iPhone Game Review: Towerland
It is now time to prove your worth as a Higher Spheres University Student in a magical card game called Towerland. Your objective is simple enough, in a long series of strategic card battles you must take over all of the land?s towers and defeat the infamous Lord of the Land.
Looking at the map of the land you are free to choose any enemy tower bordering your currently controlled towers. In each individual battle you have two optional paths to victory; either build your tower to full height or completely destroy your opponent?s tower. Realize, of course, that these are also your opponent?s two options for victory over you as well. The basic gameplay is a matter of taking turns with your opponent casting spells (playing a card). Each spell has a resource cost (usually in one of the game?s three resources, Matter, Spirit, and Magic) and an effect (build your tower; destroy part of an opponent?s wall, etc.). Both players start the battle with a partially built tower surrounded by a wall and a small handful of the three resources. Most damaging spells in the game must first destroy the surrounding wall before they begin damaging the tower sheltered within.
As simple as these basics sound, don?t worry, the game takes these simple concepts and throws in a few twists. The game?s three elements, Matter, Spirit, and Magic interact with one another in a bizarre Rock Paper Scissors manner. As the game?s instructions explain, ?Matter suppresses Sprit, Spirit controls Magic, and Magic transforms Matter?. What this means in terms of actual gameplay gets pretty tricky as each card you play has one or more elemental aspects (the resources needed to cast the spell), each tower and wall (more often than not these two parts will not be a matching element) has an elemental allegiance, and if this weren?t enough to keep track of, the land the battle takes place on influences these elemental interactions! So even if you have a card that states, ?35 points of Magical damage to your opponent?s wall? the ACTUAL damage done could be more or much less depending on all of the previously mentioned factors interacting with each other (like if your opponent has a Matter based wall it would be more than the 35 points of damage but then if that Matter based wall resides in a Spirit strong land the damage would be reduced somewhat). Thankfully the game will let you look at the projected results of using any given card complete with a breakdown of how the different elements affect the outcome before you need to confirm your choice.
Each tower battle will rage on until either you or your opponent emerges victorious. If you win you?ll gain some experience points but if you lose it will actually cost you some experience points. While the game doesn?t actually have experience levels like some traditional RPG, once you acquire enough experience points you can gain various skills (like for 4,000 experience points you can improve your tower building abilities allowing you to squeeze a few more points of productivity out of every tower building spell you play in future battles). The game also includes a number of achievements (or quests as the game calls them) that once completed will grant your mage in training big experience point rewards. These quests can be anything from losing three battles (not hard to do) to something like defeating your AI opponent in 15 turns or less (I have yet to achieve this).
This game was clearly inspired by Arcomage, a mini game in the PC/Mac title, Might & Magic VII. Jury Shortki has managed to expand on the original game in a host of ways (notably making it into a whole campaign, the ability to buy skills, and the very interrelated system of elemental Rock Paper Scissors). Something different, and I?m not sure if it?s a good or a bad thing, is that compared to Arcomage?s many named cards/spells (Floodwaters, Pearl of Wisdom, Porticulus, etc.) with appropriately thematic costs and effects, all of Towerland?s spells are nameless and generic. On top of that there don?t seem to be anything to distinguish the spells generated by the game?s three resources (it?s not like Matter tends to have more defensive tendencies or Magic more offensive capabilities) since all spell effects seem equally probable with any resource. There is at least a basic economy of scale with the bigger the cost the bigger base effect.
I?m enjoying the game but have to admit, even with the big campaign, these dozens of battles will play out in a nearly identical style with little differences besides the different combinations of tower/wall/land alignments of the two opponents. AI opponents will tend to get a little tougher as you progress further in the campaign but the change is pretty gradual and even harder to note as your character will also be gaining special modifiers as well to offset any advantages the AI might have over you statistically.
The game?s graphics aren?t anything special but do help convey the game?s ancient scrolls of runic magic theme. The sound is even more minimal (a page turning sound effect when you pull up the overland map and maybe a click when you play a given spell card). Below is a soundless video from the Russian gaming site, MobilTelefon.ru, which shows you what the game looks like in action (as the game only has very minimal sounds the fact that his video has no sound isn?t much of loss).
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: -2.5- Fit the theme but are fairly basic with minimal animation.
Sound: -1- The few sounds the game has are okay, but there are very few.
Controls: -5- The controls are very intuitive, no complaints.
Gameplay: -4- I?m enjoying the game but realize that how the cards interact with environment and repetitiveness of play may not be for everyone. If you can get past those issues there is a lot of subtle depth and longevity to the game?s huge campaign.
Playing Hints and Tips:
-Use the detailed card results/description liberally! While just looking at the card you might quickly see, ?Oh, it?s a Matter and Spirit based card that will lower my opponent?s tower 7 and raise mine 14.? But this does not take into effect all of the elemental alignments that might increase or decrease these base values. Pulling up the card?s details will show you what the results would be if you were to use it.
-A hidden secret in the card description! Notice that number smack dab in the top center of the card? This is the AI?s current evaluation of the card based on all sorts of complex hidden variables that are likely to change from turn to turn. So by looking at that evaluation number of each of your five cards you can see which the AI, if it were you, would most likely play (assuming it could afford it). You may not agree with the AI?s evaluation of the cards but at times it can be a handy reference point.
-It?s almost always best to have a plan. I usually found that as I was playing I was focused on one of three goals at any given moment. I was either gearing for a win by building up my tower, trying to destroy my opponent?s tower, or desperately scrambling to build up my wall so my opponent doesn?t quickly finish me off. So if, for example, you?re focusing on building your tower up to full size, stick to this goal as much as possible and don?t get distracted into attacking your opponent. Another example, say you have your opponent on the ropes and you already have just the spell to finish them off but lack the appropriate manna to cast it, just discard or play spells using other resources for a few turns so you can save up for it.
-The game auto-adjusts its difficulty to you! This means that if you find yourself losing many battles you might notice the next tower battle is a little easier. Auto-adjusting difficulty also means that if you consistently kick the AI?s ass, the game?s difficulty will ramp up quickly. Once you complete the campaign you?ll be given a prestige score with the player that took on a tougher AI with a better win/loss ratio getting a higher rating. Even then it isn?t over as you can continue running through the campaign again with all of your skills intact and the opponents much tougher.
Developer: Jury Shortki
Release Date: July 3rd 2009
Buy Game: iTunes App Store
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