It’s really easy to overlook Steam’s free-to-play section. There are some fairly atrocious mobile ports, clones, and other dross in the FTP category. The thing is, there are also some really interesting little diamonds in the rough scattered among the rubbish that definitely warrant a second look. With this in mind, I often foray into this area of our beloved gaming directory in search of the best of the bunch. In one of my recent hunts, I came across a new game that I’m really enjoying and couldn’t resist telling you lot about, Wagers of War.
As we all know, I have a real soft spot for the CCG genre of gaming, as it combines three of my favorite things to do into one easy to manage format. I love collecting things, cards and strategy. With this being said, who could dislike a genre that caters to all three in spades? What I don’t like is the assumption that they are all the same and just clone three or four very well known games. If this were actually the case nobody would ever bother making anything new for the genre unless they were just trying to cash in on something else. I can honestly say that Wagers of War isn’t quite like anything else that I’ve played and this is the main reason I want to mention it.
So this game certainly has the collecting and upgrading of cards that we’ve seen in other games. What makes this title unique for me, however, is that this is only a very minor part of the game. Wagers of War is actually less a game of strategy in its truest sense and more a game of bluffs and manipulation of your opponent. It also takes the CCG trope of having a collectible deck and mixes this with a standard deck of playing cards. These cards are your attack and defense. Black cards give your armor and the red cards are the ones you will be attacking with. The card’s value equates how hard you will strike or indeed how much punishment you will be able to absorb. The court cards on the other hand have their own list of abilities that you can use to your advantage. Queens, for instance will allow you to poison your opponent, Jacks make you immune to certain cards, Aces possess cards and so on. This is massively important to the overall game.
So take what I’ve just mentioned and give yourself a pool of mana. The amount of this you get doesn’t just increase every round that you play. You have a phase where you draw playing cards against your opponent. The player with the highest card on each draw wins a certain amount of mana. If you’re really unlucky this could leave you in a pretty sticky position come the next round as you won’t be able to play anything near as much as your opponent will be able to.
Following this betting round comes a war round. Each player is dealt three playing cards which are open on the field and can be viewed by both sides. You also have your hand of war cards, (the ones you collect.) and these can only be seen by you. These cards may hinder your opponent by effecting their playing cards, help you by granting more armor, damage them directly and so on.
The interesting thing is that the very small pool of mana that you have can’t be used on everything. If you’re using the cards on the table you’re spending mana, same applies to those in your hand and on top of this your hero, (I’ll come to this in a minute,) has abilities which they can also cast. This is where the bluffing comes in. Are you going to use the really handy to have King sat in front of you or are you going to leave him there and play something directly from your own hand? This is something your opponent will have to discern as you both play the round at the same time. This means your aren’t combating your opponent’s strategies as they drop cards, rather trying to predict what those strategies are going to be and this is a really fun way to play. This also means that when you screw up it’s down to you misreading your opponent rather than playing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
As I mentioned, your heroes also have their own abilities. There are four characters you can play as currently and each one lends itself to a different gameplay style. You have the knight. His ability grants you armor. The vampire is a life sucker who steals your opponents life and tops up your own. The abomination deals damage but takes a small amount himself each time. And lastly, there’s the gambler. I think I like this character’s ability the best as it’s really in keeping with the game. When you activate him you spin a roulette wheel and do an amount of damage depending on where the ball lands. This is the only thing in the game I can genuinely say reminds me particularly of anything else. Similar mechanics have been used in games like Hearthstone, but it’s not a big enough part of the playing experience for me that it really needs calling out as being copied.
Something I’m not really noticing is a paywall. Although you can spend money on gems to buy packs of cards you get six free ones every 3 hours. Six free cards, not packs; that’s a bit generous by anyone’s standards. You will be given packs by winning matches and of course you have the daily quests that we see in many games that grant you cards as well. Once you have a certain card in your collection you’re concentrating on leveling it up by getting more copies of it from packs. This isn’t a fast process, so unless you drop a ton of cash on the game you won’t be leagues ahead of everyone else in the first five minutes. Your heroes level as well. This allows you to have more uncommon and epic cards in your deck and grants a small bonus to life. Again, this isn’t something that will break the game as you should be leveling at a similar speed to everyone else. Lastly you can buy burn cards. These can be used once in a match and are really there to get you out of a sticky situation if needed. Some of these use charges and you need to purchase burn packs with game gold to replenish them. All in all everything seems very fair and well balanced so the devs deserve a nod of approval for that.
Down to the nuts and bolts then. This is a game that’s easy to learn but hard to master. One thing I will say is pay close attention to the tutorial, it’s there for a reason. Once you get the hang of the rules the interface is really easy to get to grips with and the controls pretty much speak for themselves. The audio doesn’t change in that it’s the same looping tune. This isn’t a complaint as it’s not enough to become annoying just don’t expect an aria in the background. Lastly this is a mobile port. Yes, we know…we hate mobile ports; they don’t belong on Steam, right? This is a very good mobile port and the fact that you’re only concentrating on the center of the screen doesn’t ruin play. Other than this graphics are colorful and well drawn and do what they need to do. In all honesty if you get hooked the way I have you won’t be thinking about how the games looks and just want to get on with playing it.
All in all I’m thoroughly enjoying Wagers of War. It’s fun, it’s different and even better it’s only a time leech if you want it to be. The average match only takes about fifteen minutes. This makes this the ideal thing to play while having a brew and waking up in the morning. Let’s call this a coffee-break game. It’s a brilliant little time waster and I really recommend giving Wagers of War a decent try before condemning it back to the darkest recesses of Steam. It doesn’t belong there. Honestly.