As a long-time fan of trading card games, I was excited to try out Kardboard Kings and get a new perspective of being the manager of a shop. Here is my experience of playing the demo!
What can you do in Kardboard Kings?
Kardboard Kings is an upcoming card shop management sim with heavy visual novel elements inserted in. In Kardboard Kings, You will play as Harry Tsu, who now carries the responsibility of the card game shop after his father, the renowned card game world champion, has suddenly passed away. Life is difficult for Harry as now he has to manage both the financial and relational aspects of a business.
Business-wise, you have to watch the news to analyze which card will bring you the most profit, meet requests to gain reputation, and put tags on cards to make them more attractive to the customers. While you are still doing number crunching in your head, a rush-hour might disrupt all your plans and you need to be fast at shelving your collection for your customers!
Relational-wise, Harry has to talk with all sorts of weird and goofy people. Arrogant streamer kid, talking animals, mailman, researchers, ex-girlfriend and a mysterious phantom thief. Different choices will lead to different outcomes, so choose carefully!
My experience playing Kardboard Kings
What I liked about Kardboard Kings is that the developers do understand some key aspects of the card game culture. Parents linking cards to satanic rituals, a certain archetype gets buffed, and a new celebrity endorsement can always influence the price of the cards. The characters also feel realistic, because they match the stories I hear in real life. Smelly card game snobs with narcissistic attributes? Check. Confused people who can’t remember the name of the cards? Check. Every new customer has a potentially unique and fresh story to tell!
However, the positive aspects of the game was unfortunately overshadowed by the long list of technical issues that should be solvable in the future, which will then hopefully lead to a much better gameplay experience.
The biggest problem for Kardboard Kings currently is its problematic User Interface. For example, when I click on “Collection” to drag the card to the “Request”, the Request tab sometimes will automatically close itself while I am dragging the card. It is also difficult to click and drag on the card properly as it takes a whole second for it to work. The current demo also lacks scrolling, which makes it a headache for me to sort my collection and buy the cards that I might be interested in buying.
Even as an obsessed TCG player, I had a difficult time understanding the basic terms of the game. I don’t know what a Mint conditioned card is, what sets some of the cards are from, and that the developers seem to have misspelled brain for braun, which created a lot of confusion. I imagine that learning the basic card game terminologies of this game will be more difficult for players who are less familiar with TCG terms than I am. But this is an issue that can be solved with a UI that appears when the player hovers on a card.
Technical issues aside, I also find the combination of visual novel and management simulation questionable. Immersion is important for a visual novel game, and I believe important for Kardboard Kings as well. Death of family members and having awkward conversations with ex-girlfriends are real and hard experiences, while the little mundane interactions with the mailman and enthusiasts keep life interesting and fun.
But the card game management mechanics of Kardboard King can feel too unrealistic to immerse myself in. It has an Adventure Capitalist like economy system where all your cards suddenly rise in value as soon as you open the card shop. It is an understandable design because it allows for progression and power to the players, so that the player can truly feel like the “Kardboard King!” But I can’t help but laugh every time I look at the absurd pricing charts of the cards, and it looks this way for every single card in the game.
Another aspect that ruins the immersion, is that it is very unrealistic to open a new card game shop and that you only have three cards to sell. The collection is sorted by individual cards rather than bulks, Kijiji is sorted by individual cards as well. While the cards are pleasurable and cute to look at, the disconnection comes when these features resemble the experience of a trading card player’s journey to the top rather than it being a card shop simulation.
The narrative also feels weak. I think one of the reasons is that the story lacked a character who genuinely loved the game of “Warlock” itself. Using the MtG player base as a reference, there are competitive players who always want to win and casual players who want to accomplish big combos. These are the players who care about and love the game in their unique ways!
In Kardboard Kings, there is someone who is doing a PhD thesis on card games, someone who brags about how valuable their cards can be, someone who has trouble remembering the name of the cards. While these types of people are realistic, all of them rarely ever talk about the game itself. The cards never grew beyond a piece of plastic to become “alive”, the same way they do in card games and card game-related anime. While the cast of characters are diverse, no one really feels like a close friend. Perhaps this is the reason why I felt so empty after an hour of playing the game. I wish someone actually bought the cards and had a fun time playing with them.
Towards the end of the week, I had over 30 cards in my collection and was making a ton of money, but I am not sure what I can do with them. The # requests are not growing as the game progresses, the collection is impossible to sort due to the lack of UI implementations, the binder only allows me to place one card of each into it, and there is a lack of options to purchase shelf space that showcase more of my cards for people to buy.
Overall, Kardboard Kings has done a few things right, but technical aspects of the game need to be fixed. It tries to combine elements of visual novel and Management simulation, but none of them really stood out to me, so I worry that technical implementations would not improve the core of the game. The developers have displayed a decent understanding of the card game culture, but the love and excitement of this culture is missing, and I wish it will be there the next time I get a chance to play the game.