Thursday, September 4, 2008


A game I have been playing for the past few months is called Kongai. It is hosted on a site called Kongregate, which hosts hundreds of flash games. While most of the games on the site are created by outside individuals and groups, Kongai is Kongregate's own. They got David Sirlin to balance the game rules. Sirlin is one of the elite Street Fighter tournament players, and has been involved with balancing some of the most recent versions of Street Fighter. I found out about Kongai from two different source. I have read stuff on Sirlin's website before and heard he was working on a few card games. And I had played other games on Kongregate and seen some posted challenges to win cards for some game that hadn't come out yet. I eventually figured out that they were all related.

Anyways, nobody cares about all that. What is Kongai? It's a virtual card fighting game. Each player picks a deck of three or five characters, and battle until one person's characters are all eliminated. There are currently twenty characters, grouped into four similarly themed groups of five characters. So, you have Martial Artists, Amazons, Villagers, and Vampires. More cards are on the horizon, including Pirates.

Only one character for each side fights at a time. There are two phases to each turn. First, players determine the range that fighting will take place. You can either be close or far. Characters start the game close. Then, the players have three choices to determine the range, stay, close, and far. Players make their choices at the same time, and the final range depends on what the players end up choosing. So, if players both choose to go far, for example, then they would end up at far range. If one chooses far and one chooses close or both choose stay, then the range stays at what it was. And, if one chooses stay, then the range is determined by whatever the other player chooses.

After the range is determined, then characters fight. Each character has four special actions they can perform. Each action has a range at which it can be used, a speed, probability to hit, damage amount, and usually some sort of special ability. So, for example, my favorite character, Popo, has a Slingshot, Poison Dart, Knee Bash, and Herbal Preparations. Slingshot can only be used at far range and only has a 60% chance to hit, but it has a 50% chance to triple the damage it does. Knee Bash can only be used at close range and has a chance to interrupt an opponent's attack if the Knee Bash hits first. Poison Dart can be used at any range, does a minor amount of damage, but has a chance to poison the opponent for a few turns. And Herbal Preparations adds an additional chance that any attacks will poison the enemy, as well as a chance to heal Popo for some damage.

In addition to the four special abilities, players can choose to switch out the active character. So, if you have a bad matchup, you can bring in somebody who will do better. But, to counter that, players can also choose to intercept the enemy for a large amount of damage. So, every game includes a couple rock-paper-scissors decisions where you need to decide whether you should switch out, or whether not to because your opponent will guess that you are switching out, in which case maybe you should attack, etc. Finally, players can choose to rest, which allows characters to recover a certain amount of energy. Each character starts with 100 energy. Changing range costs 50 energy, and each special ability costs a certain amount of energy. So, that's seven options for the second phase of players' turns. Again, the decisions are made at the same time, then the actions are carried out according to each action's speed.

On top of that, each special action has a certain type, either physical, light, or dark; each character has specific defense against the three types of attack; each character has a special ability (e.g. Popo has a 25% chance to dodge physical attacks); and there are items that each character can equip (e.g. I like to equip Popo with the Elusive Feather, which grants an additional 25% chance to dodge physical attacks). So, each turn you must weigh all of these factors to decide what to do. Usually, really damaging attacks cost a lot of energy, and there's the chance that the opponent will try to change range on you or try to switch out, etc. It might sound like a lot to think about, but it really is a whole lot of fun once you get to know all the characters and items. It is incredibly satisfying when you outthink your opponent and intercept them when they try to switch, or use an attack that they weren't expecting you to use.

So, if this sounds interesting, head over to Kongregate and check it out. You'll need to create an account there. I would suggest practicing against the computer using some random decks, to get to know all of the characters and items, before creating some decks of your own. Now, here's some of the bad parts: You don't have access to all of the cards right off the bat. You get to start off with three of the forty-six current cards. Then, you have a chance to gain new cards every time you win against someone. There are also bi-weekly challenges on Kongregate where you can win new cards. They basically use that opportunity to promote some of the other games on the site. But, it really is annoying. I guess there is that feeling of reward whenever you win a new card. But, I would rather be able to play around with different ideas for decks right away instead of having to wait for weeks or months to get my hands on a specific card I would need. And people are always complaining about how often new cards get rewarded, of course. Because of this system, this leads to another problem, in that this encourages people seeking cards to beat up on the easiest targets out there, namely the newer players. So, it's sometimes hard to start winning right away because you end up playing people with items on their characters when you have none, for example. You don't have to take every challenge from players, but this leads to a problem later on, in that once you are good, then you have to wait around a few minutes as people opt of of your challenges until you find someone else who just wants to play instead of fishing for cards.

The balancing is pretty good. There are some characters that seem more useful than others. But, every character has a couple of characters that give them bad matchups. So, there's an added metagame in which you might put into a deck a character you normally don't use all that much simply because the character is a good matchup against an often used card. And, there are updates made to the characters periodically to rebalance and to revitalize the cards.

On the whole, though, it is a fun game, and it has some depth to it in creating different teams of characters and seeing how they do.

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