Assassin’s Creed real-time collectible card game with multiplayer for the iPad. I’m pretty sure that collection of words makes you jump for joy like a giddy school-aged child or means absolutely nothing to you.

If it’s the former, you should definitely keep reading, because the above phrase is a reality. Ubisoft has released a game called Assassin’s Creed: Recollection for the iPad and it’s currently $2.99 in the App Store. But beware, it’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and sharply dressed renaissance assassins; this game has some problems, some of which you really need to know about before you decide to make a purchase or not.

If you’ve played Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Legend of the Five Rings, or a number of other collectible card games, you are more than strategically prepared to give Assassin’s Creed: Recollection a shot. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you like any of those, you will almost certainly love the gameplay in Assassin’s Creed: Recollection.

The game centers around vying for control of 2 out of 3 regions. You can do this through Agents, the knights, thieves, assassins, politicians and so on of the world, through Sites, such as fortresses, churches, and ports, and Actions, like military maneuvers, bribes, and, of course, assassinations. Bringing any of these into play requires gold, which is naturally accrued over time and whose rate of income can be increased by the cards you play and slowly over time. On top of this, everything happens in real time, with the game progressing in “days,” each of which is maybe 20 seconds long (and can be accelerated in single player).

It might help to see the game board in action. Here’s what a game I played against the computer looked like mid-game.

You can see the three regions, each of which is divided into two “campaign” spots, my hand on the lower left, two of the opponent’s agents campaigning for influence, and one of each of our agents in the process of coming into play. I also have an action resolving that targets my site.

It’s all very nitty gritty tactical action that you’d expect from a CCG. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the most well-developed CCG systems I’ve seen in a while. The game has more tactical depth than most RPGs, with dozens of totally different cards, play styles, and unique abilities. It’s everything you want in this type of game and then some.

288 different cards, to be specific. The ones colored in are the ones I've collected so far.

The interface is almost flawless. There are some quirks to be sure, and sometimes when building my deck I’d find myself saying, “No, I didn’t want to do that! Goddamnit…” as I made some mistake, couldn’t figure out which card I removed from my deck, and had to hunt down what to do to fix the error. Aside from these quirks, some of which could be fixed with the addition of a simple “Undo” button, I almost universally found that the game did exactly what I wanted it to do and made great use of the touch screen.

Sometimes swiping either of these wheels becomes dragging a card into or out of your deck. It can be a drag. I...what have I done?

Visually and aurally, the game is pretty much everything you’d want from an Assassin’s Creed game. All of the art looks like it was ripped from an Assassin’s Creed art book and there’s actually an unlockable art gallery to showcase all of it. The music is taken straight from the console series, all psychological tension composed by Jasper Kyd. Down to the fine details, like the way light moves across the board and cards, this game is pure Assassin’s Creed and boasts gobs of franchise character. In terms of visual treats, the game also comes packaged with the animated short film, Assassin’s Creed: Embers, which I honestly haven’t watched yet.

What does the single player game have to offer? Not a lot, actually. There are 17 real missions against computer opponents that each have a somewhat unique deck, plus 3 very brief tutorial missions. I started playing in earnest yesterday, ran into a few speed bumps that I’ll explain, and managed to beat the single player campaign today, a day later. All in all, I think I was done in about three hours, and that’s having discovered the fast-forward button about halfway through my experience. What else does the game offer? That’s a good question.

You see, you buy new cards for your deck via booster packs that emulate real-world card packs. You earn credits for these packs by beating the single player missions. The catch is that you can only earn credits from missions once. “No problem,” you might say, “I’ll just play multiplayer and get credits there.” Except you don’t get credits from multiplayer. Templar packs cost 100, Mixed packs cost 500, and Assassin packs cost 900; You only earn about 900 credits by the time you’ve beaten the game. How do you get more? In-app purchases.

And oh do you need to make them if you really want to explore everything in this game. See, just a few battles in, you’ll probably start getting your ass handed to you. I played a few battles against new opponents where I literally lost after about 1-2 minutes. I played battles where the computer would wipe out every single thing I had in play and I’d have no idea what the fuck happened. I don’t think I’m a bad or unintelligent player, either. I mean, I’ve played CCGs on and off for about a decade, I love strategy games, I’m in a doctoral program, and I did really well on the GREs; I don’t think the problem is me, but I think that the game gets exceptionally hard to coerce you into making in-app purchases. I persevered, but I feel like I won more battles through luck than skill and I don’t think that’s the feeling you should get when you win at a game.

Multiplayer is a totally mixed bag. Sometimes you’ll play against people who have as handicapped of a deck as yours, neutered by lack of cards because of the incredibly sparse credits you earn from single player, but others will obliterate you because they’ve spent money and have access to rare cards that you’ve never even seen. If you’ve ever stared down a Magic player who’s invested tons of money into his killer deck while you’re running off of a starter and just a few boosters, lucky to have even 1 or 2 relavent rares to your deck, you know exactly how that feels. For those of you who haven’t had that experience, it isn’t fun.

Just how bad is putting money into IAP for a digital card collection? Well, it’s $1 for 500 credits or $50 for 30,000 credits, depending on your extremes. So if you’re buying Assassin packs, you get buy 9 get 1 free ($18 for 10) at the most expensive end and 33 for $50 at the best deal ($1.50 per pack). If this were a physical CCG where I could trade cards with my friends, show off my collection in a nice binder, and get together in real life to play over pizza and drinks, I’d say that’s would be a pretty good deal.

The problem is that it isn’t. This is a digital game. You can’t trade with anyone to get the cards you need, severely ramping up the real cost of building a powerful deck, you can’t ever browse your cards in physical space, and the only time you’ll ever get together to play with anyone is if you both sit down at a table and play on your respective iPads. Also, the cost of entry isn’t the price of a starter deck, like a physical CCG, it’s the cost of buying an iPad, so it’s not even like you can convince your non-iPad-owning friends to pick up some cards and play. On top of that, there will never be things like tournaments or draft sessions, some of the most fun you can have with a CCG. This is a CCG you essentially play by yourself, so to me the price of real admission is too steep.

It’s a shame, really. To be blunt, this game is fucking awesome. If you want an in-depth card game for the iPad and you love Assassin’s Creed, this game is exactly what you’re looking for. The problem is that it’s really going to cost you hundreds of dollars to see all of it.

If you don’t want to spend that much but you still want a good card game for your iPad, I suggest you go get Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. It’s an amazing card game made by some previous Magic: The Gathering champions, it’s $4.99, it’s Universal, and I’ve personally been playing it for months and it hasn’t gotten old. Even better, there’s a physical version of it with two expansion packs and promo cards if you ever want to hook your non-digital or non-Apple friends on it.

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