30 Days of Game: Elements

About two months ago, a friend sent me a link to Elements.  I played around with it for a few days to see if it would be something I was interested in, and it was.  So I backed away from it and then came at it fresh for 30 days.

If you’ve ever played and enjoyed collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, then this is probably right up your alley.  When you begin you pick an element from Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Light, Darkness, Entropy, Gravity, Time, Aether, Life and Death.  Don’t worry about picking wrong, you can change later if you like, or just make a new account.  You’ll be given a starter deck and your first Quest: to defeat a Level 0 foe.  This first quest works like a tutorial, explaining how to play the game.  A coin is flipped to see who goes first, on your turn, if you aren’t first you draw a card, then you can play any resource cards you have and any cards you have the resources to play, and then you end your turn where any monsters you have will attack, any effects you have will process, and you’ll collect a round of resources.  The goal is to reduce your opponent to zero hit points before he does the same to you.

There are too many cards to spend any time talking about there here, but you can go to the bazaar and see them all.  You’ll earn money from winning duels, and sometimes even win cards in bonus spins after a win which you can use or sell, and you buy cards to continue constructing your deck.  If you are worried about spending money on the wrong cards, go play in the trainer that lets you have unlimited money but you can’t save your deck.

I started the game with a Death deck, built mostly on poisons and infections and boneyards (that produce skeletons when monsters die).  If you can survive long enough with this deck, you can kill just about anyone… its the surviving that is the trick.  After a while, I switched to playing Darkness, which I enjoyed more as it was definitely more active.  Basing the deck around Drains (a card that sucks life out of the opponent and gives it to you) I started regularly ending matches with 100 health and earning double the winnings.  I really ended up liking this slim deadly deck, but I felt I should also try out some others.  I played in the trainer and eventually I decided to build a deck based entirely on quantum pillars/towers (random 3 resources instead of 1 specific) and drawn resources (1 of each resource), and even went so far as to look up the ultimate god killing deck which was similar to but much better constructed than my rainbow deck.  Now I take turns playing my god killer for cash and my darkness for fun.

To be honest, this would never be a game that I played “seriously”, as in “for hours straight a day”.  But it is a very nice throwaway game to keep running in the background while you work (if your work doesn’t mind you playing games and they don’t block the site).  As a programmer, I know I occasionally need a momentary distraction from work in order to let my brain wander away from a problem so I can approach it from a new angle later, and Elements is perfect for that.  The only negative I would say exists in the game is that it is very grindy in that it takes quite a lot of time to be able to upgrade cards and build a better deck unless you play a certain way (Google “elements god killing deck”).  One “would be nice” thing is I would love to be able to build multiple decks and switch them out easily instead of having to rebuild them every time.

Overall, the game is very well constructed, it doesn’t appear to have any game breaking balance issues, and since it is free to play there is no harm in giving it a shot.  And if you enjoy playing it, feel free to throw a few dollars at the developers via their PayPal donation link.

30 Days of Game: Evony

It has been a long while (October 2008) since I did one of these, and as luck would have it I just happened to have played another PBBG for 30 days, so a review follows.

The gang over at the Ofasoft boards found this game, Evony, and we decided to go play it.  Honestly, as evidenced by my Travian review, it is best to approach these RTS-like browser games with a crowd of friends because ultimately a guild or alliance is going to be the only way to survive the PvP.  People without a group behind them will be farmed for points and resources.  As with many browser based games, its got an RMT element, and while Evony’s items for purchase can give you a serious advantage, I have found that not enough people are buying them to make it really matter.

So, to start, you create an account, name your lord and name your first city (don’t pick something you love, you’ll be changing it in a minute).  Like any RTS type games, you build building for resources and to facilitate your army, and there are optimum build orders to get to certain elements of the game.  But, for the first 7 days you will be safe from PvP (you can’t be attacked, nor can you attack other players), so you have time to learn the game.  Learning the game is where Evony, in my opinion, shines.  Other games I have played forced you to go digging around wikis or forums or elsewhere to learn about the game, but Evony has implemented a Quest system giving you tons of little objectives, all with rewards.  The best way to learn the game is to do the quests.  If you do, your town won’t be a war machine, but it will be perfectly functional.  Just heed the game’s warnings and don’t take your town hall to level 5 or you’ll end your seven day protection.

