Infinity Wars – A Quick Look

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[Originally posted on 08 Mar 2014 at Gather Your Party]

Infinity Wars – Animated Trading Card Game

Publisher: Lightmare Studios
Developer: Lightmare Studios
Platforms: Windows PC and Steam
Status: Early Access/Open Beta
Model: Free To Play

Introduction

I remember hearing about Infinity Wars way back in 2012 during their Kickstarter. At the time, one look at the project page made me discard the game into the “yet another free to play online card game” trash bin of my memory. I didn’t give it a second thought until I saw it again, first on Steam Greenlight and later on Steam Early Access in late 2013. On both occasions a look at their respective project pages bearing the subtitle “Animated Trading Card Game,” made my eyes glaze over. The thought of “Magic: The Gathering – With Animated Cards!!!” entered my head, which could probably not make me care less even if it tried to.

I am a big fan of traditional card games and have played just about everything under the sun. I am familiar with the CCG mainstream like Magic: The Gathering,DoomtrooperPokemonYu-Gi-Oh, and many other hybrids like Munchkin or Mutant Chronicles: Siege of The Citadel. In fact, I like traditional card games so much I created and published two myself, an empire-building CCG and a co-op board/card game hybrid.

That being said, I am probably one of the most jaded CCG fans on the planet, having seen almost every mechanic card games had to offer and having heavily analyzed popular CCG systems that seem, more often than not, to copy Magic: The Gathering “with a twist”.

In the case of popular CCGs, the industry seems to be in the same place as the FPS in the video game industry: emulating ancient design tropes and getting progressively worse at it. Given the CCG history and my exposure you might understand why my reaction to “online card game” is to roll my eyes, especially when the game is marketed as Free To Play which I have an almost instinctual aversion to.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with computerized versions of card games in the past. BattleForge was a nice concept of merging CCG deckbuilding with real time strategy and was only ruined by Electronic Arts, their microtransaction model, and later, Origin. Similarly, other hybrid online CCGs had potential, be it tactics games or digital board games like Wolfire’s Desperate Gods, yet the core of the CCG experience historically made the switch to digital poorly, and what always bothered me about digital CCGs was the fact that they seemed to not utilize systems appropriate to the platform, but rather stuck to traditional conventions.

I was surprised to learn that Infinity Wars is certainly not Magic: The Gathering with animated cards, or designing itself to be the “Heartstone killer”. It is a surprisingly fresh and well designed digital card game that takes advantage of its platform concerning its rules and interaction, bringing things to the card game space that would be either impossible to perform in a traditional tabletop setting, or at least very hard without a third or fourth party.

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Mechanics Introduction

At first glance Infinity Wars looks like any other card game: players draw cards from a deck, there are resources to be gathered and spent, the cards have attack and health values as well as abilities, there is a battlefield where cards are played and players have health points that when reduced to zero signal defeat.

However, this is where the similarities end.

Infinity Wars introduces a game-changing mechanic in the form of simultaneous turn-resolution; both players play their cards at the same time, but the resolution happens simultaneously once both have accepted to end their turn. This allows each player to anticipate and read their opponents moves as they are making them and predict their immediate strategy or tactic. Simultaneous turn-resolution also means that players can target and anticipate cards that could be played, which means they can use abilities that are not currently ‘legal’ but become so once the turn resolves itself.

An important element in this is the Support Zone, which most unit cards are played to openly before they can be played in either Assault or Defense Zones, as well as the Command Zone, where the players’ chosen Commander Cards reside openly visible. These two zones give players a general idea of what could be played next and what the strategy of the opposing player might be. However, they can also be used to employ fake-out and bait strategies, or to set traps when second-guessing what the opponent knows and what he will make of the situation.

In short, the game becomes focused on a mental game of strategy and enemy prediction, with both players trying to guess the other’s moves to utilize their resources optimally.

The field of play and general rules in Infinity Wars are incredibly simple, at least compared to contemporary CCGs or even Magic: The Gathering where card interactions, turn-phases, and ability/card priority are the meat of the game.

The field of play is divided into four zones: Assault, Defense, Support and Command Zone. Assault and Defense Zones are mirrored on both sides, and cards placed in the Assault Zone of one player will meet the cards placed in the Defense Zone of the opposing player and result in combat.

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Both players have health and morale points as their Fortress’ resources which when reduced to zero signal defeat. Health is lost by units or abilities directly doing damage to the Fortress, while morale is lost whenever a unit the player controls dies – with a few exceptions and nuances.

