What I think of SolForge (Beta)

Like the Greek myth this game should be left alone like Pandora's box.
If the Greeks taught anything then this game should be left alone like Pandora’s box.

Riding on the wave of free-to-play is a new Digital Trading Card Game which is also based on a board game and is currently available in beta. They have micro transactions in the game so for all intents and purposes Solforge has been released therefore This is What I Think of SolForge.

Note: Since writing this piece several months ago not much as changed but the developers have said more is on the way “In addition to SolForge for Android, we’re working on another big set of cards, Auction house and card exchange functionality, achievements and leaderboards, campaign mode, and more!” Despite that I still feel the game will still lack any sort of soul in the end and will be largely forgotten.

(Click on an image to see a larger version)

SolForge 1
This is what the SolForge Store looks like.

SolForge is a Digital Card Game (DCG) created by StoneBlade Entertainment with the help of Trading Card Game creator, Richard Garfield. The game is available to play on PC via the Steam store and on iOS devices via Apple’s store. The game is free-to-play but it features micro transactions which take on the form of buying booster packs for extra cards or for different match skins.

I like Trading Card Games, board games and other card based games, from playing simple card games to the Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering and more. With the recent rise of digital games and the increasing power of browser game technology the prospect of having all the fun of a Trading Card Game without having to have other real people nearby to play and trade with or space to store the cards should be now. This idea is very appealing to me however no trading card game since the original Pokemon Trading Card Game on the Nintendo Game Boy has made me want to play a TCG more than a few hours but maybe this can change that?

SolForge is pretty traditional in how the actual game play takes place, you get cards every turn, you can play creatures and use spells and the play field has limited space for cards and the man goal is to kill the other player’s hero by reducing their hit points to zero. In this case from one hundred. Anyone who has played Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering Trading Card Games will be pretty familiar to how the game plays.

SolForge 2
This is what the boring battles in Solforge look like.

Where SolForge is different and unique is that most cards have three different forms/levels and they level up every time they are played. Once a card has been played and then killed it will return to your deck but with its higher level instead. Another quite unique thing about SolForge is that there are five lanes for you and your opponent to use and each lane attacks the opposite. Therefore if a lane is unguarded the hero will take damage. This is good and bad as a lane can only be attacked by the opposite lane which mean it can seem easier to keep track of what’s going on but in reality this limitation makes the game seem to have fewer possibilities and more rigid. A creature in lane one can’t attack one in lane five while in most other games this is possible. In one way this is good as one card can’t just tank all the opposition. You need to have a strong balanced deck and not just one over powered card. However I am still undecided if I like this mechanic but it does makes SolForge unique.

Another unique thing in SolForge is that after every turn all unplayed cards are returned to the deck with five new ones given each turn. Also in every turn of SolForge you have to press the Battle button this means your creatures and the enemies have to attack which can make long-term strategy hard to do but it make the game more high risk. You can’t just keep one card out of the battle, it has to attack and therefore not likely to last long.

SolForge raised nearly half a million dollars of its two hundred and fifty thousand goal on Kickstarter and with all that money you think that the game would be more flashy and feature more content, granted that the game is still in beta and the game is still clearly unfinished but there are no animations, graphics are minimum at best and sound and music is more repetitive than many NES games. I could throw a pack of cards on the floor and it would be more impressive than anything you will see in SolForge, this wouldn’t matter if they weren’t already accepting money for booster packs. Despite this the art style is clearly well done and I like most of it but good game art is easy to come by and cheap while good graphics isn’t but with all the money they raised, StoneBlade Entertainment should spend more on making the game more enjoyable to play and to look at.

Many features that you would expect in a trading card game are missing such as any type of trading or auction system for cards. There is also currently no tournament features and there don’t seem any reason to play online games than to get a bit of silver and have a more challenging experience against more well versed SolForge players. The developer has said they will be adding many features you would expect eventually but with the amount they raised you think that would be in the base game from the beginning.

Solforge 3
If you buy a card pack with coins this is what you see.

I would say the biggest contention of any free-to-play game is its business model, and most free-to-play models at the moment are terrible and a person is more likely to spend more in a free-to-play game than if the game was a full price retail game. SolForge tries to make it seem fair by having two currencies which all free-to-play games love. There is silver the peasant free currency and gold which you can get for real money. Silver is earned from matches, daily login in rewards and that’s about it. These currencies are used to buy booster packs from the in-game store which silver can be used on. You may feel that seems fair but you can have all the Silver in the world but you can only buy the basic booster pack to get better booster packs with guaranteed rare cards and the such can only be bought with Gold. Now the developers need to make money some way but you easily argue that this game is heading towards pay to win waters. This is because if someone wants to they could easily spend a lot of money to get a lot of cards now this is how it is in real life but there is no other secondary market like in real life to balance it out. Free-to-play players can easily and will often get matched in games with players who have more money and quality cards than them, this has created a two tier game which is the biggest mistake a free-to-play game can make. SolForge need to keep these players separate to keep the game fair and balanced for all. Free-to-play games should only offer cosmetic, speed boosts and extra expansions for sale while everything else should be free, failing that a game like SolForge should allow free-to-play players the same things a paying payers has to offer but with a little of a time barrier.

Solforge 4
The Solforge Deck Builder. Its cumbersome.

Despite the pretty bad business model whether you agree or not and its poor production values SolForge two biggest problems is that: one it’s clearly aimed at the mobile market and therefore it is taking the PC’s capabilities for granted and secondary it’s just boring. SolForge is a pretty impressive game for a mobile platform such as the iPad but even those platforms offer better games with internet browsers games being even more impressive. SolForge doesn’t take advantage of anything a modern game can offer such as screen resolutions, shortcut keys or graphics etc. Even thought you can just use a mouse the lack of button short cuts makes the game play more archaic than it needs to be. The second problem with SolForge is that it’s not that exciting even for people who play and like Trading Card Games. This becomes even worse when there are better alternatives being available such as Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon TCG and now Hearthstone. SolForge is looking to become obsolete before it even officially launches. With the name like SolForge you think the game would have more soul but it doesn’t, its lifeless and has no personality.

Solforge 5
The art in Solforge can be good but mostly its bland and unoriginal.

One of the biggest selling points of a card game is trading and its mini economy, if I own a rare card, its good to know that its worth something and not completely worthless which SolForge cards are. Most people who has ever played a Trading Card Game will have memories of gathering at break time at school or other places and going through other people’s cards or stickers and saying “need, need, got, got, need” and without this and the other things I have mentioned there isn’t much point in playing SolForge in its current state and that is a shame. Maybe by next year it will be fantastic but even then I don’t feel the game would be fun to play and SolForge doesn’t leave a good first impression. There are better alternatives and StoneBlade Entertainment’s talent is going to waste.