by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 5th April, 2018
Hearthstone is the reigning king of CCGs (collectible card games) with the game boasting a player base counted in millions who spend tons of money on getting new card packs. And with the constant stream of new expansions, they have lots of reasons to get new packs. The game is loved by lots of gamers but on the other hand, many of those who played it back in the times of closed and open beta are just getting sick of Hearthstone.
Which is completely understandable - no matter how good an experience is you will grow tired of it eventually. So, what to play when you quit Hearthstone? And what to play if you didn't like Hearthstone in the first place?
Luckily, the list of collectible card titles is huge, with some proper gems being part of it. And the games really are diverse. Some feature classic formula from MTG, others try to tweak Heartstone mechanics while keeping their own unique flavor, and there are some that completely reimagined how a card game should be played. Not all are available on every platform but no matter which gaming platform you prefer you will find a couple of titles worth checking out. Let us begin.
Let's start with a card game that introduced a couple of completely new mechanics to the genre. Gwent originated as one of the pastimes available in the Witcher 3 but it was so much fun and so well executed that fans made a petition asking from CD Projekt Red to recreate Gwent as a standalone game. And the good people from Poland did it.
As we already noted Gwent features a couple of mechanics that cannot be found in other card games. Firstly, forget about mana, power, lands, or anything similar. Instead of each card asking a certain amount of mana or power to be played in Gwent each side can play one card per turn. Yes, that means you can throw your most powerful card as an opener, and some gold cards are perfect as powerful openers.
Next, there's no life gauge, the winner is the side that has more points at the end of the round. And if you win one round you aren't the winner because matches are played in the best out of three fashion, meaning that you must carefully manage your resources in order to have enough power to triumph in two rounds, not just vomit points and hope for the best. And finally, units have just one number, presenting their power and health at the same time meaning that a damaged or killed units also lower your power level.
Cards are placed in three tiers - gold, silver, and bronze - and players can have four gold and six silver cards in their deck, with the rest of the deck filled with bronze ones. Gwent is an excellent title for those who are tired of card games utilizing similar mechanics and also for those who don't like spending real-world money for buying new card pack because just by doing daily quests you can gather enough gold to get three card packs each day.
Finally, the game offers casual and ranked matches, the Arena (that has super valuable prizes, even when you score just a couple of wins), and occasional special events. A single player campaign called Thronebreaker is planned to be released during 2018 and it should bring dozens of hours of gameplay along with a superb story and top-notch presentation. Since we are talking about CD Projekt Red, the team that gave us all three Witcher games, we are confident that Thronebreaker will be something special.
Another card game with roots in an RPG series, Legends is a card game reimagining of the world of Elder Scrolls. The game is similar to Hearthstone in the way that it features auto increasing mana, but it differs from the biggest CCG in more than one way.
Firstly, you can combine cards from two factions, or play just one. Next, the game features two lanes for placing units meaning you have to constantly look out that your enemy doesn't completely overpower you on one lane because you'll likely lose or at least be stripped out of a substantial portion of your health once their units start attacking you unchallenged.
And losing health can win you games because for every five health points lost a seal is broken allowing you to draw one card from your deck. And if the card has a special attribute called prophecy, it can be played right away. All this makes Elder Scrolls Legends familiar but with enough originality to stay interesting for players who already played card games.
The game offers casual and ranked modes, as well as two types of the Arena, and a solid single player campaign, with the first chapter being completely free to play. The game is a solid free-to-play title, but new players will have a hard time building their collection, so spending some money on getting a couple of card packs is almost mandatory.
Eternal is a card game quite similar to Magic: The Gathering. You build huge, 60 card decks that include land cards, there's no auto increasing mana mechanic here. This means that you must be careful when building a new deck. Sacrificing too many mana cards and replacing them with units, spells, or items means that you could be left without enough mana for powerful plays while picking too many mana cards will give you lots of mana along with lots of bad draws.
The game plays faster than Magic and can be described as a mix of MTG and Heartsone. You can pick which units are to attack, and when defending you can decide which units will defend, if any. This adds an additional strategic layer to the game and makes it deeper than simple ransacking attack waves that often happen in Hearthstone.
In Eternal, you can combine as many factions as you want, but since mana system is the same as in MTG, the optimal number of factions is two or three. Anything more will mean you will have a hard time gathering enough faction mana for playing powerful cards.
As a free-to-play title, Eternal is pretty generous to players. You can earn enough gold for around one card pack per day, and packs offer lots of cards (around 30, if we are correct) meaning that even new players will relatively quickly gather enough cards to construct competitive decks. Also, the game offers a draft mode that lets you keep all cards you draft. That is great because you can get lots of powerful cards this way, even if you draft them knowing they won't be good in your draft deck.
Spellweaver is another game on its list that borrows lots from Hearthstone but manages to build its own taste and uniqueness. It relies on good old colorless mana, but also includes another element needed for playing cards. In addition to mana, you also have certain elements that give you levels needed to play different cards, and those elemental levels can be gained by specific elemental shrines, and both mana and shrines are included in the deck you play with, like in Magic: The Gathering.
