My phone is full of trash. Well, mostly trash. As someone who regularly spends time away from my game consoles and PC for a little inconvenience called “work”, I often find solace is finding games worth my time on the App Store. I commute a lot, so having something of quality at the ready for instant satisfaction is a requirement, and there’s nothing more deflating that realizing I’ve chosen my mobile satisfaction fix poorly. This happens more than I’d like to admit.
One genre of game that really catches my eye is anything that takes a solitaire card and turns it into a completely different genre while still maintaining its fundamentals. Solitairica, Card Crawl, Miracle Merchant and Card Thief are the outstanding examples of perfectly digitized card games that feel like they could be almost played with a standard deck of cards if you so wish.
Another such game is Knights of the Card Table. With a name that genuinely surprised me (in that it hadn’t been used before) the game offers a simple and challenging take to the solitaire formula presented in a way that feels more wave-based. Despite being fairly simple, it’s a game that’s much easier to simply play and intuit than to read a review about, but I’ll do my best to break down the fundamentals and describe its unique hook as effectively as possible. Or you could simply buy the game and experience it for yourself – that wouldn’t be terrible.
Knights offers a simple setup: your fighter is on the left and you’re heading to the right. In the way are enemies and items that will either hurt or help you. Thanks to the ability to change your character, weapon and shield you’ll be able to pad your chances against stronger enemies as you inch ever closer to your goal. Combat effectively boils down to dice rolls, with each weapon requiring a different type of die; stronger weapons have a larger die and smaller weapons have smaller die. Makes perfect sense.
Truth be told, combat feels much more randomized than it should and is easily the weakest part of the game. While enemies do get tougher, those light on hit points never really offer much of a challenge – unless you happen to roll consistent singles. To counteract getting into a situation where loss is inevitable there are bonuses for those dealt a rotten string of bad luck. If you’ve rolled a “one” three times, you’ll get a buff to your next hit. Run up against three poison cards? One will cause your next hit to suffer by one damage. But use all three? The effects will completely reverse and it’ll be like nothing happened at all. While negating a negative effect like that seems pointless, it helps add some nuance to the strategy of selection.
See, while you’re presented with only a few of the cards at one time, you’re still able to choose which you’d like to attack first. So while you can go headlong into battle, planning your attack is much more in line with a successful run. This also applies to any of the positive effect cards, such as Soda (heals at one card, give a bonus amount of gold on three cards) and the power Milk (boosts damage by one, boosts by multiple on three cards). While you could make sure you are completely stacked up with health and boosts, you also want to slowly move the line of cards along in order to figure out how you want your plan your attacks. There were plenty of situations where I overused some health potions only to get taken out by an enemy as a result from one too many poor dice rolls.
There’s plenty to learn in the deceptively simple structure in Knights of the Card Table. Once you do however, the game turns into a bit more of an idle game as you almost know what to expect card after card. Gaining momentum through a level means you’re just tapping cards in the same orders and finding yourself at the end of the level in no time. For me, that’s not a bad flaw to have as mobile games, specifically these types, can offer some helpful distractions for the long commutes I regularly face. With over 100 different levels available, there’s enough game here to tackle even the longest and dullest of commutes.
One seemingly innocuous design choice that just didn’t work for me was the concept of unlocking items and weapons through level progression instead of just outright purchasing them using the gold you get during your runs. Instead, you can see where the weapons are on the map and it’s just a matter of you reaching them in order to unlock.
It’s a weird thing to have a gripe with but I do enjoy some mystery with what’s about to unlock and I find that reaching those new items doesn’t quite reach the level as excitement that I was hoping for. You still need to purchase them with your gold anyway, but maybe have more items to purchase in the store to help counterbalance that?
Speaking of visuals, Knights has a very strong aesthetic that really sells the concept. It’s a sharp and beautifully drawn game with colors that pop on my iPad and larger iPhone, and everything is bursting with character. It never feels bland. I only had the chance to check out the versions for iOS, but the game is also available on Android and Steam and looks just as nice.
If you’re looking for something with long-lasting appeal to chill out on those long commutes, Knights of the Card Table is definitely it. It’s packed with just enough easy play and natural progression that it feels like you’re gaining something from the experience instead of just doing an endless grind. It also looks fantastic, a key factor that helps keep your eyeballs from glazing over when you’re trying to finish just one more level before calling it a day. There’s lots of trash to load your phone and tablet up with – thankfully, Knights of the Card Table isn’t trash.