Alteil

Alteil is a web-based CCG whose claim to fame is that many famous mangaka were commissioned to draw the images.  It bills itself as “Japan’s #1 online card game” and is designed for the grown-up gamer who has a life and doesn’t want to spend more than 10 minutes per game on average.

Black Cat - actually a tricky card to use.

Gameplay – 9/10 Strategy is pretty straightforward in terms of your own choices, but in terms of how you will match up against others, that is a perpetual mystery.  Single color decks are the most common but many viable hybrids exist, a fact that greatly increases the diversity of play.  “Flavor of the month” decks are a perpetual problem, as is winning via godly cards rather than strategy, but those are kept to a minimum. There are no cards that single-handedly prove unbeatable; the correct combinations of cards are required for dominance.

The tutorial is more confusing than helpful, but playing actual games will quickly impart the basics.

Mavel is now the highest ranked player in existence, so I don't feel too bad about losing to him.

Convenience – 8/10 In theory, this is about as convenient as an online multiplayer game can get.  In practice, there are times when you can’t play because no one else is logged in, or won’t want to play because it involves you a repeatedly being matched up against level 99s, to your utter subjugation.  Aside from such human considerations, the games themselves are very convenient.  Each side has about 5 minutes to burn selecting moves, and accounting for lag and computer time that makes a match 15 minutes.  AI would make this more convenient, which is the route other online CCGs such as PoxNora have taken.

Also worth noting is that trading cards is impossible; cards that are useless to you can be “recycled” for a fraction of their value but never bestowed upon others.  This greatly undercuts much of the appeal inherent in the CCG system; CCG players will lament not being able to find good deals for their unwanted cards, while non-CCG players will probably find it neither good nor bad except when they buy a pack only to discover a ton of cards from a faction they don’t care to play.

We require more vespene gas. Or zeny. Or gran. One of those.
Card purchases are random. Note how there are 0/5 blue cards; a blue player would despair at this.

Balance – 4/10 Alteil does a pretty good job of balancing the first 10 levels, only pitting you against other newbies (unless you choose otherwise) and giving you a new card every level.  Then it all goes to hell when you hit level 10 and get dumped in with the high level players who have spent over 400 USD on the game and whine about players getting things for free.   To add insult to injury, you stop getting a free card at every level, so not only do you suddenly start losing left and right, you can’t even improve at levelup.  This part of the game really was not designed well, and Alteil staff know it; as of this review, they have just announced that there will be levelup cards from levels 11-19 added. Only time will tell if the fixes are enough to make play feasible after level 10.

Players do gain Gran based on total matches played each week, which can then be spent on cards, but this is an agonizingly slow process and has no guarantee of giving you any useful cards.

Social Interaction – 1/10. You cannot add who you want, only those you have played games with.  I met a bunch of nice people at MAL who play Alteil; can we add each other and thus see when we’re both online so we can play a friendly game?  Nope.

The friend interface is clunky at best, requiring you to approve/deny a request before you can access any other functions of the game – no putting aside requests to decide later.  I understand this is done to thwart spammers, but given that approval is required for each friend addition, and those who you don’t approve of can’t contatct you anyway, why add this runaround?  There is also only a tiny window of opportunity in which you can befriend others; it must be done at the end of a match but before either of you logs out or returns to the arena main screen.

The guild features aren’t any better, allowing a mere six people in a guild and providing little to no support for guild expansion, mergers, elections, or other more sophisticated interations.  Even messages of the day have to be sent out via mass email, rather than going into a small tagline space as they would with most online games.  Attempts to expand guild size are met with repeated failure and no explanation why; possibly it has to do with the “level up requirement,” but asking six people to win 500 games (the amount required to hit level 2) in order to add a seventh is simply not a reasonable feature in a game oriented at casual play.

Heroes talk to each other.

Music – 5/10 The music is pretty generic.  Rather than try to encourage a laid-back approach, as Gunbound did with its original score, Alteil features battle music designed to keep you moving quickly. Fans of 80s video games will feel right at home.  However, after your 10th time listening to the same battle theme, you will undoubtedly give thanks for the mute button.

Graphics – 10/10 Alteil is not a billion-dollar game, and it doesn’t try to be.  The customizable avatars tend towards the chibi, and while outfits are largely a trap designed to leech away resources that could otherwise be spent on more cards, it is possible to get some very nice avatars for minimal cost.  The staff continually recognize that a major draw is the card images, and they provide players with full access to them so you can drool to your heart’s content about that card that you would have to win 2400 games to get or donate blood to afford.

Battle screen!

Overall – 7/10.  Play the first 10-20 levels, if only to ogle the pretty drawings.  Alteil’s flaws do not support extended play, but the initial ride is nice.  If you’re willing to spend over 200 USD, as the high-ranked players do, the experience improves to an 8/10, but the fact that I have to say that is itself a tremendous condemnation of the system.  A more normal sum such as 50 USD will, statistically speaking, probably get you an awesome card of the faction you want, along with enough common cards to build a deck supporting it.  However, just one such card is typically useless; thanks to the deck system, you generally need 2-3 of the same card to use it in actual gameplay.

