【ZEMS Online CCG】 ~Kickstarter~

Perhaps, I just feel this way but it seems like lately dTCG/dCCG genre have a trend to start merging with elements of realtime strategy game.  A while back, I noticed this with Faeria. But relatively recently Duelyst.  Then this months, we have seen Labryrinth CCG, Warlords of Terra TCG, and now this game ZEMS CCG.  There are fundamental similarities among these games.  Currently, ZEMS online is on Kickstarter. So let’s take a look.


Platform: Windows with Mac and Linux to follow.

Genre: Digital CCG, Free to Play

Booster Pack Cost: $1.50


We will have a dusting and crafting system similar to Hearthstone’s, but no trading or auction house.

Major minus point here is the fact it’s a collectible card game with booster packs set at relatively high price.   As this has been discussed on other post, players must understand real difference between dCCG and dTCG.  In a physical realm, CCG and TCG can be interchangeable as one can always trade their physical cards even if it’s called collectible card game.  This statement is not true in digital realm.  If the game does not allow trading system by design, that is what it is.

Major issue of Digital Collectible Card Game

So what’s the downside of not having trading capability?  One will have hard time getting card they want.  Let’s say you want to make a deck with card X, Y, and Z.  Without a trading system, you have to keep opening boosters to get them and that’s by pure statistical chance.

During the whole process of attempting to get X, Y, and Z, you will accumulate tons of unnecessary cards for your deck.  So crafting system help converting them to other cards.  It is better than nothing, but in general crafting system is NEVER as good as trading to get exact card you want. Basically, the system is generally developer created unfair and random trade with AI.  One needs to put more cards than what you get (in general) and even then what you get may be very random.  So one deck may merely cost $10 for actual content/value, but to get exact cards to make that deck, one needs to spends multiple factors amount of money.

Now let’s say, the developer makes amazing crafting system where you can craft a very specific card you want.  There is still a major issue.  The fact you cannot trade card makes everything you put into the game has no real life value.  Since developer will never make one to one trade to any card you want, every time you convert a card you lose overall value/card numbers.  When new set comes out, you need to keep spending money to be able to just play.

The third major point here is your investment is permanent without a return. Now we don’t generally play card game for making money (though you can potentially), but because dTCG/dCCG can get expensive quickly, you want to have a potential way of get your investment back at least partially if you decides to quit the game.  In dCCG, only way you can do so is sell your entire account but most people don’t do that, the sell value of such account itself is relative low and you will never get what you paid, and of course lose everything after the sale.

Whereas in a game that has trading system, you can get exact card you want, and therefore, you can build a deck you want much cheaper.  If one decides he needs only latest card set, he can keep trading or selling cards and may be able to keep up with new sets without spending anything.  Then of course if the time comes, and you decide to quit the game, you can potentially sell cards for real money (as long as the game is popular enough and you carefully do the trade).  So hundreds or may be even thousands of dollars you spent in a game can potentially come back.  This is where many people misunderstand Magic the Gathering online, which people feels too expensive, but they retain value and after a few hundred dollars of investment initial month, I was able to keep play the game without any additional penny.  In the end, I actually got more money than what I put in.

In fact, company has realized this matter as well.

Considering Buy-To-Play

Many of you who tried our alpha likened the game to another similar CCG with tactical combat: Duelyst. They originally had a successful Kickstarter campaign promising a “buy-once, play forever” game before changing to a free-to-play model. We’ve been discussing within our team whether a buy-to-play model is possible with a CCG and whether it is possible with Zems.

Generally, a card game cannot sustain a ‘buy-once play forever’ model because servers cost money to maintain. However, there are games like Dota 2 that sustain the upkeep from vanity purchases (skins, etc.) while providing the base game for a one-time purchase or for free. While we can’t offer the game completely for free, we think it might be possible to pursue the buy-once route.

It would work like this:

  • Players will pay a single price (probably $30) to get all cards and heroes in the base game.
  • Players can purchase alternate art cards and account services like name change in-game with real money.
  • Every now and then we would release expansions containing a set of new cards and players can pay a single price (likely $10) for all the cards in the expansion.
  • Alternate art cards in the expansion, like alternate arts in the base game, would be additional real-money purchases but they wouldn’t be required to play the game.

So in reality it is buy-once with in-app purchases for vanity items, but we feel players would be much more receptive to this model than free-to-play with in-app purchases for acquiring cards. We’re still thinking whether we should pursue this route – many people have told us they would pledge instantly if this is the monetization model we chose – but we are worried the current art in the game is too polished to make any alternate art vanity cards truly stand out, and different visual effects may not be enough of a selling point either.

Above model is not a bad one.  It’s basically like you buy a video game soft, and if they release version 2, you buy another.  Personally, I would like this approach as much as dTCG because $30 without real monetary value is not an big issue to most of us especially when you can get 100’s hours of game play.

Is there downside with above?  Well, it loses collector mentality part of fun as you know everyone has everything, but again I know that costs money so not for everyone.

General Game Play

Now, if everything is negative about this game, I won’t spend time posting on my blog.  The actual core of the game appears very intriguing.

The game uses tactical field with weather & environment effects.

The goal of the game is simple and very similar to other dTCG.  You have a hero, and you try to take opponent’s hero life to 0.  You can cast creatures, use spell cards or even structure/construct type card.

The game has a battlefield and therefore, hero and creature moves and that movement is part of tactics.

Resource System

Type: Automatic Resource System (ARS)

Based on my reading, it looks like the resource system is the automatic resource system i.e. each turn you get more resource point, and they reset.  This is same system as Hearthstone.  Simplest form of resource system that provides player still a feel of basic resource management.

