Mobile Game Double Feature

I spend a lot of time on this blog tearing into things that are probably a work of passion and love. As such, it seems only fair that occasionally go the other direction, and spend some time tearing into things that were a work of “How much fucking money can we make selling lottery tickets to children?”

Maybe this approach won’t be great for optics. But if I can analyze indie games that have interesting mechanics buried under crude art or lackluster technical implementations, it seems only fair to look mobile games that have mechanics locked in Skinner boxes.

Mobile games are kinda like indie games, but there’s an entry fee of how much your kidneys would currently go for on the black market.

Starting with…

Knight’s Edge

There’s a GDC talk somewhere in Knight’s Edge. It might be about how they managed to add in a cash shop, battlepass, and a billion other pieces of bullshit. Maybe it’s art direction-related. They could make a “How To” guide on ripping off that Clash of Clans smooth minimalistic art style that somehow has less personality than a furry OC that’s just a Sonic recolor.

Or maybe they could do one about how their cool little 3v3 battle brawler ended up tied to all the bullshit above. Actually, I can do it for them.

Anyway, now that I’ve done their presentation for them, they can spend some time talking about their actual mechanics. Knight’s Edge is effectively a combo of micro-brawler and roguelike. Your team of 3 is pitted against another player’s team, and you’re thrown into a tiny little dungeon. Whichever team makes it to the end of the dungeon and kills the final boss first wins!

It’s a simple little idea, and there’s really only two other things to mention about it. First up is that at certain points, you can invade the enemy, and attempt to kill them or mess with them to slow them down. But at the same time, it’s risky because your team won’t have your DPS during the invasion. The second one is that whenever you destroy enemies, you get EXP. Get enough, and you’ll level up, which gives generic stats. More importantly, leveling up also lets you pick between various buffs, which are determined by the weapon you’re using. This gives the whole thing a sort of micro-roguelike vibe.

Before you say “That’s kind of a lousy screenshot,” know that I took it from their app store page. This isn’t on me.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about Knight’s Edge. Is there a cool idea here? Yes. But it can’t make it out from under the monetization. Also the controls sort of suck. Your actual agency to influence a given round often feels like playing a slot machine with the upgrade system.

But anyway, enough about Knight’s Edge. Let’s talk about…

Cross Duel

I’ve written about Yu-Gi-Oh mobile games before on this site. There are a surprising number of them. Their monetization ranges from “Something resembling reasonable” with Duel Links to “Its own category in a list of shitty business models” for Master Duel.

Anyway, Cross Duel manages to sit somewhere in the middle of trashy pricing, which is to say “Typical Gacha.” But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about Cross Duel itself.

If you’re going “Wow, seems dynamic!” that’s because I stole this one from their app page, and Konami is better at marketing then whoever makes Knight’s Edge.

I think one of the most interesting things about Cross Duel is that it shares very little with Yu-Gi-Oh mechanically. While ideas like like Monster Cards and Trap Cards are present, it’s easy to see how Cross Duel could stand as a separate game, or even potentially as a legacy board game. The deckbuilding only allows 20 cards, and only 1 copy of any single card.

Cross Duel is a four player lane based game. Everyone draws a hand of cards, and simultaneously places them. At the end of the starting “Main Phase,” monsters move down their rows if they were in attack position, or stay put if they were in defense position.

While many of the terms sound similar to Yu-Gi-Oh, there are a lot of mechanical differences. For starters, while the game can end if one player manages to knock out 3 others, it also just ends after 8 rounds are played or if even a single player ends a round with zero life points remaining. In addition, everyone starts with a single “Special” card in their hand serves the role of a panic button or can be used to apply heavy pressure.

Those aren’t the only differences. Players gain life points when their monsters inflict damage to enemy players. Unlike normal Yu-Gi-Oh, this only happens when a monster hits an opponent directly, not when they just attack another attack position monster and win. Damage is also maintained between rounds, meaning that a powerful bomb card can quickly be chipped down by multiple weaker cards.

Anyway, the result of all these mechanical changes is that you can actually do decently in some games of Cross Duel without selling your kidneys. Often, the players with more powerful cards are forced to fight each other, instead of wasting resources to knock you out.

The game also has what seems like a fairly interesting system for playing around with card skills and abilities. Unfortunately, it’s locked behind the usual grind and bullshit, so I don’t have much to say about it other than it seems neat.

In Conclusion

I was going to close with “There’s no moral to today’s writeup.” But that’s wrong. There is a pretty clear moral: interesting game mechanics can be found everywhere. In every terrible prototype, or miserable whalebait app store installation, it’s possible to find something interesting or clever. Is worth going to try to find those mechanics? I mean, for most people? Probably not.

