[Infinity Wars] Alpha testing first impression

Summary: With a generous offer by the Elphie Coyle, CEO of the Lightmare, I had a chance to play closed alpha version of the game yesterday. This is a quick first impression of the experience.

Note that this is early alpha version; therefore, many of the features were still under the development.  Also some cards still did not have art.  However, games were still playable (and relatively well).  Since its an alpha version, things may change and others are more of my speculation/potential rather than confirmed.  Some I believe I am not supposed to spoil, so I have to be vague.

User Interface

The application is built using the Unity Engine, which is the engine used to make Shadow Era.  The final release version should be supporting all major platforms including PC, Mac, iOS and Android.  The version I tested was PC and there was a folder for Mac OS, which I didn’t test.  Though actual play was performed on my two year old Sandy Bridge desktop, it launched fine and likely to run fine on my new Atom processor driven Windows 8 tablet.  This simply means it won’t require high end PC spec as expected.

The actual interface is much still under development; however, once all complete, it will be great.  There are multiple sections with some of which still underdevelopment and not testable, but definitely there thus telling us the feature is aboslutely on its way.  These include single player campaign, tutorial, online duel, deck builder, trading i.e. all the expected ones.  Also chat feature is already there.

One thing I am hoping and probably will happen is higher resolution images especially in this era of retina display hype.  The other feature not confirmed but truly hope to see is offline play support.  Considering Shadow Era using the same engine implemented this relatively quickly,technically not hard to implement.  So let’s hope this is on the official release.

Summary: Much still under development, but likely to be as intuitive as it can be.

Game Play

The actual game play is extremely intriguing.  Learning how the game works in general can be done with couple quick AI tutorial games even for beginners.  Since all the detail calculation, action execution order etc. are performed by computer, players can start playing from a minute he/she launch the application for the first time.

However, this does not mean the game is shallow.  As a follower of this blog, I am sure most of you know that I loved Shadow Era, and Eye of Judgment.  Though those two games were built with theme that quick to learn, quick to play.  Someone who had played more complex TCG such as Magic would feel limitation on those.  The limitation is not coming from the fact early set had only basic mechanics, but overall way of the game built.  Infinity Wars seem to address many of these issues as they developing this game.

Simultaneous Play = Answer to interactive play

By interactive play, I mean something we can do in answer to opponent’s move without waiting for your turn.  In Magic, this is what “instant” does. In both Shadow Era and Eye of Judgment, there were no true interactive play.  Instant type of mechanics allow you to feel you are truly countering opponent’s move.  When you cast instant over the other instant, you are essentially creating the chain of counter over counter (stack mechanics).  Even some advanced players on Magic feel this can get sometimes confusing mechanics but many certainly loves this flexibility and frequently brought up as the strength of Magic the Gathering.  Though myself loved the concept, it was not issue free especially in the digital format.  When you play Magic the Gathering online (digital form of magic), due to instant mechanics existence, you had to hit cancel so many times to simply say you won’t do counter.  Also you had to wait extra time every time you do something as opponent get chance to decide whether to use instant even when he/she does not have the card.  So in game like Yu-Gi-Oh, they came up with “trap card” concept.  These cards were placed faced down.  So you know opponent have something under the sleeve that can be executed like instant.  So only time initiative need to go back to opponent is when there are something on trap zone.  It seems to me much more digital friendly way of creating interactive play environment.

In Infinity Wars, this was responded with completely different approach.  This is where simultaneous play concept comes in (in my mind).  Both players make their own actions/move simultaneously in batch, and once done select such, and when both players are ready the turn takes place in specific order.  This gives major benefit:

1. Each player are always in play i.e. never have to just sit and wait until opponent complete his/her move.

*Obviously, you may get done selecting your actions before opponent, so you will have some wait in those case but not complete stare of screen.

2. Provides interactive experience

As two players take a turn simultaneously, you have to predict what your opponent does in this turn.  Simple example shown on the above video clip was use of board wipe card.  You see several  character/creature cards on opponent support zone.  Just as in other TCG upon initial summoning, these characters are exhausted i.e. in the support zone, but very next turn can be moved to attack or defend zone.  So by looking at support zone, you speculate opponent will move these characters to attack zone and give you massive damage.  So as a counter to this anticipated move, you can cast board wipe spell, and retrieve all your characters from attack/defend zone back to support zone so they won’t be affected.

