Tanto Cuore: The iOS Review

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Playdek’s port of Tanto Cuore on iOS only covers the first set in the series. Since I’ve already gone into detail in a bunch of blog posts about the game mechanics of the tabletop version, going over it here in this review is going to be beyond redundant at this point, so what can I talk about in the iOS port of this game?

A lot, as the experience is much different than playing the tabletop version of the game.

To begin, I guess I should talk about the picture above because it’s highly relevant to this review. That’s my box of the first set of Tanto Cuore. I paid fifty dollars for this, another fifty dollars for the second set, another fifty for the third, and sixty for the final set (because it’s still not available in English yet at the time of this writing). I learned from my first playthroughs of the game that the cards are going to wear out really fast if they’re not protected, so I decided to buy card sleeves for mine. Since each set comes with almost 300 cards, the cheapest sleeves I could find in bulk are Dragon Shields which usually run ten dollars for a pack of 100. I then realized it’s going to be a nightmare to organize the cards due to all of them having the same colored sleeve, and the additional mass gained from sleeving the cards prohibits me from using the special organizer panels that make them easier to manage, so I then spent another twenty dollars for different colored ones (as each set tends to have two card types which don’t go into the player’s deck so they can be any color you want them to be) to help reduce the amount of time I spend putting the cards back in their boxes at the end of each gaming session.

And that’s what the box looks like after two years of not really using it much. I’d usually take it to places where lots of card game/anime fans congregate and set up at a nearby table so passerbys can try it out. Since the demographic that would be interested in Tanto Cuore tends to not have much money, when I see that they’re interested in purchasing their own copy of the game, I tell them how much it is for the cost of ownership for one set and they immediately stop dead in their tracks (and they usually assume the fifty dollars includes the cost of the the sleeves I use for my cards).

So image my shock when I saw Playdek’s asking price for the iOS port of Tanto Cuore. It’s 1/10th the price you’d pay for a single set of the physical game. It’s also a universal app, so you don’t have to buy one version that’ll fit the screen sizes of the iPhone and iPod Touch and then another for the iPad versions. That price is a lot easier to swallow for most people if they already own an iOS device, not to mention that an iPhone has more practical use than, say, a Tanto Cuore card set.

The biggest advantage the iOS port of Tanto Cuore has over its tabletop counterpart is its portability. It’s a lot easier to carry around an iOS device with the game installed than it is to bring the physical copy of the card game itself, and you don’t need to reserve a surface area of around 6 square feet in order to set up and and play the game properly. My personal favorite of the iOS port is it doesn’t take eons to set up a match, figure out who won, then sort the cards and pack them back in the box while hoping that someone didn’t accidentally mix up one of them in the process which causes me to freak out until I find the missing card.

I cannot emphasize that last point enough. For those that are wondering why this is such a big deal, here is a video comparing how long it takes to set up a game of Tanto Cuore for one match versus setting up a similar game on an iOS device:

And since it’s much easier to set up and start a new game, you’ll also learn what strategies work and don’t work a lot faster than you would’ve playing the tabletop version of it! The only advantage that the tabletop version of the game has now is you can choose which cards are available in the Town before the match starts as well as define the rules of when the game ends since most people who play the tabletop game for the first time usually want to keep playing it until we get kicked out by the owner of the place.

Yes, that’s right. The iOS port always assumes you want to play the game with Event Cards, Private Maids, and 10 General Maids. And the game will always randomize which General Maids will be available for Employment.

There’s an option for Normal Mode before you start the game, but all that does is if at the end of the match you want to start another one with the same players, it’ll use the same arrangement of cards in the Town from the previous session. It’s also pretty dumb that the game will either choose between all three Crescent Sisters available for employment or none. So you’ll never see a town setup like this, for example:

Unrealistic Scenario

It’s perfectly viable to have 2 Crescent Sisters available to purchase! But alas, the game will not allow it for some inexplicable reason. So that is my first major mark off to an otherwise perfect port of the tabletop game. And it shouldn’t be too hard to code this in either.

