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PAX Unplugged 2018: The Competitive Card Game Market is about to Get More Competitive

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Card games that centralize a head to head online experience have carved out a niche in the iOS marketplace and have spawned a number of copy cat apps, but we got a chance to see some real contenders at Pax Unplugged this year that not only have promise, but a pedigree that really shows a development of understanding in what issues plague many players currently. Monetary Cost, RNG dead-zones, and app quality all seem to be on the tip of the tongues of players looking for a better option to support and migrate to. There are some beautiful ideas floating out just over the horizon that we got to snag a few peaks at over the weekend. We’ve picked two games that specifically are targetting the online match making competitive scene with their own spin that we think have tremendous promise.

Epic

It’s been over 4 years since my review of Star Realms. We got a chance to sit and chat with Robert Dougherty from White Wizard about where they have been and where they are going. The company that spun off of Ascension’s success seems to be doing a great job of riding the board game wave. With a strategy that seems to center on keeping the player engaged at all times, there are very few pockets of dead space in the games you might play from White Wizard. Whether you are building a deck in Star Realms, slaughtering a swath of foes in Epic, or carve out your own scenario in Hero Realms, there is always something to do to pull you into the action. We were able to get a Q1 2019 estimate on the digital version of Epic going from alpha to beta.

Epic looks like the kind of game that could be a great stand alone alternative to Hearthstone(Free) because not only does it emphasize keeping the player in the action, but every card in the deck is somewhat equivalent to a 5-9 cost Magic(Free) or Hearthstone card. You won’t usually die because you dont have a card to play, but because you already played it or didn’t capitalize on the effect of a card. It gives you a ton of control on how to decide your moves and the better tactician will win a lot more often. Another upside is that when you get the app, you’ll have access to all of the base cards and it looks like a few of the expansions as well. White Wizard’s business model is designed so that there will be no random pack openings. Once you get an expansion, you’ll get every card and every expansion is designed to be balanced with the existing sets. For gamers who want to get into Hearthstone but dont want to go into an undetermined amount of debt to maintain competitive decks, this one may be for you.

Evolution

North Star Games isn’t necessarily the first company you think of in relation to competitive gaming, but their flagship property Evolution has been in beta and is poised to make a huge impact across digital platforms. While it has seen an extended beta over the last year or so on steam, the app now looks really great and right at home on the iPad they had on display at Pax Unplugged. What starts as an innocuous dinosaur simulation game quickly *ahem* evolves into a fast paced easy to understand, wickedly difficult to master game that is being targetted for fans of competitive head to head online play. While Epic looks to make each of their cards impactful, Evolution takes each card and gives you a variety of options of how to use each one. Rather than a wide range of cards, you have a much narrower selection. The difference is that while you can play a card to add the listed trait to a species, you can also use that card to create a new species, add offensive or defensive stats or even add to the amount of plant based food in the surrounding area. So while you may end up seeing more of the same artwork, you’ll never be lacking in tactical options when you jump into Evolution. Additionally we got word that launch could be very soon for this one so it may be the next bastion you can run to if the current card battlers are leaving you feeling empty.

Scott and Evan from the digital team from North Star took me through the iPad demo. While the demo focused on single player scenarios(which is actually a newer feature yet to be introduced to their beta build!), I immediately perked my ears up when they started talking about the match making system they are implementing. Cross platform seems to be a foregone conclusion even though some games decide to release on a staggered schedule. They assured me that they are targetting a simultaneous launch for multiple platforms. I really want to see this one launch soon with a strong app, I had to tear my daughter away from the demo just so we could move on to other booths, but it is a testament to it’s accessibility that she was hooked just within minutes!

Originally released in 2014, The physical version of Evolution already has several expansions as does Epic and they both look to seriously challenge the current selection. Both game teams want a focus on match making competitive experiences that rival what we already have. With gameplay improvements and the promise of more equitable or affordable entry points existing digital games like Hearthstone and Magic really will have to work ever harder not only on improving gameplay experiences but also work on the best way to show their affordability to new gamers coming from the board gaming world. It could be an uphill battle but luckily for us more options mean a much more competitive… competitive landscape!


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