Saga of the Warstorm

It’s a sad state of affairs when most of my gamer friends no longer play Magic. (Or, if they do, I’m not around for it.) Instead, they sucked me into a free CCG availible on our respective Facebooks… Warstorm.

The premise is pretty simple: online CCG. That should explain most things to a lot of people; you buy cards, make decks, and try to keep up with the Joneses as you stomp each other in Mythic Fantasyland. Originally it was its own game, but it moved to Facebook after a buyout by Zynga… the evil masterminds in charge of creating the ponzi-schemes that are Farmville, Frontierville, a lot of other -ville games, and Mafia Wars. (Also, that crappy vampire game nobody plays.)

To hone all the CCG elements down for the virtual battlefield, decks are based around a hero, and comprised of six additional cards. The hero determines how many cards of which type can fit into a deck: starter heroes usually provide room for six creatures, while others have a few slots for artifacts or spells to boost their prowess.

The cards have a few stats each, keeping it simple. All cards have a ready score, representing how many turns before they enter the battlefield. Creature cards (called “friends,” which I find loving lame) have the obligatory attack/defense ratings, and come in different fantasy-trope forms: infantry, cavalry, archers, beasts, dragons, etc.

These stats are augmented by named abilities, which do certain things to certain cards. Heal, much as it sounds, heals creatures for a set amount of damage. Archery, usually possessed by archer units, means a creature deals double damage to Infantry or cards with Flying. Flying, in contrast, is a great form of evasion: creatures with it can only be damaged via Archery, other Flying creatures, or a specific magic-y ranged attack (Zap, Icebolt, or Blast, for example). Blast deals 1 damage to all opposing creatures; a Flaming creature sets other creatures on fire when hit; Immune negates damage/effects from all other abilities. There’s a nice selection, though some (Flying) are far more useful than others (Trample).

For variety, there are no less than five factions: Humans, Elves, Orcs, Undead, and Demons. While a few of them share some abilities, most of them offer unique bonuses compared to the others. For example, some Undead have Animated, giving a 50% chance that, when the creature is killed, it’ll be returned back to the staging grounds from the graveyard rather than having it be permanently killed. Humans and Elves are the obvious beginner-level groups, though both have some powerful high-end deck builds, specifically the dwarves released in the expansion packs for the Human faction.

To do battle, you queue up one to four of your decks, and attack another random Warstorm player (or a friend, depending). The actual games are computer-driven, with the cards dealt and handled by the computer. There’s still some elements of chance—good and bad draws often determine the winner between two comparable decks—but most of it is up to luck and good deck-building. Say, attacking my flying Demon dragons with your animated Undead deck doesn’t give you a chance in hell of winning, but if you’d used your Elf archers instead I probably would have been thrashed.

For the most part, you’ll be fighting other people, though this is done randomly (unless you’re attacking friends) and with no downside for failing: you gain 50 silver for every failure to go with your bruised ego, while victory gives you some XP and 100 silver. A random six-pack booster costs 10,000 silver, but you can grind your way up to one in a number of ways. Fighting three random battles, and fighting three of your friends, each gives you 1,000 silver. And there are a plethora of free gifts and “post to your wall so your friends can come find it” treasure troves, which include cards, silver, and the occasional almighty Zyngabuck. You can also spam your Warstorm-playing friends by asking for free cards, giving you a leg up on building competitive decks. And staying competitive is damn important.

Besides the 10,000 silver booster packs, there are crappy 1,000 silver boosters, 12,500 boosters which provide all cards from one specific faction, and expansion set boosters (which are awesome, but cost Zyngabucks). There are also additional campaigns, to bolster the short, free single-player one, which also cost Zyngabucks. And there’s a selection of preconstructed decks, most of which are fairly useful at the start, good baselines around level 15, and fairly useless at level 30. Oh, there’s also a singles shop, which replicates the real-world CCG marketplace: the cards you want either aren’t there, or cost more than you’re willing to pay for them. (At least, until you’ve got some of the expansion campaigns under your belt; beating one of those is easy, costs 10-20 Zyngabucks, which takes about a month to acquire, and provides you with 60,000-100,000 silver at the end.)

The game is fast and brutal, and requires you not to be an idiot when a.) buying new cards and b.) deckbuilding. Prepare to end up losing around 35-60% of the time, especially as you’re starting out, unless you’re going to buy Zyngabucks with cold, hard frogskins. That isn’t to say the game is fun or rewarding, and seeing new cards is always cool, but there are a million ways to lose and only a few means to win. Reaching level 10 or so put me on even footing, deck-wise, but once I hit level 30 I began taking it in the teeth for some poor choices in how I spent my silver.

For the downsides… let’s face it. The main reason CCG players play is because of ingame strategy, which Warstorm has none of. As the game’s completely on autopilot, I can fully understand why people don’t like it—you don’t play Warstorm, you watch as the game masturbates with the decks you’ve built.  In a way, it’s solitaire for people who are too lazy to play solitaire. On the CCG front, it has the sliding-scale rarity of “super rare” versions of lower-level cards, which have quicker ready times than their common cousins. Like all online games, Warstorm rewards the cash-payer with glorious wonders, setting them several bars ahead of the free player.

And yet, it has this strange, irresistible charm… much like other CCGs I can name (coughMagiccough). There’s something addictive about acquiring cards and throwing them together into decks, watching which ones gel and which ones can’t kill a starter Pozak deck. To say the game lacks all strategy is a false claim; knowing how to build decks, and choosing which decks to use, are incredibly important. There are many ways to get free cards, and even free cash, and if you can surmount the many obstacles (and ego-buster of frequent defeats, including from some godly barbarian invaders), you’ll be rewarded with a fun and addictive Facebook game.

With Zynga’s recent choice to discontinue daily reward freebies, and swamped with barbarian invaders whose prowess and deck-builds outshine most players I’ve seen, I ended up cutting back on my Warstorm addiction. That and I’d like to accomplish something else with my day. It’s not the best FB app out there, nor is it the CCG experience to end all others, but it manages to hybridize the two into a passable time-waster.

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