Last week, Konami introduced Star Wars: Force Collection, a card battling game for mobile platforms (Android/iPhone/iPad). I think I’m addicted to it, but I can’t say that I’m actually having any fun. It has plenty of Star Wars graphics and sounds, but has very repetitive and incredibly simple gameplay, though it may appeal to those who like to accumulate rewards and level up. Here’s my review and a simple gameplay guide and tips for Force Collection:
As an old school customizable card game player, I think I was expecting a game where you actually played cards in some sort of battle, but apparently that’s not what the online card battling game genre is about. Instead, you collect and upgrade character cards, build a battle formation and have them play in an automated battle, like a phalanx. Or you can gain more money and experience by going on quests, which is mindless screen-clicking. With credits and other rewards, you can get more cards, upgrade them, and move to more advanced areas, where you’ll be doing the exact same things. Both the card battles and quests require their specific type of energy, which builds up over time, so play for a while, then come back in an hour or two once they have all regenerated. While the game is free, you can jump start the game by purchasing crystals with real world money that can help you draw more cards, upgrade existing cards, or restock your energy supplies without waiting.
Half of the time you will be battling other players online, selecting them for either being near your level or because they have vehicle blueprint pieces you want to steal if you best them in a battle. The battle is basically just an animation of your character cards and vehicles marching up the screen at your opponent, with blaster shots and lightsaber blades.
Once a card takes enough damage, it is destroyed, and the cards behind it slide up to the front, or if no cards remain in that column, the remaining columns close ranks. All cards can attack at either short-range (hand-to-hand) or medium-range (blasters and ranged weapons). Some cards do have secondary effects such as boosting the attack or defense of cards of a similar type, such as by affiliation (light side, dark side or neutral) or by weapon range. While most cards stay in your collection, win or lose, some low cost cards gained in quests stack to become formidable fighters, but are lost if you lose the battle. Vehicles, which can pack a powerful punch in battle, can be bought with credits once enough pieces of blueprints are recovered (from quests and battles), but the ships can be lost if you lose too many battles.
There’s not really much strategy except put your toughest short-range guys front and center. You can make your own formations via a slightly cumbersome tool, or just set it to auto and the game will pick an optimal arrangement for your forces, based on your cost capacity (like a salary cap for your team), which increases as you level up. Tip: Once you can afford some vehicles, buy four and let them do the heavy lifting (and long range attacks, which can rip apart your enemies before you even close to beat on each other).
The other half of the game is going on quests, which is a solo mode where you zap on-screen baddies in the easiest version of Whack-a-Mole ever devised. They can be in the center, or the left or the right side of the screen, and they just stand there until you tap them. Then a new screen loads. Eventually you’ll reach the end of a level, where you might have to either card battle against some bad guys (or an army of Ewoks) or actually use some timing skill in beating a single boss in a one-on-one duel, tapping the screen when the power bar is at its maximum. Then onto the next area and more Whack-an-Ewok. But the quests will get you a lot of credits and experience.
Leveling up recharges both your quest energy and battle energy, as well as giving you more points to spend to increase your formation capacity or quest energy pool. Tip: It’s a good idea to use all your battle energy before using quests to reach a level. Riding the level bump is once of the best ways to grab as many vehicle blueprint pieces as you can from both battles and quests to complete a set, since over time, other players will eventually steal all your blueprint pieces and you’ll have to start over. Hopefully, Konami will fix this, as it is nigh impossible to hold onto blueprint pieces when you’re offline, making it a bit like a zero-sum game. Also every battle initiated by opponents against you, unseen by you counts towards your win/loss rankings, so as you are beating on opponents weaker than you, stronger opponents are smacking you around.
Despite having an ally system where you are rewarded for connecting with other players and sending them messages (the default message is “May the Force be with you.”) and eventually being able to trade cards or other items with allies of a certain level, there is no real “social” aspect – you can’t choose your real world friends or contacts to be allies (or even to battle), and the game rewards you for spamming your allies once a day.
The character cards have a couple stats and an image, which is either a production photo or publicity shot, and sometimes with a background added. Overall, the art on the cards looks good, but is nothing unique or special. Cards have rarities, and you can earn more random cards in various types of rarity draws after achieving goals or earning/buying enough crystals to purchase packs of rarer cards. Some characters appear on multiple cards at different rarity levels – obviously, the rarer versions are more potent. Credits can be spent to level up your cards, so that they can pack more firepower in battle, and multiple copies of the same card can be evolved together into one card for more stat boosts. Tip: Evolving a pair of cards will drop the new card back to level one, but a fraction of the enhancements from the old cards will carry over. Enhancing an evolved card will cost more per level.
