Pros: Wonderful graphics, hundreds of available cards, flourishing eSports scene, high level strategy
Cons: Potential pay to win package
We took some time out to try the Early Access for Faeria recently, a new free to play card collecting game meets board game strategy where we got to build decks and experience a “living board”. The game finds an interesting balance between traditional card game where we got to acquire and craft new cards, use a fairly impressive deck builder with auto-deck building functions, and then head into battle against AI or players for some PVP. The difference with Faeria is once you are in the game, the cards you play, at least the creature cards, take position on a hex tile battlefield and each turn can move around it battling enemy creatures, trying to control Faeria wells (to give mana boosts so you can play more cards) and ultimately get across the map to attack the enemy God, the character avatar that you need to kill off by removing all its hitpoints.
That concept alone is a different take on the CCG genre, but not enough where the game sits on its own; it’s accompanied with similar games like Pox Nora, World of Tanks: Generals and the more recently released Duelyst, so Faeria has company in what is becoming a growing CCG-Strategy hybrid category.
One of the main differences with Faeria is the “living board” concept, the lore of the game has us taking on the role of Gods trying to battle our way to the top of the pantheon, rebuilding the world and destroying our rivals. In the game the battlefield map is an empty ocean void of land, and unless your creature cards have the Aquatic trait (similar to having “Taunt” and “Charge” traits) your units can’t be placed on the map or move on water tiles. As a God however you have the option each turn to place land, you can place two standard Plains tiles that can be used to place units or simply make routes around the battlefield to the enemy God, neutral Faeria wells or just build up enough land around your own God so that you can place down lots of units to defend; good land placement is a strategy in itself. Alternatively you can place a single specialised terrain tile: Mountain, Lake, Forest or Desert, whilst they do not affect movement around the board they do allow you to play terrain specific cards.
Whilst every card has a Faeria cost, which you accrue each turn and the more powerful the card the higher the cost, some cards also fall into one of the 4 above terrain types or a neutral “Human” type; the terrain cards (non-human) require the player to meet a secondary pre-requisite and place a number of matching terrain tiles according to the individual card, i.e. a Forest 2 card means a player must have constructed two Forest tiles (some cards also allow you to create land terrain), furthermore these terrain creatures can only enter the battlefield on these terrain hexes, so occupying enemy terrain squares can also stop your opponent playing their big terrain creatures.
As you can see there’s a lot to think about with the game: building a strong deck, land placement, unit positioning and movement, acquiring Faeria Well resources, it is a high level of multi-faceted strategy, yet remarkably is still incredibly easy to pick up and doesn’t feel too overwhelming given that the mechanics in places are quite new.
One of the things we did like was the approach to the game’s arena mode (accessible from level 5), or “Pandora”, players can play in the arena mode where they must build up a deck on the spot from a selection of cards and earn rewards the more victories they get before taking a set number of defeats. Unlike other games there are two routes into Pandora, firstly players can use a Pandora Coin to enter a Pandora Run and must win 12 games before 3 defeats and can earn mythical rarity cards and will always earn a booster pack for their attempt; Pandora Coins are a premium coin which can be purchased with gold or cash. However, players can enter using a Phantom Coin for a Phantom Run, which they are given once a day, and allows them to battle up to six victories earning set rewards at each level, before getting two defeats, with their sixth victory they can get a Pandora Coin to access the full mode as well as 100 gold. All in all a pretty good system we thought and gives players more flexibility with how they spend their earned gold instead of feeling they can’t benefit from arena and should always focus on buying booster packs.
Faeria obviously has ranked play options (from level 8) and unranked, which again are fairly standard 1v1 battles against other players, there is also a PVE focused Solo mode where we got to battle through various quests to earn rewards. What we liked about Solo mode was that the developers could be a little different with some of the mechanics and map features, changing around the layout or introducing new elements that you wouldn’t otherwise see in a PVP game where the mechanics and features need to be fairly standardized. The game had a Puzzle mode where you would be put in a particular scenario with specific cards, a specific Faeria pool, and a setup on the board with a single objective to win the game in one turn. Whilst not too difficult it is a fun mode, more importantly it gets you to think more strategically about how to make plays and so should translate well into the PVP mode.
Overall we have to say we’re remarkably impressed with Faeria, for a title in early access it has definitely come out guns blazing; the graphics, artwork and colours are all beautifully done and has quite the enchanting fantasy feel. Combat is fun and fluid, easy to pick up and yet still offers a level of strategy necessary for the eSports scene, which is already flourishing with official monthly tournaments where the top tier players along with winners from qualifying matches as well as some community favourites and guests all get to duke it out. Our only reservation is the ability to purchase all the core cards with cash in the “Ultimate Competitor Package”, whilst great for the developers to get a cash injection, it is essentially pay to win, and so players who want to compete at higher levels but can’t drop the $50 asking price are unfortunately going to fall short of the “Ultimate Competitor” status. If the matchmaking accounts for your available cards and focuses on pairing similarly “Ultimate Competitor” accounts together then we have less of an issue, as the reality is that most people playing to win will no doubt spend the cash, which does support the game.