Laboratz review

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By Pete Davison Comment

Laboratz is a Facebook game from French developer Adictiz. It’s available now for anyone to play on the social network, and showed up as the No. 2 emerging Facebook game last week.

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Laboratz is a virtual card game based heavily on the “Triple Triad” minigame from Square Enix’s 1999 PlayStation role-playing game Final Fantasy VIII, though no acknowledgement is given to its obvious inspiration. The game sees players collecting a variety of cards that depict cartoonish mutated rats and then using these cards to battle against other players. As the player progresses through the game, they will be able to obtain new cards and upgrade their existing ones.

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The basic rules of Triple Triad and Laboratz are simple. Two players are dealt a hand of five cards randomly drawn from their deck, and must take it in turns to place them on a 3×3 grid. Each card has a value on each of its edges, and these values are used to allow opponents to capture each other’s cards. In order to capture a card, the player must lay down one of their own cards adjacent to one of their opponent’s cards that is already on the board. The values on the edges that are “touching” are then compared, and the card with the higher value wins. Values may be adjusted by the “element” of a card — if a card is “strong” against the one it is attacking, it reduces the value of the defending edge by one point. If the card with the higher value is the one the player just laid down, they capture the card (or cards) that they were attacking. Whoever has captured the most cards by the time the board is full wins the whole game.

Between matches, players may spend the game’s two currencies on either purchasing “booster packs” of additional rat cards, or on upgrading their existing cards. Upgrading cards takes time, but this delay may, as ever, be bypassed by expending currency if desired — though both types of in-game currency are acquired at a rather slow rate for those who are not making use of the in-app purchase function, and purchasing things gets expensive very quickly. The booster packs in particular provide a significant advantage for those willing to pay — more expensive packages are guaranteed to contain more “rare” cards and as such are more powerful. Essentially, given that having strong cards is pretty much essential to victory in the game, this is very much a “pay to win” system, which may put some people off. New rats and in-game currency can be earned by completing “missions” such as winning a certain number of bouts, but this is easier said than done, and takes a long time to accomplish for relatively little reward.

The attraction of the original Triple Triad minigame in Final Fantasy VIII was that it gradually increased in difficulty and complexity as the player progressed through the game, and completing various sidequests allowed the player to attain rare and powerful cards. In Laboratz, however, there’s no such sense of progression, and not a particularly good sense of “balance” between the players you’ll get paired with when starting a new game with a random opponent. More often than not, beginners seeking a match against a random opponent will find themselves matched up against someone with a pretty much undefeatable hand, making the match a foregone conclusion before it’s even begun.

Triple Triad is a solid game mechanic that it’s surprising Square Enix hasn’t adapted to the social space in an official format. That said, Laboratz clearly demonstrates a difficulty with adapting the game to the free-to-play space — by tying player “power” to payments rather than making progress through a largely linear narrative-based game played alongside the card game, the balance is thrown off. Perhaps this issue could have been averted through the implementation of a single-player campaign that gradually increases in difficulty — this would be a good idea for Adictiz to implement in the long term if it wants players to stick around.

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For now, Laboratz is a reasonably fun game marred by its “pay to win” elements — and also by the fact that half of its interface is still in French. There’s the potential for a good game here, but it needs a lick of polish and a bit of balancing before it can really be recommended.

Laboratz currently occupies the 100,000+ MAU tier with a rank of 2,059 and the 10,000+ DAU tier with a rank of 2,147. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.

Wait

A decent implementation of a card game mechanic that will be familiar to Final Fantasy fans — but in urgent need of some balancing and polish.

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