Resources used to play cards are generated automatically for both players, starting at one and adding to the pool for every turn played up to ten, where their addition slows down. Players also have access to cards that expand their resource pool, or can pay nine resources to expand their resource pool by one in the Trading Post.

Cards have multiple statistics: foremost important is their resource cost, deciding how many resources have to be spent for the card to be played and, for characters, their morale cost when the unit is killed. Additionally, the cards have attack and persistent health values which decrease in combat and are often subject to abilities and card effects.

Character cards are played by paying their resource cost and then moving them to the Support Zone where they are exhausted. An exhausted card stays in the Support Zone until the next turn when they can be put into either the Assault or Defense Zone (or not moved at all). The distinction here is that the Support Zone is not affected by battlefield-specific abilities of specific cards. Units in the Support Zone can’t attack the Fortress directly, but they can use abilities or grant passive bonuses if available.

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Characters can be moved freely between the Assault, Defense or Support Zones which means that they can retreat from combat, or switch from attack to defense at a moment’s notice. Additionally, the order in which cards are placed in either Assault or Defense Zone is important as it decides the combat phase resolution and if there are potentially units left to attack the Fortress directly when all the defenders have been exhausted.

Infinity Wars does not rely on complex phase-orders and ability-type stacks; there are generally only three worth mentioning. Abilities and card effects usually go first in the order they are activated/played by the player, unless a preemptive card has been played, which always goes first regardless of play order. Then combat resolution between Defense and Assault Zone takes place, ending with any deck and resource-operations like adding resources or drawing cards. This simplicity means that the game’s pace is rather fast, with an emphasis on strategic enemy anticipation and threat assessment rather than complex phase-order tricks, deckbuilding metagame or convoluted card-combos.

The Command Zone is a special zone that is populated by cards chosen by the player as their commanders. These cards are immediately playable to the Assault or Defense Zones for their resource cost and are not put into play exhausted. They are also separate from the Support Zone and its effects. The player may designate three commanders per deck which will decide the deck’s Purity. Commanders are a way of guaranteeing characters in your draw that are ready to be played on the field; they can rank from basic characters to powerful unique units with special abilities. Additionally, the Command Zone is usually exempt from many battlefield effects and damage abilities. Generally, the commanders are characters that play a very specific role in your deck’s strategy, like buffing units or rush openings. The player has to choose carefully as characters played in the command field are generally considered high threat and might tip the opponent off about the player’s strategy. Characters designated commanders also do not count towards the individual card-limit and can therefore help in exceeding their card-limit.

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Modes Overview

Infinity Wars features both solo play against the AI and various multiplayer modes to chose from. On a relatively skilled playthrough, the solo campaign should take the player around four to six hours to complete, considering every faction has eight missions, there are seven (plus one) factions, and a match can take anywhere between five to twenty minutes to complete.

The single player campaign missions come with their own reward: starter decks for all the factions, booster packs, and single-card rewards per mission, while acting as a mini-tutorial for every faction and introducing their strengths and weaknesses. After having played through all faction campaigns I had around 500 cards available in total. It is highly recommended to play through all the campaign missions simply for the free card rewards, but also to have played against and for all the factions in the game before entering multiplayer.

Multiplayer modes are divided into Constructed and Draft, where the player either enters games with self-crafted decks from the deck-builder, or picks cards at the same time as the opponent. This is a very fair feature to reduce deck-building advantages through blind play against a counter-pick deck. Furthermore, both types of match support Merged Deck mode, where both players’ decks are merged into an identical randomized deck, entirely eliminating any advantages the player might have had through their deck-building and metagame.

Of course solo queue as well as ranked matches are available and can be customized to reflect the rules the player wants to play with, including the turn-speed of the timer and deck-rules (including tournament rules).

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Deck Building & Factions

As mentioned, Infinity Wars features seven (plus one) factions. There are seven main colored factions total and one colorless faction. Deck building is restricted by card Purity, the amount of faction icons in the top left corner of the card.

Purity is decided by the amount of commanders of the same faction designated by the player. For example, one commander of a faction will give access to Purity 1 cards of that faction, two commanders of the same faction will give access to Purity 2 cards of that faction, and so on.

Generally speaking, the higher the Purity of a card, the more powerful a card is, but also the more specialized and inflexible. Purity 3 decks, playing only one faction exclusively, are generally rare as they are highly specialized decks with lots of weaknesses, but very powerful cards in their respective role.

