Ditto the Monster looks at the world of family friendly online games from a Fabricated American perspective

Ditto Plays Warstorm…

Oh Zynga, I thought I was safe from your cruel clutches. I’m not interested in farming, or running my own cafe, or poker, or the mafia, or any of the other silly things Zynga was trying to get me hooked on, nothing appealed to me at all. Like I said – I was safe…

And then came Warstorm.

Warstorm Main Screen

The main entry screen of Warstorm

You see, I love CCGs, or ‘Collectible Card Games’, and I’ve been into them for… well, let’s say I’ve got some pre-4th edition Magic The Gathering cards rattling around in a drawer somewhere, I’m sure. The card combat is actually one of the things that attracted me to Wizard 101 in the beginning – I love the idea of basing tactics and strategy around something as purely random as the luck of a card draw, figuring out the percentage chance of specific cards coming up at the right time. Will I get the Meteor Strike card I need, or will I get four pixies and a shield I can’t use? Will I draw enough land cards to power my uber combo, or will I get pounded for six turns waiting for that one swamp card to finally come up. You can take your shooter games and your twitch combat and your skill bars, they’re all fun and they have their place, but for me, a carefully constructed deck of spell cards and deck-to-deck combat always makes me a happy orange monster.

Warstorm Cards

Warstorm Cards - my undead collection

Warstorm, for any who don’t know, is a casual, free to play Facebook game created by Zynga, the makers of Farmville and many other popular social games. If you’re familiar with typical card combat type games, such as Magic the Gathering, Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon, or Wizard 101, then you pretty much know the basics. Zynga isn’t really known for doing many ‘groundbreaking’ things, they take old favorites and build new games around them, putting their own subtle spin on them. They do it well, though, and Warstorm is no different.

The concept of the game is very simple – there are five factions – Human, Elf, Orc, Demon, and Undead, and you create decks – or ‘squads’ in this case – with cards of the same faction. Each squad is built around a hero card and will contain your infantry, ‘special forces’ type cards, spells, and artifacts, and will contain only seven cards – this makes strategy crucial and very interesting.

The cards are mostly standard creatures of fantasy or dark fantasy fare, from dragons, ghosts, and vampires to typical soldiers, dwarves, and elven rangers. The cards have a ‘cost’ in turns, a strength number which indicates the amount of damage it does your opponent, and a toughness that indicates how much damage it can take. Many cards also have ‘special abilities’ like block, flying, fire breathing, health drain, etc… – again, nothing that won’t be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Magic or games like it.

Squad Select screen

The Squad Select Screen

Combat includes one to four of your squads versus an equal number of opposing squads. You can choose which squads to send into battle based on your opponents factions and your personal playstyle. Since you only need seven cards, including a leader, to create a new squad, you’ll find you’ll have a number of options to choose from for any fight, even early in the game. Choosing which squads to send in for different situations becomes one of the critical strategies, even as early as level five.

Victory – or defeat – can come one of two ways. The first is the obvious ‘kill or be killed’, as each player gets a ‘morale bar’, the size of which is determined by the number of squads involved in the battle, plus bonuses. Any creature sent in to attack that is not blocked by an opposing creature does damage to your opponent, and vice-versa. The second victory condition is running out of cards, meaning that you do not have any cards to draw, any cards in your hand, and you have no cards in play. If you run out of cards, it’s game over. In the earlier levels in and 1-on-1 or two versus two squad combat, this is usually the way you’ll win – or lose. With only seven cards in a squad, those games go pretty quickly.

Strategies are varied and, for me, tend to be based on the cards I have (obviously) and the size of the fight I’m in. For a single squad versus squad battle, I try to put together a squad of cards with fast casting times and I try to put as many high toughness and blocker cards as I can, because odds are in a 1 on 1 fight it’s going to be the first team to run out of cards that loses – damaging my opponent isn’t as important.

For larger battles, however – the three or four squad battles – I’ve found that you need squads set to specific tasks. I’ll normally have one squad of fast casting times, one squad (usually my dragon deck) of ‘heavy hitters’ – high casting time but serious firepower and special abilities – and then at least one deck focused on indirect damage skills like Zap and Snipe, to take care of any flying or blocking opponents. If it’s a four squad battle I’ll round it out with a solid defensive squad.

Mission briefing in Warstorm

A mission briefing in Warstorm

The actual battles themselves are very straightforward, though non-interactive. You get a backstory with some flavor text, you choose your squads, and you attack. Cards are drawn randomly and turns taken automatically, with zero input from the player; you just watch as the fight plays out. It’s still exciting, but I do wish there were a few choices you could make at this point, like which of your creatures you can cast spells on or apply bonuses to.

Choosing squads for battle

Choosing your squads for battle!

You can speed up or slow down the action, or even replay the fight if you want to pay close attention to tactics and strategy. You can click on any card in play to pause the game and read it’s text, which will also tell you what special abilities it has – a very useful feature, especially early in the game. The fights will usually run from a minute to several, and if you’re into it there’s quite a rush – seeing your cards come out, seeing the activation timers counting down on your cards and your opponents, anticipating the clashes to come… I’ll admit, I get really into it and have, in fact, yelled at my screen when I see an opponent’s awesome card hit the board and tear through my carefully planned strategy. I’ve laughed rather manically – well, as maniacal as a furry orange monster can laugh – while I see my minions burning through my opponents defenses and seeing their morale drop, knowing in a turn or two I’ll have them beat.

Doing battle in Warstorm

Doing battle in Warstorm - the playing field

Winning battles moves you farther along the quest/storyline you’re on and captures a new part of the map. Areas that are fully under your control produce silver, which you can spend to buy more cards. Sometimes (OK, daily), barbarians can ‘invade’ a part of the map you already hold, and if you don’t repel them, they’ll stop your silver production and just be annoying in general. There is also the standard real-money transaction currency, and in most cases either currency can be used to buy better cards, pre-made squads, or more content/quest packs – again, nothing groundbreaking, standard free to play and social gaming fare.

The social game aspects are not at all subtle – you’ll get a lot of pop ups and dialogs telling you to send cards to your friends, visit the alchemist for stat boosts, buy new booster packs, things like that. If you are playing with others and they’re into it, go ahead and send them gifts – you can send some pretty decent stuff, and this is also the first game I’ve seen where you occasionally have the ability to win or send the real-money currency, not just in-game silver. I was able to buy a good pre-made squad using that, without spending a dime, so that was nice.

The ‘PvP’ aspect of the game is lacking only in that your opponent has no idea that you’re attacking, and has no way of choosing which squads to defend with, so it’s sometimes not a very fair or satisfying experience. It doesn’t appear that anything ‘bad’ happens to you if you get attacked, so it’s not the end of the world, but I’d love a more active PvP element to this. Like ‘Backyard Monsters’, my biggest pet peeve is the fact that I can be attacked and defeated and have no input or say into the attack or my own defense. But as I said – there don’t seem to be any consequences, so I guess overall it doesn’t matter, it’s just more battles to hone your skills.

So that’s it – the game is listed as still in beta, but it seems well polished and it plays great in Chrome or Firefox. I don’t use IE because even monsters have standards. The game is set up so it can easily be a quick 15 minute lunchtime diversion, or you can play for an hour or more and not be bored – again, that’s if you’re into card combat. If you don’t care for the mechanics and gameplay of standard card combat and collectible card games, this is NOT going to be your cup of tea.

I’m level 10 as of yesterday and still going strong, so I’m sure I’ll have more information and tactics posts in the future. Thanks for reading!

PLOX!

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