Earlier this year, Digital Chocolate launched its NanoVerse franchise of games. The core mechanic of the NanoVerse is purchaseable virtual cards called NanoStars, which, once bought, become usable across all of the NanoStar titles. Although the first two titles, NanoStar Castles and NanoStar Siege, didn’t perform spectacularly well, Digital Chocolate is sticking with the concept for Card Rivals, which was just released on Facebook.
Third though it may be, Card Rivals is essentially the same as the older Castles title. The big difference is that it is no longer fantasy-based, and takes on a more casual, yet quirky, look. In fact, it’s best described as a 2.0 version, improving mechanics rather than all out changing them. It may be that Digital Chocolate intended this game as a second stab at Castles, which reportedly had scaling issues that impacted its growth.
For those that never played NanoStar Castles, the rules of Card Rivals are pretty simple. Over the course of 10 turns, players draw both NanoStar and regular playing cards. On the field are four playing cards — two face up and two face down (neither player can see the face down cards). The idea is to draw playing cards and replace those on the player’s side of the field so that their cumulative total is higher than the opponent’s.
As for the NanoStar cards, these are reminiscent of collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering. Each card has special abilities that can boost the player’s playing card’s total, reduce the opponent’s, or trap enemy NanoStars that get played. This is where strategy comes into the picture.
Many of the NanoStars provide seemingly useless abilities, such as turning a specific type of playing card into another type. However, other NanoStars can affect only specific types of cards as well. As an example, one card can boost diamond cards by two, while another might be able to turn a face up or face down card into a diamond. Since multiple NanoStars can be played in one turn, it’s possible to see what this sort of combination will do.
In addition to this, as playing cards are drawn they can be used to replace one of the four playing cards that player has on the field. Neither player can see what the face down cards are initially, although their values can be learned during gameplay. Whenever a card is replaced, it is placed, face up, in the discard pile, from which the next player can draw.
The winner is determined by whomever has they highest total at the end of 10 turns, but like Castles, users have the option to “Knock” at the start of their turn. This effectively ends the game, but will deduct the number of remaining turns from the total points earned by the one who initiated it. The advantage to knocking is the opportunity to end a game before an enemy strategy can be fulfilled.
One of the nice things about Card Rivals, and all NanoStar games, is that there is a tremendous variety of cards that can be purchased. Another problem in Castles was that most players did not wish to buy such cards, and those that did make purchases had distinct advantages. This is changed in Rivals — and, evidentially, in a more recent version of Castles — as players not only begin with a starter deck of 20 cards, but can play a single player mode called “Kingdom Play.”
This mode pits the user against ever increasing difficulties of AI opponents, but gives a few free NanoStars as they progress. Additionally, players can compete in “Elite Live Matches” to earn bonus cards as well (note that Castles also now has Novice Live Matches and regular Live Matches).
As for social play with friends, there is the typical challenge mode, along with leaderboards. Furthermore, as with Castles, players can battle against the deck of a friend in single player mode. It’s not quite the same as asynchronous multiplayer, but it is interesting to see if one can compete with the strategies developed within a friends’ deck.
Objectively speaking, Card Rivals is as decent game a game as NanoStar Castles, and earns extra points for not raising crops, but evidence has shown that the predecessor never really took off. As noted above, Digital Chocolate felt that Castles had significant back-end issues that prevented the game from scaling up, and put off numerous players who tried the game at its initial launch.
That said, one must wonder why Digital Chocolate didn’t simply try to revive Castles once the technical issues were solved. It may be that the company thought the original name and concept had been ruined in players’ minds. On the other hand, one can’t help but feel that Digital Chocolate may have decided that the original fantasy theme was a turnoff to players. Millions of players have played fantasy-themed games on Facebook, though, so it’s not clear yet that a simple change of scenery will be enough to make Rivals take off.