For example, the Flame Dawn is a character rush faction and their Purity 3 cards have all attack but no defense, with most units having the ability to be played directly from the hand to the Assault Zone. With this comes the weakness against turtle or control decks that manipulate cards and morale with no direct recourse against these strategies. Far more popular are so called Splash Decks, meaning the deployment of two commanders of a primary faction and a “splash” of another faction to cover the weaknesses of the primary faction.

Pure Decks need to rely on cards from the colorless faction that can be played with any other faction without commanders. The colorless faction generally has the same or similar cards available as all other factions, except weaker or more expensive.

Another way to build your deck is creating a Chromatic Deck with three different factions. Obviously this means that the player has only access to the factions weakest Purity 1 cards. However, good synergies exist, especially with factions that are thematically and mechanically close to each other; for example, the undead Sleepers, demon Outcast and arcane Vorare.

Purity is an interesting way to limit deck-building as there is no upper card limit. I have seen so-called Discard Decks with over 200 cards of the same type that rely on killing your own units, which is especially popular with the Sleeper faction, relying on card graveyard manipulation.

Besides these unique mechanic, old CCG tropes and conventions like power-curves still apply. They are even displayed ingame with an extremely neat statistics screen that informs the player with a bar graph about their deck composition. Cards are also handled as a virtual pool, which means you do not have to own multiple copies of a card if you want to use them in different decks at the same time. Deck-slots also seem nonexistent and to my knowledge there is no limit to how many decks you can create and save.

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Financial Model Overview

I can hear you ask already: Is this another Pay To Win disaster?

I have long thought about how TCGs and CCGs fit into the Free To Play model and how/why we accept games like Magic: The Gathering as legit games even though power (cards) can be bought with money. I have come to the conclusion that there is one factor that makes or breaks the model: individual trading. If cards can be traded freely, there is never a direct disadvantage from not purchasing cards from the store or publisher.

Fortunately Infinity Wars does have direct player to player trading (no centralized auction or shop) and even goes a step further in NOT offering individual cards for sale in their online store. The online store only features thematic decks, booster packs and cosmetics both available for ingame and real money currencies, so a player can not just purchase epic cards from the very start. He can however trade his cards for whatever he needs to compliment his deck(s). This is an incredibly fair model that I simply can’t find a fault with.

The game rewards you with 100-500 ingame currency per match, depending on enemy level. A booster pack with a guaranteed rare card costs around 5000 ingame currency, the equivalent of ten to fifty matches depending on matchups. Additionally there is a so called Rift Run mode which functions like horde mode PVP: a player starts a lobby and gets challenged continuously for ever increasing rewards until he loses, which can net very high ingame currency and XP rewards. There are also daily log-in rewards, win of the day rewards, and “quests” or rather achievements (deliver 60 damage in one turn, etc.) that are rewarded with single cards.

Search as I may, I can not find a fault with the monetization of the game, especially considering Merged Deck mode entirely eliminates any advantage a paying player might theoretically have.

In short, it is entirely fair and possibly the best monetization I have seen of a game of this type.

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Conclusion

Infinity Wars is a refreshing game in the card game space too long occupied by Magic: The Gathering clones and faulty Pay To Win schemes interested only in the bottom line. It is a game that takes advantage of the platform’s unique abilities to create a well-designed game that’s both engaging as well as mechanically deep.

Of course being in beta it is not without technical flaws. Many annoying bugs and glitches exist that still have to be taken care of and judging from the announcements of the developer they are currently focusing on the game-breaking bugs like endless turns or combat freezes.

To be fair, there are a few worrying clouds on the horizon. I can see that gold-farmers might become a problem in the long run, selling individual cards online, externally to the game itself. However this also happens in traditional card games and sites exist that allow for the purchase of single cards instead of publisher booster packs.

Another question is how often the game will be patched post release and if it will ever settle into a proper metagame. This is a concern for card games especially since a lot of the deck building relies on a stable metagame where players aren’t required to learn all new mechanics because cards or effects were changed significantly in a new edition. In traditional card games this is of little concern, as Wizards of the Coast can’t walk into your home and tear up your card collection, but in the digital space it’s possible at the press of a button.

However, at the very least, the developers have stated that there will never be a card or account reset, even when the game goes live, probably because of the booster pack mechanics that give out random cards, which strikes me as extremely fair.

In its current state Infinity Wars is already worth playing if you can deal with small inconveniences like dropped matches, connection issues or decks magically duplicating or not saving properly.

All I can say is that I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone that has even the very slightest interest in CCGs.

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2 Responses to Infinity Wars – A Quick Look

  1. wwknight says:

    I love this review. I also found the game in kickstarter, and I have been playing ever since. I backed to a level that had me designing a card.

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