Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Marvel Super Hero Squad Online Review

Let's be honest here. This is not a full review of the online game. It's a review of just the collectible card game portion. In a future installment I will review the game itself, the hub and the collectibles and the missions.

No one can work solid for 6 hours at a computer pounding away at the keys, be it writing code, computing expenses or writing a future best selling vampire novel. There is a need for a break and it's time to let you, dear readers, in on a guilty pleasure of mine:

I'm hooked on The Marvel Super Hero Squad Online Collectible Card Game.

For those not familiar, the Super Hero Squad is a repackaging of various Marvel characters targeted at the preschool and early elementary ages. The show focuses on Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Wolverine and Falcon as the core characters, with frequent appearances from Ms. Marvel, Reptil, Silver Surfer and other members of the larger franchise. The humor of the show is pretty cliched, with a few brainy jokes tossed in to appease the grownups in the room and lots of slapstick for the kids. All of the villains are toonified caricatures of their evil selves so as not to scare the younger ones. But most episodes focus on team work as the core value, usually with some other common themes tossed in for the kids.

The Online game is a free to play, pay for benefits, MMO designed for kids to explore and collect things in this world. The default chat is phrase based, allowing you to say things like "Hi" and "Wanna play tag" as prepackaged comments to other characters. You can turn on full text speech but few.

Within the game is a collectable card game and with its recent release as an actual hold in your hands card set I've truly sold my soul to Marvel and Mr. Lee.

The game is pretty simple. Each player starts with a 40 card deck. Each card as on it a level (or mana cost for the M:tG crew), a damage, an attack factor (or basically card color in M:tG terms) and a blocking factor (I'll explain that in a moment). There is no mana and there are no resources to manage. Every turn you flip a coin to see if the "power" goes up, and that's how you can tell what cards you can play. If the card has a power lower then the current power for the game, you can play it.

This simplifies one of the most complex aspects of CCG's: Resource management. Now, for the hard core among us, we know the hours spent finding just the right balance of mana to creatures to spells. Having all the mana taken out of the game just makes it that much less fun on that front. But it also makes the game play far easier to teach to kids and far simpler to dive in on.

Now as a quick "I need to eat 10 minutes" having more time to just get in and play a game myself is also a big perk.

Combat's also fairly straight forward. You play an attack card (since all cards are, effectively, attack cards) and then your opponent then has a chance to block it with a card of the corresponding block. So, say you attack with Wolverine who is an Animal factor. If I have, say, a Spiderman who is himself a speed factor, but has the Red block symbol, then I can block it. We both discard. If I don't then I take damage.

Damage is dealt by simply turning over the corresponding number of cards until either full damage is dealt, or the right blocking icon appears.

The game has other intricacies. Some cards are "Keepers" that hang around like enchantments and provide more power. Most of the cards have intense synergies. Many of the Spiderman and related cards allow you to play other cards immediately after them, chaining attacks together. Iron Man has a very large number of Keepers allowing you build a fire-and-forget army that beats down your opponent.

And also interesting is how you get the cards for the game. You can buy card boosters with in game money (earned by playing missions or completing card game quests) or you can, well, complete card game quests. These are games against the AI decks that have specific themes and predetermined rewards. Do you really want that one Spider Girl card with the tech block? Well all you need to do is beat this particular computer deck.

So why do I love it so much?

Simply I can log in, make a few deck tweeks, and then play a "Quest or two" and be done in about 20 minutes. Quick and dirty. Plus because half the cards come from quests and missions where I know what the prize is, I can actually "go after" a card or two I need to balance a deck out. For example, right now I'm building up a Spider themed deck, so I'm doing a lot of the Spiderman and Spidergirl quests to get those cards so I can have enough of the various blocks. AN equal balancing of blocks gives you the best probability of having the right block for the right moment in the game.

And it's observations like those that make any CCG, especially the kind you can play easily on the computer, great finds.

Oh and did I mention that Upper Deck now makes the game so you can have your own set of cards to play offline? Yep. They do.

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