Cards, the Universe and Everything is an excellent mixture of gaming and education that builds upon the foundation created in Avid Games previous title ‘Card Explorer’ in every conceivable way. Educational games have a reputation for being hit and miss in terms of quality, and some have a questionable level of content that could be considered useful to growing minds. Luckily, the team at Avid Games seem to have hit the perfect balance with this title.
As we’ve explained before on MBU, Collectable Card Games (CCGs) have always gone hand in hand with the RPG scene, with ‘Magic the Gathering’ and ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ being the big daddies of their respective genres and having a great deal of crossover in their followings. CCGs played through the lens of a digital platform usually install a levelling system to show player progress and building a deck of progressively more powerful cards (or those that work better in unison) is structurally similar to tweaking a character build to deal with rising challenges. CUE is no different in this manner, and pulls on concepts seen in RPGs to strengthen its core mechanic, going as far as to assign titles to players as they gain levels and experience, creating handy brackets from which players can recognise others of a similar level of experience to themselves.
Graphically, CUE uses photography to show its many real-world elements and instil a sense of natural connection between the things depicted in the game and real life. Historical figures, real world locations, animals and even the stars are given a very tangible connection in this manner. Around these photos the game uses a clear and easy framing method for cards and a HUD in pleasing blue tones that is clear and easy to read with large buttons that enable easy single-handed play. The game’s main screen shows a different picture each day, which keeps the often-visited screen interesting to view, and the logo (proudly presented on boot up and other points in game) is a work of great graphic design. Some stage backgrounds (rotated between rounds) are visually better compositions than others, but overall there is an excellent level of visual presentation on hand here. A recent update to the daily reward wheel shows a marked effort to move away from any borrowed assets incorporated from Card Explorer at launch.
Audio is pitched in such a manner as not to feel too obtrusive to the experience. Sound effects are limited in the amount used, but those that are there are well sampled and don’t become annoying, and the games musical theme is exceptionally well done with a whimsical tone that brings a sense of energy and excitement to gameplay. The decision not to set these too loud and instead to have audio as a background element helps sharpen the focus on playing the game, free of the distractions of sharp, repetitive effects but not resolving this by removing them entirely. Interestingly, music doesn’t play in the game itself, instead the theme is focused on the pages around it, making gameplay feel serious, though a tune to background through matches is sometimes missed.
Sadly the game has no established narrative. Due to the nature of this title it doesn’t hold it back in any way, though it would be great to see a campaign mode incorporated into this title in the future (perhaps a few themed battles spread across the planets of our solar system or on different continents on a world map) to back up the excellent PVP on offer here. The message that CUE is attempting to impart is instead focussed on the factual information, placed on the back of all cards. These can be flipped and a fake silver layer rubbed away to reveal interesting facts about the games whole catalogue of real-world elements. Some of these are well known, whilst others are new and deeply interesting.
Gameplay is the meat of the experience, and this is split between playing and collecting your cards. The card game itself is well balanced and takes place in a 1 vs 1 format that sees the player who wins the best of 5 rounds, each made up of 3 turns, emerge victorious. In each round a player receives 7 points of energy that they can spend to play from a hand of cards (drawn from their custom deck). Cards each have an individual cost and provide a set amount of points for victory of the turn (more on that later), with some also having unique rules that take effect when drawn/played/on subsequent turns. As a rule, weaker cards seem to have better effects whilst more powerful cards lack them for sheer playing power, though some of the rarer ones manage to have both. Players can field up to 3 cards a turn, and unspent energy will be carried over to their next one. Both are tussling over a gauge on the right hand side of the field of play, with points played pulling it toward and away from them in a manner similar to a tug of war. This provides genuine tension as a player only has to win by 1 point to claim a turn, and then a round, enabling swift swings in the flow of a match. Adding to this is a timer that counts down to put a tiny amount of pressure on a player to decide on the cards they want to play from their hand before setting them in stone and drawing back up to a full hand from the deck. The overall winner will claim both in-game currency and victories counted toward any daily quests they are currently working (of which they can have 3 at any given time with 1 new one presented each day). Losers reap lesser rewards but do not come away empty handed, making playing always worthwhile. Outside of competitive play lies collecting, which enables you to spend the coins earned through gameplay (and harder to find premium currency, able to be purchased with cash but at a very reasonable exchange rate) on packs of new cards. These come in 2, 5 and 10 card blind bags as well as limited editions by set that are regularly rotated in the store alongside special editions. Cards differ in rarity, and some can only be collected by fusing multiples of easier to find cards to make them yourself, giving a function to doubles that many games struggle to find a use for. CUE goes a step further however and incorporates a robust card trading system between players that far outstrips anything offered in similar card games on mobile devices, allowing you to advertise cards you need, offer up cards you have multiples of for people to see and provide offers of up to 3 cards in suggested swaps that can be easily accepted or rejected. Collecting them all may be a pipe dream with so many new ones being added to the game all the time, but creating a strong deck around a theme that you feel speaks to you and seeing it work is a hugely pleasurable experience.
Overall, CUE is a game that punches well above its weight class and into the realms of the big boys in terms of quality and content. It’s a refreshingly easy system to learn that at first appears simple but benefits from additional rules on cards and zone-based bonuses that add a surprising amount to tactical depth to the game and elevate it above many other similar systems. Above all, the community aspect for collecting, trading and playing is exceptionally well handled and produced in a manner that allows for even young children to feel safe within the game’s social system. We strongly recommend downloading and playing this title ASAP.