People who play games casually would rather just play good games. People who work on games would probably rather be making games than playing other designers’ terrible ones.

But I guess for me, someone I view as sitting in the middle, it can be interesting. Hell, at least it’s something to write about.

I hate Jaxis the Troublemaker

Usually when I hate a card in a card game, it’s because I hate playing against it. Jaxis is special because I hate playing her. Let’s back up a minute for a bit of context.

I’ve been doing streams on YouTube where I make Historic Brawl decks for MTGA. Specifically for every legendary creature in Streets of New Cappena. If you haven’t played Historic Brawl, the format is effectively paper magic’s commander format, with two differences. First, the card pool is limited to MTGA cards, obviously, but second you can use planeswalkers as commanders.

That’s not relevant to this discussion, though. No, this discussion is purely about Jaxis, and why I hate trying to play her as a commander.

So instead of continuing to rage and throw my matches, I’m going to quickly go over why I hate this card, and why I hate her as a commander.

So let’s start with the simplest one: She’s monocolor. Historic Brawl has a much smaller card pool than regular commander, and the easiest way to take advantage of her ability is copying cards with strong “Enter the Battlefield” abilities or strong “When this creature dies” abilities. But surprise, surprise, red doesn’t have a huge number of those abilities, and many of them are on higher costed creatures.

Being monocolor isn’t a death sentence, though. Magda, Brazen Outlaw is monocolor, and one of my favorite Historic Brawl commanders.

The second issue with Jaxis as a commander is speed. Jaxis is a 4 drop without haste. (Yes, you can blitz her, but ignore that for a moment; we’ll come back to it.) This means that the fastest she comes out is likely turn 3 off either treasure, or a mana rock. In addition, the fastest she’ll copy something is turn 4, but her activated ability costs mana, meaning even if you hit your drop you’ll only copy another 4 drop. In addition, since her ability can only be activated at sorcery speed, you can only do it on your own turn, and it’s only useful prior to combat in most situations.

Compare her to Magda for a second. Magda comes out on turn two, can generate a treasure on turn 3, and can immediately come back on turn 4 even if she gets removed. Magda also provides her ability to generate treasure with dwarf tribal the second she comes into play. A fast Jaxis doesn’t do anything until turn 4.

Now, some people here are going “Well, you’re completely ignoring her Blitz mechanic!” Okay fine.

Blitz is a good mechanic. I like it a lot in draft.

But its an absolutely terrible mechanic to put on a commander, and it becomes downright horrible on a mono-color commander with a limited card pool. There’s no easy way to dodge the sacrifice trigger, meaning that even if you blitz her in early, the second she dies, you’re not playing her again until turn 6. And her ability costing mana means even if you hold her, she costs 3 mana to make a copy of another creature.

But are highly costed cards unplayable? Hardly. Lets take a look at a card that isn’t in Arena, and is effectively just a better version of Jaxis.

Kiki-Jiki is effectively just a much better Jaxis. This is despite having a much worse stat line, and higher mana cost. So why is he better?

Well, there’s a bunch of reasons. Kiki-Jiki inherently has haste, meaning you can use him the second he comes into play. So Ii he resolves, he’s at least going to do something. Secondly, even though he doesn’t make you draw any cards, his activated ability doesn’t have any costs associated, so he can also copy a six drop.

And perhaps most important: YOU CAN USE HIS ABILITY WHENEVER YOU WANT. You’re not limited to sorcery speed activation, meaning that he can function offensively and defensively, and can be held until the needed moment.

So, in conclusion, here’s why I hate Jaxis in a nice list.

  • High mana cost, without immediate ability to have an impact on game state when played, meaning she can get removed without doing anything.
  • Blitz makes her useful at high speed, but as a commander, it mostly just makes her die super fast, and runs her cost far up past what a red deck can support
  • Small card pool limits ability to manipulate her blitz ability, or provide powerful targets to copy
  • Ability timing is highly conditional, making it only useful as an offensive tool, and relatively heavily costed when compared to equivalents.

I’m going to go do a stream with the deck I did make for her now, and just going to accept that I don’t have a good way to use this card.

Yu-Gi-Oh: Master Duel

So, for folks who’ve played Yu-Gi-Oh before, and are wondering if they should play Master Duel, here’s my opinion in brief: Yu-Gi-Oh Master Duel can be fun, but only to the extent that you play against other people with decks that function at a similar power level. I can’t speak to higher level decks, because I never made one. I spent a non-zero amount of time being thrashed by players who did make high level decks.

A big critical note: Master Duel is ALMOST ENTIRELY PvP. There are some small PvE sections of the game, but they effectively function as tutorials.