If this works, your opponent will feel like he/she just got countered your move, and you definitely would feel good as you truly read next move of your opponent as in chess.

Now this little simple example is actually deeper than what just explained.  Because your opponent will also try to speculate your next move.  So by seeing types of commanders (more below) you have, he/she can figure out what type of deck you are running i.e. whether there is a potential of board wipe card.  So he/she can decide not to move many characters from support zone in anticipation of such action from you.  The end result is now you ended up using board wipe for nothing i.e. wasted the very power card.  This is counter to your counter.

This type of next move speculation take place every turn and i.e. makes the game feel much more interactive than simple turn based.  But not annoyed by waiting for opponent’s to say “no” to “instance” after every single move you make.  To me, this seems like real world tactical/strategical experience.  In the real combat, I am sure you don’t watch what other do and make a move rather you continue to make your move with anticipating what your opponent do next, and in response to your move.   This mechanics won’t work well on paper but with digital card game, it may indeed be the best interactive way TCG can be implemented.

Potential: No specific was confirmed, but it was verified with Elphie that it is a potential that they can create cards to alter this simultaneous mechanics play.  E.g. currently each turn alternatively a player get an initiative and player with initiative get his/her action resolved first (when same priority).  But there may be card to keep the initiative on your side every turn.  Perhaps, even take it a further and create cards such that make it to classic “turn by turn” or allow you to see what opponent’s is doing before you make your decision.  Basically, I would call these “time card” i.e. you are intercepting/modifying “time” in game.  And with Infinity Wars, these type of cards are totally feasible at least in concept. 

Multizone mechanics = More strategy potential

In the Infinity Wars, there are basically 6 different zones.

1. Graveyard

Common among the any TCG is a graveyard.

2. Commander zone

In place of hero as in Shadow era, Infinity wars has commander zone.

3. Support zone

As in Shadow Era, there is a support zone where continuous effect card, newly deployed character card be placed.

4. Attack zone

Card in this zone will automatically attack your opponent from left to right.  Just think as these are cards activated as attack in Magic or Shadow Era.

5. Defend zone

Facing opponent’s attack zone, you have defend zone.  From left to right, until your defending creature gets killed/destroyed it will continue block opponent’s attack.

6. Spell zone

Zone where one time spell is placed, and executed before any of the attack or defend take place.

This multizonal approach gives concept of “moving characters.”  Character cards can be freely moved among attack, defend or support zones.  Some cards such as board wipe card example above only works if the character is in attack or defend zone, so placing back to support zone (simply moving card) without consuming mana/resource add another layer of strategy.

Potential: Not confirmed but in theory, since you specify order of cards within a zone i.e. which card is left most, second etc., if developer decides to they can create new intentional synergy mechanics such as “a card next to this character, gain +1/1.”  I would call this is formation synergy sort of similar to what Eye of Judgment did and beyond what Carte can do.

Faction = A world

Each faction in Infinity Wars represent one of parallel universe.  Similar to the concept of multiuniverse in Magic the Gathering.  This approach allows essentially the game to take place in any setting.  Some of may really like fantasy setting but others may like mechas.  Clearly two won’t live together but if you think each are taking in different world/parallel universe, it is easy to accept such and game can essentially have each faction dedicated to the world.  So currently, there are five factions revealed but these are not like Shadow and Human faction in Shadow Era or Colors in Magic or Eye of Judgment i.e. not fixed.  Factions will be added in future expansions (confirmed by Elphie).

Each factions are not just there to represent different world setting but have different play style/mechanics.  I believe I am not allowed to spoil anything that is not officially revealed yet, but let me say this.  The first five factions already have their own play style emphasis/mechanics fits nicely to deck archetype/deck type classification.

For example,

World of Avarrach faction

Mechanics – The Sleepers of Avarrach are relentless, and ultimately unstoppable. While a single zombie is of little threat, over time more and more zombies arrive, overwhelming the enemy. Killing a Sleeper of Avarrach is often only a temporary respite, as they are the best faction at using their graveyard, bringing many cards back from the dead, over and over until the enemy is overwhelmed. Furthermore, many of the Sleepers are infectious: when they kill an enemy character, that character gets turned into an undead, and the Sleepers gain control of it. To defeat the Sleepers, enemy players must manage keeping the undead under check, while simultaneously advancing their own plan swiftly enough to win before they are overwhelmed.

