Here it is on a Saturday night while the For Honor beta is on, I have Resident Evil, The Witness and Stardew Valley to play amongst other titles and all I can do is think about a silly free to play mobile game. Pokemon Duel released on Wednesday the 25th of January after nearly a year in the wild over in Japan. There was no build up to this release, no warning it was coming, it was just one of those magical times that something big was not on the app store and then there it was. I love the fact that both Pokemon games to release on mobile have done this, the only difference with Pokemon Go was that we had some warning it was coming soon.

Pokemon Duel is a version of Pokemon that is most similar to a tabletop game. The goal of the game is to land one of your Pokemon figurines on your opponent’s goal before they get a figurine on yours. You have a deck of six figurines and you also get to take in six bonus cards, called plates, to help you out during the match. Each figurine can move one, two or three spaces, this is predetermined for each figurine. They also have a battle wheel that is spun when two opposing Pokemon are next to each other on the board. The last thing about these figurines is that like any collectable game they come in different rarities, common, uncommon, rare and exotic.

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Before I go too deep into the strategy of the game, which there is a lot, I really need to talk about these figurines a bit more. The design of these figurines is simply beautiful. I would love to have a set of these in real life, the detail that has been put into them in breathtaking. They are like and tabletop figurine, solid looking base that clearly lets you know what type of Pokemon they are, and then a beautiful pose of the Pokemon in action. The rarer Pokemon also have animated effects around them to make them came across even more special. Honestly, I have wasted more time than I want to admit just looking at these digital figurines on my mobile.

Pokemon Duel itself has a surprising amount of game modes that you can do straight away for a free to play mobile game. The main form of play in Pokemon Duel is the League matches, these are not only the easiest matches to find on the app, with the big yellow play button, but they are clearly the most rewarding in the game. League matches see players of similar rank play each other with a win increasing your rank and a lose decreasing your rank. Every win, however, lands you a booster pack, if you have the slots available, and three keys. League matches are challenging and rewarding. It is here that you will want to be playing most of the time and where you will learning most of your strategies.

The other game modes you can play include, questing, training and room matches. Questing is really hidden in the menus, to the point that I didn’t see them at all for the first 36 hours. These actually provide some story-driven battles as you work your way through a series of hotels. Rewards for these include a chance at two chests, so each quest should be played twice and gems for completing special challenges during the game. Certain quests reward you with emblems, masks and tokens for the shop. Quests are good fun and a great way to practice before heading back into league matches. The training area is only available till the ten or so are finished and they help you get familiar with the game’s mechanics. It has similar rewards and challenges to quests. If you want to play against someone of any skill level or a friend there is the room option for you which has no rewards. If you’re really keen you can also watch some featured matches that are there in a sped up version.

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Pokemon Duel also gives you easy access to rewards at a very generous pace for a free to play mobile app. Pokemon Duel does state at the very front of the app that you can complete the whole game without making a single purchase and this does feel very true. You can hold three boosters at once and they require real time to open from one hour to twenty-four hours. However, these can be opened immediately for a small gem cost. This cost does decrease over time as well, for example, a twenty-four hour rainbow booster will cost you 240 gems to start with but when it has an hour to go it will only cost you 10 gems. You would think gems would be hard to come by but at this early stage, i have never had less the 250 gems at any time. Cards and individual Pokemon can easily be rewarded in quest mode, I have even received booster vouchers while questing. Coins which are used in the fusion process are also thrown at you at a ridiculous rate.

You would think then that the store is set up to make you want to spend your money. Well, everything in the store can be purchased with gems. The only thing you can purchase with cash is gems. Although one of the gem packs comes with an extra booster slot so you can hold four at once. There is also a limit to how many gems you can buy a month but this is out of the normal person’s reach. There is a bonus gems promotion on at the moment but outside that 980 gems can be purchased for $124.99 and 9800 monthly points. You then get 50,000 points you can spend a month, so the maximum they will let you spend a month on their app is $650. The only other currency in the game is a strange material that you get from opening certain boosters and that can be exchanged in the shop for specific Pokemon.

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Pokemon Duel has done something that Pokemon Go needed to do from its first day as well. Pokemon Duel offers you daily missions and rewards you for doing them. You even get a bonus just for logging in each day. Pokemon Duel will want you coming back each day for you to get the most out of the game for free. Another reward you can get daily is an instant booster that unlocks when you get ten keys. You can only receive a maximum of ten keys a day and you get these for playing league matches, three for winning and one if you lose. There is also an incentive to do all three of the daily missions because once you have completed ten of these missions you get access to a special mission that you have twenty-four hours to complete. If you complete that mission you get to spin a wheel for one of five better rewards.

Pokemon Duel has done a lot right to get you in and keep you playing but the launch of the mobile game has shared a big similarity with Pokemon Go. The Launch, the most important part of any game, was yet another complete mess. The first 24 hours was ok, but as the hours went on more and more connection errors started to creep in. The servers have been taken down almost every day for maintenance for extended periods to try and fix the connection issues. The game had been fairly stable the last couple of days but as I am writing this now there is no way to find a match in league mode, the most important part of the game. It doesn’t even come back with failed to find a match, it just keeps searching endlessly. These kind of launches are simply hurting the brand and scaring away many people who could fall in love with the game. It is very disappointing to see.

