Mabinogi Duel Soft Launch Impressions
The trading card genre at times feels like an immortal niche that never can grow old. Year after year more TCG games show up, and its rare that one can’t find its own niche of players to enjoy. You can find collectible card games suitable for every type of gamer; there are simple games, complex games, fast paced games, and even slow methodical ones. While TCGs were mostly played locally on a table top, games such as Hearthstone have brought a lot of attention to the digital TCG world. Published by Nexon and developed by DevCat, Mabinogi Duel now brings the world of Mabinogi to the (digital) tabletop.
Mabinogi Duel is a collectible card game that is very easy to get into, using simplified mechanics in order to not overwhelm players new to dueling cards. The built in tutorials (movies) are great, they are fully narrated, feature smooth animations, and teach players about Mabinogi Duels in an efficient manner. A new player can download Mabinogi Duel and, after spending a couple minutes watching the movie tutorials, jump right into the action.
The game is currently available in select countries during its soft launch phase, but you can expect it to be released to additional countries in the very near future. It is important to note that Mabinogi Duel is a mobile game available for both Android and iOS devices. I would prefer a PC release as I like to keep all my gaming on my PC but card games feel like an obvious exception to the rule. Touch screen tablets sort of recapture the magic of old school table top editions.
As expected from a mobile TCG, the controls feel very natural. You simply use your finger to place cards and interact with the user interface. The controls don’t need any work but the user interface could be improved. The UI for the game itself is well done but the menus and messages appear to be outdated. On my Android phone I was receiving the pop up messages using a very old Android theme and the game on my iPad seemed to still use Android menu icons. Overall it only needs small tweaks and fixes, but it needs a number of them.
Alongside the controls and user interface, a game’s graphics and animations can quickly decide a new player’s opinion on the game. One of the reasons I find digital card games to be enjoyable along with their tabletop counterparts is the ease of use and smooth animations. There is just something about being able to quickly get into a game, customize your deck, and play matches without having to worry about any clutter or space issues. Adding additional animations to all my actions can leave players wanting to play more; who doesn’t love satisfying animations such as cool attacks and screen shakes for big hits?
In order to keep the game simple and open to players of all skill levels, Mabinogi Duel is played using a deck of 12 cards. While this is odd enough for a TCG, Mabinogi Duel takes it even further by letting players start with all 12 cards in their hand from the start! I came into Mabinogi Duel expecting a more traditional TCG with a Mabinogi skin but, it’s nice to see more developers trying something new.
While you may have all your cards available from the get go, you cannot simply play your cards whenever you feel like it. Mabinogi Duel, like most TCGs, uses a resource system to play cards. Every turn player’s gain a resource that can be used to play cards OR be saved for future plays. The gameplay in Mabinogi Duel is very simple, you can either play a card, or skip your turn to save resources. That’s it. Summoned cards attack automatically and you do not need to micromanage your cards after they have been summoned. The gameboard is made up of 5 play slots for each player and most summoned cards attack the card directly in front of them, or the opponent player directly if the slot is empty.
By giving player’s all their cards at the beginning of each match, building a strong deck is an essential part of Mabinogi Duel. Deck building, along with opening booster packs, is my favourite part of TCGs. I can spend more time constructing decks and opening packs than actually playing matches… The process of deck building is something that is learned over time and can be difficult to pick up for new players. Following the theme of making the game easy to pick up for new players, Mabinogi Duel features an auto deck build feature. This feature suggests cards that will work well in a player’s deck, relative to what is already chosen by the player, and can even auto complete a deck. While I don’t see skilled players using this system regularly, it is a great way for new players to get into and learn the game.
Once a deck has been built, new players will most likely begin by playing through some quests. Mabinogi Duel has a decent single player mode where players can play through a campaign. The soft release features one campaign story but I reckon more are on the way. These quests teach players about the game and add some flavour to the setting.
The quests are nice to have but for me TCGs are all about the PvP. The PvP in Mabinogi Duel is a bit odd. Players enter their decks into the arena which are then challenged by other players. This is an asynchronous system as seen in many mobile games, meaning you’re essentially facing an AI utilizing your opponent’s deck. As you win against other players’ decks, the AI controlling your deck becomes stronger, weighting odds in your favor while you’re offline defending yourself. These arenas award players with prizes depending on how well they do. This PvP system is not as exciting as playing other players in real time. It might appeal to the more casual mobile gamers already desensitized to these systems, but feels inferior to existing card games on the market.
However, if you do have a friend close to you, you can play against them or trade cards in real time using the link system. To be honest, if I have friends over, I would probably stick to playing other games or play physical card games.
Beta Conclusion: Too Simplified for Fans of TCGs
In conclusion, I was pleased to see Mabinogi Duel try something new that sets them apart from other TCGs. However, the design decisions made resulted in a very simple and straightforward game. This type of game is not something I would see myself playing as I prefer challenging, deep, and complicated games that I can come back to for years and still learn something new.
With the idea of having all cards available in your hand from the beginning, the complexity found in card games where you must build a balanced deck that works with the large number of possible drawing orders is eliminated. Over time, if players take this game seriously, I feel that strategies will become set in stone and the complexity of the game will begin to consist of just reading up guides to find the ‘current best build.’ Or worse, buy the best build from the cash shop. This is a bold statement though, as even the most simple games can turn out to be very complex over time.
I can’t see myself recommending Mabinogi Duel to any gamers. It seems like a nice game for players new to the genre but there are other simple (relatively) games also available such as Hearthstone. I would stay away from this game for now but who knows, maybe additional unique features will drastically improve the game in the near future. DevCat has already shown us they are not afraid of trying something new; I hope something new comes out that pulls me back to this game. I’ll never complain if another good game is added to the market.
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