A couple of months ago I bought myself a shiny iPad Air and proceeded to download a whole bunch of games, particularly board and card based games for research. So far the only one that I go back to to play is Little Alchemist.
It is a pretty simple concept where you collect cards and learn combos. In battle you play a card or combat to deal damage to the opponent, with card also providing defence. The combat isn’t the most involving… my card does 9 damage with 5 defence and yours does 8 damage with 8 defence so I lose three health points compared to you losing one. Oh noes! Naturally you don’t see your opponents card until both have picked their card/combo. To add a bit extra there are three classes. Every time you make a combo you get an orb (limit of 5 orbs) and depending on your class you either regen health (1 point per orb), deal direct damage (1 up per orb) or get a stat boost on your card (more complicated). Additionally there’s a simple tier system to the cards (bronze, silver, gold and diamond) and a basic upgrade system to make your cards more powerful which soon becomes essential.
So I’ve said simple a lot in that summary of gameplay. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing. When I play games on my tablet or phone I don’t want to spend the full bus journey or TV show that I’m ignoring learning the ropes. I want to pick up, play and enjoy. If I plan on a large slice of time for a game then I’ll play my Xbox, not iPad! This is why I like games to be dead simple to pick up and play. If I have to spend my first session learning the ropes and don’t feel like I’ve played anything I may not return.
Tactically the game is a bit limited. The one real strategy is form combos and as you can’t tell whether the opponent will have an attacking or defensive card, or whether they’ll have nothing good at all, you can’t make too many tactical plays. The key to success if having good cards and also ensuring that you can keep your combo going because they either give you a huge edge in damage or let you heal. The main “skill” is in the optimisation of your deck to ensure that you don’t have too many weak cards, don’t run out before you can beat the enemy and importantly have enough researched combos.
Perhaps the biggest flaw is the difficulty. The issue is that as well as facing tougher cards at a rate faster than you can progress yourself but when when you replay previous fights you not only have to go against better cards but the enemy has more health and can have an infinite size deck. Effectively this means that rather than stepping up the difficulty a touch after a certain level, it steps up twice. Winning comfortably then finding yourself completely blocked doesn’t seem right. There isn’t enough balance of just winning.
I think the big flaw here is that many people will hit one of these walls when it suddenly gets harder and just quit. For a free to play game you really don’t want to be putting in barricades to people playing and enjoying the game.
The final thing I want to be critical of is the in-app purchases. I hate the model but that isn’t what I want to get into. The price of in-app purchases within Little Alchemist is pretty ridiculous with pretty averages purchases costing a few quid and in order to get anything worthwhile you can end up paying about £10-£20. That is pretty crazy money to get a few good cards! I get the whole whale thinking behind the IAP model but I feel that with Little Alchemist they have priced it so high that only rather rich folk would understandably spend that much money, meaning that most likely they are making their profit from kids running up parents credit card bills or the types of people who blow their money on addictions. Yup, I’m saying the creators of Little Alchemist have priced the game in a way that even your average IAP game can take a moral high ground.
You know what though… as I am fond of the game, I could see myself spending a fair bit of money on it… however its so pricey that every time I think “maybe I should buy something?” it is followed by “£13!?! and it won’t even be that useful!”.
So this is a flawed game with a morally repulsive pricing yet I play it a lot. Why? Well it was very accessible, it has a nice look with amusing cards plus most importantly… if I play a bit more then I can unlock/buy/do xyz <repeat over and over>