If you can get into the game and you want to get good at it I will cover a couple of hints that will help you improve at the game. Fusion is a technique in the game that allows you to upgrade your figurines. You will receive three types of materials when you open boosters, they are green, blue and yellow. The yellow material are easy, take them to the shop and exchange them for more coins. The blue material you can take to the fusion area and they are free XP boosts for your figurine. When you level up your Pokemon you get to increase 1% of any part of your attack wheel and then decreasing that portion from your miss segment. You can also use unwanted Pokemon figurines in this fusion process to increase your Pokemon’s level in the same way. Finally, the green material will help you increase the attack power of your Pokemon. You need to match the rarity of these materials to the rarity of the Pokemon. Common need thirty pieces, uncommon need nine, rare need three and I believe exotic will need one. Once enough is fused you add one hit point to one segment which helps in times when there would normally be a tie.

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Pokemon Duel reminds me a lot of chess at times, there is a lot of trying to predict the opponent’s moves and getting them to make a mistake. Mistakes in Pokemon Duel are extremely costly, it is the small board that makes this the case. Strategy is the key part to this game but adapting is just as important. You need to decide if you are going to play aggressive or defensive and build your deck of Pokemon and plates around that. I generally play aggressive so I have two fast moving Pokemon and then two aggressive mid speed Pokemon and two strong slow movers. I could afford to drop one of the slow movers to be even more aggressive but I will work on that. The main thing is to know your strengths. My fast movers are weak, so I use them to get up quick and then use cards to swap them with my slow movers which are much stronger. Overall my deck is designed to force the opponent to play my game where they become defensive from the start.

Plates give you special boosts. I don’t have many and my weakness is I forget to use them all the time. Some will let you add 30 hit points if you spin up an attack, a white or a gold segment on your wheel. Another that I use allows you to switch two Pokemon around, this can even swap two Pokemon if one isn’t even on the board. Others will remove afflictions, or heal a Pokemon and so much more. Once they are used that is it, though, so use them wisely as they can completely change a battle. You can win these from training and some from questing but otherwise, they can be purchased from the store for at most 80 gems which are pretty good. You can also take in multiple of the same one, but only six total, so don’t forget to choose the right ones for your play style.

Knowing your wheel segments is the last important thing I will cover in this article. There are five types of segments that can appear on a wheel. Red segments are a miss, these are bad and the only way out of it is if the opponent spins a miss too. White are attack segments and have hit points attached to them. They will beat a red segment, but lose to a purple segment and compare hit points with another white or a gold segment with the higher one winning. Purple segments are for special abilities, they beat red and white instantly and against another purple, the winner is determined by the number of stars, higher the better. They straight up lose to a gold segment, though. Winning with a purple segment means the special ability is activated, this can poison, paralyse, knock out an enemy or in some cases take them off the board or jump over them or away from them. Blue segments are a dodge and beat all the others and means no result for the battle. Gold is a special attack they are the exact same rule set as the white but will beat a purple.

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Knowing all this about the wheel segments is truly important, minimising the red sectors and maximising the better abilities are key to the game. A miss can hurt, I have lost games when the best figurine on the board has hit it’s extremely small miss to the weakest Pokemon on the board hitting its ten point white segment. Getting Pokemon with the right Purple segments is very important. I have a Pinsir that has more purple than white, but those purple can remove a Pokemon from the board or push it back one spot, which is very handy at the opponent’s goal. You can also improve these segments mid game if you have a Pokemon and its evolution. If you set it up right you can cause it to evolve in the game by beating an opposing Pokemon with it. This evolved Pokemon then has ten higher attack points on its attack segments and an extra star on its purple segments then it normally would.

The rest is really up to yourself, work out your play style and own that play style and as always practice makes perfect. That is the part that I am up to at the moment. I got some exotic Pokemon not long ago and I have found out they are not the instant win I thought they would be. Balance seems to be pretty good so far, however, I feel a distinct advantage to going first and rushing your opponent. As for the free to play aspect, I think that they have gone to the generous side of this, which I like but I fear might change down the track. As it stands I will not spend a cent on it at the moment because I don’t see the need.

The launch was terrible, I am the first to admit that but I feel they are working really hard to make it right and for every outage so far they have given out free gems as compensation. The battling is my biggest grievance currently, there still feel like there’s too much randomness in it, but that might just be my lack of knowledge coming through. The other major issue I have is that you can only hold 50 items at one time, this does not help the collector in me and since the Pokemon series is about “Catching them all” it seems like a strange choice. Overall I would recommend having a go of Pokemon Duel as it is pretty fun and provides more strategy than what Pokemon Go can offer you and the free to play model is by far one of the more generous ones out there so you will never be forced to spend to play.