The thing I get the most emails about is beard-grooming advice, followed closely by mewling requests to stop holding the world for ransom from my sinister lair high atop Mount Hexmap. But number 3 is definitely PT readers wondering what the heck is up with Star Realms.
The sci-fi flavoured deck-building card game got a good write-up from us last year and it did even better over at Board Game Geek, where it pulled down a fistful of Golden Geek Awards. It’s a nifty little card game that had some UI wonkiness in its iOS and Android incarnations, and it had a strong tang of “pre-expansion” gameplay — there were a lot of obvious open sockets waiting to be hooked up to more elaborate gameplay mechanics.
The Gambit expansion for the Star Realms base set came out on cardboard back in 2013, and it’ll hit desktops and mobile versions of Star Realms this Thursday, White Wizard Games told me this morning. Gambit cards are randomly dealt to the players at the beginning of the game and allow the player that holds them to bend certain rules, encouraging players to pursue different gameplay styles. It’s a neat idea and the expansion is generally well-reviewed on tabletop. Perhaps even better: there’s two new chapters included in the much-admired single-player campaign. Gambit will be available as a single in-app purchase for $4.
Besides the new cards, there’s been some welcome tweaks and additional functionality to the Star Realms app, and everybody will get these improvements when the game updates this week, whether or not you buy the new card set. There’s a new update feed which will help you stay on top of your asynchronous games (a big pain in the engines in 1.0), an option for faster card animations, online leaderboards, and new tips and hints to smooth out the learning curve for new players.
Lots more images from the expansion after the jump.
But did take the form of an omnipotent mountain floating in outer space? Did you become a hacker exposing false flag operations in a Russian puppet state? Or become a global superpower by selectively breeding an army of cats?
No? Then buckle up, compadre — let me show you the very weirdest stuff of the year.
So many cards it’s like Justin Bieber’s in the hospital.
Now that Realms Unraveled is out for Ascension, there’s different seven core sets you can choose to play with, plus a mess of promo packs. I did the math, and there’s now three digital Ascension cards for every man, woman, and dog on the planet. If we actually printed all of these cards out, the Earth would collapse under its weight and become a black hole, which would be pretty cool for Interstellar cosplay, I guess.
Clearly, playing with every single set is only good for the occasional lark or if you want to drive an OCD friend to insanity, but which sets should you be playing with? I decided to take this question straight to the source: Ascension designer Justin Gary.
The Canon Templar does not approve of your Lifebound-Mechana shipping.
In the wee small hours of the morning, Playdek dropped another expansion on us. Realms Unraveled is a highly respected box for Ascension, the durable deck-building card game that would almost certainly be elected the official pastime of Pocket Tactics if we ever put that to a vote. The expansion is available as a single $2.99 purchase within the Ascension app, and it’s on both iOS and on the recently-launchedAndroid port.
With the release of Realms Unraveled, digital Ascension has now achieved parity with the tabletop version. Ever since Playdek and game designers Stone Blade put aside their differences earlier this year the duo have been cranking out card sets; after Rise of Vigil and Darkness Unleashed, RU is the third expansion to get digitised this year.
For those somehow still unfamiliar with Ascension, stop reading this and go play the tutorial already. There simply aren’t any hobby card games that are easier to get into, and certainly none whatsoever that are so well-supported by mobile apps.
For Void-weathered Ascension heads, this expansion introduces multi-faction heroes that play with the Unite and Transform mechanics from earlier boxes. I’m still wrapping my head around it but I’ve enjoyed my couple of online matches already. Ascension artist Eric Sabee is also at the very top of his game with this set. Make sure you read my interview with him from earlier this year if you want to understand how Ascension’s one-of-kind card art comes into being.
We’ve not hidden our feelings about the lack of a decent city-builder on our tablets. Nearly every title out there is either a free-to-play mess, or just not deep enough to grab you and hold you the way the classics like SimCity or Caesar did. Therefore, we will take any and all chances of a decent city builder for mobile and run with them, even if their appearance on iOS or Android is, at this point, just a wish.
