SolForge: The Canonical Early Review

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I have played more games of the SolForge iPad beta than any non-developer on the planet right now, thanks to being stuck in an airplane for ten hours and then driving for five.  The good news is – obviously – it’s an entertaining game, even in beta format.
SolForge is the latest collectible card game to rival Magic: the Gathering, with a twist – it can only be played on computers, which means the game can keep track of niggling bits that a human player could not.  This is most evident by the levelling system: play a card once, and when it dies, it “Levels up” and the next time you draw it, it’s stronger. If it dies again, it comes back as a Level III card, as strong as it gets.
This immediately makes for an interesting set of tactics.  In Magic, if there’s a creature that’s hurting you, you kill it.  In SolForge, it might be better to leave that creature on the board, because the next time it comes back it’ll be even more of a pain in the ass.  The cards we’ve seen in the beta – about 15% of the card pool – have fascinating level components.  Some cards are vicious in the early game as a Level I threat, requiring two cards to take out, but don’t increase that much as they level up.
So let’s say you go all-in on these early-but-potent guys, forcing your opponent into a corner to use all of his good cards to hold them back.  Well, that means all of his cards come back considerably increased in power at their Level II, but your guys’ Level II increases are negligible.
On the other hand, you have cards that are near-useless in a Level I state, but become behemoths if you can survive long enough to get them to Level III.  So there’s a nice balance between a quick rush and slow control.
The game is fascinating because on many levels, it’s about knowing who to kill and when.  I’ve often found that the best strategy is to make quote-unquote substandard trades: yes, I could put this guy on the board and have him survive.  But I will instead put this substandard mook out to die, planning on him coming back, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, stronger than ever.  You’re constantly balancing board position against future development.
One problem is that the game is so deep I’m honestly not sure what the best strategies are.  Sometimes I lost and had no idea why – was it luck, or just my bad plays?  I’m getting a handle on what factors define a game, but there are so many options I’m often struggling to figure out what the correct move is.  Which is both a glory (I can play this game for a long time!) and a hindrance (what the fuck was I supposed to do?).
(What I do know is that effects that reduce a creature’s power are a lot stronger than they look in Magic.  Since toughness doesn’t regenerate at the end of the round, a -5 to power can clog your opponent’s lane and save your creatures from a lot of damage.)
There are some irritations: you start at 100 life, and while it’s possible to come back when you’re at 30 and your opponent’s full up, it’s unlikely.  There’s not a lot of swinginess, in that often if your opponent (well, at least the opponent AI) takes an early lead, it’s hard to come back.  And like Magic, there are certain overpowered cards that seem ridiculously unfair; two-for-ones are thin on the ground, which makes it hard to lose a game when you get the Wisp-guys out in the early game.
Most annoyingly, there’s no concede button.  Are you dying?  Don’t want to go through the next four turns to the inevitable?  Well, you need to actually quit the game, then answer “Cancel” when it asks you to take up where you left off.  Even for a beta, that’s just bad design.
I’m also not quite sure of the logic of why or when cards level.  There’s a green bar on the right side of the screen, and something happens when it fills, but how it fills or what happens when it does are not intuitive.  I’ve made guesses, but I’m not sure I’m correct.  (EDIT: Apparently, I’m not.  But man, it’s not intuitive when you get your cards back, and in what state.)
Still, it’s free for the iPad, and it’s entertaining.  I’d advise you to check it out asap, particularly if you liked Ascension, which was also made by the same guys.

1 Comment

  1. Ed Evington
    Jan 6, 2013

    Nothing about this game is original. Pokemon evolving cards and simplistic combat.
    If you want a good measure on how original the maker is…look no further than the name “Gary Games”
    And they still have the nerve to keep begging money from people, even though target was met.
    Shameful

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