Card Types

  • Hero
    • One per deck, and has a special ability.
  • Follower
    • This is creature or troop cards. Cards that has attack and health.
  • Spell
    • Direct magical card that can affect other follower, hero etc.
  • Construct
    • These are like building, and takes up a space on the board like follower but no movement allowed.

Purely Turn Based

The game appears to have no instant/quick action type counter spell card i.e. cards that you can play during opponent’s turn.  Now this may be just because the game is still in Alpha.  But I have not seen specific mention about this type of card, and in general, this is a fundamental game design component as balance of game can be affected substantially, there is a good chance, the game remains such

Weather/environment System

Stunning enemy units on wet spaces.

This is one of the sales point in this game.  The idea is cards affect changes weather/environment of the game which can be used as part of game synergy.

For instance, the example above shows a following situation.  First you have created spaces to WET condition.  Then used a spell, called electrify, which read as “stun a wet space.”  Later you can expand wet space, and stunning effect you created may spread out.

It is a pretty neat feature/element of the game that is only possible in a games that use battlefield/zones.

General Feel

Since I haven’t been able to play the game yet, this is just my guess/gut feeling.  But based on what I see, the game have relatively deep strategy but not as much as some other games like to the level of Magic, HEX or currently Kickstarter project Warlords of Terra.

I can readily imagine Warlords of Terra to make weather/environment equivalent cards to do the same.  But ZEMS has no resource dedicated card, instant, and hero has only single ability etc.

But the game does have battlefield element; therefore, compared to game like Hearthstone or Shadow Era, this game can be a bit deeper.  In fact, being not being too complex nor too simple i.e. right at the best balance between the two may be what most public may want.

Legendary Level of Art

The most amazing part of this game, to me, is their art.  I have to give the highest quality level of art I have seen in dTCG/dCCG.  Now games tend to show only the very best art, so it may indeed not be whole representation of the game, but the game has alpha client already and I see several cards with everyone of them actually matching the level of quality.

Sentinel Bay, eastern coast of the Irulian Empire.

A Merune gathering zems beneath the sea.

These arts are just amazing.

Kickstarter Values

Since the game is on Kickstarter, I have to talk about the value of the Kickstarter.  The game provides option of LIFETIME draft, which is once a week, starting at $250 tier.

The catch here (if you call) is the draft in this game is like Hearthstone i.e. you won’t get to keep drafted cards.  So actual value/cost of each draft is not like HEX or Magic.  The price of each draft is $2.50.  So even a one year of draft for full year gives only $130.  So it’s just not as good value as you think.  Now don’t get me wrong, you are still getting more value than what you pay but not to the degree of legendary generous HEX or now matched game, Warlords of Terra.

Alpha is available

The game actually has playable alpha for free to test.  So if you even have a slightest interest to this game, don’t just take my word, I say give a try.

I have not yet able to find opponent, so hadn’t had a chance to play a game yet, but may be I might see one of you there this weekend!


Zems have one of the best art in digital card game I have ever seen, and what’s amazing is they may be consistent across the board (at least what I see).  The game is not an ordinary digital card game because it uses battlefield i.e. it’s one of those game that combines card game with tactical game.

There are; however, a few pieces of game that makes me a bit concern.  One is that there is no plan for the game to be on tablets.

But most important point is the fact, this is a digital COLLECTIBLE card game i.e. your investment in this game has essentially no real money value and also in the end game will cost much more than digital trading card game.

However, company has recognized this and currently appears to be considering alternative business model such as one time purchase, and each expansion for additional purchase, but otherwise all cards are free to play.  If this is the route they take, I say it’s a great move.  But then draft value becomes very vague as you don’t need to get anymore cards and paying additional $2.50 for each draft makes no longer a sense.  So all the kickstarter values also substantially changes.

In general, the game’s depth of strategy is likely to lie somewhere between Hearthstone and HEX/Magic.  The battlefield element adds more depth to this game than game like Hearthstone, but lack of instant ability and dedicated resource system will intrinsically restrict design space.  The best comparison here is similarly designed/category game, the Warlords of Terra.  WOT may have smaller overall battlefield size but other than that WOT has fundamental design robustness to allow future flexibility and game depth than Zems.

Others may consider also comparing to Labryinth, which  has already finished kickstarter with a success.  That game has fundamental design of Player vs. AI, but with a plan for PvP as well, which I believe may end up being pretty similar to Zems.

Tell me what you think?







2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Britannis on December 5, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Fair, but the article assumes the game is like any other dCCG with 50% of the cards being unusable. Almost every card in the current alpha is viable and interesting, and the team has pledged to keep the card pool to a medium size and that they will not intentionally create bad cards. This makes any sort of buy-in, even if the game is free to play, rather low.

    TradingCardGames.com had a lot of positive things to say about the game: http://tradingcardgames.com/zems-early-preview/


    • Posted by houshasen on December 5, 2015 at 6:19 pm


      I still haven’t had a chance to be able to play alpha. As each time, I’m online (for an hour) I cannot find anyone to play against. So my pre-review is purely from what I read. Don’t get me wrong, I think the game appears interesting otherwise I won’t cover it here as I tend to ignore even ones asked to be reviewed by developer if I find I can only say negative things about it. But generally speaking dCCG is a red flag for people to invest money in and that by itself I tend to give a negative point. So I’m actually looking forward for its potential to switch business model. It’s just comes down to pure statistics that if you calculate and try to get a specific card in your deck to make specific deck, lack of trading system makes much difficult. Furthermore, trading system gives potential of BLACK market (of course with risk for players) but ones who invest in can potentially sell cards for real money and therefore get there money back in an event they decide to quit, which is impossible with dCCG.

      But if you are ok with business model restriction, I agree this game looks very interesting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: