Collectable card games were all the rage growing up, with many a lunchtime wasted attending the impressively named ‘Wargames’ club. Well, if you were a geeky kind of kid that is. None of us had any idea that Magic: the Gathering would become the monster it has, dominating CCG proceedings both in the virtual and real worlds. However, these geeks have grown up and the arcadey implementation of certain CCGs has opened the door for other variants to pop up and stake a claim for themselves. The latest to hit this niche block is Uncharted: Fight for Fortune, a spin off from the ever-popular PlayStation exclusive franchise. At first glance it’s perhaps not the most obvious way to have taken the franchise, but digging deeper reveals a more than serviceable set of mechanics.
Complexity wise there are a lot of mechanics at work within Fight for Fortune and it’s unlikely the CCG would work in a real life setting due to some of the physical fiddliness which would be involved. As the game is set within the magical mechanics of the Vita’s innards however we don’t need to worry about that, and in very short order the average player will have mastered the basics of the game. Games are played between two players who take turns playing rounds, with the rounds consisting of four distinct phases. The ultimate goal here is usually to reduce your opponent’s life to zero, although other victory conditions such as ‘Survive x Rounds’ or ‘Horde y Fortune do make an appearance every now and then.
Kicking off with a round then and the first phase encountered will be the ‘Faction’ phase. It’s here that you can spend Faction points and place character cards on the virtual table. Each player has three different factions – Heroes, Villains and Mercs, and each round they will gain one point in each of these factions. Evidently the cards that depict major characters from the Uncharted series will be better than and cost more Faction points than the cards that depict the more generic characters. Each Faction has a set number of face up cards so that you can plan your moves well in advance, but you can only play one card per Faction phase. The played card is placed into one of five available slots on your side of the table. Generally speaking you’ll find that the Villains have strong direct damage stats, the Mercs come with various immediate abilities and then the Heroes are somewhere in the middle. As well as managing Faction points during this phase you’ll also be tasked with strategically planning your character placement – each card can combo with specific other cards, and when you place these cards next to each other the combo bonuses will come into effect. These can, for instance, increase the Attack or Defence ratings of your cards or even provide you with a small amount of Fortune each turn. Gaining (and even chaining) these combos can quite easily be the key to victory in many cases and they can even transform your weaker cards into decent medium level ones.
After the Faction phase then comes the Fortune phase. Here you are presented with three random Fortune cards (which by default are presented back first so you don’t know which cards they are) and you are charged to pick one. Each one of these Fortune cards has a Fortune value, and it’s by collecting and banking these cards that you can accrue Fortune points to spend in the next phase. Once you have picked your card you can either bank it immediately for five points (regardless of the card’s Fortune value) or you can play it onto one of your active Faction cards in the hope that you will be able to bank it later (using either a character ability or other method) for the full value. There is a little risk in doing this however, as if your opponent manages to kill one of your Faction cards holding onto a Fortune card then they will get to bank that Fortune card. The Fortune phase is extremely luck based and there will even be the odd occasion where you will draw a game changing artefact (for instance ‘Statue of El Dorado’ deals twenty-five damage to each card and then banks itself for a whopping sixty fortune). Once you have finished fiddling with Fortune the next phase is Resource. Here you can spend you ill gotten gains on various effects, such as a defensive or offensive bonus for your characters or even some direct damage against one of your enemy’s Faction cards. The more powerful of the Resource cards can have spectacular effect, allowing you to horde your Fortune until the most opportune moment to unleash your plan.
After all of this preparation you will finally get to the Combat phase. Here your Faction cards attack (although newly played cards with have to wait until their next turn to join in); if any have a character placed by your enemy in front of them they will attack that card, otherwise the damage is dealt direct to your enemy’s life total. If one of your cards does attack an opposing card then the damage dealt is taken off of the attacked card’s total defensive value. Interestingly for the genre attacking cards receive no damage from defending cards and damaged cards do not regenerate except in exceptional circumstances. After this your opponent gets a round and then play passes back to you again, and so forth until one of you wins.
