The creators of Candy Crush Saga, King, have been very busy in their fantastical London offices, branching out into a new genre for the company. The result is their first multiplayer PvP card game, Shuffle Cats. Set on the rooftops of 1920s London, Shuffle Cats is a beautiful reimagining of the classic card game Rummy with the supporting characters all being cats.
The core gameplay is very well executed: each player's turn involves drawing a card, placing down any sets - called melds - onto the table and then discarding. When you place down a meld, and discard a card to end your turn, your hand is restocked with cards from the deck so you have seven cards. The aim of the game is to place down ten cards onto the table before your opponent can do the same, and there is a surprising amount of strategy to it.
For example; in one of the matches that I played I had two pairs though one of those had a card that I could use to add to an existing meld, and I needed four more cards to win. I decided to not add to the existing meld, increasing my chances that the next card I drew would give me a complete set. I was fortunate that the next card I drew completed the other set, so I could put down four cards in that turn and win the game.
These tactics are tested in the Card Clubs, a series of eight lobbies which have different rewards for beating your opponent. The bigger the prize, however, the bigger the entry requirements, with the cost of entering each Club being around 55% of the prize. Gems are the main currency of the game, and Shuffle Cats has a lot of ways for you to earn them. Outside of winning a game in a Card Club, there is a series of tutorial missions which grant you a small amount of gems, a once-per-day gem drop, and a mini game playable for free once per day that tasks you with guessing the suit of overturned cards. You have three lives here, and losing all three will end your run and grant you 1000 gems. Choosing to walk away will often earn you more, which I found to be a great mechanic in a game themed around gambling.
As a Free-to-Play game, there is of course a microtransaction-fuelled currency which is gold bars in Shuffle Cats. The gold bars can be used to gain access to the mini game again, purchase more gems or access the last of the Card Clubs, which deals exclusively in gold bars. The microtransactions cost £0.80 to £80 - which is obviously best value.
The biggest mix-up of the standard Rummy formula is the addition of Lucky Charms, which are level-locked power-ups that add to your strategy. The only one I was able to unlock was one that doubled the points when playing a king or queen, so that made hands that had no royalty less worthwhile keeping unless they had melds already. I found myself mulliganing - or redrawing my starting hand, which costs a small amount of gems - often after unlocking this power-up to try and get a more king and queen focused hand.
The UI of Shuffle Cats feels very inspired by Hearthstone, another Activision-owned card game and arguably the most successful card game on mobile devices. Regis Geoffrion, the lead producer on Shuffle Cats, told me that this is not accidental: the development team consulted with Blizzard’s Team 5 to give their first foray into card games an experienced boost.
Something that the King team took and improved from Hearthstone is the communication system, which follows the preset options but allows you to purchase different dialects, with one replacing all of the responses with meows. I think this is excellent: It adds a small basically meaningless level of customisation to the game but meowing at your opponent as they play the winning card definitely makes the loss easier to stomach.
The UI is not the only thing inspired by Hearthstone: every weekend an additional Card Club opens up, called Walter’s Workshop. The workshop is a fun game mode that mixes up the rules in some way, similar to the Tavern Brawls in Hearthstone. These still cost gems to enter, but it’s similar to the lowest entry cost Card Club. My only concern with this game mode is the potential to increase play time: A match lasts around two minutes maximum which is a perfect length: as with most mobile games you can do a round - or maybe two - on the toilet. If their changes to the formula increases the game time, this could disturb this great balance.
I really enjoyed the short time I had with Shuffle Cats: I used to play a lot of Rummy so the rules and strategy came very quickly to me and the changes to the formula are very welcome. For King’s first attempt at a multiplayer game, they’ve managed to keep all the things that has made their previous titles a success and use them to make a really enjoyable competitive card game for mobile.
Shuffle Cats is available on iOS and Android today.