As I raced through the quests, I built myself a second town and was well on my way to solid before my 7 days were up.  I worried as I hit the end of that week, but as I was in an alliance with around 40 people in it, actively playing and constantly out of resources (because I was constantly building), it seems there were enough reasons not to attack that no one did.  Also, you’ll learn that attacking valleys and NPCs is more profitable at lower levels.

The key to the game is range attacks, which is pretty much true for all games and for real life too.  And while archers are a ranged attack, ballistas are better, but they do take a while to get to.  One thing the Evony forums are good for is posts about theorycrafting.  That’s when people observe game behavior and try to work backwards to get the formula the programming is using for things.  Battles work like something out of European wars with lines of attackers approaching each other on the field.  The fastest runners get out front and are the first to get mowed down.  The game works on a closest range/greatest threat method, where if you have archers and cavalry fighting swordsmen, the swordsmen will fight your cavalry while your archers kill them at range.  If you didn’t have the cavalry, your archers would get “free” attacks on the swordsmen until they “met”, and then the swordsmen would fight the archers at close range.  Fights also use a “1 group attacks 1 target” method, so in the previous example, the swordsmen would fight the cavalry until there were no more cavalry.  If they had swordsman and warriors, both of them would attack the cavalry, ganging up on them, while your cavalry would only attack which ever group they encountered first (the swordsmen).  Ultimately it causes weird battles where you can take 1,000 ballista, 1 cavalry, 1 swordsman, and 1 warrior, and defeat a much larger army of a single non-ranged unit type because there will be at least three rounds of combat before the enemy can attack your ballista since they need to engage each army “type” on the field and defeat them.  So if 1 ballista can kill 10 warriors a round, this attack configuration could defeat 30,000 warriors while only losing 1 cavalry, 1 swordsman and 1 warrior.  These kinds of mathematical and logical decisions result in very odd attack configurations, and approaching the game like a real war will only cost you troops.

The way battles work is why fighting NPCs is more profitable than PCs.  A hero with the appropriate number of ballista can defeat all the defences of an NPC city while taking no losses.  Send transports with them and you can gain much more resources than you can build in the same time.  NPCs basically become resource ATMs.

Once you get out of your 7 day period, and assuming you are part of an alliance, you then enter into the world of negotiations.  Eventually, fighting NPCs grows old and you want to take on some other players.  Attacking the wrong player in the wrong alliance can result in a war that could turn out badly for your entire alliance.  At the beginning of week 4, another alliance declared war on my alliance and attacked one of our member’s cities.  No warning, no discussion, just attack.  We sent off a note to find out why, but they didn’t reply.  So, we checked with our friendly alliances and then unleashed hell on the offending alliance.  We didn’t just return fire on the offending player, but his whole alliance.  We ended up taking a half dozen cities from their players and putting a serious hurt on their entire alliance.  Of course, this was followed by lots of whining and more negotiations as it turned out the leader of the alliance that declared war on us was a secondary account for the leader of another alliance, who was an ally of an ally, and so on… the fallout was funny as alliances turned on him and supported us, but the real lesson is that it could easily go the other way if we didn’t vet our targets properly.

The best feature of all, however, is that no one can take your “last” city.  If you have 5 towns and fall under heavy PvP siege, they can take 4 and they can farm your last, but they can’t take it, and you never lose your technology research.  And if you’ve saved up some city teleporters, you can always flee.  You can also hit the “Restart” button and start from scratch, keeping the same lord name and nothing else.

All in all, Evony is fairly well built and balanced, more so than other free RTS-like games I’ve tried online.  Its fun, and with planning of your buildings, you can actually schedule days away from the game where you are researching new technologies and building high level buildings and won’t need to check in.

I’ve played Evony for 30 days, and I’m going to keep playing.  With 100 player limits on alliance sizes, it doesn’t appear to suffer from the alliance domination problems that other games do, and will keep it interesting for far longer.