As far as being a digital implementation of the physical game, it seems to do a solid job. I have some problems with how it handles certain mechanics, and there’s also very little flare compared to something like Hearthstone, or Legends of Runeterra. When an opponent searches for a card from their deck and adds it to their hand, the game only shows you the card for a brief moment, instead of keeping it revealed. I hate this, as the game has something like 5000+ cards, and I have no idea what a large number of them do.

Finally, its in-game monetization is fucking awful. I don’t give a shit about some “f2p btw top ranked” motherfucker. The only difference between this game and a crackhead with a knife coming at you in an alley is that the second one is being more transparent in their desire to obtain everything in your wallet.

I’d write more about this, but I already did. Master Duel is #4 on my Least Favorite Game Business Models list.

I’m going to be honest. I don’t have much more to say on Yu-Gi-Oh that provides value in the form of a review. Modern Yu-Gi-Oh is an incredibly alien beast to me. Opening turns can go through what feels like half a player’s deck, only to have any advantage gained be destroyed by one or two cards. First turn kills from the second player are common. The game’s balance seems to rely on handtraps, cards that you discard from your hand to negate your opponent’s effects, and quickly recognizing your opponent’s deck archetype. Knowing their combos and how to interrupt them is just a critical skill as knowing how to play your own deck.

I played 40 hours of Master Duel, and this review is the best I can offer. I know that I enjoyed playing against my friends who also installed it. I know I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone as a “single player” game, which it effectively is in many ways. I don’t like it as much as Duel Links, which had a lot of PvE content. I enjoy some forms of competition in card games, but I don’t enjoy grinding ladder, and that’s primarily what Master Duel seemed to offer.

But hey, it was free*. If you still want to play it, you can grab it here.

*Free to get your ass repeatedly handed to you by Eldlich the Golden Lord, seriously, fuck that card, and that deck.

MetaZoo – Why I’m Skeptical

Don’t buy into the hype without reading this first.

I wasn’t quite sure what to title this article. I’m still not sure even as I write it. In any case, the general purpose of this article is mostly to warn anyone who, like myself, has found themselves curious about buying into MetaZoo.

So for starters, let’s quickly define what MetaZoo is. This is a bit difficult, because MetaZoo wants to be a lot of things, but its core is a TCG (Trading Card Game), named, unsurprisingly, Metazoo. It’s this TCG and the elements around it that currently make me nervous about wanting to get involved or buy anything MetaZoo related.

If nothing else, there’s a single massive factor that has turned me off of MetaZoo so far: the several times I’ve actually sat down and tried to play the game, I didn’t actually have very much fun. And I consider that a really bad sign, because I really like card games and trading card games. I’ve played a ridiculous amount of Magic, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh, both in paper and in those games’ digital equivalents. And even when I’ve gotten stomped, even when things have gone wrong, I’ve still had fun. MetaZoo hasn’t been fun.

(A brief aside: MetaZoo, generally speaking, plays like a combo of Pokémon and Magic, using parts of Pokémon’s attack based combat, and Magic’s resource system and life points.)

This is the root of my skepticism of the game. From there, my skepticism grows when I start to look at everything else around the game’s ecosystem. Right now MetaZoo feels like it cares more about making as much money as feasibly possible than trying to grow and become a fun game.

There are a lot of examples of this, and so I’m just going to go through them in no particular order.

The MetaZoo NFT

There’s an official MetaZoo NFT. Because of course there is. Here’s the link to the OpenSea page. And here’s the link to the page the token was sold on. The long and short of it seems to be, “There’s a plan in the future to use these to give exclusive access to discounts and presales on future products!” For reference, each of these tokens cost a minimum of 0.3 ETH to mint, and CoinBase has Eth listed at about $4,500 for the date this was going on. But if you bought during the presale, “During the minting process, certain errors occurred! These error tokens include a damaged Jersey Devil Purple token, a double stamped Mothman Gold token, and other eccentricities that are significantly rarer than their properly minted counterparts. These error tokens will only be circulated during the presale event.” So, lets be clear: A MINIMUM of $1500 for the potential future ability to… purchase a blind box T-Shirt at presale. And maybe other undetermined benefits!

What incredible fucking value. They sold 2300-ish of these things.

Blind Box… Everything

You know those blind box T-shirts that the token above got you presale access to? Yeah, so, those are $50 a box. Each box contains… 1 T-shirt and a Promo card. I could almost understand getting a specific T-shirt and random Promo, but why would I buy a random T-shirt I don’t even want? And a single promo card? They also had blind box pins and promo cards available at one point. Oh, and “1 out of every 40 boxes contains a Super Rare T-shirt and promo card featuring the Nightcrawler and all 6 iconic MetaZoo characters!” You may be starting to see a pattern here: limited exclusivity everything, with lots of hidden and random promos, at ridiculous prices… but if you don’t buy now, they might sell out!

