Orbs CCG is a fantasy online collectible card game that was designed with asynchronous gameplay in mind, allows you to play whenever you can then check back later after your opponent plays their turn. This style of gameplay has its roots in the play-by-email culture of the early Internet where people used to play board games this way, but updating the concept for the TCG/CCG genre by creating a brand new game mostly based on the mechanics of Magic: the Gathering.
So how well does it work and could it end up replacing the game that it has re-created? Read on to find out…
If you’re familiar with the gameplay of Magic: the Gathering, you’re about 85% of the way there to understanding how to play Orbs CCG. There are only four card types: Allies, Actions, Objects and Traps. Allies function like Creatures, Actions are like Instant Spells, Objects are permanents with on-going effects and Traps are a unique kind of card I’ll explain below.
There are 6 “colors” or Orbs of cards, with colorless also being an additional Orb, albeit without cards of its own. In order to pay for a card, you need to spend the amount of energy stated on the card which is usually a combination of its color(s) and some colorless energy which can be paid for from any color in your energy pool. The only difference here is that there are no “land” or similar resource cards – instead, cards are sacrificed from your hand to gain 1 energy of that color permanently, and your energy pool refreshes itself at the start of each of your turns.
There are only two gameplay Phases here which really simplifies things, yet it still retains nearly all of the actions and possibilities present within Magic’s five Phases. In the Defend Phase, players regain all of their energy and have a chance to block incoming attacks declared by the opponent at the end of their previous turn. The defender assigns blockers and after damage is dealt, they gain their own Main Phase in which they can play cards and declare attacks.
Allies have AP, attack points, and HP, health points. Unlike Magic, crucially, damage is “sticky”, staying permanently rather than refreshing at the end of the round like in Magic. This means battles are bit more like wars of attrition rather than the “all-in” style of deciding when to attack and defend in a game of Magic.
So let’s talk about that new card type, Traps. Traps are like hidden spells which activate based on when the stated trigger occurs, such as the opponent’s Ally attacking, or playing an Action. They function as a surprise element which often isn’t present in Magic: the Gathering. What enables Traps to function is an extra zone of the field called the Bench, something that Magic doesn’t have which actually expands the strategy a lot and even makes the game more exciting as a result.
While Traps are always played to the Bench face-down for activation later, you can choose to play other cards to the Bench face-down for their normal cost and are free to play them later at no further cost. This means you can play Allies, Actions, even Objects face-down and bluff with them, or pay for them ahead of time during a turn when you might otherwise waste your energy that turn from not using it. However, it does expose them to the opponent who may have cards that reveal or remove cards on the Bench, so using it always comes with that vulnerability but it’s usually worth the risk.
I think there is a bit of a Yu-Gi-Oh! influence here, since playing hidden Traps and unknown actions is a fundamental part of that game whereas Magic has tended to stay away from that style of gameplay. I love these Traps, and I think the way the Bench works not just for Traps but other card types too is one of the best things about Orbs that improves above and beyond the original Magic gameplay it has borrowed.
Modes and Features
This is the area of Orbs CCG that is the thinnest on the ground: there is really only a beginning tutorial, a couple of specific training battles against the AI and then you’re thrown out into the Wild West of PvP games to survive on your own. You can initiate games against the computer, but this is not too challenging most of the time and will usually function best as a way to test out new deck builds. The AI can be a little bit weak at times and make less than optimal decisions, such as chump blocking smaller attacks and letting through larger ones. That said, it’s still an enjoyable experience even to play against the AI.
However, PvP (player versus player) matches are what this game was designed for and what it’s really all about. You can start a PvP game by initiating a challenge towards a specific player if you know their username, but mostly likely you’ll be starting an “open game” for anyone to come join. All you need to do is select either Live play or Asynchronous play which allows people to take their turn in their own time within the 3 day limit given.
The only other feature of Orbs CCG is the newly implemented “Draft” mode. Here, you’ll pick cards from randomly made boosters to craft a Draft Deck that you then use to play against other people in normal PvP games. The system will keep track of your wins and losses with this draft deck, either up to 9 wins or 3 losses before it ends the draft.