It stands for Persistant Browser Based Game.  To be honest, until recently, I didn’t know this term existed.  But then, that itself is the point of The PBBG Project.  To get the term out there.  And considering that a PBBG is the kind of game that I want to make someday, I want to do what I can to help out.

In September, for my 30 Days of Game post I reviewed Travian…  October turned into a mess as I became unemployed and also because I picked a horrible game to review.  I won’t even bother to name it since I don’t think I can review it properly since I barely played it and hated every minute that I did.  In the future, I’ll be picking my games to play and review from the PBBG Project website.

Anyway, October didn’t work out, and November is pretty well shot… so here’s looking toward December…

30 Days of Game: Travian

Welcome to October 1st, and to our first installment of 30 Days of Game.  This is where I play a game for roughly a month, and then review it.

First up: Travian.  From their own page…

Travian is a browser game featuring a world with thousands of other real players. One begins the game acting as a chief of a tiny village.

To get a decent idea of what the game is like, I suggest running through the tutorial.  It only takes a minute.

Basically, you start with an empty village surrounded by resources.  You place your town hall and then get to building.  Each resource field (woodcutter, clay pit, iron mine, cropland) produces a set amount of its resource, which you can increase by building up the level of the resource.  In town, on the various plots, you can build a variety of buildings, from armories and stables to warehouses and crannies (for hiding resources from attackers).  As you construct buildings and upgrade them, you unlock new troop types and other abilities.  Eventually, you can raid and even conquer other players.  Yes, its a PvP game.

Its like a real time strategy game, only slower.  Every building, upgrade or troop training takes resources and time.  And while each building’s ability is independent (can be researching new armor, new weapons, training foot soldiers, horsemen and building siege devices all at the same time), setting your people to work on building or resource upgrades are only allowed one at a time.  So you need to plan, which buildings do you need first?  Do you go offense and raid other players for supplies or do you go defense and protect against other raiders?

You can join alliances with other players which allows you access to a private message board on the site for your alliance.  And each server is generally allowed to run for 300 days (100 for speed games) before it resets and starts over.  So, yes, this is not your traditional neverending MMO grind.  The game has a finish, and leaderboards, and enough servers that you can pretty much always guarantee that one is going to restart soon or has recently restarted, so there is less worry about jumping in and being so far behind the curve that you can’t possibly win.

The City of M`antra G`ald - My City
The City of M`antra G`ald - My City

Now, technically, I’ve been playing for more than 30 days, because I couldn’t think of a new game to start and I was already playing this one.  However, I’m enjoying what I am now referring to as a Lazy Time Strategy game.  Early on, when build times on things were very short and didn’t cost too much, I visited many times a day to keep my peasants working.  Lately, I visit two, maybe three, times a day, trading goods with other players and kicking off my next project or sending out armies to do my bidding.  Through my alliance I have heard other players talk about getting bombarded and overrun, but I haven’t had any trouble with that just yet, and I might not before the server resets.  I am just now getting to the point where I might be able to found a second city, which took longer than it would have if I’d gone straight for it.

Travian isn’t a deeply enthralling game, but I definitely think it is one I am going to continue playing because it is enjoyable and doesn’t require a dedicated hardcore player to enjoy it, although I am sure more hardcore players could find something in this game – be it min/maxing the build orders, or just crushing your neighbors.

30 Days of Game

I’m starting up a new category here at the blog: 30 Days of Game.

The topic of this category is going to be to review a game I have played for 30 days.  The idea came to me quite some time ago, but to be honest the thought of buying a bunch of games, or even one a month, just to play and review them, no matter how much they sucked, was unappealing.  So, until game companies are willing to send me 30 day free trials, I am going to stick to games that are free to play.

I want to start this in September, after I return from Dragon*Con, with my review coming in on the last day of the month.  That said, I need some candidates, some recommendations.

Previously on this site I have reviewed Urban Dead and Mafia Matrix (a new review of that one is coming, since I am considering quitting), so those two are out, because I want to approach 30 Days of Game games as a new player.  For right now, I do want to stick to free to play MMOs, so, if you know of one you think I should give a shot, post it here in the comments or email me at jason (at) probablynot (dot) com.