech/meta, nor the effort to devote around card shops & serious players.

    I played a good handful of hours of this -- frankly, I was surprised -- the game was a lot more fun than I expected from it!

    Pros:
    -- Fast to learn, if you know the genre
    -- quite quick to play (could be faster against computer),
    -- deck building is good (not great, but at least thought out)
    -- occasional online game is easy way to spend some time, but yes, many players dump at the first sign of trouble. That's maturity of players more than card design.
    -- balance between getting cards for free and buying it if impatient is very well done

    Cons:
    -- computer players aren't much
    -- small card universe to date
    -- table layout needs some gestures to help you navigate it (focus buttons but small tedious)
    -- nothing can replace the visceral thrill of handling real cards. :)

    Frankly, this is a great introduction to low-cost CCGs where you always have an opponent. Let's face it, if Wizards id a M:TG iPad game, you'd need a second mortgage.

    • Anonymous

      I bought boxes of the Star Wars CCG all the way up to the Bespin expansion... makes me feel young to think I lusted after and played many of the cards you probably had a hand in.