To try and unpack a title like Robotogames’ Age of Rivals is truly a daunting thing to do. There are so many small pieces that make this game work so astoundingly well that my word limit forbids an actual in-depth breakdown, not only of said pieces, but also why it is that the whole they create is the most engaging experiences I’ve had in a while.
On the outside, Age of Rivals could be said to look like the foil cover of an IRL trading card game. I certainly went into it thinking I knew what I was getting. After all, the number of deck builders, collectible and trading card games available these days is borderline limitless. Although Hearthstone springs immediately to mind, the team behind of Age of Rivals completely subverted expectations through the use of some truly ingenious mechanics.
Though daunted, I am going to try and explain the process of gameplay as best I can. I fear that it won’t suffice in actually bringing across how riveted I was and still am when I play this game. I can only try.
The tutorial mode certainly doesn’t allow for the true cleverness and addictiveness of the game to shine through, but that’s because players need to understand the core phases of gameplay in general. To start, a player takes control of one of the titular Rivals; then comes the Building phase, wherein players buy cards for their cities. These range from infantry to ramparts to religion. Essentially if it’s a component at home in any pre-Colonial civilization, you will find it in the deck. You’d think that would the most inherent part of gameplay, but not. Age of Rivals introduces the attack and defense aspects assigned to certain cards that one would expect from Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering. And after that, the points system—what victory ultimately hinges on—quickly shifts the focus from just curbstomping your opponent to not only gathering enough points, but also maintaining enough to emerge victorious.
But wait! There’s more! As it turns out, those hit points actually are valuable for knocking out cards that could be worth a lot of end-game points. They come into play during the game’s Conquer stage, which itself depends less on how strong your troops on and more on how many attack points you’ve accumulated. And then comes the War stage, wherein you decide where to disperse the damage your foe is doing to your own brave soldiers. All of these factors are weighted by card effects, which can quickly turn the odds in your favour, or send you plummeting from your pedestal. If that weren’t enough, Age of Rivals also has an economy system in the vein of Settlers of Catan and Stone Age. While I scoffed at this at first, getting extra gold for the resources you own proves to be wise when you’re hurting for some of the mightiest cards in the deck.
It all sounds formidable, but once you get used to it, the gameplay becomes very engaging and also a terrifically strategic. Whereas other card games may place more value on being an absolute OP in terms of attack power, Age of Rivals beautifully marries traditional gameplay with mechanics that all tie together like a big, shiny Christmas bow.
If that isn’t enough to make you pause and consider devoting your life to it the way I have recently, Age of Rivals isn’t pay for play. That’s right: it’s one of those rare deck building games that doesn’t ask its players to pay the sum of a small student loan to enjoy what it has to offer. Instead, in-game currency factors into opening card packs, unlocking new troops and eventually earning new Rivals. There are achievements peppered throughout the game that personally kept me coming back in order to get more gold and earn the chance to take control of the one of the many leaders to choose from.
All this is complimented wonderfully by the beautiful but simplistic artwork and brilliant music. Some players may be put off by virtue of the fact that more commercially successful games like Hearthstone are “rendered better.” Age of Rivals looks more like cards on a playing field than Hearthstone, but to me that was the beauty of the style. As opposed to sleek CG, here we have meticulous artwork and simple but effective battle animations. As this game is set in the realm of antiquity, the graphics in the vein of Greco-Roman art serve to give it a sense of place and time, despite the fact that the Rivals are pulled from cultures and countries the world over.
Speaking of global connection, Age of Rivals also has a multiplayer mode. There isn’t much difference from it and the AI fights aside from matching wits with another human being. I, however, found there was more satisfaction to be gained in emerging victorious against someone with similar experience to me in the game. Of course, the losses were far more annoying in that regard, but I found that losing wasn’t such a tragedy in any mode. This is mostly due to the fact that Age of Rivals still offers a gold prize reward for those who lose during battle. The fact that I counted each loss as a learning experience also helped take the sting away from defeat.
Age of Rivals takes the best thing about two elements of gameplay—card collecting and civilization building—and joins them for an almost perfect gaming experience. While the individual aspects of gameplay might prove frustrating or even tedious at the outset, it only takes a small amount of persistence to get the hang of things. Beautiful artwork, catchy music and elements of history make the game truly feel like a clash of ancient civilizations without feeling overdone or distracting. An in-game currency system, a multiplayer mode that’s just as rewarding as playing against the computer and a vast array of achievements to reach keeps the game feeling like a novel experience players will come back to again and again. Just in case you want to play it on the go, it’s also available for Android and iOS.
REVIEW CODE: A PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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