I was late to the smartphone revolution. My first was an iPhone 4 during its initial release and one of the first things I did was download every game that looked half cool, a catalog which by that time had grown extensive.
One of those games was Shadow Era. My memory is hazy so I’m not going to be slinging reliable info about release dates and stats but it’s not important, anyway, because that’s not what this post is about. This is intended to be a glance at the evolution of trading card games (TGCs) in the digital era and, to a lesser extent, how Splinterlands is leading the way.
To begin, the artwork in Shadow Era is beautifully designed. Everything is glossy and polished and really pops!
This was actually what drew my attention. I had been introduced to Magic the Gathering, in that I knew people that played it, and I played one game. I liked it, but I didn’t get into it or buy a deck. Back then I was a pc gamer and physical card games seemed like a regression for some dumb reason. But I digress. The artwork in Shadow Era has a classy feel to me, that gives them a legitimate “collectible” aesthetic because they’re just so damned pretty.
Comparing it to Splinterlands, which isn’t fair for reasons I’ll touch on later, there’s an obvious difference.
Intended as a compliment so don’t take this as a complaint. I’m merely trying to highlight differences. The beauty of Splinterlands’ artwork, to me at least, is that it has a more rugged, sketched look. That’s not the kind of aesthetic that usually stands out to me, but in this case it gets my attention for at least a couple of reasons.
One reason is because it reflects the project as a whole. It’s scrappy. The dev team had an idea, launched a kickstarter campaign around 2 years ago, and have seemingly been holding on by their fingernails ever since. Again, that’s a compliment. I find it admirable that they still have the accelerator to the floor and somehow manage to floor it farther every now and then. There’s absolutely no arguing the Splinterlands experience isn’t one hell of a ride and I’m thrilled to be on it!
Another reason that comes to mind is from an investment/collectible perspective. I believe that history will be part of the reason these cards will be particularly valuable someday. They are a clear first stage in the game’s evolution. They are it’s origin story manifested.
Moving past the aesthetics let’s look at gameplay. Here there’s really no good way to compare because they are completely different in the way they are played but this would be a short, and frankly, lousy review if I let it go at that so I’ll try none the less.
In Splinterlands you step in the ring, so to speak, get matched with an opponent and build a team within a timed window, in accordance with a random set of rules and mana points. Once you’ve selected your team and it’s been locked in, and so has the opponent, you watch the battle play out. Here’s an example of how that looks.
In Shadow Era you pick from a selection of previously assemble teams, or decks, and then you enter the arena to be matched with an opponent.
This is a turn based battle so a number of cards are dealt to each player from their own respective deck and the players play one or more cards (or pass) each round to gain advantage and eventual victory.
This is only the beginning of the battle but you can easily see why it’s really not possible to offer a fair comparison in regard to play. Shadow Era has a “Hero” instead of a “Summoner”, which actually participates in the battle, and in fact is the primary target in combat. Again, I know nothing of Magic the Gathering but that’s more or less the same layout I remember. Especially the need to sacrifice a card in order to generate resources (MANA in Splinterlands) to allow cards to be summoned into play.
The next thing I want to look at is how ownership works.
If you’re familiar with Splinterlands you know that each card is an asset that you own and control. In the crypto space that means you can give it away, trade it, sell it, or destroy (or ‘burn”) it for dark energy crystals (DEC), the in game currency which you can use to upgrade your deck, buy potions to increase your chances of getting better rewards, or exchange for cryptocurrency, then the fiat of your choice, i.e. U.S. dollars. You also earn DEC by playing and winning ranked matches.
Shadow Era is a different animal. It began as all the other TCGs in that you can spend money but can’t get any of it back. I haven’t played for years but I can still log in and not sell anything. The $20 or $30 I dropped on it over a two or three year period wasn’t an obscene price to pay for the entertainment value I got out of it, but lacking the ability to “trade” cards kind of defeats the purpose of a “trading card game”. At least partially.
Over time, however, it grew. They added a campaign and new expansions but I eventually lost interest. I’m pretty old school when it comes to value and getting bang for my buck and the concept of continually paying into a game, rather than a single one time purchase is almost offensive to me. I like the old way where I give you money, you give me the product, and you keep your hand out of my pocket after that, rather than the subscription-like style that’s developed over the past decade or so where I pay forever and never really own anything.
However, when I decided to write this post I glanced back at Shadow Era to refresh my memory and a lot has changed. One change in particular instantly got my attention. They started their own token sale and the game is now, or will be playable on the WAVE blockchain. Keep in mind I haven’t thoroughly researched this. I’m not an investigative journalist. I’m a guy that likes to play games and talk into the void and I’m not here to promote Shadow Era. I’m too far behind in regard to it to offer reliable info about it, anyway.
The comparison I want to make here is based more in technology than the games themselves because I want to highlight how blockchain gaming is influencing the past as well as the future.
A game I could’ve easily dropped hundreds or thousands of dollars into and have no hope of recovering any of it at any time, has evolved to keep up by implementing the same business model Splinterlands has used out of the gate and that’s just fantastic for players and collectors alike.
In my mind Splinterlands specifically, and games like it are rapidly changing the atmosphere and environment around gaming. I’m very excited to see where it leads.
The last thing I want to touch on is community. When I was playing Shadow Era there was a messaging option and maybe a chat room (but if there was I never checked it out), and in my experience lacked the “friends around the table” feel I get from the Splinterlands community. That’s not to say it wasn’t or isn’t there. I just never was compelled to seek it out, nor did I stumble across it.
The Splinterlands community, however, has been amazing! Everyone is invested and it shows. Everyone is enthusiastic about everything. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s not at all uncommon for veteran players to toss new players extra cards to really get a feel for the game and the discord channel is usually buzzing.
I personally received a gift of 4 cards (very special THANKS to @randolphrope) about a year and a half ago that currently have a collective market value of about $40. At the time they were gifted the market value was around $5, if memory serves.
Just as a funny side note: That gift was a response to a comment I made regarding being unable to play dragons because they were too expensive to buy. If only I had known...
Anyway, to close I just want to say that there are things about Shadow Era that I’d like to see implemented into Splinterlands (i.e. more polished artwork) but from a sheer joy and an investing perspective I have to go with Splinterlands if I had to choose between the two.
Potential financial prosperity aside, it’s a great game to spend hours playing but the matches are quick enough to pop out a battle or three while standing in line the grocery store or waiting at a tragic light. Ha! Ha! Just kidding. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. But you can.
Shadow Era is a fun game but a match can take a while so you, more or less, have to dedicate time to play it. It’s a fun game and I may give it another look down the road... if I ever wander beyond Splinterlands again. 😁
If you want to try Splinterlands please consider using my referral:
Thanks for reading and have a great day!