Card Hunter launches for free in browsers on September 12

Image via Blue Manchu Games

Image via Blue Manchu Games

Blue Manchu Games has announced a release date for its upcoming debut title, Card Hunter, which looks to mix the worlds of collectible card gaming with board gaming to create an experience that’s easy to play, but comes with limitless possibilities. The free-to-play browser game was created in collaboration with Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering.

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Hasbro purchases majority stake in Backflip Studios

Backflip_studios_logo

In the interest of strengthening its mobile gaming offerings, Hasbro has purchased a majority stake in Backflip Studios, best known for games such as Paper Toss, DragonVale and NinJump.

As announced on its blog, Backflip Studios will remain based in Boulder, CO and will continue to be run by its current management team. It will continue to operate normally, supporting its current IP as well as developing new titles for the future. The studio will also have the opportunity to use Hasbro’s robust brand catalog of board games and toys.

Hasbro has paid $112 million in cash transactions for 70 percent of the company. (more…)

Atlas Raider review

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CrayonPixel rolled out their freshman title on FacebookAtlas Raider. Though the player introduction is sparse, the storyline is that your father has gone missing on a treasure hunt (perhaps for crystal skulls). Only a mysterious group called “The Foundation” knows his whereabouts. They hire you to find the crystal skulls and in the process you might find your father using your guide, an enchanted atlas.

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Take It Easy (iOS) review

Take It Easy is an iOS game from Ravensburger Digital. It’s available now from the App Store — its regular price is $1.99, but at the time of writing it is available for free as Apple’s App of the Week. The game has no additional in-app purchases.

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Take It Easy is an adaptation of a board game that has been around since 1983, and has subsequently been expanded on by two slightly more complex quasi-sequels known as Take It Higher and Take It To The Limit. At heart, it is a simple mathematical puzzle game that can be played quickly by any number of players including solitaire, making it ideal for adaptation to mobile gaming.

The basic gameplay of Take It Easy involves randomly drawing hexagonal tiles and placing them on a hexagonal grid made up of 19 smaller hexes. There are 27 different tiles available to the player, so not all of them will be used in a single game. Each tile features three colored lines, each of which is marked with a number. Vertical lines may have a value of 1, 5 or 9; diagonal lines running top-left to bottom-right may have a value of 3, 4 or 8; diagonal lines running bottom-left to top-right may have a value of 2, 6 or 7. The aim of the game is to score as many points as possible by laying tiles in such a manner as to create unbroken lines across the entire board. If a line is unbroken, it scores the number of points of all its constituent parts added together — for example, a five-tile vertical line made up of 9s will score a total of 45 points. The key to success is in placing tiles that will allow multiple lines in different directions to be completed simultaneously — there is a degree of luck in terms of the tiles that are drawn, but for the most part the game is a strategic, skilful one that rewards careful planning.

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Solitaire Arena review

Solitaire Arena is a Facebook game from Mavenhut Ltd. It’s been available since October of last year but has been showing strong growth recently, and is presently showing up in the “Trending” section of Facebook’s App Center. The developer also claims it is available for iPad but provides no link, and a cursory search of the App Store doesn’t seem to reveal the existence of a mobile version.

Solitaire Arena

Unlike many other recent Facebook-based solitaire games, which follow the simplistic formula seen in titles such as Fairway Solitaire, Faerie Solitaire and Solitaire Blitz, Solitaire Arena is based on the traditional and well-known Klondike Solitaire game that Windows users have been playing for many years now. The unusual social twist on the formula is that it is played in competition against another player, whereas traditional Klondike is played solo — hence the “solitaire” part of the name.

Klondike Solitaire is a card game where players must gradually build up their four “foundation” piles according to suit and in sequential order, beginning with aces. Cards may be sent to the foundations as soon as they are revealed if there is a place for them — and in fact by default, Solitaire Arena handles this part automatically, though this behavior may be switched off if desired. In order to reveal other cards, players must build up stacks of face-up cards in the main play area (known as the “tableau”) by making descending sequences that alternate in color — for example black king followed by red queen followed by black jack. Empty spaces in the tableau may only be filled with a king, and if moving a card to another stack reveals a face-down card, it is turned face-up and can be used immediately. If there are no available moves, the player draws a card from a draw deck in the corner of the screen and may use this if possible. When the draw deck is exhausted, it is reshuffled and may be drawn from again. The player scores one point for each card they send to the foundations, with an additional bonus point per card if their opponent has not yet sent that card to their foundations. The on-screen play area is mostly taken up by the player’s tableau and foundations, but the opponent’s foundations and score may be seen in the corner of the screen so the player may keep an eye on their relative performance.

