The Trouble with Star Trek Rivals…
The Star Trek film reboots have successfully brought classic The Original Series back into mainstream popularity. Updated Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are again blockbuster sensations, worthy of their own licensed iOS game. Star Trek Rivals, the result of that gamification, is an aesthetically polished card battler that draws on another classic, Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad. Unfortunately, its issues overshadow its innovations, resulting in a game that could be great only if future updates give ‘er all she’s got.
Battles in Star Trek Rivals follow the basic format made popular by Triple Triad: opponents begin matches with a three-by-three game board between them and five cards in their hand. Each card features the likeness of a Star Trek character, ship, or creature, with a number assigned to each of its four sides. Players take turns placing cards on the game board; if a card is placed adjacent to an opponent’s card with a lower numbered side, you will flip that card to your possession. The player with the most cards under their control once the board is full wins the match.
Like most Triple Triad-inspired card battlers, Star Trek Rivals borrows a specific rule from the original to expand upon the strategy required. The rule in effect here is “combo,” which allows a player to potentially flip more than just the cards immediately adjacent to the card played. A combo chain will turn over any card that is touching a card that is flipped, so long as the flipped card’s numerical value is higher than the next card in line. In this way, a player can turn the entire board to their favor with a single card.
The use of combo forces a different kind of strategic consideration, and one that actually benefits players with low-level cards. Although it’s always advantageous to have high-numbered cards, a low level player can actually flip over stronger cards through comboing. This helps Star Trek Rivals avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of free-to-play card collecting games: over-favoring paying users.
Unlike Laboratz, which greatly differentiates between the haves and have-nots of premium currency, Star Trek Rivals provides a way for weaker players to win through both its combo mechanics and card shop. New card packs are actually purchasable with Credits, the in-game currency that is earned through playing matches. Although the extremely rare (and essentially cash equivalent) Latinum currency allows you to buy a chance at more powerful cards, the packs which cost Credits alone may also produce rare rewards and come in affordable sets of five and ten.
Considering that a ten-pack of cards costs 2,500 Credits, the currency is doled out generously per match. Although rewards vary slightly depending on whom you’re battling—playing against friends results in more Credits and Experience—the lowest number of each you’ll walk away with is 150 Credits and 40 Experience for losing to a random rival. Losing has no consequence besides a slightly smaller reward, and so playing as much as possible is to your benefit.
Unfortunately, Star Trek Rivals‘ current matchmaking system makes it challenging to actually play the game. Battles are asynchronously turn-based, so you are often left waiting hours or days for your opponent to take a turn. While this works in games with endless matches available, like Song Popor Draw Something, the number of opponents you can simultaneously challenge in Star Trek Rivals is limited by the number of cards you have. Once a set of five cards has been assigned to a match, they are no longer available for use until that match is over. You start the game with 30 cards, meaning you can have five matches running at once (no, not six—the game forces you to have one card in your deck at all times for reasons unknown, so the last match requires at least six cards total).
This problem is exacerbated by two additional issues: first, you cannot quit or forfeit a match until 36 hours have passed. If you run into opponents who simply stop playing, your cards and available play opportunities will be tied up with them for a day and a half. While this is a significant improvement over the week-long forfeit period the game launched with, it’s still a disjointed waiting period for players who are online, hoping to enjoy an active game.
Second, Star Trek Rivals is strictly multiplayer-only, with no option to play the AI. While you’re waiting for dead matches to be cleared, there’s nothing else to do in the game. Although those human opponents may as well be AI, since they exist in a vacuum. There’s no way to send messages to your opponents, request a rematch from non-friends, or even add an active rival as a friend; they are like alien escorts Kirk loves passionately for one episode and then never sees again.
While these play-stoppers are obviously the greatest blockage to enjoying Star Trek Rivals, other features (or lack thereof) detract from the game when you actually get to experience it. The card “flip” animation, while entertaining the first few times with its Star Trek sound effects, is unskippable and time-consuming when you have to watch it on every turn—and often for every card on the board. Gaining Experience allows you to “level up” and earn small Latinum bonuses, but there’s no way to track your current progress to the next level or the level of non-friend opponents. The extensive number of collectible cards feature only a character’s portrait and name—no dossier, backstory, or info, which seem like obvious inclusions in a game “based” on the lore-heavy Star Trek series.
All of these produce a feeling of rushed development, aiming for a timed release with Star Trek: Into Darkness that hinders the game more than the movie tie-in helps it. While the Triple Triad battle mechanic and licensed charm of Star Trek combine into an engaging distraction on the surface, underneath Star Trek Rivals is currently incomplete, a hollow moon boulder without any real weight.