In the upcoming real-time strategy game BattleForge, you will purchase packs of virtual cards that can be unleashed in the game at any time. Developer EA Phenomic is hoping that collecting rare and powerful cards will be as addictive for players of BattleForge as it has been for fans of Magic: The Gathering, the collectible fantasy card game that has upward of 6 million players. Booster packs of eight cards will contain common, uncommon, rare, and ultrarare cards, and EA estimates that the packs will cost less than $5 each.
And if your pack contains a bunch of duds, head online and trade them away or sell them to the highest bidder in the auction house. Over time, as new packs and cards become available, you can amass a very sizable collection. And don't worry if your most powerful units die in battle--you will never have any of your cards taken away from you.
EA Phenomic stopped by recently to give us a look at the sandbox, the pregame staging area where you can test out your deck of cards. Here you can mix and match cards from four classes. Fire is a classic attack class; frost specializes in defense; and nature is a good support class and has the ability to heal. The fourth class, shadow, is associated with risk, EA cryptically told us, so details on shadow abilities will remain in, um, shadow. You can carry 20 different cards, and the game will ship with an estimated 200 total cards, with more to come as downloadable content. In the sandbox, you can play any of your cards and group your units together to see how they will fare in a real battle.
To put things to scale, thugs, which are fire-class foot soldiers, have an attack rating of 80 and health of 50. The juggernaut, an ultrarare fire-class unit, has an attack rating of 500 and health of 5,000. As one of the larger units in the game, the juggernaut towers over its enemies, using its special stampede ability to crush everything in its path. It also looks like a demon rhinoceros from a zoo in hell--you might want to hold on to that one.
The overall goal is to build your own personalized army. BattleForge will also feature cooperative play, which is a plus for new players too intimidated to go it alone. The goal is for players to assemble their armies together and battle through intense player-versus-environment scenarios, a sort of RTS game with the feeling of a World of Warcraft group raid. At the end of each mission, a loot master will distribute the spoils of war, which consist of persistent upgrades that can be applied to your units. If you don't play well with others, you can play against them in player-versus-player tournaments.
The card system is an interesting twist in the RTS genre and has potential for success. Last year, EA's UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 soccer game introduced a playing-card feature in which in-game points were used to purchase packs of gold, silver, and bronze player cards, and it proved to be one of the game's most popular features. Will BattleForge enjoy similar success? We'll find out when the game is released in March. If you can't wait until then, head over to Battleforge.com to register for the beta.