As a game the mechanics hang together surprisingly well, although it does feel as though there are limitations. Only being able to play one Faction card a turn leads many games into a scenario where the first turns are spent setting up the delivery of one of your big hitters, while a huge advantage is given to the side that can manage to keep out one of the weaker cards that adds additional Faction points per turn. In fact it limits your strategy a fair bit and makes it harder to use your main resources to turn the tide of battle – if you are stuck in a situation where you need to throw a speedbump in front of a big hitter each turn to survive then it is extremely unlikely that you will manage to wriggle out of that death sentence. Once you have attuned to the seemingly limited playstyles however you will see that there are plenty of strategic options within this digital offering – defeated cards are re-added to your Faction pool and you can play them again when you have the required points, meaning that you can recycle certain abilities as long as you can get your Faction cards killed at appropriate times. Cards that ‘reset’ the combat area do exist, although the side that manages to gain a numerical advantage in Faction cards is usually well on the way to victory. Saying that, the AI can be fairly poor at times; instead of working off of a ‘turns to win’ calculation it instead seems to focus on individual Faction card match-ups so you will very rarely see the AI make the right move to delay your turns to win.
Most of your time within the game will be spent battling this AI within the ‘Fortune Hunter’ mode. This sees you facing off against a variety of enemies from the Uncharted games, unlocking cards or vanity items (such as backgrounds) each time you beat one. Each fight can provide up to five unlocks and each iteration of the same fight is slightly more difficult, with your opponent usually having a different card pool and a stronger advantage than they did in the previous round. Deck wise you use pre-constructed offerings (albeit ones that alter between attempts) which in the main offer you a route to victory if used with some clever planning. Throughout the tutorial and early matches the game’s concepts are outlined and explained well, allowing you to experiment with different combinations and strategies. There is a grinding element to unlocking the cards which isn’t helped by the short loading times that pop up between rounds, but if you want to compete in the multiplayer side of the game then it is essential that you access some of the initially locked cards as soon as possible.
Multiplayer wise Fight for Fortune gives you a couple of options but still falls wide of the mark and doesn’t provide the instant gratification feel that many CCG players love. There is a ‘Pass and Play’ mode that allows you to play locally on the one Vita and that is a great addition, giving yourself and friends a way to easily play some basic matchups without fuss. On the other hand the standard multiplayer battles for both Ranked and Unranked are asynchronous offerings. While a standalone asynchronous mode would have been welcome issuing it as the only way to play these battles is infuriating. The gaps between turns become frustratingly long while you sit there idle not even knowing if your opponent is even looking at your fight and the amount of time taken to play out games leads to many people resigning when they see a difficult situation developing – while this would still count as a win for you in terms of rankings trophy hunters won’t be surprised to find out that they need to wait until they actually win a match in-game before they can unlock their trophy. Constructing a deck for the multiplayer battles is more than a little painful, with the layout and loading times found within the Card Library not really conducive to hardcore planning. If you stick with it however and have unlocked enough cards you will be able to build some quite interesting decks with good levels of synergy – it’s just a shame then that you can only select to make cards either active or inactive, essentially limiting you to one constructed deck.
Infuriatingly though any satisfaction that you could take in the multiplayer is thrown out of balance by the inclusion of various bonuses based on whether you have collected various artefacts or gained particular trophies within Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Instead of offering various vanity cards or art these benefits often double the value of Fortune cards or the value added by a resource card. As you can imagine this will sometimes give individuals who have achieved a platinum trophy in Golden Abyss an insurmountable advantage, ruining any competitive fervour that Fight for Fortune may have been able to inspire in many players. While this also impacts the single player game it is really in the multiplayer that the effect is felt the most and you can’t help but wish that the linking had been implemented in a less disruptive way. It’s not the same level of disaster as when one of my Wargames club colleagues had a rare card stolen (“Geordi La Forge! Someone has stolen my Geordi La Forge card! I’m telling Mr Rice!”) and the Wargames club was shut down (out of control pre-teens that we were) but it doesn’t feel far off when you get stuck on the wrong side of the linked bonuses.
Ultimately Uncharted: Fight for Fortune has too many little issues for it to ever be a must have entry into the overall Uncharted franchise. This is a shame as the mechanics of the CCG do provide enough to entice fans of the genre, while the lip service and appearance of the major characters will please pre-existing fans. Play it solo or against someone with the same level of advantages and you’ll find a competent CCG that will stay on your memory card for the odd bit of casual Uncharted goodness.