Casuals rule all when it comes to building a large online community, so I felt comparing the casual friendliness of these CCGs would be interesting. I had intended to cover five games but four made for plenty of work and a plenty long article. There’s a couple of assumptions required. I’m defining a casual player as one who plays on average 5 days/week, twice for 30 minutes, once for an hour, and twice for 2 hours, for a total of 6 hours per week. When relevant, I’m also assuming a win rate of 50%. Although I will focus on casuals, I may make note of particulars that affects new players when relevant. To save space, some calculations are referenced at the bottom of the post. And please share this if you find it engaging, entertaining, fascinating, and/or thought-provoking.
I’ll be ranking the following each game on the following criteria:
A) Quantity of rewards for casual play – Can players achieve all daily/weekly rewards? What’s the benefit? Secondarily, what do you get for regular playtime?
B) Competitive progression capability – How long until casuals can compete at top levels? How easy is it to get particular cards? This generally assumes no RMT.
C) Access to content - Usually centered on drafts and tournament play
D) Pickup and playability - UI, newcomer experience, tutorial, undo button, hidden card knowledge
And the four games I’ve chosen to review are Hearthstone, Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, Infinity Wars, and Solforge.
So let’s start it…
Quantity of rewards for casual play
Hearthstone – Hearthstone offers players 1 quest per day, whether they login or not. Up to 3 quests can be stored at a time and one per day can be randomly changed out. Each of the 25 quests offers an average of 50 gold per completion. Games took me an average of 8m45s (using a variety of decks) + 0m15s for card reading. Each quest on average can be completed in 51 games. That means a total of 35 games per week to achieve all quests. At 9 minutes per game there’s enough time to achieve all the quests (35 games takes a little over 5 hours). The downside is that many quests require you to play a specific deck, which can be a turn off for a casual player with 30 minutes to play. Every 3 wins is also 10 gold. Players are expected to win 20 games per week so roughly 70 gold in addition to the 350 from quests provides casual players ~420 gold per week. That’s good for 4 booster packs. Unlike some of the other games, the reward system is very transparent. Earning a booster for roughly 90 minutes of play feels fair. Additionally, over 80% of weekly gains coming from daily rewards is casual friendly. (4.0 / 5)
Duel of Champions – Offers three ‘bonus’ reward mechanics. The first are the daily quests of which three can be held at a time. They are essentially a worse version of Hearthstone’s quests. First, a certain ranks are required to hold one, two, and then three quests. Multiple faction decks are much rarer in DoC, making quests more difficult. Quests also cannot be canceled or changed. You could literally be stuck with one quest for weeks. Some quest rewards are laughable, offering for example one swiss tournament ticket for finishing a tournament. Secondly, there are rewards for logging in each day with the max at seven days in a row. For a full week, players will receive about 7,500 gold and 2 wild cards on average. Casual players who do not log in every day will receive no benefit of note. Third, achievement provide rewards for things like leveling up or collecting sets.