The only problem here is that it only counts when you’re playing against other draft decks and there’s no way to know when starting a new online game if someone will play you with their draft deck or not. Nevertheless, it’s a fun way of challenging yourself to build a deck from a limited pool of cards, and it is bringing over one of the best things about Magic which is limited draft play.
In the online store, there are a few pre-made decks you can purchase that are built around specific themes. There is a Control type deck, a Black deck, a red Aggro deck and a Green weenie rush deck. These provide a good introduction to deck strategies and are worth getting. You actually get the first one of these for free, so you can’t go wrong picking one up. You can also buy boosters and card singles with Orbucks, the in-game currency that you earn from playing matches with other people, as well as real money for a reasonable price.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
Orbs undoubtedly refers to the spheres of magic present in this game, of which there are currently six: Yellow, Blue, Green, Red, Purple and Black. This expands the base strategies available somewhat, since they’ve been able to spread out the varied tactics and strategies a bit wider in the card pool and the color pie compared to Magic: the Gathering.
Deck construction and strategy works very similarly to Magic: the Gathering, except you won’t need to account for “Land” cards or other resource-only cards and thus the deck minimum is 50 for constructed play rather than Magic’s 60. You can also only have up to 4 copies of any one card in your deck, the same as in Magic.
So what kind of strategies are available, then? Pretty much all of your basic deck types that you’ll find in Magic: aggro, control, combo, tempo, mid-range and so on. Some decks will focus more on a particular mechanic or card type – for example, the pre-made deck ‘Mastery’ is a Yellow/Blue control/combo deck heavily based around chaining and cloning Actions while using board wipes to control the opponent’s field if it gets too much to deal with. The main Ally is the Adept Mage who gains +1 AP / +1 HP every time you play an Action, and there are some cheap Actions that give you 1 HP but also bounce back to your hand from the graveyard whenever you take damage. The Adept Mages can get really huge in size from doing this over and over.
Another strategy present in the Green color is a weenie rush tribal deck based around the sub-type of Ants. Ants are cheap to play and small in size on their own, but if you play them in the right order, you’ll help the ‘Shaman of the Ants’ Allies grow as they gain +1 AP / +1 HP permanently for each Ant played. There’s also a huge growth spell that will give each card +1 AP / +1 HP for each other Ally you control that has the same sub-type, perfect for this Ant deck. You build up an army of tiny Ants and then turn them all into whopping giants to throw at the enemy and overwhelm them. It’s pretty fun to play, and there are lots of other tribal effects like this to explore in the current card pool.
Orbs CCG might not be the flashiest looking game around, but it has a heart of gold. Based on the super popular TCG that everyone knows, I would even say that this game has made just enough changes to the core gameplay that make it a unique experience while retaining its roots in the Magic style of gameplay. I would even say they have innovated above and beyond some of Magic’s rules and mechanics, such as the surprise element of the Bench zone and the cool use of Trap cards.
I also like the way they’ve designed the game’s phases – two very clean, simple Phases that encompass the entire gameplay as opposed to Magic’s overly complex five Phases (and that’s not counting all of the steps in each phase!). Nope, here there’s just the Defend Phase and the Main Phase. I like that the start of your turns is focused on responding to the attacks of the opponent’s previous Main Phase, as it leads to some interesting card responses and abilities that wouldn’t quite work in Magic: the Gathering.
It has to be pointed out that the game does exist within a very bare-bones structure in its implementation as a browser-based game: the interface is extremely basic, not very pleasing to the eye, and can be a little bit clunky to navigate. There is also no sound, music or flashy animations to be found anywhere. This may turn away some from even looking at the game, however they would be missing out on a decent game simply because the exterior package is not all that glamorous.
For those who love Magic: the Gathering, this is a neat little game with a friendly, close-knit community and the ability to play long-distance games asynchronously with no pressure to respond immediately. It’s certainly a niche product, but it does what it sets out to do and it does it fairly well. I hope to see the game continue to develop and include new features and new card sets in the future.
Will it be a serious contender for Magic’s throne? Unfortunately not, with the current interface, game system and overall presentation, but I think the underlining game is actually a bit better than Magic, taking a few innovative mechanics and fusing them with Magic’s classic gameplay to create something new. I’m not usually a fan of rip-offs / clones of Magic, but something about this one is charming and it just makes you like it for what it is. It’s worth checking out.
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