This gives the game another layer of complexity because you have to build your deck aware that there isn't one, but two resources and both of them have to be represented in high enough amount in your deck, especially different elemental shrines.
Similar to Hearthstone, the game features heroes, each with their own special abilities that can have various effects on creatures, spells, or can affect mana cost of different cards. While different heroes have their own powers, they can also get new ones when playing shrines. Since heroes have to be of the same color as the deck, shrines cannot give them powers if they have a different color than the hero.
Further, the game features two combat lanes, similar to Elder Scrolls: Legends and its creatures have one unique feature not found in other CCG titles. That's speed. Faster creatures can be used to attack heroes directly, and if they are faced only by slow creatures, they can outmaneuver them. This is why fast creatures are generally weak, and why slow creatures usually feature higher power.
The game offers the usual set of game modes. You can play ranked and casual matches as well as take part in weekly tournaments. There's no draft mode, and new players would probably have to spend a bit of cash because the game isn't really generous with gold and booster packs.
Now, Duelist is a card game for those who like their games to be highly tactical. Duelist is a combination of a classic CCG and a turn-based strategy. Battles take place on a five-by-nine grid where players place their units and move them in a way to damage enemies while at the same time preventing units from becoming cannon fodder for the other side.
Units feature attack power and health, similar to Hearthstone. And the auto-generated mana system is also borrowed from Blizzard's hit game, along with heroes (called generals here) that have certain powers along with an HP scale that, once set to zero, means game over.
Dualist is unique in a way that even basic units, when played at the right moment and in the right place, can disrupt opponent and completely change the match. Also, tactical players can overcome stronger opponents by flanking them, or placing them where enemies cannot directly attack them. The majority of units can be moved just two squares per turn, so having more agile units is highly desirable in most decks. Add to that the fact that generals can also move on the board and you got yourself one highly interesting mix of card and strategy game.
The game offers the usual collection of game modes such as ranked and casual play, and the Arena mode called the Gauntlet. Since each deck can have up to three same cards, even if they are of legendary rarity, Duelist may look like a game where new players have to pay to be competitive. But since even regular creatures, when used strategically, can win you a match, new players can construct a powerful deck even after playing the game for just a couple of days. Also, new booster packs (called Orbs) can be earned relatively quickly, faster than in all games mentioned here except Eternal and Gwent.
Download Duelist on Steam.
If you like manga and the unique eastern art style, check out Shadowverse. The game was originally launched in Japan and quickly become the most popular card game in the country of the rising sun. Soon after it was launched globally and is now one of the most popular CCG titles.
The game shares many features with Hearthstone but it also introduces a couple of unique mechanics of its own. There are heroes on each side that feature unique powers, a steady stream of mana, and units that have attack and HP. But, each of the factions found in Shadowverse works in its own unique way, asking players to learn each faction individually and putting an additional layer of strategy to the game.
Also, RNG plays a much smaller role in Shadowverse compared to other card games. There aren't many mechanics that can create random effects, meaning that players who cherish strategy over create and discover effects would probably like it more than Hearthstone. Each unit in the game can be evolved, upgrading their stats and becoming more powerful, but since you can evolve only a limited number of creatures each game, the game doesn't allow to just destroy your opponent with a bunch of evolved creatures.
The game offers lots of game modes as well as many different cards and since it already saw many different expansions, it could prove to be a bit daunting to get into for new players.
If you seek for a relatively simple but fun card game experience that can be enjoyed on the go, look no further than Card Wars Kingdom. While most of the titles presented here are available for mobile devices, we have to say that a perfect mobile card game actually is Card Wars. Based on the popular Adventure Time animated series, Card Wars Kingdom is a game that's simple to learn and extremely addictive.
Matches play fast and are relatively short, which is perfect when you play on a mobile device, waiting for a bus, or standing in a line at a grocery store. There are many different creatures and spells to choose from, and building decks is very easy. You can pick any creature you want, and also pick one of the different heroes each with their own powers and special cards.
The gameplay is simple - play creatures, attack your opponent, and try to outwit them with specials cards that can affect both your and enemy creatures. You have to rely just on five creatures, with other cards being spells, specials, and landscapes meant to keep your units alive while trying to damage enemy ones. The game offers plenty of multiplayer modes along with different single-player modes and offers tons of content. You can earn new cards relatively easy, and quickly build a powerful deck.
The last title on this list can technically be played right now, but only if you're lucky. You see, Magic: The Gathering Arena still is in closed beta, with developers sending more and more invites to players. All you have to do is register on the game's official site and wait for the key to be sent to your inbox.
We mention the game because it looks like the best ever digital MTG game. It features the same mechanics as the physical game, so everyone who is familiar with Magic will found themselves right at home. The gameplay is fast (faster when compared with other digital versions of MTG) and the game is tight and optimized for online play.
At the moment you can only play casual PvP matches, but Wizards of the Coast plan for Arena to become the sole digital version of MTG and we believe they will see lots of popularity once the game enters open beta. The only question is will the in-game economy (you can't buy new card packs at this time) favor those who spend real money or not, but if Wizards plan to make the Arena the biggest and most popular card game of them all, they should make the game more accessible (when it comes to spending money) than other MTG digital games.