It’s uncertain when a new player will obtain quest slots or the frequency at which they will gain achievements. So I will assume 2-3 quests completed per week for an average of 9,000 gold, 3 Wildcards plus 5,000 gold in average campaign/achievement earnings (which can sometimes be quite nice but are difficult to achieve). Finding and playing games should average 06m00s with about 24,000 gold earned from playing each week. Levels will provide another 20,000 gold. After the first couple of weeks, casual players should expect an average of 1 level per week over the next few months. Altogether, casual players will receive 58,000 gold (worth about 2.5 to 4 booster packs depending on the set) and 3 wildcards. 25% of gold rewards coming from dailies is pathetic, but booster pack counts are close to Hearthstone. Lack of reward transparency hurts too. (2.0 / 5)
Infinity Wars – Logging in once per day provides a random card. Playing your first 3 games in a day also provides a random card (or sometimes a bonus booster pack). By random card, I literally mean any random ‘core rules set’ card. It could be a legendary, it could be a common. While testing, each game (including wait time) averaged 6m15s. However, I’m adding 0m30s per game for a casual player to read cards for 6m45s per game. At that rate, all daily rewards are obtainable. In my experience, rewards closely resemble an improved booster pack. That is to say for every 15 rewards I generally expect 1 rare, 3 uncommons, 11 commons, and frequently a rare/epic/legendary replacing a common. Weekly quests are quite easy and provide 1-2 uncommons and 1-2 commons. Thus, a casual player should expect per week to earn about 1 booster pack and 1/3 of a rare+ card from daily/weekly bonuses. Leveling and regular play will provide a further 1-7 boosters on a diminishing scale as levels increasingly require more EXP. The inconsistency of the daily rewards is a downer. I would say 40% of casual play gains come from daily/weekly rewards. (3.0 / 5)
SolForge – SolForge provides a daily reward for logging in, 1st win, and 3rd win (AI wins count). From my experience and reading various threads, players should expect an average of 2,275 silver and 1/4 booster pack per reward. Additionally, your first win against an online opponent nets 1 event ticket. After 3 online wins you will receive about 50 silver per win. The front loaded gains are good for casuals. SolForge allows players to play multiple games simultaneously. Playing two games takes about 15 minutes. A casual player will probably miss out on the 3rd reward on 2/5 days for a total of 13 daily rewards per week. An additional 450 silver could be gained through regular play. This makes for a total of 32,300 silver and 3 booster packs. Altogether that’s about 9 booster packs per week. Casual players should be pretty happy, especially since almost 100% of rewards are from dailies! (5.0 / 5)
Competitive progression capability
Hearthstone – Casuals can quickly reach a mid level of competitive play using barely more than a starter deck. However, top tier decks will generally require at least a couple of specific legendaries and epics. Simply put, legendaries allow certain strategies that are impossible with less rare cards. Casuals may find this frustrating. The only way to guarantee specific cards is through dust crafting. Assuming commons are never a problem, 2 legendaries, 2 epics, and 8 rares will run you 4,800 dust to craft. At 1002 dust per pack, that costs 48 boosters or 12 weeks of play. There are some exceptions to the ‘legendary’ rule but casual players should not count on this. 3 months of casual play for a top level deck is reasonable. If you plan ahead, many legendaries and rares can be used in multiple decks. If Blizzard continues releasing expansions at a relatively slow rate, this will allow casuals to generally stay on pace with card collecting. (4.0 / 5)
Duel of Champions – There are two formats – standard and open. Casual players will never compete in open because there are too many good cards that are too hard to get. To buy specific cards, players need wildcards. There’s really no steady way to earn these without paying money. I estimated 3 wildcards per week from daily quests which is good for a rare/epic card every other week. Cards cannot be sold to generate wildcards, only gold. Creating competitive decks will take a very long time for a casual player who does not spend money. So much so that I can’t really even estimate. There’s just too much of a catch-22 here. To advance and earn achievements/dailies consistently you already need multiple decent or good decks. (1.5 / 5)
Infinity Wars – In Infinity Wars, rares/epics/legendaries are centered around creating interesting decks or combos rather than flat out being better than equivalent cost counterparts. Cards received by paying IP or LP for boosters provides access to non-soulbound cards which can be traded. Trading is the only means right now of acquiring a particular card. After 2 months, I would expect a non-paying casual player to have opened 6-7 tradeable booster packs. This should allow access to at least a couple desired rares/epics. However, players rely on a relatively small community to find trades, which can take time. A way to sell unwanted soulbound cards and auction house will help this tremendously (both of which are apparently on the road map). In less than a couple months of casual play, the player should feel they have at least one very competitive deck. (4.5 / 5)