The other serious mark against the iOS port is it keeps a log of all of the actions every player performed for the past Rounds and even reveals to you how many of each card are in your deck at the push of a button. There is no way to turn off these features either:

too much information

Why do I have issues with not having the option to turn these features off? It’s because part of the fun of Tanto Cuore is keeping track of how many cards you bought in your deck. I’ve seen matches where players lost because they thought they had an odd number of Ophelia Grails only to realize that they actually had an even number of them when they start going through their deck tallying their Victory Points. I’ve also seen others overestimating how many Victory Points they have and prematurely ending the game only to realize they were a few points below the highest scoring player. And not having the option to turn this off ruins part of the suspense of determining who’s winning and who’s not winning. There’s actually a reason as to why these features were put in the game, but I’ll explain that later.

Instead, I want to first talk about the AI in the game, which is actually not that bad. The only problem that I have with it is that it likes playing the game as though it’s Dominion by building its deck around acquiring Marianne Soleil at all costs even if it starts cluttering their deck (which really only works if she’s the one of the few sources of Victory Points in the Town for that match). So if it realizes that you’re chambermaiding a small army of Crescent Sisters or Safrans, it starts trying to scoop up the Crescent Sisters for itself in the most inefficient way possible (it usually goes for Azure Crescent first) so it doesn’t get the maximum VP bonus when it does decide to chambermaid them after it figures out its deck is starting to get ridiculously cluttered. Interestingly though, it seems like the AI does have some limited learning in determining which cards are high priority for you and tries to take them before you have a chance to (in my case, it knows to prioritize acquiring Lucienne if it doesn’t have enough Love to buy Anise or Marianne on that turn). It’s also really deadly when it comes to using Event Cards if Claire isn’t around. Most of the time, anyway.

So in general, the best way to confound the AI in the iOS port of Tanto Cuore is if there are Crescent Sisters around, start getting those and chambermaid them as fast as possible. Safrans are a good substitute if the Crescent Sisters aren’t available since you’ll still clear out a stack of them and end half of the game in the process.

There are certain matches where the AI really hates your guts and all of them will make your life as miserable as possible by either spamming Natusmi to make you discard your hand down to three, making you lose cards in your deck pile with Eliza, or mercilessly throwing Event Cards your way if they know that you don’t own Claire. If they do know that you have at least one Claire in your deck, they’ll stop trying to attack you with Event Cards regardless of how much they threw on your Private Quarters before you acquired her (strangely enough, if you don’t have a Claire, yet every other AI player does, they’ll still aggressively attack each other from time to time until you acquire a Claire of your own). The AI will acquire just one Claire usually within the first three Rounds of the match and will only get another if they have 2 points of service to spare which they’ll use for Sainsbury to trade a 1 Love for a Claire which will then be used immediately to remove one of the Event Cards in their Private Quarters. So with that information at your disposal, you can still overwhelm them with Event Cards as long as you attack them with more than one.

Another nice touch Arclight and Playdek added to the iOS port of the game is that every Maid that gets hired says a little statement in Japanese that’s related to the role on their card or whatever they’re doing in the picture (except for the Love Cards). So Lucienne will always say she’s not going to smile for you since it looks like she’s pouting on the card illustration, Marianne will eloquently praise you for hiring her, and Ophelia will tell everyone to start cleaning (that’s probably so they don’t have to record her line again for Motto Tanto Cuore since playing her once in that set is enough to get the first tier Cleaning Preparation Cards). What’s hilarious is that the lines said for the General Maids have three different pitches: a deep one, a normal speaking tone, and a high-pitched squeaky one. And it sounds surreal hearing the Maid Chiefs in their high-pitched voices.