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PlayGem Social Backgammon review

PlayGem Social Backgammon is a new Facebook game from PlayGem, the company behind social and real-money backgammon platform Play65.com. The new version brings the game of Backgammon to Facebook, though currently without Play65’s real-money gambling aspect — all stakes in the game are strictly on a virtual currency basis.

PlayGem Social Backgammon

Upon starting PlayGem Social Backgammon, players are presented with a menu of options with which they can customize their experience. They may choose a board style on which to play — some of which must be unlocked using soft currency either won through playing or acquired via in-app purchase — and adjust the stakes between three levels. “Beginner” stakes starts at 100 chips per game. “High Roller” stakes start at 10,000. “VIP” stakes start at 250,000. Players are given a small allowance of chips to begin with, though this is only enough to play a Beginner game. Additional bonuses are provided every 12 hours, and players may either purchase more chips or earn them through an offer wall.

Once the player has chosen a board and stakes, clicking “Play Now” takes them to the game table, at which point the game begins. For those unfamiliar with the game of backgammon, it is a game of both luck and skill in which players must roll dice and use the values attained to move their checkers along a board in an attempt to “bear them off” their opponent’s side of the play area. Two dice are rolled, but the values are not totalled; instead, the player may move two pieces (or one piece twice) to an unopposed space — alternatively, if their opponent only has a single checker in a given space, they may capture it, sending it to the middle of the board and forcing their opponent’s next move to be to bear it back on. If a player has no valid moves at any point, they miss their turn; consequently, there is a lot of strategy involved in “blocking” opponents’ moves and trying to ensure this happens as often as possible. (more…)

wePlay (iOS/Android) review

wePlay is a new iOS and Android game from Thumper Studios. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store and Google Play.

wePlay is an asynchronous online multiplayer take on the popular free Creative Commons-licensed party game Cards Against Humanity. The gameplay is very similar to Cards Against Humanity — every turn, players are presented with a sentence or phrase with a gap in it, and are given a hand of cards with words or short phrases on them which they can use to fill in the blank. After everyone has submitted a card, everyone votes on which one they found the “best” or the “funniest,” and the winner receives a prize of in-game currency, with total winnings being used to rank players at the end of each five-round game. Unlike Cards Against Humanity, where players keep the same hand and simply replace the cards they used, wePlay provides players with a fresh hand of response cards for each new round.

As with Cards Against Humanity, a number of the cards designed to fill in the blank feature words or phrases that can be rather offensive or darkly humorous if used in the “correct” (for want of a better word) context, meaning that each round players must decide whether to go for something that makes sense, something surreal and ridiculous or something that may make people laugh with its obscenity — or simply offend them. The game is only rated 12+, however, so it seems unlikely that some of Cards Against Humanity’s more colorful, genital-themed response cards will have made it into the mix. (more…)

Word Chums mobile game review

Word Chums is a new iOS game from PeopleFun, a company whose CEO is Tony Goodman, founder of several well-known development studios including defunct Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios and the team behind mobile hit Hero Academy. The new title aims to take on Zynga’s supremacy in the casual word game market, and is available now from the App Store in both free and ad-free paid editions.

Word Chums is, at its core, a Scrabble clone, much like Words With Friends. Players take it in turns to lay up to seven letters from their hand to make words, at which point they score points according to the individual letter values of the words, bonus spaces that words and/or letters overlap and whether or not all seven letters were used in one turn (also known as a “Bingo”). Play proceeds until there are no more virtual letter tiles left, or until there are no more valid moves on the board, at which point whoever has the most points is declared the winner. Players are able to chat with one another during play, and the asynchronous nature of the game means that it’s possible to have multiple games on the go at once.

So far, so Words With Friends. But Word Chums adds a significant layer of additional incentives to keep playing atop the basic formula, mostly revolving around an experience point-based advancement system. Players earn XP with every completed turn, and leveling up unlocks access to additional avatar customization options. These must be purchased with in-game currency, earned through completing achievements and normal play, and are used for two purposes: visual customization of the player’s avatar, and boosting the rate at which experience points are earned. There is no in-game advantage to the purchasable items — they simply allow for visual customization and self-expression.

