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A card game without much to offer IF fans, November 21, 2021
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
Itís a rule of thumb that every Comp has at least one oddball entry that strains the bounds of what counts as IF. In the last couple years, Jared Jackson has taken care of this slot, with last yearís deckbuilder and a Zachlike programming puzzle the year before that (I really enjoyed both, for the record). Comes now The Vaults to try its luck: itís a virtual CCG whose claim to IF-dom appears to rest entirely on the paragraphs of static text that play between bouts of the PvE campaign.
Sadly, I didnít find much to enjoy here, either as a piece of IF or on its own merits. On the former side, the gameís story appears to be very generic high fantasy, and the paragraphs only stay on screen for a little while, so I missed some of the plot due to alt-tabbing to take notes. Without any choices or interactivity between the battles and the story so far as I could see, thereís not much here for a traditional IF audience to glom onto.
As to the CCG, this isnít my genre of choice Ė give me a deckbuilder any day Ė but even so, I think itís too slow and confusingly-presented to be much fun. I eventually grokked the gimmick, which is that you have a trio of persistent ďkeeperĒ creatures who generate your mana, but only if you donít use them to attack. Thatís a fair enough tradeoff, but it made me feel like I struggled to make progress, as I was either forgoing attacks, nerfing my mana progression, or unsatisfyingly trying to split the difference.
The playerís starting deck is also oddly tuned, with few low-mana creatures, which added to the frustration as I repeatedly drew cool cards I couldn't do anything with. Finally, the visual design is muddy, with card watermarks making text hard to read, and colors rather than icons are used to convey too much information, so I couldnít always remember what a creatureís purple number was supposed to mean. All told I won one round, lost the second four or five times, then decided The Vaults simply isnít for me Ė though Iíd be curious what someone better versed in CCGs thinks, and if future developments in the story make the game more satisfying for IF mavens.
Highlight : Your little keepers are kind of adorable, Jawa-like minions.
Lowlight : One tooltip mentioned that you can link any NFTs you own to the game, which is just the worst.
How I failed the author : I played this during a very late-night (or more optimistically, very early-morning) feeding for Henry, and my fuzzy brain was very much not up to retaining the info conveyed by the tutorial. I also played the opening cutscene but didnít have the audio on, since Henry was drowsing awake, so the plot was pretty much lost on me (there were scrolls and a dude in armor?)