Blockchain Gaming 101: Splinterlands

Trading card battlers are one of the more popular genres in blockchain gaming. This predominantly comes from the easily minted trading cards, turning each card into an NFT. While this is a strictly digital concept, it edges closer to reality, given that card games are highly collectable and have the dual purpose of being something nice to look at and the utility within a game.

There’s something that needs pointing out early; Splinterlands uses a mechanic of being able to use multiple copies of cards to upgrade them, making them more powerful to players. Because these cards are NFTs and are sold freely on the game’s marketplace as well several third-party marketplaces, some players are able to use cryptocurrency to buy the best cards in the game.

There is a card rental service, which can be used through PeakMonsters, which operates similarly to Axis Infinity; this option puts chosen cards into your deck for a set amount of time, giving you a limited advantage. The owner of the card receives a title crypto and the player, hopefully, wins enough games to earn currency and open booster packs.

This is seen as ‘pay-to-win’, meaning players with less capital can find themselves at a disadvantage. Having said that, I’ve played around ten hours of Splinterlands and I’ve not come across a heavily skewed deck that beat me. Most of my losses came from being useless at building a decent deck.

Splinterlands is a card-based auto-battler. You start out by choosing a deck based on a set mana count; each card is worth mana, which is subtracted from the requirement. The mana limit changes with each game. Some matches give you a generous thirty points – I had a few games where I got 99 mana to play with – others force you to construct something with as low as twelve. This randomness keeps each game feeling fresh as you’re less likely to rely on the same cards over and over.

As with other games, each card has key stats to be aware of: speed, attack, health. There are also abilities for each card that dictate how they act in battle. Once you’ve thrown together a team within the two minutes allotted, the game begins. For the impatient, you can click to see the results almost immediately, as the game will compute the wins and losses right away. Otherwise, you can watch as your cards act; dealing out damage or taking it, in the order you dictated.

Cards favour certain elements, much like in Magic the Gathering: the red cards are fire-based, green is nature, etc. The first card to be chosen is a leader who doesn’t actually enter the battlefields, but instead buffs their team, or debuts the opponent. You might choose a leader who can bestow extra strength for the fights, or more speed ensuring your team acts first.

Order and positioning is key to Splinterlands. Placing the characters in particular slots of the opening roster dictates where they will be on the field. For example, choosing a ranged character first will quickly see them destroyed on the front line as they’re better towards the back where they can pick their shots.

The core game within Splinterlands is a competent entry into the TCG genre and as it’s an auto-battler, you can let games play out while you’re occupied elsewhere. However, the fact that some players can utilise the ‘pay-to-win’ aspect of the cards, might be off-putting to some. There’s also an initial fee to play and earn from your cards – completing quests rewards you with in-game and cryptocurrencies. There’s a $10 charge for the ‘Summoner’s Spellbook’ which unlocks season rewards and daily quests as well as earning of game currency.

Splinterlands already has depth, with guilds to join, tournaments to compete in and plenty of new cards being added with each season. The game seemingly has a bright future, on their website, the development team indicate that Land will be sold in-game at some point, possibly introducing some metaverse elements to the game. For a light card game on the blockchain, Splinterlands can certainly scratch an itch, so long as you’re comfortable with the NFT experience within.