Clash Royale has a brand new competitor in Shuffle Cats, a multiplayer card game that signals an entirely new direction for King. You know, that publisher which is literally the king of match three puzzlers thanks to the likes of Candy Crush Saga.
The largest contender Shuffle Cats has in the various app stores is, undoubtedly, Clash Royale - and that's quite sizeable competition. But does it have what it takes to stand toe-to-toe with Supercell's ultimate mobile game?
Let's found out, shall we?
Shuffle Cats plays almost exactly like classic Rummy, but adapted slightly to make it more game-friendly. You still have to create melds of cards like a run of cards in a suite, or three or four of a kind, but the main difference is that your deck is refilled every round. The aim isn't to get rid of your hand of cards.
Instead, each time you successfully drop a meld on the table, you get points based on the number of cards placed. So, for example, place three queens down and you get three points.
To win, you have to get 10 points before your opponent does. But it isn't quite as simple as luck of the draw - there's more at stake.
And, to be fair, it plays very well indeed. The points-based system ensures that matches are short and mobile-friendly, and it gets its hooks into you in a similar manner as Clash Royale. Winning is moreish while losing keeps you coming back to end the streak.
As you win matches and rank up, you'll unlock new Lucky Charms which are, essentially, perks. These either modify your deck, like giving you an extra card or letting you get double the points for King or Queen melds, or directly assault your opponent's. Zap takes points away from them while Freeze prevents them from using three random cars for a number of rounds.
Use these cleverly, and you can give yourself the upper hand even when the tide is going against you. It's a nice feature that adds a bit more, for want of a better term, game to Shuffle Cats - and sets it aside from just being another card game.
Visually, it's absolutely gorgeous - with highly polished hand drawn art the team at King seems capable of producing at an alarming pace. It's colourful in just the right way, and the character and backdrop design perfectly captures the Victorian London rooftop setting - think The Aristocats.
It's also well polished in the sound department, with music evocative of the era and pleasant sound effects when you perform every action.
Not so cheap cats
Where Shuffle Cats slightly falls apart, though, is in its business model.
You can't just start a match for free - you have to pay a gem cost. Initially, that's fine - it's only 50 gems during the tutorial and you're showered with gems for winning, playing the minigames, and the daily free gems.
But as soon as you complete the tutorial, you're thrown right into the deep end. Suddenly the cheapest match costs 550 gems and, though you get 1000 back if you win, chances are you're not going to be good enough at that point.
Your rank doesn't really mean anything outside of how many matches you've played, but it does give you access to new perks, and given that you've played for longer chances are you'll be better than a much lower ranked opponent.
And when you take into account that there's no matchmaking, it feels a little unfair. At level three you could be faced with a level 49 that's ploughed hours into the game.
So when you inevitably start shedding those gems at a rapid pace, you'll soon be left with no alternative but to throw down some real cash to progress. It feels a little cynical, outdated, and amateur compared to Clash Royale's more friendly model.
Ultimately, Shuffle Cats is a step in the right direction for King. It proves that the publisher isn't a one-trick pony and manages to provide a similar experience to Clash Royale. At it's best it's equally as fun and addictive.
But it does fall flat on its face when it comes to its business model. There is some sympathy to be levied at King given that this is a card game, and the focus on gambling makes sense, but not taking into account the maturity and friendliness of Clash Royale's model is a bit of a foresight.
There's the capacity to have just as much fun here as in Clash Royale. But when your gems run dry due to unfair match ups thanks to a lack of matchmaking, you just might not return.