Word Chums also adds a number of gameplay elements to the basic Words With Friends formula. It’s possible to play games with up to four players, for example, either in a “free for all” match or in two teams of two players. Alongside this, the addition of “booster” items allows for faster turns and for players to get themselves out of a pinch — “hint” items suggest a location on the board where a good word can be created (but not what the word is) while “bomb” items allow the player to draw a new hand of seven tiles without sacrificing their turn. These items, costing a little more in soft currency than is practical to earn through play alone, form the main basis of the game’s monetization strategy, but thankfully don’t unbalance the game to such a degree that paying players are guaranteed victory. Players are provided with some free booster items to try out when they first start playing, and those who purchase the paid version of the app automatically gain a 1,000 coin bonus on first login.

A few slight tweaks to Words With Friends’ interface are to the game’s benefit, too. Rather than having to submit a word to see whether or not it is valid, Word Chums highlights valid moves in green as tiles are laid. Moreover, a small bubble displays the number of points the word the player has laid will make without them having to submit the word — and this bubble turns green if the tiles laid have earned more than half of the best possible score attainable on this turn with the letters the player has available. This offers a good balance between allowing casual, inexperienced players to learn the game and spot where the good moves are without spoiling the experience or making it unnecessarily easy for those with strong vocabularies and experience in this type of competition.

At present, Word Chums is a good word game with some interesting tweaks to the Words With Friends formula, but it’s questionable as to whether these tweaks are enough to successfully distinguish it from Zynga’s runaway success. Apparently the near future for the game includes Android and Facebook versions as well as a “lightning” mode with time-limited turns. When these facilities are added, the game will be a true, distinctive competitor with its own identity, but as it stands, it’s a little too similar to Zynga’s title to recommend without hesitation.

Word Chums Free is currently ranked at No. 329 in Top Free Games and No. 316 in Top Free iPad Games. Its paid counterpart is ranked at No. 249 in Top Paid iPad Apps, No. 110 in Top Paid iPad Games and No. 361 in Top Grossing iPad Games. Follow the two versions’ progress through the App Store charts with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.

Wait

It’s good — but it’s not quite enough to distinguish itself from Zynga’s well-established dominance on the word game market. Yet.

Word Trick review

Word Trick is a Facebook-based Scrabble clone from Outplay Entertainment. The game has been showing activity since last October, but user figures have only picked up significantly since March of this year. The game is currently enjoying a spot in the “Trending” section of Facebook’s App Center.

Word Trick is an asynchronous multiplayer crossword game similar to Scrabble, Words with Friends and their numerous imitators. Up to four players take turns placing letter tiles on the board in an attempt to score as many points as possible. Each letter tile has a point value according to how “difficult” it is to incorporate into a word. Special squares scattered across the game board allow players to double or triple either the score value of the letter or whole word laid atop them. Once all the letter tiles have been used — or if there are no remaining available moves — the winner is declared according to whoever has the most points.

Word Trick’s twists on this formula are allowing games with up to four participants — Words With Friends only allows two, though Scrabble’s Facebook incarnation also allows up to four — and its “Word Trick” system. The latter, from which the game takes its title, sees certain letter tiles having a green glow rather than the usual yellow color, and using at least three of these special tiles in a word allows the player to multiply their score by two, three or four times its usual value. This provides players with additional opportunities to score large numbers of points and perhaps even the odds somewhat — one common criticism of Scrabble-like games is that it is very easy for an experienced player with a large vocabulary to utterly dominate a lesser player, making it impossible for them to catch up. The Word Trick system here at least provides players with additional opportunities to gain score bonuses beyond the special spaces on the board.

In terms of social features, Word Trick allows players to compete asynchronously against either their Facebook friends or random opponents. An in-game chat facility allows players to communicate with one another and also keeps a history of moves made and achievements earned. The player has the option of sharing their moves on their opponents’ Timelines — this option is disabled by default, but automatically enabled if their move takes them into the lead. It’s also possible for players to share achievements on their wall.

Speaking of achievements, there are way too many of them. A player’s first few games will be spent being constantly interrupted by popup windows celebrating the fact that they have started a game, accepted a challenge or laid a tile on a Double/Triple Word/Letter space for the first time. Once these have been earned, later achievements are a little more challenging, but in the early stages of play they are very obtrusive — particularly as they are “rewarding” players for doing things that are a natural part of the game rather than doing anything particularly noteworthy.

This pattern continues with a few aspects of the game’s interface — the game regularly nags players to Like the official App Page, and a distracting “Click Here” arrow pointing to the “Start New Game” button keeps reappearing even if the player is already in the middle of another match. These are small issues, but sometimes annoyances like this can be enough to put a player off returning.

