Digital Chocolate new Facebook card game, NanoStar Castles, has just gone live. We looked at it as part of a larger analysis of the company’s strategy on Wednesday. Now, here’s our more detailed review of the app.
Stemming from the reverse of a simple card game called “Golf” and combined with concepts from collectible card games (CCG) like Magic: The Gathering, NanoStar Castle is the first Facebook title to show off Digital Chocolate’s new NanoStar concept.
The goal of the game is simple enough: Using a standard 52 card deck, players are given four cards. Two are face up and two are face down. Now, neither player initially knows the value of the face down cards, thus a little bit of strategy and luck already come into play. The idea is to have the total value of all four of your cards exceed that of your opponent’s. Simple, right?
Simple. Yes. But boring. Also, yes. Luckily, this is where the NanoStar element comes into play. Users can buy virtual goods within the “Nanoverse,” that will act as power-ups across the various NanoStar games. In the case of Castles, they act as “Nobles,” and these cards are what brings that strategic element to this simple app.
Each turn, players will draw two cards. The first is a noble. Now, depending on the card drawn, various abilities will become available. For example, a powerful card called “Architect” stems from the NanoStar avatar ROTFL (a play on the IM term “rolling on the floor laughing”). Using this card will turn all of your aces, twos, and threes into kings, the highest value suit. Another card, “Crusader,” from the avatar Excalibur, will turn a single card into a king. Of course, this works in the reverse as well, some cards can sabotage an enemy hand as well, such as “Bad Breath” (Ogre) that turns an enemy king into a two, or “Bombshell” (Mega Fox – i.e. Megan Fox) that has a chance to block enemy nobles from play.
These cards can be used immediately or held and played together for devastating results. The key is to know when and where to put them on the field. Furthermore, there is a tremendous number of avatars to collect, making the number of potential strategies enormous.
After drawing a noble card, players then draw their second card from the deck of normal cards, and either replace one of their four or discard. This adds a small bit of strategy and luck as well. By replacing a face down card, you could be replacing a better card, but you will now know what lies there. However, during the enemy turn, players could take that better card from the top of the discard pile instead of the deck. On the other hand, you could be setting up for a strategy, such as building up aces, twos, and threes, then playing the Architect noble. Regardless of choice, however, each one has a significant risk.
The risk comes from the ability to “knock.” When a player feels they have a chance to win, they can subtract the knock value (which decreases each turn) from their total to stop the player from using any more nobles. Each player will then draw one last card from the discard pile or deck of suit cards, and the totals are tallied. The one with the most points between all four suit cards wins.
Overall, Castles is a lot of fun. The games don’t last very long and it takes about five minutes to learn. Nonetheless, as you can see, it would take significantly longer to learn all the potential strategies.
Unfortunately, that is also a bit of a complaint as well. Sometimes the games just end too quickly. Whether your choose to play a live, synchronous battle, or just the AI controlling one of your friends’ decks, sometimes the game can end before a real strategy can be implemented. For example, the card “Foreign Trade” (avatar, Robin Hood), allows you to swap one of your cards for an opponent’s face-up card. Well, you obviously want swap good for bad, so our plan was to take an ace, put it face down then make the swap next turn. Unfortunately, once someone knocks, the game is basically over, as you no longer have the ability to play nobles. What made this frustrating, was that the game had only gone on for three turns!
For the record, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering most social gamers don’t want to spend hours playing at a time, but the choices seem more tactical than strategic. You have to make your decisions on the spur of the moment most of the time, and since you never have any nobles when you first start out (like in a CCG), and you never know what you will draw early on, there’s no real way to formulate a strategy for the whole game. That said, it would be nice to have another version of play for the more advanced and experienced users that is longer and lets you start with a full hand of nobles.
A word on the nobles, though. In short, they’re awesome. The artwork is up there with any good CCG, and as you may have noticed by the few examples, each one has a rather amusing play on words stemming from pop culture, modern colloquialisms, or just old stories. Furthermore, the way that they are transcribed, visually, from a modern term or phrase into a medieval looking piece of art is quite creative.
Nanoverse and virtual goods aside, NanoStar Castles is still a great looking and entertaining title. It does have a few missing pieces for our wish list, but overall, it should be a pretty satisfying experience for most users. It looks great, it’s easy to learn, has a tremendous amount of depth, and some of the cards are just plain funny. We look forward to checking out the next game in the Nanoverse line-up, NanoStar Siege, and one can only hope, it holds up against Castles.