With its strong abilities to interact with graveyard, best to create Aggro Archetype recursion type decks.

The Cult of Verore

Mechanics – The Cult focuses on character removal abilities, they are the masters of making things die. Sitting from the support zone, their unlimited character – the Verore Death Watchers – become stronger with each enemy that goes to the grave, until they are able to destroy the opposing player from the power they fed off. However, if their kill spells are successfully dodged by being moved into the support zone by a skilled player, the Verore can find themselves overwhelmed by their enemies.

Including the board wipe card “mass death”, this faction has several spell cards that directly attacks characters.  These types of card will certainly allow you to create Aggro Control Archetype Burn Control deck types.

Genesis Industries 

Mechanics – Genesis Industries cards are the masters of building up. With time and an influx of resources, the Industry can build up huge, overpowering characters that dominate the battlefield. Furthermore, they are the masters of reusing their resources, able to recur cards from their graveyard to continue their fighting effort. A Genesis Industries player must be find a fine line between power and greed however, as putting all their eggs in one basket with a single powerful character can be disastrous if they misread their opponent.

With abilities to pump up existing cheaper characters, this faction allows you to create  Aggro Archetype high beat/beat down/stompy type of decks.

The Flame Dawn 

Mechanics – Flame Dawn cards are very aggressive, aiming to win the game quickly with a swarm of characters before other, lumbering strategies can come fully online, or at least deal so much damage in the early turns of the game that the enemy is always on the back foot. The cost for their speed, however, is a lack of staying power, as their removal abilities are all temporary, providing a window for victory that they must quickly seize.

Cheap cost cards with relatively high attack power and ability such as haste (these characters can immediately attack opponent during the turn it is summoned), you can easily imagine this faction is perfect for creating Aggro Archetype low beat/rush deck types.

*Very interesting concept here is that each faction seem to have cards that  can be included as many as you want i.e. no 4 card limit.  Since Flame Dawn Aspirant is the one in The Flame Dawn faction, you can essentially make a deck with 40 Flame Dawn Aspirant.  In fact, my first and only vs. human game, I lost against such deck. (technically he had more than just Flame Dawn Aspirant, but almost that).

The Warpath

Mechanics – Like the beasts of The Warpath, the cards of The Warpath are usually simple, but strong. There are no small beasts. Each beast is a large killer, often able to take on many characters from other factions in direct combat before dying. The beasts strengthen each other, and have the ability to breed together, able to create new beasts to destroy the opponent with. However, the Warpath’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness, as their focus on combat leaves them with limited options for dealing with complex strategies other factions may bring to the table.

With a way of resource boost and bigger strong creatures that can potentially grow/strengthen, this is perfect for High beat/stompy deck type.  But also with capability of intentional synergy and potential of bombarding with beast characters, it has a great chance to create combo deck.  In fact, there is a very strong card which may have potential being a single key card to allow creating Combo Archetype single card strategy deck type.

What about other deck types?

Many other deck types are totally feasible with the way game is made.  Here are some other examples.

Combo Archetype Infinity deck type – There is no card limit how many characters can be on the board and the game has ability to create token characters.  So yes. there is a potential for infinity or near infinity type deck.

Combo Archetype Alternative Win deck type – In addition to player’s health point, the game has Morale parameter.  If it goes down to 0, you lose the game.  So the game already have built in alternative win mechanism.  You lose morale equal to the cost of your character gets destroyed.  In deck out condition, you also lose 10 morale per turn.

Control archetype permission deck type – This is always difficult to implement without instant type of card; however, with simultaneous play mechanism, it is perfectly feasible in this game.  Not confirmed, but for instance, if they make a card such as “Return opponent attack zone characters to support zone”, it basically negates the opponent’s move/attack.  Based on the variation of cards already in existence, I just don’t see any reason why we won’t see these type of card.

Conclusion:

In short, Infinity Wars has the greatest potential of being the best digital trading card game.  Its fundamental set up appears so flexible and unique, the potential variation and depth of game play seems limitless.  Despite being alpha, I truly had a fun with this game.

Source:

1. Interview with Elphie Coyle on 11/28/2012
2. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/elphie/infinity-wars-animated-trading-card-game

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