For Sale wrapped in a loose fantasy skin.
Android & iOS
# of Players
Tournament of Champions is an auction and bidding game from Decisive AI. The game pits four players against each other in two rounds, the first being an auction to win the strongest champions and the second a blind bidding round to determine who wins the loot from each of five fights. The game ends after the last of those fights, the full game usually takes a little less than ten minutes.
If you’ve ever played For Sale, the previous paragraph should ring some bells for you. Tournament of Dragons is a direct reskin of For Sale. It limits the game to exactly four players, but otherwise plays identical to the classic game. Also worth noting up front is that the game only features online play. Decisive AI, as the name suggests, is an AI company and have trained up an army of bots to fill in the online games, but every game counts towards the leaderboards and must be played with an internet connection.
The game begins with each player getting 12 coins to spend. Round one is called the Hire round. In it, four champions are revealed with each champion having their own unique strength value from one to twenty. The starting player chooses to bid any amount above zero or pass. Any player who passes immediately takes the weakest champion on the board. If you pass after previously placing a bid, you lose half of the bid (rounded up) and take the weakest remaining champion. The last remaining bidder gets the last champion (which will, by definition, be the strongest out of the four) and pays their full bid. This process repeats four more times, giving each player five champions.
Round two is the Battle and begins with four different piles of counts being shown, ranging from zero to ten. Players secretly choose which of their champions will fight in this battle and they are simultaneously revealed. The weakest champion takes the smallest coin pile, moving up the line until the strongest champion takes the largest pile. This repeats four times until all champions have been played. After this, whoever has the most coins wins the game. Note that should you have coins leftover from the Hire phase (due to you not bidding them all), these are kept and directly count towards your final coin total, so bidding small can pay off.
One key point is that every action in the game is on a very short timer, cranking up the decision making tension by pressing you to decide quickly. This turns out to be a key component of the fun.
Tournament of Dragons, nay For Sale, is a simple game. The fun and strategy comes into play in trying to time your bids right. It’s not uncommon for an early, strong card to go for seven or eight coins as a bidding war breaks out. A patient bidder, however, might land a stronger card later for three or four after other player’s deplete their coin pool. Or, you could be on the other end of things and get left out using a large stack of coins for not a great return. The fighting phase offers a completely different challenge in trying to read the board and opponents to get the best value possible for a round. If the four coin stacks are very closely grouped, throw out the worst champion you’ve got. If there is a large discrepancy in the coin stacks, things get more interesting as you need to do a bit of card counting and try to remember whether you can out-muscle everyone or if your 16 strength champion is going to walk away with third place coins.
Tournament of Dragons has a few things working against it on premise alone. First, there is definitely a large social aspect of For Sale. Any game with bluffing and auctioning make for fun tabletop moments, and that simply isn’t something that can be replicated here. Second, we really don’t see too many super lightweight games turn out all that well in digital form (Jaipur is a notable exception, and there are others). It’s tough to put our finger on it, many of them are well made, but we haven’t found ourselves really hooked on any in this weight category. That might be on us, however.
With all of that being said, I’m happy to admit that I’m a bit surprised at how much I’m enjoying Tournament of Dragons. The game is so simple yet feels like each of your decisions is meaningful. There’s a bit of tension when you have bid but find that everyone else also bid so you are looking at a huge investment to stay in, with the only alternative being to drop, take the worst card and lose some coins. Having the short game timer is an artifact of trying to keep games moving quickly, but it actually plays a large role in the fun of the game.
Barrier to Entry
If you’ve played For Sale, feel free to skip the tutorial. If you haven’t you can walk through a short series of text pop-ups explaining how to play. This is a very simple game and the text along with a game should be enough to let the rules fully sink in. There could be more extensive teaching done in the app, but it doesn’t seem necessary given the lightness of the game.
Look and Feel
The re-theme into a fantasy-type world isn’t particularly interesting, but the graphics throughout are really well done. It seemingly would have been easy to punt a bit and go with some cheap visuals, but each of the 20 champions has great, detailed artwork. The menu and button artwork also looks good. The only lesser piece of the game, visually, is the tutorial which consists of bland pop up text boxes over the screen. Being something you will read through once and ignore, this is the most minor of nits to pick.
Control-wise, things are simple and work well. Bidding is done through large plus and minus buttons on the side of the screen and a “bid” or “pass” button on the opposite side. To choose your champion in round two, simply select the card and hit the “fight button.” It couldn’t be simpler, and it all works really well. This is also one of the very rare occasions where we will say it is okay for there to NOT be an undo button, as none of the actions you take make sense to be undone, they trigger other actions or reveal hidden information.
There is only one game mode and it is online play. The game will use its various AI bots, but most of my games appear to have been against at least one or two other humans (based solely on the user names). It’s never taken me very long to find a game, so the skeptic in me wonders if some of these opponents with human-like names aren’t actually AI bots. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, you are placed against players, be it trained AI or human, which are in your general skill range, so you will be challenged either way.
The tutorial mentions there are five different arenas. The game features a global leaderboard which will show you the top players, your rank, and let you know how you stack up. On the side of the leaderboard it lets you know how close you are to the next arena.
There is no offline single player. Every game requires an online connection.
Great champion art
The game is free, but there is an in-app purchase, dubbed Coat of Arms. For $1.49 you can change your username (it defaults to “player_####”), set your country, and choose between some different shield options, which displays while playing. This seems mostly geared towards giving users a way to support the developers if they enjoy the game, which is just fine by us.
The Wrap Up
This app turned out better than it probably had any right to. It’s an incredibly simple auction game with bluffing aspect that was given a fairly generic fantasy reskin. That doesn't make for a great sales pitch. However, Tournament of Dragons shines despite the uphill battle because the underlying game is just plain fun and forcing quick decisions leaves players sweating.
The implementation is spot-on. Small nitpicks are that it limits you to four players, and four players only. The always-connected requirement could be a big issue to some. These are minor for the most part, but might be important to others. Of course, many or all of the complaints wash away when you remember the game was free.