Cole Jeffries, who developed the puzzly Megacity for iOS and Android is twisting his city-building muscles again. This time he’s including a board game mechanic for good measure: deck-building. Concrete Jungle is the new title and it’s just been funded on Kickstarter with 23 days to go.
Concrete Jungle is still more puzzle than city manager, but the combo of deck-builer and city-builder looked too cool to ignore. So, the goal of the game is to clear city blocks so you can continue to build a bigger city. Of course, the bigger the city gets, the harder it gets to keep building. There are over 150 cards that you can use to build a deck that will allow you to build certain buildings, and as your cities get bigger, you can add bigger and better buildings to your deck. Best of all, the game features no IAP at all.
The big downside is that Concrete Jungle is currently only planned for PC and Mac, and those are the only platforms being funded by the Kickstarter. Cole does mention, however, that iOS and Android are possibilities down the road. Let’s hope he heads that route, as tablets can use any city-building love they can get.
“I think my favorite card so far is the Hectic Scribe. I think I see myself when I look at him.”
On a couch in a cramped Boston apartment — one of those glorified cubicles for recent grads where you can just about reach the kitchen sink from your bed — Eric Sabee and Justin Gary are playing Tekken 4. (Justin prefers Panda, for the record.) It’s 2002. Sabee, who works in a picture framing shop, and Gary, a law student, live down the hall from one another and spend a lot of free time pushing thumbsticks in front of Sabee’s Playstation.
Gary made a living playing Magic: The Gathering, a whimsical-sounding trade that amazed Sabee. Gary had played in the professional Magic circuit for years, capping his career with a victory in the 2002 Pro Tour. Gary won’t last much longer in law school. In a little while, he’s going to drop out, move to California, and start his own game company with other folks from the Magic scene.
Sabee graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration, and like young artists since time immemorial, was struggling to catch a break. It would be a long time in coming. On the walls of that Boston apartment are oil paintings that Sabee has been making over the past few months.
“I was frustrated with trying to break into illustration and getting nowhere,” Sabee told me a couple of weeks ago. “Someone convinced me to start painting scenes of Boston. People liked them a lot. I wanted to emulate Van Gogh so there was a lot of big expressive marks, bright colors.”
One of the people that liked those paintings a lot was Justin Gary. “The first piece Justin ever bought from me was a scene of a restaurant on Brighton Avenue that was familiar to us both,” says Sabee. “He gave me his old big-screen TV for it.”
Gary took a few more paintings with him when he left for California. And a few years later, when he started designing the game that would become Ascension, he knew which artist he wanted working on it.
After rejecting the app at least three times, Apple’s mercurial gatekeepers have finally deigned to release the long-awaited Star Realms to the App Store, about a month and a half after debuting on the Android Market. If you’re just tuning in, Star Realms is a deck-building card game akin to Ascension that I loved when I previewed it in June. That resemblance to Ascension is no coincidence, as Star Realms designer Rob Dougherty also co-designed that most cherished of hobby card games.
I’ve kicked the space tires on the new iOS version and it’s an easy recommendation to make. The UI isn’t as fluid and responsive I was hoping it would be (moving cards around feels weirdly straitjacketed) but it’s well up for the job and the gameplay itself is very compelling.
If you’ve wanted to get into deck-building card games and never tried Ascension for some reason, this is a fine opportunity to give the genre a shot. Star Realms is free to download (there’s a single in-app purchase to unlock all the content) and it’s got a pretty decent tutorial — plus you can play async online matches against the hordes of PT regulars who are about to flood the online lobbies.
White Wizard Games haven’t provided any video for this one so I’ve got Drive Thru Reviews’ hands-on with the Star Realms PC beta after the jump — it’s nigh-indistinguishable from the mobile version.
UPDATE: Maybe the future’s not so bright after all? Folks on Facebook and righthere on the PT forums are reporting problems with registering Star Realms accounts and encounters with UI miscues. Looks like the long incubation period may not have been sufficient to shake out all the bugs. I’ll send a note over to White Wizard to see what their plan is.