I’ve only fallen down the free-to-play rabbit hole a few times. Without this shiny new iPhone, I’d have never discovered the compelling, high-speed Jetpack Joyride, or the strategy/action mix of Kingdom Conquest, and I wouldn’t get so hooked on Prize Claw that’d I’d play it during podcast recordings. Luckily, I still haven’t tried a single Facebook game. This week, I would have probably played a lot more Dark Souls (or, you know, written anything) if it wasn’t for my latest makes-no-sense addiction, NFL Shuffle.
For the last couple of months, I’ve had one Safari browser window open permanently to Free My Apps. It’s this marketing ploy where you download free sponsored games and are awarded points that can be traded for Amazon gift cards. It seems like small fries at first, but stick with it long enough and you’ll make enough free money to buy Hyrule Historia, a bunch of music, and a handful of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles graphic novels (I am an adult). That’s where I found NFL Shuffle on Super Bowl Sunday.
The best way to describe it would be… the card game “War” with more strategy and deck customizability, plus you can level up your cards. There’re plenty of more football-y rules, too. The game is split into 15-minute halves (one minute = one turn), and there’s a degree of randomness that reminds me a lot of Tetra Master from Final Fantasy IX. Sometimes a lesser player will make a big play just based on the dozens of algorithms that might be running through my phone’s circuits at any given moment; just having the card with the bigger number doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win the battle.
It’s not the first card game on the App Store, not by a long shot. It does have three things going for it that other fantasy-world cards games like Rage of Bahamut lack, however:
- The NFL license. This is both a turn-on and a turn-off. Fans will love seeing their favorite players grow and evolve, and it’s easy to get excited when a low-level player makes a big play against an overpowered opponent. On the other hand, in the words of my girlfriend that has had to sit idly by while I play this game for hours after work: “If that game wasn’t about football, the nerds would be all over it.” And I agree. Geek culture hates on sports even more than jocks hate on D&D.
- The tutorial is minimal. There are few things that guarantee I’ll never play your game again more than a) making me log in with Facebook, and b) making me sit through a ten-minute tutorial telling me exactly which glowing icon to poke next. Attention, app developers: most of your games are the same. And they’re made so any idiot can figure out how to play them. I don’t need this “epic” backstory about how the faeries and the furries had a falling out over the waffles being too runny at IHOP. NFL Shuffle had a “Name Your Team” screen (my team name: “Butts”), and then I was off. That’s how you get me to start playing. How you keep me playing? Well…
- It’s simple and dramatic. The game boils down to a series of one-on-one football battles where, in general, the drawn card with the higher number wins the skirmish, driving your team down the field to eventually (hopefully) a touchdown. If your player’s number seems too low compared to your opponent, you can sub in a relief guy or scrub the field completely, making both players draw new cards. These abilities are limited to just a few uses each half, but the game does a really good job of keeping you competitive and at a “not too hard, not too easy” level, both in the single-player Season mode as well as in the online Versus battles. Plus, there are competitions where the top players on the leaderboards get special prizes, usually in the form of even better cards, ensuring their continued dominance.
I think my favorite part of NFL Shuffle, however, is that it’s free but still has enough different modes and carrot-on-a-stick rewards to allow me to play it for hours at a time. And I don’t feel pressured to purchase any of their available microtransactions, but on the other hand I really want to get better faster… so I might. For someone that has only bought three pieces of DLC and never made a microtransaction in his life, that’s amazing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take off to play some football card game on my smartphone. *adjusts fedora*