The game is free to play and does not feature any currency-based monetization, though the game canvas is surrounded by advertising. There is also an iOS version of the game available in both free ad-supported and $1.99 ad-free variants — this version is cross-compatible with the Facebook edition.

Word Trick is a decent game that is well-presented, with smooth, crisp visuals and minimalist, unobtrusive sound. Its gameplay, while very similar to Words With Friends, offers enough small differences to make it a distinctive experience, and the additional opportunities for scoring presented by the Word Trick system provide the potential to make it a more balanced experience. The ability to play with up to three friends is also good for social play and viral promotion. The only questionable element of the game is whether its relative lack of monetization will hurt its profitability in the long run, but the game seems to be enjoying relatively good growth for now, so the combined income from advertising and the paid iOS version must be paying off for the moment.

Word Trick currently has 120,000 monthly active users and 30,000 daily active users. Follow its progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.

Play

A decent, if relatively unoriginal take on asynchronous crossword games.

Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM review

Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM is an official Facebook adaptation of the popular Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, anime and collectible card game franchise from Konami. The game is based loosely on the fictional “Duel Monsters” game seen in the TV series and movies, and which also forms the basis for the physical collectible card game products.

Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM’s main gameplay revolves around duelling with cards against either computer- or player-controlled opponents. The objective in a duel is for one player to reduce their opponent’s life points total to zero by attacking them using monsters, spells and various other cards. In some respects, it is similar to popular collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, but the rules are much simpler to grasp, particularly for newcomers to the genre or younger players. Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM also features a good tutorial system that introduces various game concepts a little bit at a time before allowing the player the opportunity to practice in “real” battles.

The Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM playfield is split into three “channels.” Each turn, both players draw three cards from their deck and are able to play as many as they are able. One monster and one spell may go in each channel. Once all the cards have been played, the “battle” phase begins. First, any spell cards which affect monster strength or deal direct damage to the other player are applied. Then, the (potentially modified) strength of monster cards in each channel are compared. If one monster’s strength is greater than its opponent’s, the weaker monster is destroyed and any leftover power from the victorious monster is converted into damage to the opponent’s life pool. If both monsters have equal strength, both are destroyed and no damage is done to either player. The battle continues until one player has defeated the other.

The single-player component of Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM sees players working through a mostly-linear campaign map consisting of duels, boss battles and treasure chests. Each of these costs energy to activate, with the exception of tutorial missions, which are completely “free” to play. Most cells on the map reward the player with soft currency coins and/or new cards to add to their deck, and completing a “chapter” of the campaign rewards the player with the game’s hard currency of Duel Points. These can be used to purchase additional energy, powerups that allow the player to “cheat” in duels and powerful cards.

The game has several currencies, all of which may be purchased using Facebook Credits. Besides the aforementioned soft and hard currencies, there is also a “social” currency known as Card Pieces. These are earned by duelling against friends — the ability to do this is unlocked after making sufficient progress in the campaign mode — or by exchanging gifts. Items in the shop may generally only be purchased using one of these types of currency — there is no means of, say, exchanging Duel Points for coins. This encourages the player to try out all the different things they can do in the game, as in order to earn the currencies they need to purchase additional content, they will need to make progress in the campaign as well as battle against their friends.

Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM is a good implementation of the increasingly-popular card battle genre. There is a light degree of strategy in gameplay, though a lot of it is down to luck, since the player has no way of knowing what cards their opponent is going to play. It certainly feels a lot more “interactive” than some rival card battle titles, however, particularly those that have been seen on mobile devices recently.

The presentation of the game is generally very good, with smooth animation and good quality card art — though it’s disappointing that there is no full screen mode. Sound doesn’t fare so well, however — the backing music is made up of some dreadful ’90s-style dance beats and clashes horribly with the fanfares that play upon completing a duel successfully. Thankfully, it is possible for the player to switch off either the music, sound effects or both if they so desire.

Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM is likely to enjoy a good degree of success on Facebook going forward. It is a well-established brand in popular entertainment — particularly for children and teenagers — and the game itself is solid and well-designed without feeling unfairly biased in favor of paying players. So far it has picked up 1,100,000 monthly active users and 280,000 daily active users, and the future looks bright.

Follow Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM’s progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.

Play

A good adaptation of a strong, well-known franchise, likely to enjoy a healthy run of success on Facebook.

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