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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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Notable Replies

  1. Great game, great review!

  2. js619 says:

    Can’t quote for some reason, but the part about starting to lose once completing the tutorial sums up my play lol. I really love everything about this game and app, and don’t even mind the sync games - they go so quickly that I can get a few in a day. Absolutely a GotY contender, if not the forerunner in my book.

  3. This is a really brilliant design. The way the various systems work together is just a delight to watch.

    Other than that, I can’t add much that’s not already covered in the review. This is the GotY, for sure (maybe splitting the award with Race for the Galaxy).

    And, before the chorus arrives – no, asynchronous multiplayer is NOT needed. Games take about 8-10 minutes at first, then get even quicker once you get to know the cards. I’m finishing mine in about 6-8 minutes now.

  4. I have to totally second this.

    I was turned off by the real-time aspect of it, but having played a bunch over the weekend, it’s not that bad at all. It helps that there are actually people playing it (unlike some apps that would be ok live, but the lobbies are empty).

    And I just love the “one price for everything” bit.

    I don’t play enough new games to really legitimately choose a “game of the year,” but for me it’s definitely up between this and Race.

  5. I just can’t get enough. Every time you try something a little different you either shoot the lights out or crash and burn. But I always want to try the combos, get the skull dudes and pressure my opponent.

  6. At 99 cents, it’s literally stealing, too.

    Anyone who likes games should get AoR, even if they think they won’t get to it for awhile.

  7. I desperately need a strategy. Oh, and luck. Because the second I decide I’m going to try something other than military, all my draws are horrid.

  8. Strategy is reading the board, making the best decision there and trying to remember your other cards.

    The resource system is brilliant. I always get a muscle to block, but then buy spies… stupid me…

  9. Whats your favourite card? Im far from unlocking all the cards yet but Im loving my ‘four horsemen’. If Ive got the horse resource then I can grab a bunch of 4 attack, 4 defense, 2 culture horsemen. Thats just strong enough to be a real pain in the bum.

  10. I would also say the Horsemen, or the tower that gets +armor and +culture each time it takes damage.

  11. I like Trade Capital, especially if I grab it early. The compounding points plus the incentive to play resource cards can be deadly, especially with an opponent who isn’t attack heavy.

  12. js619 says:

    I like the Macarena Dancers or whatever it is for the same reason - it’s 6 culture and then summons additionals that add two culture to every card with a music note icon - get three or four of those going with some walls and you’re defended and racking up points.

  13. js619 says:

    Or the tower that gets +culture +armor for every attacker - I’ve gotten that thing up to its max and it’s nearly unstoppable at that point.

  14. Yeah, anything that compounds points is really successful when played right. Most of my losses have come at the hands of opponents who build around those cards well.

  15. My favorite card is probably the trade capital. Get that early and all those trade cards in the first round get some VP, and then you don’t mind so much when they show up later.

  16. Valkyries is the early MVP.

  17. So… unlocked everything now :))

  18. js619 says:

    How can you tell? And what happens to duplicate cards? Do they just disappear?

  19. When you open a pack once everything is unlocked it says all unlocked and you click “cool”.


  20. Wow, mighty impressive!

    @js619, there is a card list. Check the main menu.

  21. I guess this is a gripe, albeit a small one - other than the intrinsic value of playing, there are no extrinsic rewards once you’ve unlocked everything. Now I’m usually the type of person that never requires extrinsic rewards, but with the Empire system, what does gold mean when you have no use for it?

  22. That’s a great question. Would love to see additional content down the line you could unlock with in-game gold … “campaign” missions, or something like that …

  23. I am sure something will release…

  24. I’m surprised you beat me Baelnor… I only have about 20 left.

    In case you guys didn’t know, the game was a hearthstone style IAP when it was started as a flash game. You accrued science which you could use to craft cards. It’s not like that any more, and they just made this switch for iOS and PC.

    I’m sure they have some ideas up their sleeves.

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