Of course this wouldn’t be a good iOS port if it didn’t have multiplayer functionality, right? If you want to play the game offline with more than one person, you unfortunately have to do it with a single iOS device hot seat style. In order to be able to play a match using separate iOS devices you’ll have to do it through the game’s online mode, which at first I thought was a really stupid idea, but in practice is actually well implemented. It doesn’t use Apple’s Game Center though; you’ll have to register a username under Playdek’s servers since it’s handled on their end. And you have to do it directly through the game itself.

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It’s standard registration protocol: enter a username and email, then the server will send out a message on your email account with activation instructions. This last step can be accomplished on any device that can access your email account. It shouldn’t take more than ten minutes and the longest part would probably where you have to input a password for that account because it’s not that easy typing on an iPhone or iPod Touch.

So what makes the online play ingenious? It makes me feel like a snobby aristocrat playing Tanto Cuore because they essentially applied the concept of a device used for one of the oldest games still played today- The Chess Clock:

You don’t need to watch the entire video as the first two minutes of it covers every single aspect that Playdek incorporated into the online multiplayer portion of Tanto Cuore. Since the game is designed to accommodate more than two players in a given match, any player who runs out of time simply forfeits until there’s only one player left in the game with time remaining on their clock.

What makes the iOS port of Tanto Cuore interesting is the creator of the match can set the allotted time for each player to a maximum of 21 days!

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Obviously, Tanto Cuore isn’t designed to be played over this long of a duration and you’ll forget what was in your deck if it takes over 12 hours for everyone else to complete their turns. This is why they allow you to see what’s in your deck and have a log of every action each player performed for every turn throughout the entire match.

However, allowing the creator of the match to set the maximum amount of time each player has to finish their turns gives a tremendous amount of flexibility: 24 hours is enough time for players between Asia and the United States to complete a match without having to stay up almost single waking minute because you don’t know when the person on the other side of the world is going to actually get around to finishing their turn. Games with a 1 hour time limit is good for those who don’t want to dedicate too much of their time waiting for the other player to make a move, but not too long where they shouldn’t be able to finish the game in around 3 hours of the day before completely forgetting what in the world they were doing in this match (which I’ve done several times and lost because of it).

And you don’t need to have the app running to see the game animate each player’s turn like you’d see it offline as it’ll do that when you return to the match to play out your turn. This is a really nice touch as it helps you keep track of what’s going on as well as provide a feeling that you’re still playing an offline game. If you’re there while the active player is currently finishing their turn, you’ll get to see them execute their actions in real time, which may actually take longer than just coming back to the match when the game tells you it’s your turn (which is a lot easier to find out if you’ve enabled Push Notifications for this game).

So how do you know if a player is currently doing something in the match that you’re playing? It’s simple: other than seeing stuff move in a way that the AI does it, you can look at the color of beating heart icon right beside the player’s name:

Online Player status

Since it might take you a long time before your turn comes up again, Playdek also gives you the option to participate in more than one match if you so choose:

So many games

Yes, I have two pages of matches going on at the time of this writing, and it totally feels like the chess equivalent of this:

Maksimenko_in_simultaneous_exhibition

Except a lot slower.

Anyway, despite me going on about how awesome the online mode is, I’ve completely failed to mention why being forced to use Playdek’s online service instead of say, using Ad-hoc to play an offline match of Tanto Cuore using multiple iOS devices isn’t that big of a deal in the long run. It basically boils down to three big reasons:

Playdek isn’t that anal about keeping track of which players are actually the ones who legitimately purchased the game unlike the iOS port of Magic: The Gathering. This means that one person can purchase the game, then log onto another friend’s iOS device with their iTunes account and download a copy of Tanto Cuore onto it. Of course, since the game is a little bit over 100MB, you can’t just use someone’s cellular data to download it.

Like with ownership of the actual game, Playdek doesn’t really care how you created your account for use in Tanto Cuore as long as you made it using the app. If Playdek really wanted to be as anal as Wizards of the Coast, they would’ve enforced Apple’s account-specific Game Center features on you to keep track of that, but Playdek’s case, all they’re using it for are achievements (which is something I don’t really care for anyway).

