Much like how Pokemon cards and yoyos stormed schoolyards back in the '90s, card games have taken over PC gaming. So it feels kind of fitting that Cardpocalypse, the latest game from developer Gambrinous (Guild of Dungeoneering), taps into that retro spirit of backwards baseball caps, curtain haircuts and crazes for collectables.
From schoolyard battles, to playing for keeps and clandestine trading of cards for candy, Cardpocalypse is a card game not only for those wanting something a little different to Hearthstone; it’s for those who remember what it was like to squabble over trading cards at elementary school, and complain about the vile cafeteria food.
You play as Jess, a girl starting her first day at Dudsdale Elementary School. Her first-day nerves soon make way for excited frenzy when she discovers that everyone at school - young kids, old kids, even teachers—is playing the latest card game phenomenon, Power Pets.
But things start to get weird when a mysterious goo starts oozing out of every crack and crevice, and your fellow pupils start disappearing. Using your wits and your cards, it’s up to you and your friends to uncover what’s going on and confront the squishy menace.
The first thing that strikes you when playing Cardpocalypse is the art style, which looks like a friendly patchwork version of South Park, with a sci-fi twist on Pokemon for the card designs.
Power Pets are split into four factions—Sinnisers, Meowtants, Woofians, Pipsqweaks—and range from saintly gold-plated champions like Joan of Bark to abject monstrosities like the multi-mouthed rat, The Unsatiable.
Out in the schoolyard, each character’s face looks distinct, as if hastily stitched together from different bits of fabric, reflecting the different personalities that you meet around the school.
You have the rival gearhead factions from opposite sides of town, the lonesome bookworm, the kid who self-identifies as a vampire, and of course the weedy bully who gets bigger kids to do his dirty work.
Many a playground dispute can be settled with a card battle, and even those who don’t play may be willing to trade their cards for candy bars or bicycle parts. Like every schoolyard, Dudsdale is a veritable barter economy where everything can be obtained with a bit of snake-oiling.
As you go around school, picking up missions, dealing with playground politics and pitting your Power Pets against other kids, you’ll get to know your fellow pupils and make RPG-like decisions on how to interact with them.
Do you fight back against the bullies or ignore them? When called into the principal’s office, do you keep your mouth shut or push for that last word? All these decisions will affect how the story plays out, and who’ll stand by you when the eponymous cardpocalypse hits.
There’s more to Cardpocalypse than rule-breaking cardplay that lets you tear cards in half to mix-and-match stats, or drawing on a blank card to create your very own unique Power Pets. Wrapped around this is a beautifully presented story of intrigue, friendship, and colliding dimensions.
It’s both a card game like no other and a 90s-styled story that will bring wistful smiles to those who remember the strange shenanigans of elementary school.
Cardpocalypse is available to buy now on the Epic Store, and will come to Steam in 2020.