There is no support specific to the high end game, and the social scene is crippled from the get-go thanks to arbitrary limitations and the elaborate maneuvering required just to add someone to your friends list.  Server lag occasionally makes games unplayable, which is all the more unforgivable when you notice there are only 80 people online.

I’m told the Japanese experience is much smoother, with more sophisticated social networking features, robust servers, and a playerbase in the tens of thousands instead of the hundreds.  If true, that’s what this should have been, and Alteil USA launched before getting its act together.  The fantastic art and convenience remain its two strongest features, but for some users, they won’t make up for Alteil’s inadequacies in other areas.

The author has played Alteil for two months, attaining level 12 and leading a small guild.

10 thoughts on “Alteil”

  1. rollchan – It does, in the sense that all CCGs that rely on resource allocation can’t really escape being somewhat reminiscent of it.  In fact WOTC submitted a patent on the concept of collectible card gaming, which I linked in the article, though I personally think that’s kind of like saying you want to patent the concept of games played with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor – too broad.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. 9/10 on this review.
    I’m not rating the game, but it is pretty unbalanced past level 9.

    20% win-rate here, and now that I am using cards to my advantage (without donating for them), people start flaming me. So yeah – 1/10 on the Community.

  3. The community, mainly the higher level players have been very helpful to me and I would have to say the idea of having to pay to be decent is not true. It just takes a lot more skill to get good without paying.

  4. @Phenoca – Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    @Kruvy – I’m glad to hear you recently had a good experience.  I haven’t kept up, so I couldn’t say if the community is now the same or not.

  5. I started playing Alteil last week.  There have been a few changes since this review came out.

    Currently, new players are thrown into Folrart Arena (i.e., the “everything goes” battleground) at level 14 instead of 10.   Newbies who have just “graduated” into Folrart Arena are still being mismatched to and plummeted by extremely high-level players.  So Folrart Arena frequently matches a level-14 player and his measly starter deck to some level-20+, 50+, or even 90+ players who has ridiculously powerful deck.  Most new players become frustrated at the matching system (as they should be) and quit at this point.

    The good news is that Alteil added a mini-game called “Mirage Master”.  Mirage Master is just flipping over and matching cards.  It lets a player earn free Grans every *day*.  Realistically, a player can earn 10 Grans a day from playing just a couple minutes of Mirage Master.  10 Grans are just enough to get one free card from the Card Lottery.  So, a player who is starting out can get one free card a day.  However, expect to get mostly one-star (common) cards from the Lottery.  (The Japanese Alteil has another two mini-games that let players earn daily free Grans; hopefully, the English version will introduce them soon.)

    Also, now you can earn “Point Cards” and exchange a number of Point Cards for a *specific* card.   The rarer a card is, the more Point Cards are needed to trade for it.  It is really a three-stage process: First, you earn Fighting Points by fighting in an Arena. Then, you exchange Fighting Points for a Point Card. Finally, you exchange Point Cards for a play card.  It should take about a few days to a week to earn enough Point Cards to trade for a common card, and up to a few weeks to a few months to earn enough Point Cards to trade for an extremely rare card.

  6. Point Cards aren’t that good of a means to get good cards. I’ve been playing for 6 months or so and I still don’t even have 30 of them (the amount needed to get a 3-star rarity card, rarity ranging from 1 to 5). The only means to get good cards is money. That’s the business plan. If you don’t pay, don’t expect to stand a chance against paying players.

  7. Alteil is a horribly balanced game and the odd thing is that the GM’s have the ability to errata cards in order to fix this balance, yet, they’re too lazy to do it.

    If anyone wants to play Alteil, I suggest staying as a free player. If you decide to spend any money into the game, you’re just wasting your cash unless you spend $200+ into it. You’re not guaranteed to get good cards if you spend though, since the cards you get are completely random and you aren’t even guaranteed to get a rare card in each booster pack like in real life TCGs.  It is possible to buy a booster pack and get nothing but common cards.

    So Alteil is really just a gambling game that’s disguised as a TCG. You can spend and hope to get the required good cards that will get you far, or you might end up with crap that won’t take you anywhere, depending on your luck. Take caution if you decide to spend.

  8. Meant to say unbalanced in the first part.  It could be tweaked a bit more overall for a better balance, but things haven’t changed and it’s easy to see the horrible imbalances once you play.

  9. It’s not like you can expect to excel against pros in any other CCG or TCG buy just buying a starter deck, so I have to wonder why people hold this expectation of Alteil. That said, there are a few notable people who actually DO beat the pros with starter files, plus a few lucky card lottery pulls, so that’s proof that skill can be a replacement for money. Just don’t walk into the main arena thinking you’re hot stuff just because you splashed a few people in the kiddie pool.

    The main arena matchmaking does need work, but nobody seemed to mention that there is an alternate arena where you can play against anybody you want as long as they come and join your game. And the chat applet seems to have been ignored too. :( I think there’s a lot of features this article missed.

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