Age of Rivals is our first digital-exclusive review, how does it stack up to some longtime cardboard classics?
Android & iOS
10 - 15 Minutes
# of Players
1 - 2
Age of Rivals is a straight to digital civilization building game by Roboto Games. The game uses a mix of mechanics which draw from familiar tabletop designs, including card drafting, engine building, and combat, among others. The game is strictly two players, either online or versus AI and usually finishes in 10-15 minutes after four rounds, the player with the most victory points (dubbed “culture” in this game) wins. A major component of Age of Rivals is unlocking new cards, the game bills itself as the “anti-deckbuilding CCG,” which is fitting as the game mostly randomizes the cards you will get a chance to use in any given game.
Age of Rivals plays out over four rounds, each of which packs in a handful of steps which allow for building, destroying, scoring, attacking, and ruining, among other things. A round starts with the Build phase by having each player use their starting pool of 20 coins to purchase cards from their pool, four of which are randomly selected for each player at the beginning of each of the even numbered building turn. You purchase and play a card, frequently gaining immediate effects from them. Then, the three cards you chose not to purchase will be sent to your opponent to have the chance to purchase, and you will receive their three cards. This alternates until you have purchased eight cards. Next, players head to the Conquer phase which provide VPs based on the attack level of each player’s cards. Afterwards, War begins. Each player must choose which cards to use to defend their opponent’s attacks. Next, the cards which weren’t Knocked Out during war are scored (i.e. those which didn't have their armor fully depleted), some provide VPs if they survived. Finally, at the end of the round one Knocked Out card from each player is randomly chosen to be Ruined, which removes its abilities going forward in the game. The other Knocked Out cards are restored with one less armor point.
The second round starts by having four of your first round cards randomly selected to be played in round two, this can include ruined cards. You then repeat the purchasing process to get your next four cards. The third round is the same as the second. The final round, however, doesn’t select any cards for you, but rather gives you the chance to only purchase cards that you played during rounds 1-3, there are 16 of them in total. Each of the four rounds are identical after the Building phase.
Economy is the last major gameplay component. Certain cards provide coins which increase the number of coins you get at the start of the next round. Certain cards (frequently the same which provide coins) also provide economy of certain types. These help you get savings on certain cards you purchase while also imposing a tax on your opponent if they buy cards with that economic symbol. The economy system is straightforward, but fun. It can feel like a bit of an afterthought, but being able to afford the cards you want is crucial.
This is a very open-ended game as you can go with a number of different strategies to win. Certain cards directly provide substantial culture points, if they survive the round. Others will add culture to cards you have played of a specific type. Culture added this way carries over to future rounds so it can be a really effective snowballing of points. On the other side, you can bet if a player is loading up on high culture generating cards, they will be vulnerable to attacks. I’ve had many games where I was getting blown out through three rounds but I was able to combine enough attacks in the last round that my opponent was only able to score one, two, or even zero of their eight cards after War so I won. It is a testament to the game that there doesn’t appear to be an overwhelmingly powerful strategy. There are nine different card types, each have their own general theme among them. Attack, defense, and economy are a few examples. I’ve been beaten by a number of wildly different looking set of 8 cards in the final round, and occasionally have strung together a few different paths to victory on my own.
The other main component to this game, besides the game itself, is the card collecting. The first thing to know is that each game you must select one Rival to be for that game. Each Rival can have up to three cards they are guaranteed to see during the game. Stringing together three related cards to help build a powerful set during the game can make the difference between a win and a loss. When you first start the game, however, you can’t assign three cards to all of the Rivals (there are 12), you can only assign one card to two or three Rivals. You have to unlock the ability to assign cards to new Rivals and then the ability to assign a second and third card to them. This is accomplished by unlocking card packs which run 100 coins. Card packs each have three cards in them, if they are a Rival card, it means you are one card closer to unlocking the next card assignment. Besides Rivals, you can unlock new cards to be used during the game. Coins are earned in a number of different ways, but the game does a good job of keeping them flowing your way even if you are struggling to win.
The whole coin/card pack/Rival system is pretty interesting. As they advertise, this is a kind of collectible card game (CCG). Kudos for the developer for making all of the cards unlock through in-game achievement and not simply available for purchase. Unlocking cards and Rival spots will be a big plus or minus for people, depending on how you view the system. If you dislike having to earn and spend in-game currency, it will be a turnoff. If you like that it gives you something to chase, it will be a positive.
