Tonight I was in a Google Hangout session with my brother and sister and my brother started talking about a game he's playing that just went into open beta earlier in the day. The game is called SolForge and it's a free to play online collectible card game. He wanted to know if I was playing it. I'm against playing games in beta, and around launch time, and that have a bad free to play money scheme, so the answer was no. But then he had to go and play a quick game against the computer while I watched and got me wanting to play. He was on and it was working fine, so my big concerns with playing on launch day didn't seem to be an issue. And I'll always try a free game with someone I know. If the money making scheme sucks I can always quit!
It turns out that while playing against the computer worked fine, most of the other aspects weren't working so well. The webpage wasn't loading so I couldn't register for an account. A couple refreshes got through that hurdle. As the game was installing James and Josh sent me messages via Steam asking about my in game name and complaining about how multiplayer wasn't working so well. Eh, I was in the game by now, might as well give it a try, right?
We were able to play about 9 or 10 turns with some lag, but then things started going haywire. The solution James had was to log out and come back in and you'd be able to play another turn. That worked for us too, but it turned a 30 second turn into a 5 minute turn and stopped being worth doing. There's a 'first win of the day' bonus so I went and played a game with the computer. It's a CCG, but there are supposed to be a few different decks you can play without owning them. Turns out something is wrong so there's only one deck to use. Presumably the lag, the desyncing, and the deck issues will get worked out in a short period of time, but playing a game at launch is still proving to be a disaster. Then I was told they rushed the open beta to start for GenCon or something... Yay arbitrary deadlines?
At any rate, the game itself seemed somewhat interesting. When you play a card it gets removed from your deck, but you get a leveled up version in your discard pile for your next shuffle. So there's interesting decisions between playing a card that's good right now or playing a worse card that levels up in a better way. The combat itself reminds me of a Facebook game I played a while ago, but I don't remember what it was called. You have 5 lanes for cards. Each turn they attack whatever is in front of them, or the other player's life total if they're unopposed. Damage is permanent, so eventually a creature will die even if you have to put a bunch of chumpers in front of them. Each turn you get to play exactly 2 cards, discard the rest, and draw back up to 5 cards in hand. After 4 turns you reshuffle. So you'll see 20 of the 30 cards in your deck and then you'll shuffle the 12 discarded cards and the 8 upgraded cards in with the 10 you didn't draw. This makes games more random (if you build around a single card like the precon I can use, sometimes you lose when you don't draw it) but makes sure you can get your upgraded cards faster.
Ok, so it's a decently fun game and eventually I'll be able to play with other people without it sucking... How are they going to get money out of me? Well, every day that you log in you get some free cards. The first win (or first 3 losses) in a day get you some free cards. After one day I'm up to 7 cards. Given the way deck construction works I'll probably need ~60 cards just to build a legal deck. So in a week and a half if I stay on top of things I'll have a terrible deck of my own. There are 4 rarities of cards, and it really seems like I'll only expect to get commons and maybe a few rares. I got super lucky and got a legendary card for my first win of the day, but maybe that's standard? I'd guess before I could build a reasonable deck I'd be looking at a couple months of playing every single day.
What if I pay money? Well, for about $2 I can buy a booster with 8 cards in it. 5 commons, 2 rares and 1 heroic, with a chance of having one of the cards get upgraded a rarity if I get lucky. Or for about $11 I can get 10 cards. 3 commons, 3 rares, 3 heroics, and 1 legendary, with the upgrade chance again. My brother gave them some money a while ago when they were in alpha or something, so his account came with I think 60 of the $2 boosters. I think he's got full playsets (3 cards) of pretty much all the commons and rares and I know he got 3 of the same heroic he wanted to build a deck around. But I don't think he got even a single copy of the legendary dragon I randomly won. There's no trading, either.
I guess it's like Magic. If I wanted to go play constructed on Magic Online and if they'd turned trading off I'd be looking at needing to sink in hundreds or thousands of dollars to build the decks I want to play. That's how it feels here for SolForge. With no trading and no drafting (at least for now) it really feels like the idea of building real decks and of having fair matches is right out the window.
Not that I'm complaining about having a restricted cardpool. Shandalar was an awesome Magic game, and you really had a limited card pool when you started out there. But the ways to get more cards revolved around playing the game more and/or getting lucky with random event spawns. Not opening my wallet to shell out cash.
But I think about playing Magic as a kid, and I'm trying to find a difference here. But I can't. Magic was also fun with small numbers of cards, but it became very tempting to buy more and more packs to build better decks than other people. By the end of high school I was buying awesome cards in online auctions and starting to wreck faces with berserk and the like.
Clearly I am the whale, or at least I could be the whale here. But I don't want to be the whale. I don't think I'd be able to play constructed Magic the way I once did, and that's all there is in SolForge so far.
That said, the game is fun, even with just the one deck. So I think I'll keep playing, collect me free stuff every day, and see when I can eventually cobble a deck together. I doubt I'll be too happy playing with random people who own all the cards but maybe there'll be some way to play only against other bad decks? Or maybe they'll eventually implement drafts? Or maybe I'll get bored with the one deck and quit forever even though they'll eventually turn the game into something good for free players. Therein lies the problem for me with starting an incomplete game in a beta...