Jun 15, 2013

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Scrolls (Beta) Review

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Quite a few years ago I played the card game Magic the Gathering with some of my friends. It was a world full of magical warriors under your control as you tried to conquer your opponents. You would go buy card packs full of new cards and work on your deck, trying to make yourself the most powerful opponent. A few years ago, that same game moved onto the computer, but was essentially the same gameplay in a digital format. There’s a new contender in the digital trading card arena, and it brings a lot of new aspects to the genre. Scrolls is a new title from Mojang currently in open beta that takes collectible card games to a whole new level.

Mojang, a company known for it’s monumental indie game Minecraft, have just publicly opened the doors to their new title,Scrolls. I’ve been following this game quite closely ever since Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang, personally challenged the crew over at Bethesda to a game of Quake 3 in order for him to use the name Scrolls; Bethesda had claimed it infringed on their copyrighted Elder Scrolls series. Well, the name battles are over, and the card battles are here. In beta form, mind you.

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Scrolls – in its simplest form – is a collectible card game, yet once you dig in a little deeper this game has a lot of very interesting mechanics and innovations that make it more than just a strategy card game. Since the game is in beta, this will be somewhat of a mixture between a preview and review. There’s supposed to be a lot more content on the way for this game, so I’ll just cover what’s already here.

The show-downs take place on a grid-like battlefield. Two sections of 3×5 hexagons split down the middle mark places for each player to place his characters. Behind each row is a small statue with ten hit points. These statues are to be guarded at all costs. Once the opposing team’s characters have destroyed three of your five statues, the game is over and you have lost. However, at its core, it is still a card game and sometimes a battle can come down to just luck of the draw. I’ve lost quite a few battles at the last minute because I was unable to get a specific card I could have used.

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You get to choose a pre-constructed deck when you first start up the game so you can learn the basics, before learning how to build a deck of your own. Each pre-constructed deck represents one of the three resources used in the game: energy, growth, and order. Each resource will have different sorts of units, and can be beneficial in different situations. After choosing your starter deck, there’s an amazingly instructive and helpful tutorial battle. It explains all the basics from how to gather resources, what different numbers and images mean, and some basic defense and attack techniques.

To place a unit on your grid, you need resources. You gain resources by sacrificing your own cards, trying to choose ones you won’t need. This makes deck building much easier since you don’t have to fill up your deck with twenty to thirty resources, but also makes you think before sacrificing any of your cards. When attacking, your melee units can only move forward on the grid that they are already on. This makes unit placement crucial to battlefield success. Ranged units, on the other hand, don’t move far from where they are originally placed. Some units can only shoot straight lines, others lob a shot towards a general area. I could write about the game mechanics all day here, but I’ll leave some of the discovery to those who decide to pick this game up.

The hand-drawn stylistic art in this game fits perfectly. It reminds me a lot of what I used to imagine my battlefields looking like back when I played Magic the Gathering. Being able to see your warriors run around and battle is extremely satisfying. Especially when you land a nice final shot to one of your enemy’s totems; there’s a loud clang followed by a bright beam of light soaring into the sky. This is occasionally followed by a saddened response of “dang it” from your opponent. The characters sway in their time off as they wait for their next orders. Once their orders are issued, they spring forth down the grid of a battlefield towards the nearest enemy, attack, then quickly return to their original position waiting to attack again.

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The sounds are simple but beautiful in this game. In the background there’s always a gentle, well-composed tune. Even when I minimize my game to do something else real quick, the soothing tune continues. Reminding me I have more battles to fight. The character and combat sounds in the game work well with the hand drawn graphics. Explosions, sword clangs, roars, and yells create feeling of watching your army actually duke it out.

Probably my favorite thing about this game, however, is multiplayer. After training against AI for a while I decided to dip my toe in the water of ranked games. Not knowing if the community would be helpful or angry, I joined in my first match. “Have fun” and “good game” were pretty much the only things that were said every match. Sometimes a few pleasantries or jokes are said during the match and then it’s over and we’re on our way to play someone else. To be honest, this is probably one of the friendliest online games I’ve played in a while. People in general chat are willing to help you out, and there are channels to discuss strategy and trading as well.

For such a new game, the players are very involved with it already. I was able to find multiple resources that helped show the value of different cards so you can get a fair price in the trade room. I found this resource fairly early on and was able to trade quite a few of my cards for gold, which I then used to buy more packs of cards.

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The in-game store fits fairly well with this sort of game. Using gold you win from your battles, you can buy single cards or an entire pack. Buying a pack of cards guarantees you a rare card, but if you don’t have 1000 gold to spend, you can also buy a random scroll for a fraction of the price. There is also a real-money currency called shards. So far there seem to be no plans to make this a pay-to-win game, as shards can only be used to buy cosmetic items or the other pre-constructed packs that you didn’t choose earlier. All the cards you can buy with real money can also be received in scroll packs, it just depends on if you have the time and skill to stock up on your own.

This is a game that could be played over and over again, as every battle is a different experience. You’re always hoping that your next pack of cards will hold that special rare one you’ve been looking for. I found myself unable to sleep one night, so I loaded up Scrolls and just played until I had lost all perception of time. The fact that the community is so friendly also adds to the replayability factor. This game could be played by anyone even if they have no experience with card games, but also enjoyed by old trading card game veterans. The art style, music, and innovation make this game an amazing experience overall.

Since the game is currently still in beta, it doesn’t feel right nit-picking any sort of small problems that I experienced during my time playing. Yet for the sake of letting the public know, I’ll list what small problems I noticed while playing. Chat is currently pretty buggy, and the trade channel is impossible to join. Most of the trades I made were set up through fan forums that had trading sections. The trading windows themselves are actually very intuitive and easy to use, it can just be difficult setting up the trade before hand. Another issue is how gold is given at the end of a game. I’ve never had too much of a problem with it, but quite a few people are reporting not getting that much gold if their opponent surrenders. People surrender near the end of the game if they have no more options for defense, but sometimes this leaves the victor with less than his fair share of the spoils.

Overall, this game is a great new take on the old trading card game formula. The art and music create a great atmosphere and the online community, for the most part, is extremely helpful. It is very in-depth, but also easy to get started with. Scrolls looks very promising with only a few issues that need to be ironed out.

Scrolls (Beta)
Platform: PC (reviewed), MAC
Genre: Collectable Card Game
Release Date: June 3, 2013
Developer: Mojang
Publisher: Mojang
MSRP: $20.95


8

Note: This review is based off the Beta version 0.94. Future reviews will be posted as needed, based on major updates to the game.

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About Trevor Crandall

I'm a 21-year-old student from Northern California. I spend a lot of time playing video games during my down-time and always have - even since childhood.