2015’s most anticipated announcement was that Bushiroad were finally digitizing their flagship TCG, Cardfight!! Vanguard under the name Cardfight!! Online. Much to everyone’s excitement, the Closed Beta began this week and we were lucky enough to be given access. We know the pain of not being able to get into these Closed Betas, so if you’re a diehard Vanguard fan, we want to provide you with as much detailed information as possible as to what modes and features are currently available in the game.
If you’ve never heard of Cardfight!! Vanguard before, it’s an anime/manga-themed trading card game originally from Japan, and it’s especially notable in that it plays quite unlike most other Western card games that you might be familiar with. It’s this combination of unique mechanics and catchy art that helped the game defy all the trends working against new TCGs entering the saturated market to become one of the most popular new card games of recent years.
So let’s dive in and see what the Cardfight!! Online Closed Beta has to offer so far!
If you’re familiar with the TCG and its gameplay, skip to the next section. Otherwise, here is your drive-by explanation of Cardfight!! Vanguard. Players use a personally constructed deck in a head-to-head battle to be the first one to deal six cards of damage (drawn from the player’s deck when they take damage and placed into the damage zone). You’ll do this by attacking with units, which form the entirety of your deck.
There are no spells, equipment, or action cards: every single card is a unit, with a range of activated, automatic, and triggered abilities. Units have grades from 0 up to 4, and you can only play higher-grade units once you’ve progressively “ridden” your main unit, the Vanguard, up to a higher grade each turn. Players take turns attacking with their Vanguard and Rearguard units, boosting with behind units or throwing down cards from their hands as shields to bolster the numbers.
If a Vanguard’s attacks (or is hit), they get to perform a Drive Check which allows them to draw and reveal cards from the top of their deck, and if a card has a Trigger, it is activated. There are four Triggers: Draw (draw a card immediately), Stand (refresh an exhausted Rearguard unit so it can attack again), Heal (remove a damage card if you’re equal to or more damaged than your opponent), and Critical (add 1 extra damage that a unit can deal to the Vanguard if their attack hits this turn). Each trigger also provides an immediate 5,000 attack point bonus that can be added to any unit for the turn.
Trigger cards are a huge part of what makes this game so exciting because there are a limited number of them in your deck and they provide useful and sometimes outcome-changing effects. It’s also why a lot of TCG/CCG players from other games feel that Vanguard is too luck-based, and while luck does play into this game more so than in others, mastering Vanguard requires an incredible amount of familiarity with the game, the attack numbers, deck ratios and watching what cards are entering your opponent’s hand from their Drive Checks.
There are other unique effects that can be activated using a variety of costs such as flipping damage cards face down, moving cards in and out of your Vanguard’s Soul (the cards underneath it) or having used grade 4 Stride units in previous turns. The subtleties of the game and its diverse resource systems are what make it so different from Western-designed games like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone. It provides an entirely different style of playing a TCG/CCG in a way that is completely refreshing and innovative, making it one of my favourite TCGs/CCGs of all time.
Let’s now discuss the intricacies of Cardfight!! Online as a digital game. Unfortunately, when physical TCGs/CCGs of this kind are ported into the digital space, the rules system slows things down a lot. There are a lot of phases and steps to go through each turn, with appropriate response time for the opponent (although there is less interactivity on an opponent’s turn outside of combat than in other games). This makes the game initially feel a bit slow and clunky, however, once you get the hang of it you realise they’ve done the best job they could possibly do implementing the rules system faithfully.
All abilities and effects are scripted perfectly so far, with no hitches in resolving them. The game gives you an appropriate amount of time in between actions, although you do start to feel rushed by the ticking timer with its urgent sound effects and lights flashing at you. This may stress out new players, but for experienced players it keeps everything flowing as fast as possible and you’ll come to appreciate it.
The game is visually stunning, with a lot of effects and polish added. The decks are not stacked perfectly, with your cards shifting off to the side a bit as sometimes happens with real cards. When sleeved, cards actually look and feel like they’re in plastic sleeves, as even the front-facing image will show the plastic sleeve edge effect around it. As well as the drawing and shuffling sound effects, it’s very realistic. All of these small details add to the sense of “physicality” that the game has.
