Tabletop card games lend themselves well to mobile platforms. Being easy to update and lacking gimmicky touch mechanics, the fun of each game hinges upon card balance (which is easily adjusted due to the digital format), originality and game depth. As such, when Hothead Games announced the coming of Kard Combat, for iPhone and iPad, several weeks ago, expectations ran high as it was noted that Richard Garfield — creator of the trading card game, Magic: The Gathering — was also involved with the title’s design.
Similar in respect to online card games such as Zynga’s Warstorm on Facebook, Kard Combat combines some familiar elements with greater control and planning over the use of one’s cards. Removing much of the luck factor from the tabletop card game genre, users focus solely on devising strategies. At the same time, however, the game feels lacking in its collection aspect of cards and hosts a weak feeling monetization mechanic and multiplayer system.
Kard Combat is an ideal strategy-based card game in that it is extraordinarily simple to learn, but hosts a tremendous potential in terms of both player tactics and strategy, making no game play the same. Players are each granted a set number of “life points,” and the idea is to reduce that number to zero using various creature and magic cards.
Like the previously noted Warstorm, users have a limited number of spaces in which to play six cards with only one card played each turn. Each card will have three stats including Attack, Cost, and Health. Automatically, each card will attack whichever opponent’s card is across from it during the next turn. Its Attack will subtracted from the enemy card’s Health. Should no card be across from it, the attack will be directed to the opponent’s life points instead.
Here is where things become more interesting: Players are given five magical elements, fire, water, air, earth, and a special element that are linked to their cards. During each turn, users earn mana in those elements, which determines what cards can be played (based on their Cost). The more powerful the card, the more the mana cost.
To add depth to what is played, each creature card comes with some form of magical benefit. Some will increase mana generation, others will heal friendly cards, while others excel at defense. This means that unlike other trading card games, almost everything attacks and casts magic instead of being separate types of cards (e.g. monster cards, item cards, magic cards, etc.). That said, there are magic only cards that are not played within a card slot — so they cannot block opposing attacks — and typically host more powerful effects.
For the most part, players have access to every magical card element except one. The fifth “special” element is specific to the type of deck a player builds. When playing a game, users can opt to become a Holy, Death, Machine, or Domination Mage. As such, each classification has different types of special cards. Holy is focused on defensive and healing cards, Death is typically more damaging, Machine focuses on automatically damaging other cards, and Domination can do “debuffing” or performing spells that decrease enemy mana pools, for example. Most seem fairly well-balanced although the Domination Mage class does feel weak compared to the other three.
In each match, players can also see every card at their disposal, and never have to draw cards, which removes a bit of luck from the game. However, it does not look like every card in one’s deck is visible within a single game and the cards can be played are chosen at random. Luckily, this is the same for the opponent, and once they’ve played a card, you can view that card in their hand.
The reason this is useful is because cards are not removed from play after they are used. They may be utilized as many times as needed in a game, so long as mana requirements are met.
On the downside, many players may dislike the fact that they can’t pick the cards they want to use in a game. Moreover, the way the game is designed takes a little bit of the fun out of collecting these trading cards. In the game’s single player campaign, users can play against increasingly difficult AI opponents and earn new cards as well as passive items that boost player “stats” (e.g. greater mana gains per turn). One of the most addictive aspects of trading card games is that it is fun to buy new booster card packs and see what you get.
This, oddly, is not a major monetization element of the game. Instead, Hothead Games allows users to unlock the full version of the game (all of the single player battles for $2.99) or automatically grant them every card and passive item in the game for $9.99; both within the app. While the latter option is nice for players focused on multiplayer, it defeats the “collectible” aspect of a collectible card game. Aside from this, since players can play the single player campaign with each of the four Mage types, users can buy that campaign for just one Mage class for $0.99.
There is also a multiplayer mode that seems somewhat asynchronous. Users can join a match, make a move, and be notified when it is their turn again. It’s a good idea, but synchronous matches are more fun. And while it can be done in Kard Combat, it can take a long time to find a match.
All in all, Kard Combat is a fun game for fans of tabletop card apps. It has a few quirks here and there, but nothing that is a real deal breaker. My only hope is that multiplayer mode picks up. Moreover, the game is currently free via FreeAppADay, so it is certainly worth checking out.