Just this summer, the video card manufacturer Nvidia unveiled a new technology that finally made the holy grail of photorealistic gaming possible. The technology, ray tracing, accurately plots the path of individual light rays, bouncing them off surfaces in 3D environments, making shadows and textures far more convincing than when using conventional rendering techniques. It was a giant step forward, and finally brought us to the cusp of the era of photo-realistic gaming; fantastic news for the existing video game industry, as well as emerging technologies like VR.
But despite the impressive improvement in graphics technologies, many “gamers” are finding themselves drawn back to simpler times. Rather than investing in big budget video games, they find the allure of simple cards much more appealing. What’s going on?
When the Witcher 3 released in 2014, reviewers praised the game’s immersive environment, compelling storyline, and beautiful quests. But read the reviews carefully, and you soon discover that almost all of them talk about Gwent - a card game within the overall game - speaking of its addictiveness and depth. CD Projekt Red - the game’s developers - say that they introduced Gwent as a side activity, hoping that people might enjoy it. But they didn’t realise just what a reaction it would provoke. Seasoned game reviewers who had been pumped for the main title found themselves obsessing over which cards they had collected and who they’d beaten. For some, it became a passion, and they were driven to collect all the cards in the game and construct the most powerful decks possible.
Other game developers have cottoned onto this phenomenon. Blizzard, for instance, created Hearthstone during a dry spell for the company, mainly as an experiment. The game, however, has since become one of the most popular, with millions of players logging on to do battle all over the world. Yes, it’s pretty, but it’s not exactly cutting-edge graphics.
Many Gamers Began With Cards
Perhaps the reason for the success of card games, in video form or not, is that they help take gamers back to a time when they first discovered fantasy gaming. Many were brought up on the d100 dice from Dungeons and Dragons, or the innumerable strategies of Magic: The Gathering, and want to relive those heady days. Some couldn’t afford expensive gaming computers in the early days and had to make do with their physical analogues.
But there is something more profound about card games which just can’t be emulated in real-time combat situations. Turn-based games create strategy in a way that continuously-played games cannot.
The ancients knew this, of course. Both Go and chess use turns to generate strategic action. So too do other great video games in history, most notably the Civilization series, and some of the Final Fantasy games. In Civilization, the turn-based nature of the game means that players have to think carefully a number of steps ahead and take into account what their enemies are doing. In Final Fantasy, the space of possibilities is smaller, but the principle remains - combat choices depend heavily on predictions of what opponents will do next.
It’s this predictive nature of turn-based games that makes them so appealing. You never really know what’s going to happen because you don’t know your opponent’s hand or how they make decisions. But ultimately, you can refine your strategy to outwit other players, even though you may fail on the odd occasion.
Card Games Become A Cult Classic
There’s also the fact that some card games are becoming cult classics and collectables. People love to complete their Warhammer or other tabletop gaming collections, just as they do other things. Shops now dedicate themselves to providing a wide selection of gaming materials, ideal for even the geekiest of players.
Warhammer is an interesting example. Over the years, game developers have created numerous real-time strategy games based on the original franchise. And although those games are successful, they still haven’t built the cult following that the table top versions have. Warhammer is a classic example of a game that never had to go digital. There’s still a place for physical objects in today’s gaming landscape.
Card Game Bring People Together Physically
Read any business blog, and you’ll encounter experts who talk of the importance of physical proximity, even in an age of free video telephony. Card gamers will tell you a similar story. Yes, they love playing Overwatch and Battlefield with randoms on the internet, but they also like getting together with friends and just playing a round of cards. It’s the being together that’s as important as the game itself.
In the old days, a simple LAN party would suffice. But with such convenient online gaming, the last thing that people want to do is lug heavy gaming equipment around to their friends’ houses. Much better to pack a box of cards and props, and have fun the old-fashioned way.
The Explosion Of Card Game Options
The number of options, both digital and physical, for keen card gamers has increased dramatically over the last few years, with themes ranging from high fantasy to space. Star Realms, for instance, is based on fleets of spaceships, bases and freighters, immersing players in the far reaches of the cosmos. What’s more, the game also has superb deck-building mechanics and AI, making it both a challenge and highly engaging.
Other games, like Dream Quest, take a different tack. The digital card game combines cartoon graphics with a dungeon crawler feel, making it unique and exciting. As you explore new dungeons, you can find treasure and unlock interesting cards with special abilities.
In short, there are now dozens of options out there for gamers, both on mobile devices and in real life. Photo-realistic graphics might be great for shooters and other twitch-based games, but no matter how good graphics get, they can’t emulate the essence of a good turn-based strategy. For now, it looks as if card games are here to stay, regardless of how good technology becomes. Which card do you want in your deck?