Mavenfall Review: Familiar, Not Identical


It’s not really easy to stand out from the crowd in mobile games in general, but it’s twice as difficult when you decide to make a card battle game. Blue Tea Games has attempted it anyway, and the Hong Kong-based studio has broken away from a history of mostly casual puzzle games and RPGs to dream up Mavenfall. It’s a tactical battle game between teams of five characters that just happens to have card battle mechanics, which helps it occupy the sweet spot between familiarity and creativity.

The gist of the gameplay is that you have a team of five characters, or Mavens. Though you’ll start with a few of the basic variety, Mavenfall has a nice variety of Mavens with different themes and abilities. Yet all of them have defined roles, heading into battle in either the front, middle or back rows.

Positioning is just one important aspect of combat, as each Maven has his or her own skill deck of 10 cards. On the first turn of a match, you’ll get a single card from each Maven in your starting hand, but on each subsequent turn, one of the decisions you’ll have to make is how to draw your three new cards. You can take them all from one deck or from any combination of the Mavens on your team who haven’t been defeated, but once the cards are used, that’s it.

Unlike most card games where you’re simply drawing from one deck, that choice adds an extra level of strategy that takes some time to wrap your head around. Since many attacks from opponents target the front row first, you often face the pressure of playing cards for those Mavens first. Other cards can target Mavens in other rows, so you can’t always assume the back row characters are safe.

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You’ll also find plenty of card mechanics that set up obvious combos, either within a single skill deck or between multiple Mavens. All of those factors lead to gameplay that is simple to grasp right from the start yet deep enough to offer lots to learn the longer you play and the more cards you see.

One thing that might mislead just a tad are the cartoon-like graphics. While certainly competent (supplemented by the heroic music that plays during menu screens), it’s fair to think that some people might see the visuals and think that Mavenfall isn’t a “serious” card battle game.

On the contrary, it shares more DNA with Hearthstone than with the many extremely basic card games that have flooded app stores for the past few years. Except for a single-player adventure mode you can use to earn extra skill cards for your Mavens, the focus is clearly on PvP matches in the Arena. Other nice touches include the built-in ability to record gameplay with microphone audio for sharing match replays, and if you’ve got an iPhone 6s, you can record video with your camera so you can legitimately commentate your own battles.

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IPhone 6s owners will also find that Mavenfall makes inventive use of 3D Touch to preview card actions before you play them, but it’s a well-balanced experience even without those extra bells and whistles. The only real issue I’ve had during several days of play has come during PvP battles where one player gets disconnected. I’ve seen times where it looks like my opponent is having connection problems, but after a waiting period, I was saddled with the loss. Either the game was indicating the wrong side had the connection issue or it was penalizing the wrong player.

That’s something that should be relatively simple to fix in an update. It might have been easier for Blue Tea Games to make a splash in almost any other genre of mobile gaming, but I’m glad the developers there chose to make Mavenfall, because it’s an honestly worthwhile addition to what’s already out there.

Pull the Trigger on Mavenfall if …

  • You like your card battle games easy to pick up but deep enough to keep surprising you with new options.
  • You’d like Hearthstone better if the creatures popped off the cards and battled each other on screen.
  • Maven just seems like a cool word to throw around.

Don’t Pull the Trigger if …

  • You feel tactics and cards should be kept separate.
  • One disconnected match will turn you into a gamma-powered rage beast.
  • You’re offended by the idea of video games being kept in specified rows.