Backlog Battle: Week 7

Jacob Nash

Week 7:Cards and Dice

Pocket Card Jockey and Culdcept Revolt

There are games with straightforward premises and gameplay… and then there are these games. Pocket Card Jockey and Culdcept Revolt are two 3DS titles that cannot be neatly categorized with other games in my collection, so they’re both getting the spotlight this week.

Why I Bought These Games: When the 3DS online store announced its closure, I looked for lesser known games to buy. Plenty of gaming websites mentioned that these two games were hidden gems of the 3DS. Culdcept Revolt was also on sale at the time, so it worked out.

What Took Me So Long: I’ll admit that the atypical gameplay styles of these games dissuaded me from trying them sooner.

Pocket Card Jockey

Pocket Card Jockey combines horse racing and solitaire. You play as a horse racer whose dream is to win big. The only problem is that your racer isn’t good at racing, but they are good at solitaire. After making a deal with an angel (long story), your skills at horse racing become proportionate to your skills at solitaire. This is all to explain that instead of directly controlling your racer, you play solitaire to improve your position in each race. The game knows how silly of a premise this is, with the writing poking fun wherever it can. I found the game endearing right off the bat, and the cute, colorful art style is a big part of that enjoyment.

While the gameplay is mostly solitaire, there are many elements of horse racing you’ll need to consider. In between stretches of each race, you must maneuver your horse using the bottom screen of the 3DS. There is also stamina, which is built up and spent in the final stretch. Neither your position nor stamina will matter if your horse loses their temper, however. If you can’t complete games of solitaire, each remaining card will lower your horse’s temperament meter, which is the round button with a horse’s face on it. If the meter turns red, your horse will disobey you and run out of stamina quickly. As long as you do well in solitaire, your horse will stay happy. Successful games of solitaire, good positioning, your horse’s mood, and the stamina you build up all contribute to the final stretch. This is where you’ll be in direct control of your racer. You can move up and down to get around other racers, and you can use your stamina to speed up. Don’t use it all too quickly, though, or your horse will grow tired. If you can get first place in a race without using stamina, your horse will do better in future races.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to ride your horse forever. Horses that mature can still race, but they must retire if they lose three races. Thankfully you’ll be able to choose a new horse whenever you need one, and you can even breed your retired horses if you so choose. I got attached to the horses I raced with, even if the only differences are their names, colors, and stats. I’m not even a big fan of horse racing or solitaire, but it’s a remarkable combination. It’s charming, it’s addicting, it’s even a bit strategic, it’s Pocket Card Jockey.

Culdcept Revolt

If Pocket Card Jockey wasn’t a strange enough union of game mechanics, Culdcept Revolt takes it up a notch. It’s the answer to the question, “What if Magic: The Gathering met Monopoly?” I have no clue who asked that question, but I’m glad they did.

Two to four players duke it out on a multicolored board to be the first one to cross a certain threshold of points. You’ll use a deck of fifty cards that you can customize before each game. On your turn, you roll a pair of dice to move around the board. The dice have the side with six dots replaced by a zero, but rolling two zeroes will let you move twelve spaces. After moving, you can play a creature to the space you landed on. You can also play a creature onto a space with an opponent’s creature on it, replacing theirs with yours if you can defeat it. Creatures have their own strength, health, color, and magic cost. Magic is separate from your points, and you use magic to play cards and upgrade your creatures. Upgrading creatures will allow them to take more points from opponents who cannot defeat them. I found this mechanic similar to upgrading houses in Monopoly to hotels. The Monopoly comparisons don’t stop there; creatures on spaces of the same color get stronger, and you get a point bonus each time you move all the way around the board. By playing creatures to attack and defend spaces, and with a bit of luck from the cards you draw, you’ll be sure to outscore your opponents.

Culdcept Revolt may have roots in board games and card games, but it also takes advantage of its video game medium. Boards can be anywhere from simple to sprawling, players can change the colors of spaces to benefit their own creatures, and battles between creatures are animated. This is not even mentioning the most useful feature: a cursor that shows you the optimal path to take. If you were confused by the explanation for the rules above, I don’t blame you. The game knows how complex it is, and the cursor can help whether you’re a seasoned player or not. You can just ignore the cursor if you think you have a better move, but I found it extremely helpful. Beyond the gameplay is a mature plot involving lost memories, gaining the trust of your allies, and escaping a city on lockdown.
Summary: It’s a shame that the 3DS closed its online store, because these games cannot be found anywhere else. If they were, I would recommend them in a heartbeat. It was well worth going outside of my comfort zone to try these games. The combination of gameplay styles found in each game, have no right working as well together as they do, but the developers found a way. I’ll be frequently returning to play cards, race horses, and travel virtual boards.

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