Cardpocalypse is a cute title with simple but solid card game mechanics. It brings the ’90s back and successfully charms you with its nostalgic mojo.
Cardpocalypse brings a new card game to the table. It is easy to grasp, harder to master, but eventually, you’ll dominate over every kid in your class.
But what are you going to do when the cards come to life, and mutants start terrorizing your school?
Only ’90s Kids Will Remember
Sometimes we forget how hard it was to be a kid, let alone a kid in the ’90s. All you ever wanted was to be accepted, avoid the bullies, and not get caught by the teachers while causing mischief.
Unfortunately for Jess, she failed to do neither. She accidentally got Mega Mutant Power Pets, the most popular card game at Dudsdale Elementary, banned forever on her very first day.
Jess is a tomboy kind of girl that moves around using a wheelchair, a fact that didn’t stop her from standing up (figuratively) to a bully and tackling him (literally). As you might have guessed, this was what caused the ban of Power Pets, and got almost everyone at school mad at the new kid.
Naturally, however, kids don’t tend to follow the rules (especially not rad ’90s kids), and they soon start an underground card battle club. Jess and her friends, Yolanda, Jacob, Sam, and others, continue playing, collecting, and having a “goo time.” Goo has a lot of meaning in the world of Power Pets, and since the kids adore it, you won’t hear the end of it. It doesn’t help that goo mysteriously appears all over the school as something dark and sinister starts lurking about Dudsdale Elementary.
In Cardpocalypse, you’ll play a lot of Power Pets and collect more and more cards that will help you build powerful decks. Fights can be somewhat annoying at first when you only have weak champions and plain starter decks. It takes time, effort, and a big dose of luck to gain better cards, reminding me of my early days with GWENT.
Your main objective at this point is improving your deck by gaining new cards, winning battles, completing errands, helping out other students, or trading to do so. The trading system is pretty straight forward. When the trade is balanced or favors the other kid, the deal can be completed.
You are free to move around Dudsdale Elementary, go between the classes, the cafeteria, the library, and more, where you can meet all sorts of characters. Interaction with different NPCs might result in triggering missions. Most missions involve a Power Pets battle, but some are just child’s play, like help a lovestruck kid write a beautiful (or lame, your choice) love letter or waste away in detention.
The missions you carry might have different outcomes, depending on Jess’s reaction. On some occasions, for example, Jess will lose cards or have to give them away to complete her objective. Most of the time, it is your choice alone whether you give them away in exchange for other rewards later, or save them if they fit well with the rest of your deck.
It is important to note that side missions are totally optional. However, the cards you’ll get from completing them feel somewhat necessary if you don’t want to rely on blind luck half the time. Later on, when powerful mutants spawn at the school, oozing goo everywhere, you’ll be glad that you have constructed a powerful deck.
How to Beat a Champion
Playing Power Pets is pretty basic. All you have to do is beat the rival’s champion before yours is defeated. To do so, you summon minions with food, a currency that increases each turn and allows you to gradually summon more powerful minions.
Some minions contribute more than just muscle and have special abilities. For example, a Defender draws aggro, and a Lethal can destroy an enemy as long as it inflicts at least 1 damage. You can also deploy mutations that can be triggered by specific events and change the course of a match.
Champions’ strength does not lie in their attack power but rather in their unique abilities, including their Mega transformation. Whenever a champion’s life is reduced to half, you flip its card to reveal an additional powerful effect that changes the way it plays. It adds an extra layer of challenge and can often throw your carefully-laid strategy for a loop.
The kids at Dudsdale Elementary improve and even rename their cards using stickers that can enhance card traits and lower their costs. I seldom used this system, but it is a delightful, child-like way of playing the game, and fits well with its themes.
Once you get the hang of the game, and adapted a playstyle with a solid deck, you will start facing mutant champions that will threat to drink your blood or drown you in goo. Instead of promptly killing you, they have to beat you in a game of Power Pets. When confronted by Jess regarding why they don’t just attack, the mutants only dodge the question.
Defeating a mutant will grant you “special rules” that apply at the beginning of your next battle, forcing you to choose rules that favor your playstyle carefully. More often than not, I had to make a tough choice between sets of useful rules.
Regardless if you play card games regularly or not, it is pretty easy to develop a strong strategy and improve your win rate significantly. If you lack experience, study the AI’s strategy and adopt some of the moves for yourself.
Charming but Choppy
Cardpocalypse looks like you’d expect a game featuring school kids in the ’90s to look like. The art is simple, and while not very appealing, it does have some charm to it. Jess’s backward cap, the old-fashioned wardrobe of the teaching staff (it was outdated even back then), and the nerdy t-shirts contribute to the nostalgic vibe.
On the other hand, I think the cards themselves are beautifully designed. Since the majority of your time with the game is spent in Power Pets battles, it really tips the scales and makes the overall design look better.
You can navigate the school using a hand-drawn map, which feels very authentic. Besides its spot-on, cute artistic design, you can also use it to fast travel. Moreover, the map tells you if there are events, missions, and trades anywhere in the school.
I also really enjoyed the sound design. When winning or completing missions, you’ll hear a small portion of the game’s main theme, sang in a childish mannerism (like “oh-we-oh-yeah”). I often found myself doing the same. The soundtrack itself is not phenomenal but delivers the right mood.
One thing that really bothered me was laggy intro screens before each Power Pets battle. Instead of smooth animations of the battling champions, we get a choppy preview that fails to set up the epic battle ahead.
Cardpocalypse is a cute game that’s pretty fun to play. I would have liked to have a chance to test more decks after the story ended, but sadly it isn’t possible. Even TCG novices can enjoy the game thanks to its “easy mode” that lets you focus on the story and lets you skip particularly tricky battles. For veteran players, Cardpocalypse feels almost intuitive.
I enjoyed the game’s diversity and mechanics. I liked playing as Jess, making some hard school-girl decisions, and unraveling the school’s mysteries, even though it doesn’t feel like the main point of the game.
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: Dec. 12, 2019
Our Cardpocalypse review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.