The Free Agent: Episode 19 - Duel of Champions

Kicking off a new year of the Free Agent with a Might and Magic TCG

Hello and Happy New Year everyone. Welcome back to ZAM's bi-weekly column, The Free Agent. Our mission in 2014 is the very same as it was in 2013; to answer the question "Can gaming REALLY be free?"

We finished off the year by joining with the rest of the ZAM team to award the Free Agent Game of the Year. Check out Episode 18 if you missed it. Another big congratulations to our winner, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot.

To kick off 2014 I decided to cover a Trading Card Game (TCG) that I picked up over the holidays. I was looking for something casual to play in between family get-togethers and the like, and Ubisoft's online TCG Might and Magic: Duel of Champions fit the bill rather nicely.

If you're a fan of the Might and Magic franchise or maybe just a TCG nut, heck maybe you're both, then today is your lucky day! Not only does Duel of Champions offer multiple layers of strategic play, it also fits like an old glove if you're like me and spent countless hours playing hot-seat Heroes of Might and Magic back in the day.

Originally released in 2012, I'll admit that I had no idea this game existed until a few months ago. But a random press release regarding the games 5th expansion, The Five Towers, caught my eye and the rest is history.

So I take it you're a fan?

As a matter of fact I am. There is something about diving into a familiar franchise that just feels good. From the moment I had to choose a starter I deck I knew I was going go with the Haven faction. But of course all the old favorites are there; Haven, Inferno, Necropolis, Stronghold, Sanctuary and Academy, each with its own decks, heroes, creatures, and now with the latest expansion, buildings as well.

While still relying on the typical TCG win condition of reducing the enemy champion to zero hit points, Duel of Champions draws on its roots to add familiar yet refreshing game play mechanics. Among them is a creative approach strategic positioning of cards to defend your own champion while striking out at the enemy. Creature cards are listed as melee, shooter and flyer units and can be deployed in two ranks, with the ability to either move or attack once they're in play. This opens up a huge range of different tactics depending on the strengths and weaknesses of you faction, and even your particular deck building approach.

There are also seven different schools of magic, which are hero specific not faction specific, meaning two decks of the same faction but with different heroes could for example result in facing off against light and fire combo of spells OR an air and water combo.

 

For fans of the iconic Heroes of Might and Magic turn based strategy games you'll find spell cards like Stone Skin and Chain Lightning to be pleasantly familiar and you'll also recognize some of the card names for Duel of Champions event card system. Week of the Dead anyone?

This system mixes up even the best laid strategies as each deck must include 8 event cards, which are shuffled together with your opponent’s selection of 8 event cards, and become playable by either side. While event cards won't win or lose the match for you on your own, sometimes it can be difficult to predict how your opponent may utilize an event card that you brought along as part of your own deck strategy.

With so many layered game mechanics Duel of Champions keeps you on your toes and forces you to continually adjust your strategies, making for very an entertaining TCG experience.

Any room for improvement?

Well of course there's room for improvement, but that could be said for any game. But what find surprisingly refreshing is how long I had to sit and ponder in order to come up with a few things.

Oddly enough, the best place to start would be with the very same layered game mechanics that I've just been praising. The complexity of Duel of Champions, especially compared to other online TCGs on the market, makes it a little difficult perhaps to get the hang of. So unless you're a fan of the franchise, I can see the somewhat steeper learning curve turning people away.

While we're on the subject of comparisons to other TCGs out there at the moment, I'd say that Duel of Champions is lacking the production value of some of its counterparts and could use an extra layer of polish.

Besides citing some balance issues that's about all I can really think of to say, and that's always a work in progress with a game like this. Granted I'm not playing at tournament level, so I can only comment on what I experienced in my short tenure as a champion of Haven, but I think Ubisoft should be applauded for putting together a quality TCG.

What about the money?

As far as free-to-play goes, I can't help but praise Duel of Champions once again. There is absolutely no reason why you couldn't play this game, and enjoy the crap out it, without spending a dime. But I do need to qualify that statement, because it likely only applies to casual players.

If you have tournament aspirations or even just hope to climb to the top of the leader boards, you’re likely going to want to invest some coin into this TCG. So let's take a look at the in game store and see what it has to offer.

To start, Duel of Champions uses a dual currency system, but experience and leveling up also play a role (more on that later). Gold is your standard in game currency, earned simply by playing games. With it you can purchase just about anything, including premium booster packs that have the same cards but with shiny finishes that just scream "hey look at me, I'm Mr. Spendypants!". Thus my claim that the more self controlled and discerning gamers among us, don't need to spend a dime.

The only thing gold can't buy you is box sets, tournament tickets, gold/XP boosts, any booster packs from the latest Five Towers expansion and a couple of the premade decks. Now before you call me out, I'm aware that lists actually sounds a little prohibitive, particular not having access to the latest expansion. No worries; that's where seals come in (not fish eating one's mind you).

Seals are the other in game currency, and can be used to purchase any of the items that gold can't buy (and even a few that it can). The catch is, that the only way to gain it in game is by leveling up, which of course requires XP. So, as I mentioned earlier, it's all tied together.

Obviously the implication here is that you won't earn seals very quickly, but you can earn them. Thus my claim that if you're going to play casually then you don't need to spend any money. If you're serious about Duel of Champions though, you'll run out of Seals long before you get all the cards you want, so you'll need to hit up the store and put down some cash to purchase game currency.

As a side note, you can actually purchase both Gold and Seals with real money, which leaves you wondering why they even went with a dual currency system. I won't pretend that I've done all the math or put it into a spreadsheet or anything, but at a glance you can pick up the Clashing Tides premade deck, featuring the Stronghold hero Crag Hack (so classic) for either 1,100 Seals or 125,000 Gold. Translate that into real dollars and you're looking at around $20 worth of Seals or $21 dollars worth of Gold.

Some might say that the ability to purchase the standard in game currency borders on pay-to-win territory, but I'm not sure I'd go that far, at least from the perspective of a casual player. I certainly never felt under powered by not spending any money.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the online TCG genre was of course born out of physical tabletop TCGs, where it is perfectly acceptable to pay real money to purchase numerous booster packs or boxed sets, or even to throw down the big bucks on eBay to get the one ultra rare card you've been after to perfect your deck. So if any genre is going to be understanding about paying to acquire in game goodies to get the let up on the competition its online TCGs.

 

Well I guess that's it then

Indeed it is my friends. If you're looking for a solid TCG, with tons of depth and a familiar feel (for Might and Magic fans anyways), then Duel of Champions fits the bill. If you're looking for a TCG that you can play casually without spending any money, Duel of Champions fits the bill. If you're looking for a TCG that you can play competitively, then bring your wallet, because other than that, Duel of Champions fits the bill once again.

My only regret in all this is that I'll have put down my Haven deck and pick up some new game this week that's not Duel of Champions. Don't worry though, it'll stay installed on my Steam library, so I'm sure I'll play it again whenever I get the itch.

So what's this next game I speak of you ask? Well I've been itching to try out the Galactic Starfighter expansion for Star Wars the Old Republic, and now's my chance. Our next episode will skip over most of the standard MMO content and focus exclusively on the star fighter component of the expansion, the game within game so to speak. So be sure to check it out in two weeks time.

See you next time on the Free Agent.

Robert "Caergan" Gray

               Follow me on Twitter @Caergan

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