SolForge – Top tier rarity cards (legendaries/heroics) are almost always better than common/rare counterparts. Since there is no power cost for cards in SF, these exclusive cards feel even more powerful. Booster packs provide at least 1 rare with about a 5% chance at a legendary, 20% for an epic, and 35% for second rare. Top constructed decks require more legendaries than other CCGs. There is no trading, but excess cards can be sold and specific cards bought. Individual legendaries cost 28,500 commons, 2,850 rares, 43.8 epics, or 4.38 legendaries. On average, each booster pack will provide 2,364 silver worth of cards.3 All in all, if you want one particular legendary you will have to open up 60 packs. Yikes! You are better off just saving your daily rewards at some point. What’s worse (from a parity perspective) is decks are allowed 3 of each card, including legendaries. This makes it even more difficult for casuals and new players to catch up to top tier play. (2.0 / 5)
Access to content
Hearthstone – Hearthstone offers casual, ranked, and arena play. Casual and ranked can be played near immediately. Your first arena run is free. The normal cost is 130 minutes (150 gold) or $1.99 after that. New cards back can also be achieved for each 1 month season by reaching rank 20, which is not that difficult. (4.5 / 5)
Duel of Champions – This is the only game here where you literally cannot acquire every card without paying money. This is veiled behind the open/standard format as all standard format cards can be acquired without paying real money. However, the game’s depth plummets without that open format. This results in casual players effectively being barred from an entire format. There just aren’t enough good cards to make many strong standard decks. New players are barred from daily quests until certain points in their advancement, so casual players will take longer to get there. Two other tournaments exist – jackpots and swiss. Jackpots sacrifice game gold in hopes of reaching a strong tournament rank for a big payoff and are certainly available. Swiss tournaments require a ticket, which a casual player can expect to see maybe one of per week. Considering winning swiss tournaments is the only semi-guaranteed way to earn wildcards, casuals are effectively blocked from two features for the price of one. (2.0 / 5)
Infinity Wars - PvE campaigns unlock as the player completes missions. The campaigns offer 3-5 hours of content. Additionally certain PvE challenges unlock in the same fashion. Constructed casual play is available pretty much immediately. Ranked play requires level 10 which takes around 11 hours. Draft mode (rift run) requires 1,000 IP or 50 LP. This is equivalent to roughly 80 minutes of playtime or a paltry $0.37 USD, respectively. (4.5 / 5)
Solforge – All cards are equally obtainable. Due to how difficult it is to achieve high level play, 4-round constructed tournaments are not recommended. You will not be matched against players of like skill. 4-round drafts require 7 event tickets which a casual user will generally receive 5 of per week. They can also be purchased for 30,000 silver (nearly your entire 6 hour week). This is a steep price to pay. The RMT cost per draft is $4.50 (180 gold per event ticket, ~280 gold per $1). Winning an expected 2/4 games provides 3 event tickets (less than half the entry fee) and a silver prize pack. Overall, casuals and non-paying players won’t have constant access to some exciting features. (3.0 / 5)
Pickup and playability
Hearthstone - This is what Blizzard does best. Animations and visuals look great. Everything is clearly laid out. The tutorial is solid. Not having chat is a let down, but Google can answer any question about this popular game. Hidden card knowledge is a factor but is quickly learned (i.e. warriors have weapons and mages have board clear). The biggest negative is that there’s no undo button. (4.5 / 5)
Duel of Champions – The tutorial is the weakest of these four relative to the complexity of the game. Duel of Champions is quite deep (at least in the open format), but is not adequately explained without simply playing. There is a big hidden card knowledge learning curve. There is no group chat, but sometimes individual players can help you with questions. The UI and animations are decent, but navigating the lobby menu can sometimes be a pain if you don’t remember where header the feature you’re looking for is under. (4.0 / 5)
Infinity Wars - This is where beta hurts IW. The UI is functional but feels rough. Art and animations are also inconsistent. Some problems include a poor deck manager and cards getting bunched up in the support zone, making it hard to tell them apart without clicking each card individually. Because of simultaneous turns, it may hard for some casual players to initially grasp IW. This is especially true with hidden card knowledge as powerful effects are dangerous if you are unaware. The tutorial is decent. Group chat is beneficial for answering questions at most hours. Undo button is awesome. (3.5 / 5)