Playing Card Kickstarter

So, with the world in the absolute shitter, and supply lines being what they are, if you actually want to play MetaZoo, it’s a bit difficult. The first MetaZoo Kickstarter raised about $18,000 to do the print run of the cards. So the MetaZoo team recently ran a second fundraising campaign to… print playing cards.

It has raised, at time of writing… $1,520,596. Let’s be clear: this isn’t for copies of the actual TCG cards, it’s for decks of normal playing cards with art from the MetaZoo game/franchise on them. Of course, these decks also come with special blind box boosters, and if you pledge at the $1150 tier, you’ll get a special promo, one of only 250!

You can’t though, because all those slots are already taken.

Other Concerns

Rapid fire mode:

Ebay partnership promos for buying certified cards through eBay. Channel Fireball unique promos. Convention promos for exclusive convention plushies. A twitter account that seems to mostly retweet box breaks, giveaways, pulls and stats about card grading.

The point I’m trying to make here is that this company and community currently seems more interested in capitalizing on fear of missing out, impulsive collectors, and maintaining hype in the secondary market than their actual card game.

The Actual Game

Okay, so that’s enough about MetaZoo for now. Let’s talk about Magic: The Gathering for a moment, and some of the worst designed Magic cards ever printed. Specifically, the set of cards known as the Power Nine. These 9 cards are banned in virtually every format, and the only format that they can be played in, Vintage, only allows you to use a single copy of ONE of them in your deck. They are obscenely powerful with no downside, and have massive format warping potential. It’s actively admitted that it was a “Mistake” to print cards at this power level by the game’s designers.

Because of this, these cards have never been reprinted, exist in fairly small amounts, and are also some of the most expensive magic cards ever. For reference, at time of writing, the “Cheapest” Black Lotus on eBay is about $15,000. (Interestingly, a brief look at some older price guides show how much the cost has gone up. One price guide from 2002 has it at $300 at the time.)

In short, the Power Nine are incredibly valuable, while being toxic to the game of Magic if ever used in play. They are the poster child of “Cards you do not print” while designing a Magic-like card game. Of those 9 cards, 6 are mana rocks. These are the Moxes, and Black Lotus.

So why am I harping on about poorly designed early Magic cards in a article about MetaZoo?

This is why.

I mentioned up above that MetaZoo in many ways plays like a combination of Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering. And one of the things it takes from Magic is Magic’s resource system. You can play one “Aura” card per turn, you “fatigue” it to generate resources, and you “unfatigue” it at the start of your turn, just like Magic’s lands.

MetaZoo has a cycle of zero-cost cards for each element that look like this.

There’s one of these for each “Color” that can be played in MetaZoo, but they all function the same. A zero cost card that taps for 2 Aura.

Now, if you’re looking at this, and going “Wait a minute, that’s more or less just a cycle of strictly better Moxes,” then you’re thinking the same thing that I was when I when first saw them.

And this is another major reason I’m skeptical of the intentions of the MetaZoo team. Magic is close to 30 years old, and in those 30 years, the Power Nine have not been reprinted. While you could argue this is because of collectors, or fears of sullying the market, I’d argue that the core reason is different: the Power Nine ruin the game.

So if you’re making a brand new card game, why would you create more powerful versions of some of the worst designed TCG cards ever made? I can think of two reasons. Reason one is because you’ve never played another collectible card game before.

Reason two is because as you release your brand new card game, you want to immediately invoke FOMO by referencing the most infamous and expensive cards from the world’s most popular TCG.

From what I’ve written in the rest of the article, you can likely see which one I think is more likely. (Although neither are confidence inspiring)

This the vibe that seems to permeate MetaZoo for me. Underneath the wonderful artwork and 90’s video game box art vibe there’s a persistent drumbeat of “Fear of Missing Out,” “It only goes up,” and “Buy now! Limited edition!” This doesn’t feel the work of a team trying to create the most fun game that they can. It feels like someone trying to create a new version of the Beanie Baby craze, or Pokemon that they can cash in on.

And it’s why I’m currently very hesitant of engaging any further with the game or brand. If you’re looking at MetaZoo and going “Huh, that seems neat, I wonder if I can get some boosters,” I urge you to reconsider.

Inscryption

An incredibly interesting deckbuilder that takes the 4th wall and uses it as cardstock.

Let me save you a lot of time. Go play Inscryption. Here’s the game’s homepage. It is very good. That’s not to say I don’t have problems with it. I actually have one very large problem, but I’ll get to that later. Once you’ve played the game, obviously.

It’s okay, I’ll wait.

……………..

You finish it yet?

>NO, I haven’t bought it or started it.

>NO, but I started Inscryption .

>YES, I finished Inscryption

Your move.