Urban Rivals is a quirky, comic-themed online trading card game with hundreds of characters to collect and train that you can use to challenge other players from across the globe. It focuses on a completely unique battle mechanic based on psychological bluffing to outwit and second-guess your opponent mixed with your usual TCG/CCG strategies.
Urban Rivals is the game which Fantasy Rivals is based upon, and having come around to this game after first putting a lot of time into the more recent Fantasy Rivals, it is interesting to see the roots of one of my favorite games and compare the differences.
So let’s get into it and see how Urban Rivals is holding up after all these years since it’s original release, all the way back in 2006! Read on to find out…
Urban Rivals appears to be the game that originated a combat mechanic that has now been taken up by a number of other games because it’s just so darned good. Until you play with it yourself, it’s hard to describe just how unique and fresh this combat mechanic feels, especially when compared against the way combat is resolved in a lot of other TCGs/CCGs around.
Players build decks of characters (the rules of deck construction will be explained later) of which 4 cards are randomly drawn for each player at the start of a game. This makes up their team for the whole duration of the match.
Players take turns being the attacking player, putting forward a card while secretly “boosting” your character’s attack using “Pills” which are your resources that you get 12 of at the start. Each pill you use in increasing an attack will multiply the base number by the amount of Pills you used. (See image below.)
Once you have submitted your attack, the opponent will not be able to see anything other than which card has been sent forth to attack. They must then look over the card and its effects before deciding which of their own they will put forward to defend and counter-attack with. They go through the same process of increasing their character’s attack with Pills before submitting their attack.
Both character’s attack values are then compared, after all effects and other modifiers are applied, and the winning character then deals damage to the opponent’s life points equal to their damage value (which is separate from their attack value – see image below). This continues back and forth until a player has been KO’ed (all their life points drained) or all four rounds have been completed, in which case the opponent with the higher life points remaining wins the match.
As you win battles, your cards will gain XP and level up in “star” level as well, which unlocks their abilities and increases their stats. So you get a real sense of progression with your deck and your characters the more you play. I really enjoy this kind of thing in a card game, and this is actually better than the way cards level up in Fantasy Rivals (you have to spend currency and “cool down” evolving time to get them to level up).
Urban Rivals is so exciting precisely because of this partially-hidden information mechanic. It makes gameplay much more psychological than usual for TCGs/CCGs of this kind where attack and defense values are known beforehand and the outcome of battles is almost entirely certain before they’ve even begun. Urban Rivals defies those certain outcomes and leaves it up to players to determine how much of their resources they want to invest into a particular attack.
Shall I overextend this turn to do a bit more damage and then play defensively later? Or shall I bluff, just use one Pill this turn and take the hit in damage, hoping they will waste a lot of Pills in doing so which will give me the upper hand in the rounds to come? There are lots of decisions like this which makes the strategy situational and constantly changing, since you don’t always get the same cards out of your deck each game. It’s really fun to play around with different Clans and combinations as well, seeing what works and what doesn’t. (Clans are discussed later.)
Modes and Features
Urban Rivals provides multiple ways to play the core game, giving players a lot of options and freedom to explore different ways of beating missions and gaining experience points for your profile as well as your characters. Training mode is where you’ll start off, to help you get a hang of the game and get some basic XP to level up your starting characters.
Classic mode then hooks you up with other players to play non-ranked PvP (player versus player) matches, so you’ll get to test your skills against other players without worrying about the consequences. Solo mode is an AI single-player mode that lets you engage with some uniquely crafted challenges to earn prizes. (See example image below.) You also have a list of Missions to complete, which are objective-based achievements that give rewards of Clintz when you complete them. I love achievements in games like this – they know how to hook me!
“Tourneys” is the game’s Tournament mode where you have to win as many matches as you can within a particular time frame, with greater amounts of Clintz currency up for grabs. ELO tournaments have their own requirements as well which offer an even more competitive way of playing the game for higher stakes.
Survivor mode is a unique way to play the core game, where you’ll earn more for each successful win you gain as your jackpot multiplies with each win. You also get less Pills at the start of each match so the pressure mounts the further you go. It’s an interesting, if rather stressful(!!) game mode.
Lastly is the most recent game mode added to the game, Duels. Here you have to fight an AI for repeated challenge matches where cards are offered as a reward. It’s a fun game mode, but I suspect most people will be more interested in the PvP modes long-term as this is where the game is at, as well as the game’s Guilds system which is incredibly detailed and offers greater XP amounts from battling if you belong to a Guild.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
Each of Urban Rivals‘s formats have different deck building requirements: for example, ELO tournaments require you to be level 15, not have less than 8 characters in the deck while containing a total of no more than 25 star levels. Other formats have slightly different requirements – sometimes more, sometimes less. These restrictions mean that each format is slightly different and requires differing strategies for deck construction, but I believe this makes the game a lot more dynamic and engaging as a result.
A big part of deck building is learning to manage these restrictions realistically, and it’s quite a skill to master over time. Level 5 characters are the toughest with the most powerful stats and abilities, but you can’t put too many of them into the deck or you’ll go over the requirements for the format. This means a careful balancing between lower-level and higher-level characters and it takes a while to learn the right ratios. Experimenting with this is how I learned to build optimal decks over time.
Furthermore, the most remarkable thing here for Urban Rivals’ strategy is the staggering number of factions (called Clans) that the game has grown to include over the years: no less than 25 at the time of this review. That’s a huge variety of cards to select from, but it must be said that the Clan Bonus they receive from having another character of the same Clan in play is always the same. That is to say, each Clan has a single effect that it gives as the Clan Bonus – for example, the Fang Pi Clang Clan always has “Damage +2”, while the Roots Clan has “Stop Opponent’s Ability”, and so on. Mixing Clans is possible, but risky due to the possibility of not drawing 2 each of each Clan to get their Clan Bonus in the match.
Nevertheless, it’s still impressive that the game manages to get in such a large list of Clans each with their own art, theme and play style. There are a number of strategies you can go for and many of the archetypes in other card games are also present here: control, aggro, defensive decks, life gain decks… there’s something here for everybody and a really wide range of abilities and combinations to try out. I really like the Fang Pi Clang deck because dealing higher amounts of damage is just too tempting to ignore and let’s me play a bit more risky with high-Pill attacks.
It’s interesting coming at Urban Rivals from the angle of first having played a lot of Fantasy Rivals. At their core, both games are really quite close and in-fact near identical as to how they play, even cloning some of the card abilities and effects and so on. That said, they both certainly retain a different “feel” about them, and this is largely in the art, character design and overall presentation. It’s hard to recommend one above the other when both are such good player experiences with a rewarding free-to-play model that is actually sustainable without buying card packs.
Ultimately I think it will come down to which theme you prefer, and while I prefer the fantasy theme still, it’s hard to deny that Urban Rivals has a lot going for it especially with how many more factions there are which increase the deck building options by a huge amount. The game also provides more gameplay modes than you can shake a stick at, and this is definitely a good thing. The Guild system is brilliant and really goes above and beyond what most mobile/tablet card games call a “Guild” these days.
If you’re looking for a different, unusual style of gameplay, you can’t go wrong checking out Urban Rivals. It’s holding up pretty well for a game that’s nearly 10 years old now, with a lot of development having gone into it over its life and I am sure that is going to continue into the future. Also, if you really like it, you might want to have a look at its sister game Fantasy Rivals, too. Both are cracking games with great communities, so check them out.
For more screenshots, click here.
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