Card City Nights is not your usual trading card game, because you will embark on a different sort of adventure: a game about playing collectible card games. This single-player game focuses on a story-driven tale about you, a new card player in town, as you attempt to collect 8 Legendary cards and beat the local competition in an epic showdown.
The game functions more like a roleplaying game with a card game as its battle mechanic rather than a fully fledged TCG/CCG experience, which makes it one of the more unusual card games to come out in recent years.
So does this strange approach to telling a story with a card game work, or does it fall flat? Read on to find out…
Modes and Features
There’s only a single-player campaign here, but because it is the entire focus of the game, you’ll find it to be a well-crafted experience from start to finish. After creating a character, you find yourself in your new house after moving to a new city. You’re given a gift of a mysterious deck of cards by the “Big Chest Casino”, the local casino joint. Unfortunately, this will prove to be like a free hit of drugs from a dealer; it’s not really free because you’re going to get hooked. And hooked you are, as you engage in your very first card battle you engage in after talking some locals outside on the street. (What is this, some kind of gambler’s rehab town?)
This sets off your character’s addiction, hunting down players who are offering up booster packs as antes if you win. You are told about the mysterious Legendary cards that are so incredibly rare, only one of each is printed. (Sounds like Yu-Gi-Oh to me. How much did those Brionacs sell for on the secondary market recently? Something like $150 each?) But don’t worry, here your character can’t drain you of your real-life money by spending it on boosters, because you can only get them by battling other players. The entire game operates on this “pay once, play forever” principle, thankfully.
So how are the card battles actually played? You bring your deck of between 25 to 40 cards to the table, and each player controls a 3 x 3 grid which you play cards onto. Your cards don’t cost anything, so there is no resource system apart from only being able to draw one card per turn after a starting hand of five cards. You place cards one at a time into a slot on your side of the battlefield in an attempt to chain together arrows that are on the corners and borders of the cards.
After chaining together at least 3 cards through arrows, the game will “add up” all the symbols on those cards and determine which symbol has the highest frequency and will resolve that action before making the cards disappear. For example, a chain of 4 cards with 1 shield and 3 swords will result in an attack worth 3 points. These can then be dealt as damage to the opponent’s defense (which starts out at 7) or can be used to “disable” a card on their field, making it inactive and unable to be chained until it is “restored” through a restore combo, the symbol that is a little green medical cross.
The game goes to and fro like this, playing combos and trying to deal damage to the opponent until one player wins by reducing the opponent’s defense to zero. The only other win conditions are if a player cannot place a new card on the board because it is full, then they lose the game. If your draw deck runs out, you just keep playing with what you have left in your hand.
Most of the game takes place in these battles, but the game places these encounters inside the shell of the single-player RPG experience. You’ll be walking around the town, talking to different characters, trying to find out important bits of information and gossip from the dialogue and trying to obtain the Legendaries you’ll need to beat each of the “bosses” as they appear.
The game feels quite difficult, and requires a lot of grinding to earn the booster packs needed to earn the stronger cards that are definitely required for each new “leap up” in difficulty as you try to beat the new local boss. Sometimes, these battles are best of 3 or best of 5, which really drags it out unnecessarily in my opinion, but it ensures there is less game winning or losing due to randomness of draws. The best part about the game is the bizarre, sort of non-human characters that gossip endlessly or otherwise have very strange ways of talking and behaving.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
There is not much variety of deckbuilding and strategy in this game, unfortunately. Decks must be between 25 to 40 cards, but unlike other card games where having less cards is more useful, here I feel like you need a bit more than the minimum so you don’t run out of cards before your opponent which can usually happen since most matches go past 25 cards worth of turns.
You are able to have up to 5 commons, 3 uncommons and 1 rare of the same card in your deck, which makes it a bit hard to craft a reliable deck since the rares are what you really need for power level. It’s good to use some neutral combo cards because they often have a lot more arrows to connect and will help fill out the board and make more connections with more arrows.
I’ve noticed that connecting 3 cards straight away is not always the best thing to do. You can maximize the amount of damage you do if you place lots of cards around in isolation and then place a final, linking chain connecting them all together so you can deal 4 or 5 damage in one go, if you can. But going straight for a deck full of nothing but damage combos is only going to win for you at the very start of the game.
You’ll need to be more flexible once you come up against opponents that disable, rotate and otherwise out-speed you in terms of dealing damage, so you’ll need to include more defense and restore combo cards. Some of these cards will have side-effects that trigger when they’re used with a particular kind of combo, like a defense combo card doing 2 damage when it resolves. It’s these kinds of effects you’ll have to try and maximize your deck’s value with. Unfortunately there isn’t too much more to the strategy than this, and what you’re capable of is completely restricted to what rare cards you’re able to pull from those pesky booster packs.
Card City Nights is a difficult one to assess, given that it’s such an unusual game overall. There are some really strong elements at play here, especially the in-world setting, the art and character design. There isn’t really any other game on mobile/tablet devices that are like this, even though it’s perfect for that platform. There is a quirky, quaint kind of feeling to Card City Nights that grabbed me from the start and didn’t really let go. I liked the meta-narrative of it being a game about card games which makes it an interesting new angle for storytelling.
Yes, there are faults with the game, and it’s not a short list of faults. There’s only one battle song and it repeats a lot. I really disliked having to do best of 3 or best of 5 matches just to win 1 booster pack, but you get used to it after a while.
Also, the combat mechanic itself is kind of bland and sometimes slow and frustrating. The card game is not the best designed card game out there. However you need to shift the way you see it, as a battle mechanic for a RPG about card game players rather a TCG/CCG itself. In that way, it makes a lot more sense and it’s much easier to forgive its shortcomings. It then actually becomes really enjoyable, as you see the game as a more casual, humor-filled experience rather than a hardcore card game that you need to work out the ultimate deck strategy for.
Card City Nights really shines on mobile and tablets rather than on desktops, as it’s designed to be a simple, pick-up-and-play endeavor on bus and train journeys. If you’re looking for something that’s not going to cost any more after the initial experience, and deliver a solid story-driven single-player campaign with a lot of characters and exploration, this is a good one to pick up.
I started playing Card City Nights on an international flight and even after a seven-hour journey, I didn’t want to stop playing. That says all you need to know about just how addictive this little card game really is.
For more screenshots, click here.
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