By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I don’t really play this style of game very much. The last time I did willingly was the now-defunct SMITE Rivals. That was truly a free-to-play without the pay-to-win concept, something that Hirez Studios has perfected. I think a lot of other studios could probably learn from it, but that’s neither here nor there. Brawl of Ages is a CCG+Arena hybrid, a lot like Minion Masters, which I reviewed not too long ago. You set up a deck of creatures, and you do battle in a MOBA-style map, with two towers and a base. Each time you destroy a tower, or their base, you get a Medal, and Medals can be used to spin the Bronze Big Brawl Board. That’s a lot of BS… I’ll come back to that later. But you can use those to spin the Board, which can give you Valor [used to unlock cards] and card pieces (either the whole card, or an amount of pieces – think Power Rangers: Legacy Wars). Even if you lose, as long as you take a tower or two, you can get access to two seals, max. The winner has access to 3, but the matches are mercifully short. A couple of minutes, max, and in the last minute, “Mana Mania” activates, which makes your mana meter charge at a ludicrous rate. It’s their way of “balancing” the game I think. If you’re behind, this is your chance to come back. You know, in theory. It’s happening to the other player too, who, if they’re ahead, is likely to stay ahead.
In Brawl of Ages, you build a deck of 10 cards. They give you cards to start with, and thankfully, most of those cards are actually not terrible. There are better versions of them which you can upgrade to eventually. Example: Brawler Guards [5 cost], then you have Brawler Brigade [7 cost]. The Guards has 4 creatures that spawn with it, while the Brigade has 15. They are weaker, but come in greater numbers, so I guess it balances out. There’s also a common Brawler, Brawler Knight [6 cost]. It’s a solo rider, but it has pretty good stats. One critical thing that bothers me are the casting cost for these cards. I understand that they can’t be too cheap, but the average cost seems to be 6-8, with an occasional 4, and a lot of 10s and 11s. I have not been able to get a deck that’s useful below a 7.1 cost. There are so many factors to keep in mind for deck building, too. I feel like you should have at least one attack spell [Rocket Barrage, Missile, etc], possibly a defense item [something to ward off attacks like Noxious Tower], and a good variety of attacking creatures. A more aggressive tower is also good, because they can spawn constant streams of attacking creatures. Instead, there are also creatures who do the same, but those walk towards the other base, so they’re going to die.
So, now that we’ve talked tactics and the basics of the game, let’s talk about how you get cards. This is where I come into serious contention with the game. They advertise this as a game that is not at all pay to win, and so we have to do some analytics. As long as you are winning, the game is merely pay to go faster. The seals you win from the ladder allow you to spin the Bronze Board only, which does have okay stuff on it. But if you want the really powerful stuff, or at least, easier access to it? You have to spin the better boards [Silver, Gold, Diamond]. Those can only be given access to by winning in the Conquest Mode. Or spending gems. You need at least 5 wins to get a Silver Spin, and so on. You get one Diamond Spin at 10 wins. Or you could just spend gems! That’s the real money currency, by the by. That’s one of two ways to get cards, and even then, it’s only a shot at cards. Valor, which you can get from Conquest Mode, or from Spins, you can unlock cards that way too. Again, this implies you’re either winning, or spending money to unlock spins on the board. I’ve talked about Conquest a few times, but I haven’t explained it. So let’s go to that.
You can play Conquest Mode once for free, then you have to wait for the cooldown to come down. It’s reminiscent of Hearthstone’s Arena, except you take your own deck into the mode, instead of drafting one. I almost think I’d like to draft more, which says something. I hate draft. You play until you get three losses; other than that the game is exactly the same. You wait for someone to pick up the gauntlet tossed, and the more you win, the more you can earn! This is not a bad concept in and of itself. If you lose three times, you come away with 25 Valor, which is not even close to unlocking a single card. Common cards are on average 1000 Valor. So if you play every day for a week and, even if you lose every single time, you won’t even come close to one card.
This is a game that is not slanted to help people who are on a losing streak/not good at it. It may look cute and vibrant, but it is not friendly to new players. There are no bots to play against to test tactics and Valor/Cards/Seals. Just the “Practice” and the bots for that are incredibly easy. You can only gain them vs. other players. My opponents were never on my level [which is to say, not great]. I spent one morning playing against players who had accrued 750 medals. Another morning was 150-350. But I did learn that most of the decks that were pummeling me were using almost exclusively named characters, Rare or Higher, which means they’re either exceptionally good, or spent the money to get the cards they wanted. Which can be an awful lot… Though you can spend 100 gems to play the Conquest Mode when it’s on cooldown, and if you are good at the game, that might be a worthwhile investment. This also gives you Coins, which can be used for cosmetics, in this “Premium Conquest.” Also, Gem purchasing is not even in the game yet, so it very well may be that I’m simply only coming across people who are fantastic at the game.
I’ve got that “Sisyphus” Feeling
I like the concept of this game. I really do. Despite being terrible at it, the actual game is good. But I do not feel like it has enough options for people who are not good, but want to get better. The people who are already pretty good/have solid decks and strategy will probably not agree, but that’s quite all right. You have to win to get better cards at this point in time. That’s just the way it is. The grind is hard, the road is long and winding. But if you are not winning games, you have to hope you maybe knock a tower or two down to get seals for that Bronze Board. I spent a bunch of time watching other people play on their in-game Arena TV, and I can see the want to play and get better. There aren’t a huge amount of differences in winning decks, and even then it comes down to how fast you can land cards on the field, and what you do with what you have. That’s where I really began to understand card placement. I don’t recall it being mentioned at length in the tutorial, but if you have creatures on the other side of the field, you can place more of your stuff on their side of the river. Once I had gotten a foothold and started to push in, it was too late. They had already stored enough mana and pushed a whole handful of stuff down my throat.
The irony before the storm
I think the mechanics of this game are very sound, and it’s definitely fun. Even in defeat [and believe me, I’ve lost a lot], I still had fun. I didn’t really start getting close to victory at all until the last few days I’ve been playing. The people who are good at this are probably going to have more fun, and it’s very competitive. After some thought, I don’t think it’s really pay to win. But putting money in can definitely give you cards that are stronger, and while better cards don’t make you “good,” they go a long way in helping you secure the battlefield. However, on the other side of that coin, I don’t feel like people have a chance on the ladder with the starter cards. Maybe if match-making were a bit better. I think my first match was against someone who had 500+ medals, and that was my first real match in the game. Pay attention to what winning players do and watch matches on Arena TV, use that to help you figure out the game because it’s what real people do in the game. Sure, the tutorial helps, but that will really show you the game. Brawl of Ages is fun, but it’s also unforgiving if you aren’t getting wins on the board.