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I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a free-to-play mobile game as much as Earthcore, a new digital card game out now for iOS from Polish developer Tequila Games.
Earthcore takes a deceptively simple rock-paper-scissors mechanic with three elements (fire beats earth, earth beats water, and water beats fire) and layers on a skill system that grants certain cards special powers. Players take turns placing cards in one of three slots, and cards opposite each other battle each other, with their assigned elements and skills determining the winner. The damage you deal or take from each matchup is based on that card’s risk value; cards with more powerful skills generally have a higher risk.
The result of all of this is an easy-to-learn yet surprisingly complex and strategic card game that still has me obsessively playing way more than was necessary for this review.
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What you’ll like
Varied skills allow for complex combinations
If Earthcore was just about taking turns playing different elements, it’d probably get stale pretty fast. Thankfully, the cards feature a wide variety of skills to set themselves apart from each other. Some may do direct damage to your opponent when played, change the elements of cards already in play, or lower the amount of damage you take if you lose a particular head-to-head battle. Some particularly powerful cards have chant skills, which you can play in a special slot and used multiple times over the course of a single match. One such example is the Wolf Carriage, which lets you move cards you’ve already played to an available empty slot.
The number and diversity of available skills leads to one of the best things about card games: complex deck-building strategies. You could focus on cards that deal damage directly to your opponent or build a deck that focuses on turning your enemy’s cards to dust, causing them to lose to every other element. Even reading Earthcore’s online forums gave me some deck ideas based on skills that I initially wrote off. If you’re like me and enjoy the planning and mental challenge of building new decks, you’ll probably dig what Earthcore has to offer.
An interesting crafting system allows you to create your own cards
One ingenious mechanic that the developers included which would probably only work in a digital card game such as this is the ability to make your own cards. As you level up, you’ll earn hero cards which start with zero or more skills. If you’re lucky enough to collect three identical non-hero cards, you can sacrifice these to permanently give any hero the skill shared by those cards. Just be careful: While a hero with three skills may sound awesome, adding these skills also increases its risk value accordingly. So if that hero falls in battle, you’ll take some major damage.
A free-to-play game that doesn’t try to gouge you to progress
Earthcore thankfully avoids one of the free-to-play trappings that I absolutely hate. It doesn’t limit how much you can play by giving you artificial barriers such as lives or energy. If you want to sit down and play through all of the single-player story content in one sitting, you can. The only thing spending money gets you is gems, which allow you to buy more booster backs of randomized cards. You’ll get new cards and enough gold to buy a few booster packs by playing through the single-player content, so you don’t really even have to buy any if you don’t want to.
What you won’t like
The story becomes lost in blocks of text
Tequila Games took the time to draft a rather long story that follows your progression through the single-player content. Unfortunately, it presents this story as large blocks of text which frequently require you to scroll down to finish reading. As these are presented before each match, I often found myself just skipping these to get to the action. This is a shame because these chapters are actually interesting — if you take the time to read them.
A few annoying — but not game-breaking — bugs
While I played, Earthcore still had a few rough edges. Occasionally, it would just get stuck on a loading screen and never recover until I relaunched the app. On one occasion, I received a push notification that I had earned a free booster pack of cards, but that notification disappeared from my phone. When I launched the app, my free booster was nowhere to be seen.
To its credit, Tequila Games offered me some of the best support I’ve ever received from a developer. It tried to resend me the free booster pack, and when that failed, too, it happily gave me enough gold to buy one of my own (and a little extra for my trouble). It’s refreshing to see a company treat their players with such friendly care.
I can’t think of a compelling reason not to recommend Earthcore (especially since it’s free). If every free-to-play card game’s monezitation was handled as well and as un-annoying as this, I’d play a lot more of them. Card game enthusiasts, in particular, will probably find a lot to like here. Tequila Games has a great creation here, and if it continues to update Earthcore and add new cards and challenges, I only see it getting better.
Earthcore: Shattered Elements is available now on iOS. I downloaded my own free copy on the Apple App Store for the purposes of this review.
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