As far as a digital version of Vanguard, this is shaping up to be exactly what you’d hope for. It’s beautiful, it’s smooth (even for a Closed Beta), and it has the right amount of digital polish to make it feel a bit more like a video game while still retaining its traditional physical TCG/CCG essence. It’s about as close as you can get to a perfect physical-to-digital translation of a card game.
You have a player profile which provides some interesting statistics about your number of wins and so on. There are also some cosmetic touches such as displaying your avatar as large art as well as what sleeve and deck you’re currently using. There are also tutorials which will walk you through the rules in a scripted battle, step-by-step, and it is a very fast and efficient way to get a new player up to speed with the game. Daily quests provide limited amounts of gold and these have various goals such as dealing 10 damage to opponents for the day or winning a certain amount of matches.
The bulk of the game, however, is in the Clan Fight section. Here is where you’ll select your deck and jump right in to matchmaking. There’s Free Fight, which is an unranked mode and allows you to choose from either Clan Fight (single-clan decks only) or Extreme Fight (allows a broader mixture of clans under certain rules). Player Search, which does exactly that, allows you to add players to your friends list and challenge them (you can challenge other players directly, although only 3 times per day for some reason).
There’s also Ranked mode which is where the bulk of competitive gameplay is going to happen. The ranking system plays very much like Hearthstone‘s, starting you on rank 25 and slowly moving towards rank 1 by earning “stars”. Getting consistent wins can sometimes earn you an extra star, so it’s worthwhile trying not to lose when you’ve got a good run going. It’s worth noting that the Ranking system only allows for Clan Fight rules at the moment, with no clear indication whether there will be a Ranked mode for Extreme Fight rules.
Tournaments are disabled, so we can only guess at what’s going to be provided there, but I am excited to see the possibilities. We’ll withhold commenting on that for now.
Cardfight!! Online‘s deck-editing has all of the features you’d expect and hope for, with a variety of filters that make sorting through your collection painless and precise. There appear to be only 6 deck slots available right now, and saving more than that requires you to override one of the other deck slots. I hope this will not be the way that it is in the final release because clearly people are going to want more than 6 deck slots, but we’ll wait and see how that turns out before passing final judgment.
You can build pure clan decks or you can build Extreme Fight decks which allow you to mix cards in from other clans. I haven’t been brave enough to try my hand at the latter, but as far as pure clan decks go, it’s easy enough to do but the game doesn’t tell you about how to build a deck with the correct ratios of unit grades, so you’re going to have to do some research online and learn more about this (but here’s a very rough guide for you now: 17 Grade 0, 14 Grade 1, 12 Grade 2 and 7 Grade 3 and 8 Grade 4 units is a good rule of thumb until you learn what works best for you).
Card crafting is a surprise addition but a welcome one. Disenchanting cards earns you Crafting Points (CP) which can be spent enchanting the cards you need. There’s no real idea of how much CP it will cost to enchant real cards as the values are just placeholders right now, but it’s good to know that from the looks of it, it’s theoretically possible to craft everything, including SP rarity cards with their added shiny effects in-game.
The store only has one booster right now, which is GBT01 “Generation Stride”, but since you can craft all the cards for free anyway there is no reason to buy it currently. It looks like extra Trial Decks might be worth buying in the full release if you’re trying to get playsets of certain rare cards. There’re also cosmetic purchases which alter the way your battlefield looks (the playmats) and also deck sleeves which I discussed earlier. Nothing too crazy in here just yet, but it’s all looking appealing and in good working order.
As you’ve probably worked out by now, I’m incredibly impressed with Cardfight!! Online so far. It’s exceeded my expectations for a digital Vanguard game in nearly every way. Now all that remains to be seen is how the launch goes, what the free-to-play distribution model really looks like in practice and how greedy they might get with store purchases and crafting values.
I am hoping for the best when it comes to the game’s economy but I realize we’re likely going to get a highly monetized product here. Regardless, I’ll still play because I’ve been waiting for a digital version of Vanguard for a very long time now.
I hope they start adding cards from earlier sets as well because I’m a fan of the earlier days of Vanguard before all the Legion and Stride stuff was introduced. Nevertheless, even if we only get G Booster Sets and up, it will still make for a diverse and exciting card pool provided they continue to add new card sets in a timely manner compared to the physical releases.
Keep an eye on the official site for developments because you’re not going to want to miss this when it hits Steam later on this year.