Star Wars flavor
The game does have quite a bit of Star Wars flavor. The quest components sends you to different worlds where you battle stormtroopers and the native riffraff (Sand People, Ewoks, etc.) and card effects make some sense, though there’s no real storyline to the quests. Character cards come from across the saga, so you might have Han Solo next to Qui-Gon Jinn. There’s plenty of music and sound effects as you play, for those who like games with the sound on, and the intro is full of dramatic clips.
As you play, you can choose the light side or dark side (usually by picking which side to battle against), and your account tracks which side you lean towards, and gives you a bonus for cards on that side of the Force, though there’s no real penalty for mixing good guys and bad guys: I fell to the dark side (simply because of a lack of dark side opponents to steal blueprints from), and my formation has Darth Vader and Darth Maul fighting alongside Yoda, Luke, Ben, and Jabba the Hutt, backed up by Bossk and Taun We.
The best element of Star Wars flavor is at the start of a battle – sometimes when you and your opponent have two movie adversaries, you will get some text lines of movie dialogue of one confronting the other, such as Yoda vs Dooku, or Jabba vs. Chewbacca, or in a rare dark side-dark side case that amuses me greatly: Vader vs Ozzel.
The Android version of the game has a few bugs, and doesn’t take advantage of the multiple buttons that an Android smartphone might have. I found the game would crash periodically, sometimes at the start of a battle, meaning that my battle energy would be lost, and I wouldn’t have any rewards from either winning or losing the battle. Also the game should force the phone to stay alert with screen on, since sometimes the battle animations will take some time, in which my phone would normally turn off the screen. Swiping back in starts the game back at the front dashboard, losing track of where you were. Really, other apps can get permission to override the sleep. Sometimes waking up would also lose the top and bottom menus, killing your ability to navigate through the game, causing me to force the app to quit and restart it. Also, the game is a power hog, probably because it is constantly online, sending data back and forth.
While the navigation system is pretty easy to use, there are a few parts of the interface system that I have gripes with. When rewarded with a gift of credits, crystals, cards or card packs, various types of points, one has to then go to the inbox to mark them as received before they are added to your inventory. Unless there’s a reason for not automatically receiving goodies and having them available to you, this just seems like extra clicks. Likewise, since there’s a time gap between starting the construction of a vehicle, and the time it is actually completed, it doesn’t automatically enter your formation until you receive it as complete. Lame. Also, why not combine the allies inbox (messages and ally requests) with the item inbox.
There also should be some way to swipe between the detailed view of cards in the library without having to back out to the main list mode. The tutorial that helps new players get started doesn’t mention a few key things, like that leveling up will top off the energy and battle points pools. However, the in game help system is pretty through. Tip: Read the help pages, beginning to end.
Seeing that the game doesn’t really require any skill, or thought, other than selecting opponents to battle who you think you can beat based on their level and squad capacity, one might think that this game is probably great for entertaining kids. Until you run out of energy units and battle points and have to wait an hour or two to regenerate, so you’ll get about 10 minutes of fun, then 50 minutes of boredom. I guess this game appeals to those who like battle card games on computers or mobile devices – the constant grinding away to level up and collect every card or max out their stats or reach the end. Perhaps at higher levels of play there is some actual strategy to seeing your opponent’s front line of troops and being able to manually build your formation to maximize against what you think they’re packing, but I’m not that good or that patient.
Konami feeds this appeal by offering some limited-time events, including a few that happen as you first start the game (such as unlimited battling for the first two days, so level up as fast as you can and steal all the blueprints you can – knowing that vehicles can be upgraded by completing their plans multiple times), and there is a scheduled event starting today for the next two weeks that might provide exclusive vehicles or cards.
Ultimately, this game, while full of Star Wars look and feel (though no real story), is not much of a game for people looking for something involving decision-making skill or strategy or even button-mashing ability. If a Kowakian monkey-lizard found a flashy “You Win” message rewarding, it could eventually beat this game or starve to death trying. But if you like leveling up and wanting to complete a collection (Gotta catch ‘em all!), and checking in several times a day when your energy level has recharged, and have your device charger handy, you too can fall into the seductive lure of Star Wars: Force Collection. I can’t say that it is fun, and like Parcheesi, it’s well.. technically a game.
You can get the game for your iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch at the App Store and for your Android device at Google Play. And if you do decide to play, enter in my player code mqwl02947 for some free goodies (and if you reach level 20, I’ll get a free goodie)