Due to the slow nature of Tanto Cuore’s pacing (compared to actual PC titles like RTS and FPS games), there’s not a hefty amount of data that’s being thrown around, so if you want to replicate the tabletop experience with the iOS port of the game and don’t have access to a decent wireless access point, all you need to do is have everyone piggyback off of someone’s device that has a cellular data plan to get the job done. Since there’s not a lot of information that the servers need to relay between you and itself, it’s not going to be breaking the owner’s cellular bandwidth cap anytime soon unless you plan to be doing 12 hour marathons, which at that point you should probably be worrying more about the person’s device running out of battery power first than their cellular data.

Would I like to have ad-hoc functionality though? I sure would, but until Playdek implements it, we’re just going to have to deal with this crude solution in the meantime. Maybe telling them to add it would speed things up.

There is one legitimate complaint I have about the online mode of Tanto Cuore: there’s absolutely no way to communicate with your opponents other than playing through your turns. Of course it shouldn’t be a problem if you’re playing the game with people you already know since you can just use iMessage to communicate with each other, but if you’re just joining games created by complete strangers, there is absolutely no way to talk to them. An emote system would’ve been nice since that would get past the language barriers if you’re squared off against players from other parts of the world and let them know that was a good move or they suck for doing that and you want to use your Love to throw Event Cards at their face. Heck, even a basic in-game text messaging system would’ve been fine even though I wouldn’t get what some of them would be saying to me if their native language isn’t English.

There’s also another slightly annoying feature that’s found only when you’re playing the game online: the game automatically plays Claire’s ability if an Event Card is heading your way, even if you’re the one that wanted to throw it on yourself! There is actually a very specific reason why you’d want to do the latter- you want to shut down one of the Twilight Twins (usually Amber) after they’ve outlived their usefulness since those are the only Private Maids that give you negative Victory Points.

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Anyway, I better wrap this up since I’ve pretty much run out of things to say in this review. As I said at the beginning, there was clearly a lot to say about the iOS port of Tanto Cuore.

The asking price of this game is a steal compared to its tabletop counterpart. On top of that, the convenience of having it on an iOS device and ready at a moment’s notice is more than enough to make me forgive the fact that you can’t control which cards can be bought at the Town. The AI can be a formidable opponent at times (partially because it knows everything that it shouldn’t know like how many Victory Points everyone has) provided the right cards are in the field. The sound bytes said from the Maids when they’re hired was a really nice touch and a pleasant surprise for how much space the game takes up on your iOS device.

The online features are well-executed. Players can choose to simulate the real tabletop experience by setting a really low time limit for players to make decisions during their turn or be able to play with people outside of their time zone by setting the time limit to a higher value. It kind of sucks that there’s no way to communicate with each other if you met through the game, but hopefully Playdek will implement some sort of communication system other than adding them as a friend or hiring a detective to get their email so they can talk through iMessage or some other popular messaging program. Hopefully they’ll also address that little problem I have with Claire sometime in the future since you can play mind games with people if you can choose when to trigger her ability if she’s in your hand in online matches. That, and maybe find some sort of offline solution with multiple iOS devices playing in the same match because that’s a lot less tedious than playing hot potato with only one.

And yes, I still do use my copy of the tabletop version, but that’s only because almost everyone that likes to play this game either doesn’t own an iOS device or still can’t spare five dollars to grab this game for their system if they do have one. The first reason I can understand since the cost of ownership for an iOS device is really high, but as for the latter, I haven’t the slightest idea as to why they don’t own a copy of the iOS port even though they told me earlier that owning the physical game is way out of their budget.

Maybe I should make a future blog post about that sometime. As for the rest of you, if you own an iOS device that can run Tanto Cuore, there should be no excuse for you NOT to get it, especially if you like playing the game.

Final Score: 4 Love and 1 Colette
final score iOS review

– Reviewed By Carl Dayagdag

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