Overall, this is a well designed game. It has variety, depth, and is a fun duel game with a good amount of interaction. Some will dislike the randomness, as many cards will act on a single other card, but this card is chosen at random. This seems like a choice to keep the game flowing and preventing certain cards from being too powerful.
Barrier to Entry
Age of Rivals contains both a tutorial series and a rulebook. The tutorials are broken into three separate sections: Basics, War, and Economy. The Basics tutorial covers the vast majority of the game, but skips over a few parts. Those are mostly covered in the War and Economy tutorials which are shorter, focusing on one small subset of the game. The tutorials do a fine job of getting you ready to play the game, but there are a few odds and ends that aren’t covered. One example is that you can choose to Waste a card by “buying” card you can’t afford, the card will become Waste (no attributes or abilities) and added to your play area, and you will receive three coins rather than paying anything.
The rulebook is very short and primarily designed to be a basic rundown of the rules rather than a complete, end-to-end rulebook one might be expecting. The rulebook explains card packs and the whole rival system which isn’t touched on in the tutorials. It is a good idea to play through the tutorials then read the rulebook to get a solid understanding of the game.
A massive attack
Rotating challenges help you earn coins faster
Look and Feel
Kudos for releasing such a polished app. The app works well without any notable hiccups and it looks great while doing it. The Rivals look great while the rest of the artwork is passable, but not particularly noteworthy. In general, the visuals instantly pop because of the variety of colors used throughout. The game relies on iconography quite heavily and it does a great job of making the icons highly visible throughout. One minor complaint is that when you get a new card in a card pack, the text and icons are often not formatted properly which can hide some words, making it tough to read. A minor annoyance, you can go see the proper looking version in the card gallery at any time.
Controls in the app work well. There is never any doubt about how to perform an action.
The biggest complaint here is that the initial load screen is pretty slow, even without waiting for the game to connect online.
Age of Rivals has a super straightforward online game system. You choose to play against “Anyone” or “Friend.”. Friend allows you to create or join a password protected game. Anyone matches you with somebody else looking to play. The only option beyond that is which Rival to use. The wait screen has a nice estimate for how long matchmaking is taking at the moment, a welcome addition. Games are all synchronous and can be played cross platform. Age of Rivals added a local pass-and-play option in late 2018.
You can join Alliances which is a group of up to 10 players. You can, on a daily basis, collect 10 coins for each person in your alliance who has won a game that day. An active alliance leads to more coins for you. There are no other features of an alliance, it simply encourages you to play to get extra coins for you and others. The game tracks your online record, letting you know where you stand against the rest of the players.
Age of Rivals was built to be a multiplayer game, but the AI is still strong. You can choose Normal or Hard AI and a Rival will be randomly chosen. Normal doesn't stay difficult once you have a solid feel for the game and strategies, but Hard is a nice challenge.
There is also a Challenges mode which has a few different scenarios to play, each with a normal and hard setting. These frequently have a unique condition added to the game. Winning these challenges will unlock specific cards.
Some of the available Economy cards
Lorenzo gets a culture point
End of game scoring
Age of Rivals is a digital game only. However, it clearly draws its inspiration from classic tabletop game mechanics. Our initial goal for this site was to cover physical board game ports, however we can see high quality direct-to-digital games with tabletop designs becoming an increasingly popular option for game designers, so we choose Age of Rivals as the first non-physical game we reviewed. Given the quality found in the app and game design, we hope to review many more straight to digital games of similar quality in the future.
The game doesn’t have any in-app purchases, when you buy the app you have access to all of the content. The developers make this clear as they state it in their app store listings, so this is clearly a point of emphasis for them.
The Wrap Up
Age of Rivals is a well designed, very fun board game which happened to go straight to the digital world. The app is clean, simple, and effective, it clearly had thorough testing before release. Players will find a fun duel game with a wealth of options and plenty of paths to victory. The complaints are minor.
There is a lot going on in this game. Players who enjoy the card earning and Rival customization will find this game lasts a long time for them. Even if that isn't for you, the game is strong and can still be enjoyed, but not mastered, without focusing on that side of things.