I had the pleasure of finally meeting George Rothrock, Playdek Director of Product and Business Development, at E3, and he brought along an iPad running a build of Summoner Wars. Truth be told, the opportunity to meet George face to face would have been enough for me to take time out of my schedule, but an opportunity to see Summoner Wars ahead of its late June release? Come on. I couldn’t pass that up.
Having already conducted a lengthy phone interview with George, I had an idea what to expect and in person George is just as excited about board games and the work that Playdek is doing to help bring this medium to iOS as he was in our previous conversation. When you see someone who is not just proud of their work but genuinely excited, you can’t help but share in that enthusiasm.
From what I could see of Summoner Wars, the game looks to be shaping up quite nicely. Playdek is going with a free to play model with the free version of the game packaged with one playable race. Additional races, including mercenaries and reinforcements, will all be available for purchase from within the game. We didn’t speak pricing, but George was comfortable with their pricing, telling me that there will be bundles available and that the pricing will be low enough to make buying all of the available races and and units a pretty easy decision. The fact that you need to purchase additional races to go online certainly will help speed that along, but at least those that are new to the game and unsure about paying for it outright have the means to try before they buy.
The game comes with pre-created decks for each race as well as the ability to create custom decks and save them for future use. Unfortunately there’s no way to save your decks when playing on someone else’s iPad, save for logging them out of GameCenter and logging yourself in, but the deck creation process is fairly straightforward so if you have a deck you absolutely have to play with while on someone else’s device, it won’t take long before you’re sufficiently decked out. Get it? Decked out? Sorry, a little board game humor there.
The cards are all beautifully rendered with nice animation touches within each one. Important card details are visible when the cards are all laid out on the game board and when viewing the cards close up, the card text has been cleaned up to account for the fact that the game handles a lot of the rules for the player. That task has been undertaken by Colby Dauch, designer of Summoner Wars. In addition to this, Colby is writing the game’s tutorial, which will hopefully address the flaws of Nightfall’s tutorial.
Unfortunately, Bill wasn’t able to attend the meeting in depth, so I can’t speak to how well the UI handles the card interactions, but it was pretty easy to tell what moves were available at any given time. Obviously, things will make a lot more sense when paired with a greater explanation of the game’s mechanics, but George’s explanation of the rules lined up with what the UI was showing at any given time.
George didn’t have a lot of time to spend with me, but from what I saw, Summoner Wars is shaping up quite nicely. I can understand if people are somewhat hesitant at the free to play pricing model, but as long as the pricing isn’t prohibitive, I always come down on the side of allowing players to try games out before buying them. I know that there are plenty of board games I’ve seen for the iPad that looked a bit too complicated to buy without a chance to try them ahead of time. Also, Summoner Wars is a much different type of game than Playdek’s other releases, so new players who are interested because they played Ascension, Nightfall or Food Fight may balk at paying full price for a game that plays differently than what they’re used to. Obviously, this is all predicated on reasonable pricing of the other races and units, but given Playdek’s current pricing on expansions for their other games, rampant Summoner Wars price gouging would surprise me.
George wasn’t able to give me an exact release date, but you can look forward to Bill’s write up about destroying me in Summoner Wars in late June.