Having spent most of my money from ages 12 to 29 (and selling a few spare organs) for collectible card games, I’ve since joined CCG Anonymous and sworn the whole genre off. But every now and then, something like SolForge hits the App Store with such interesting mechanics and big names behind it, that I have no choice but to fall off the wagon. Lucky for me, this game is still in beta, and thus, free to play on iPad for now.
SolForge isn’t just another Magic: The Gathering clone, though it does have Magic’s creator, Richard Garfield, behind the project. Yes, you play cards to cast spells and summon monsters, but you do so in a way that’s easy to learn, fast-paced, and always interesting. There are no resource cards cluttering your hand, or to get mad at when you don’t have enough to play your best cards. Instead, every turn you simply play two cards – any two – from your hand. Spells cause their effects and get discarded, while monsters linger on the table in one of five slots on your side. Each monster has an Attack and Health stat, plus usually some kind of special ability. After playing cards, the rest of your hand is discarded, and replaced by all new cards. That really makes for some interesting decision making, and also blessedly frees you from having one crummy hand ruin a match.
Once during your turn, you must hit the “Battle” button. This causes every monster (yours and your opponents’) to attack whatever monster is standing directly to the opposite side of it. If there is no monster there, they take a swing at the player and reduce his or her life points. This makes placement of your monsters critical, as you are essentially choosing who they’ll be matched up against. Some monsters even have positive effects for adjacent allies, adding another level of strategy to placement.
But what I found most interesting was how the game lets you unlock your most table-stomping spells and monsters. There are actually three levels to each card, and your deck only composes of Level 1 versions at the start. However, every time you play a card, you add a copy of the higher level version to your discard pile. These are often thematically fitting too, with a Level 1 card being a dragon egg, the Level 2 version being a baby dragon, and the Level 3 version being a fiery God of Burnination. Every four rounds, players shuffle their discard piles into their decks, with all their higher-level cards included.
Card balance is based on their usefulness early, or later in the game. For example, the dragon egg mentioned above is pretty much useless except as a throwaway defender. But playing that means later on you can unleash the adult dragon, capable of wiping your enemies out. Conversely, there are cards that have deadly Level 1 versions, great if you’re going for a quick kill, but their high-level versions tend to be less than amazing.
This makes for even more compelling decisions, especially since you have to discard what you don’t play. That means you might have to completely pass up a card you need now to make sure an important high level card will be available later on. Throughout several playthroughs, there was rarely a turn where my next best move was totally obvious.
Always important in a game like this is the art, and judging by the cards in this demo, SolForge is on the right track. The car art looks crisp, with high definition and lots of detail. There’s not a lot of cluttering border or stats on the cards either, making a table full of them very pretty to look at. The developers even went the extra step to give higher-level cards slightly more impressive portraits, but they’re still unmistakably the same creature.
According to the SolForge homepage, the full version will also be free to play with a solo campaign, online tournaments, and cards you can earn through regular play. They haven’t said yet anything about what players will be able to pay for. I think how they handle that will have a big impact on my final opinion of the game, but I’m still kind of hyped. These are some innovative mechanics that handle many of my complaints with card games in general. I can’t wait to see what I rate it when the full version hits.