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Review: Age of Rivals

iOS Universal, Android, PC/Mac •

Every now and then a game appears on the App Store and it just clicks. It takes hold immediately, as early as playing through the tutorial. There’s more than just a sense of “fun”, whatever that means, but an urge to really dig in and explore. It doesn’t happen often. I remember it happening when I first played Pathfinder Adventures last year, or the first time I loaded up Hearthstone, and it happened again last week with Age of Rivals. What a game.

Age of Rivals pitches itself as a CCG-style game with a civilization building theme, but the most striking thing about the game is how original it feels. This isn’t another CCG-clone where you summon cards and battle another player. Instead, it uses card drafting and other mechanisms to cull cards from your deck in a way that I’ve not seen used in any other game. Age of Rivals is its own beast, and yet the rules are simple enough that you can start losing games immediately after going through the thorough three-part tutorial.

So many cards to unlock

While the rules themselves are quite simple, strategy is not. There’s more than one way to build your empire, and focusing on the same strategy each game simply won’t work due to the random offering of cards you’ll see each game.

Each turn, players are dealt four cards, purchasing one. The remaining three cards are passed to your opponent and they get to choose from your leftovers. After each round, players battle each other, using military cards to “knock out” cards from the enemy’s civ. One of these cards, randomly, will become useless for the rest of the game while the others are merely non-functional for the remainder of the scoring phase. This randomness can ruin even the best laid plans by taking out a card you really, really wanted to use. In later rounds, you’re randomly dealt four cards that you’ve already purchased and getting one or two dead cards in that random draw is a killer.

I didn’t even mention the leaders who each have three unique cards.

While attacking your opponent can nab you some points and disrupt their plans, the main goal in Age of Rivals is earning the most culture. Many cards have a culture score which will add to your total in the scoring phase, provided the card wasn’t knocked out. Most military cards do not offer culture, so creating a balance between defense, attack, and still earning some points is harder than it seems. Add to this the fact that your civ consists of only eight cards, and it quickly becomes apparent that every card, every interaction matters.

Speaking of interactions, that’s really the AoR’s bread and butter. Each card works with other cards somehow. Be it to boost a card’s strength or culture, removing an opponent’s card, or just give you resources to cheapen the cost of future purchases, every card does something. It’s this interwoven tapestry of interlocking abilities that pushes Age of Rivals beyond being just another decent card game into the realm of greatness. This is a game that rewards practice, yet the theme, presentation, and depth offer something for newbies to latch onto and get pulled into the maelstrom with the rest of us.

Is it just me, or do all my screenshots look the same?

The only thing that could bring AoR back to earth would be a shoddy app which, gratefully, isn’t the case. The game plays wonderfully on a tablet or phone with the only downside being the requirement for an online connection to play. Roboto Games is on the case, however, promising an offline mode in an upcoming update.

The online options are cross-platform play vs. other humans via real-time games. For lovers of asynchronous turns, you should know that games last only a matter of minutes. Also, the dev has mentioned that asynchronous games could be included down the road if enough of us scream for them. Personally, games are quick enough that real-time doesn’t bother me.

There are also solo games vs. the AI which is available in two flavors: Normal and Hard. The Hard AI is no slouch, either. My win percentage against Hard is too low to speak about in public, while I can beat the Normal AI about 75% of the time. The AI is good enough to offer players who prefer solo gaming a challenge whenever they get the urge to play. The developer has also made daily quests and other rewards available via winning against humans or the AI, so even us soloists will be able to unlock and experience everything Age of Rivals has to offer.

In a card game, this is what we call an “action shot”.

Unlike other CCGs, Age of Rivals is a premium title. Pay once, and you get all the cards without any IAP to worry about. Cards are doled out slowly as you earn gold with every win or loss, but you will unlock everything, eventually. You’ll just need to keep chipping away to buy new cards.

If Age of Rivals has a downside, I have yet to find it. Instead, we get a highly polished app mixed with a unique and engaging card game. The only real downside is finding time to play in a year that’s also seen card games like Race for the Galaxy, Onirim, and Card Thief land on the App Store. Poor us!


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