Solforge – The UI feels really clunky and dated, and is generally a turn off. It is fairly simple and easy to navigate though. There are no animations in game which feels very dry. Hidden card knowledge is not a huge deal as you can tell which powerful cards might be coming based on play. The tutorial is decent. Group chat is not integrated directly into the game and uses Steam and is generally helpful. (3.0 / 5)
Closing (not an average)
Hearthstone – Offers casuals a fair amount of front loaded rewards with a system where a casual player can actually miss a couple of days and still receive all the daily rewards for the week. While top rarity cards are not easy to obtain, crafting does allow casuals to create competitive decks. That time frame isn’t fast, but isn’t particularly slow either. All content is equally available to all players at a fairly reasonable price. The UI makes for a smooth experience each playthrough. Minimal hidden card knowledge allows casuals to play and compete without a huge time investment. Hearthstone isn’t perfect except in pickup and playability, but it provides a comprehensive casual experience. (4.5 / 5)
Duel of Champions – Similar to Hearthstone, the UI is the best part. However, DoC doesn’t do anything else very well. The reward system is murky, requires an upfront investment in playtime, and is inflexible. In fact, a big component of the rewards requires a daily login which will be difficult for a casual player to achieve with any consistency. New player casuals will never compete in open format. Swiss tournaments will be difficult to play without a constant means to tickets, and crafting specific cards is very difficult without paying real money. Overall, this is a terrible system for casuals and new players alike. (1.5 / 5)
Infinity Wars – Unlike the other CCGs, Infinity Wars actually excels in two areas. The first is competitive progression capability. Trading cards and balancing around less exclusive/rare cards makes for fastest ramp up time to competitive play. Secondly, access to drafts is by far the cheapest out of all competitors. Given that constructed play is also unrestricted, IW does a great job of allowing casuals access to all content. Their reward system provides fair bonuses long term, but at times can feel really random and unfulfilling. Thus when finally getting a rare card, the player may react with an attitude of something long overdue than intended joy. The UI is OK but does need to be cleaned up. Hidden card knowledge really hurts this game for casuals. With their speed of releasing expansions (the 3rd is on the way), I’m concerned casual collector types will fall impossibly far behind. IW is a solid casual experience with room for improvement. (4.0 / 5)
SolForge – SolForge does casual rewards better than any F2P I think that I’ve seen (CCG or otherwise). You are practically guaranteed at least one booster pack per day if you play for an hour (especially since vs. AI games count towards first/third wins). There’s not a huge benefit to playing after achieving daily rewards, so hardcore players don’t get a very big advantage. The major downside to SF is how integral legendaries is to truly competitive play. There is a big investment to get specific legendaries/heroics so players are recommended to be flexible in their deck building. The UI and battlefield visuals work, but it looks like it’s from 2005. Tournament content is not especially easy for players either. Card collectors who don’t take competition very seriously are the best fit.
(3.5 / 5)
Hearthstone is hard to beat right now, which is no surprise given Blizzard’s track record. But SolForge and Infinity Wars both have something to offer and are worth taking a look. If you see anything that needs correcting or revising, please comment below.
6/7: Updated a couple specific numbers for accuracy. No major rating changes though.
Depending on interest, I would may follow this up with a part 2. Here are some potential games along with why they weren’t selected for this:
Pokemon TCG Online (has an offline standalone)
Scrolls ($21 entry fee)
Hex TCG (closed beta)
War of Omens (new title, low pop so far)
Cardhunter (not a regular CCG, more PvE focused)
Shadow Era (low pop)
Urban Rivals (not a true CCG, very limited strategic depth)
Rise of Mythos (declining?)
Kingdoms CCG (declining?)
1All quests can be found here. To get to my average of 7 games: 9 x 4 games at 50% win rate for 2 win class quests, 9 x 10 games at 50% win rate for 5 win class quests, 6 games at a 50% win rate for ‘win any 3′, 14 games at a 50% win rate for winning 7 games, and an average of 5 for all others. The average of all of these is 6.84. Because quests are sometimes doubled or triple up on, I reduced this count by slightly more than 25% to 5 games.
2Using algorithmic approximations here, each booster pack on average provides 1 rare (40 dust), 3 commons (5 dust), 0.05 legendaries (400 dust), 0.2 epics (100 dust), 0.1 rares, and 0.65 commons. On average, 100 dust.
350 silver (selling 1 rare) + 20 silver (selling 4 commons) + 2,294 silver (5% chance for legendary x 32,500 silver for selling, 20% chance for heroic x 3,250 for selling, 34% chance for second rare x 50 for selling, 59% chance for common x 5 for selling)
Were the final conclusions what you expected? Did I miss anything? See any errors? What topic would you like to see next?
Finally, please share this if you found it worth sharing.