Arena 9 Hands-On Preview

Jeff Lyndon, who co-created Anna Montana for CDE Humble Gaming and was a guest on our podcast, wants to redefine card-battle games on the iPhone. They’re often overly complex, which can scare away new players before they have a chance to enjoy the subtle strategies or absorbing artwork. Arena 9, his latest game, is simple enough to learn in a few minutes, but potentially addictive enough to fuel an obsessive online community.

Arena 9 takes its inspiration from the card-battle minigame in Final Fantasy VIII. You are given a 3×3 grid, and you and your opponent take turns placing cards on the board. Each card, besides containing a beautifully drawn character, has four numbers around the outside (or A for Ace, the highest level). If you place a card next to a lower number along the edge, you’ll ‘convert’ that enemy card to your side. The goal is to have the most cards on your side by the end of the game.

Things start to get very tricky when you move beyond the simple numbers game. Cards have an elemental charge, so you can get a bonus for placing them on certain squares, or overturn an enemy card by surrounding it by an opposing elemental energy. You can also steal enemy cards if two of the sides add up to the same number, or by having the same number on two sides.

Even with these extra rules, it’s still a bit easier to jump into than a game like Urban Rivals, said Lyndon. The game is mostly designed for online play, but you can also play an offline version that leaves out the bonus points that can be used to buy expansion packs. And while Arena 9 will be free to start, eventually you’ll have to pay a buck to level up to a higher rank and seek out a greater challenge.

Arena 9 will have about 70 cards to start, and we were really impressed with the art. [We originally reported that Lyndon claimed credit for drawing the art, which Humble Gaming tells us is incorrect. Some of the art has also apparently been traced from the work of the artist “Falcoon”. Read here for more.] Sexy heroines and crazed monsters make up a cast of both sci-fi and fantasy characters.

Arena 9 seems to have that combination of beautiful artwork, online play, and a low barrier of entry that could make it a successful collectible card game. You can download a starter pack and try for yourself when the game hits the App Store at the end of June.

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