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Mobile Money# 15: Splinterlands

Who doesn’t want to get paid for playing video games? This series follows mobile applications, some of which are borderline games at best, that claim to reward users with cold hard cash (or gift cards). In my pursuit of extra cash to blow on games, or Steam gift cards to add to my collection, I have tried a number of these applications. I hope my experiences can help others steer clear of the more dubious of these applications.

This time we’ll be taking a look at Splinterlands, formerly Steem Monsters, an on-line collectible card game by Steem Monsters Corp. released in 2018. The concept of the game is that the cards are digital objects owned by the player. Similar to a physical collectible card game, such as Magic: The Gathering, you are able to buy, sell, and trade your cards in this game – something that some of the more popular on-line trading card genres, such as Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering Arena, do not allow you to do.

Yup, looks like a collection of digital cards.

Splinterlands is essentially a browser-based game, so it is playable on computers or mobile devices. As to the gameplay itself, it seems much simpler than most other card games. You queue up for either a Practice or Ranked game, which will pair you against a random opponent of about the same ranking.

You then are presented with a randomly generated set of match conditions. Namely, you have a set amount of Mana, or points, to spend on setting up your team and there may be special rules or restrictions placed on the match. Essentially you setup a team based on certain restrictions, which them automatically battles against your opponent’s team. There is also an option to surrender, though the actual setup is already so quick that I can’t see people really needing to bail out due to time.

This match has basic rules, indicated by the flag icon, and both players can assign up to 16 Mana worth of cards to this encounter.

I won’t say that there isn’t some element of strategy to the game. The cards are split up into 7 different Splinters, or types, of cards: Fire, Water, Earth, Life, Death, Dragon, and Neutral. When building a deck you have to include a Summoner card, basically a non-combat leader that has some overall impact on the rules – such as your cards have +1 Health or +1 Speed. Each Summoner corresponds to one of the Splinters, except Neutral, and limits what cards you can select when building your team.

You can also see what Splinter your opponent has used for his last few matches, letting you try to guess at an appropriate pick of your own, although it is more likely that you will be using a specific Splinter to try to complete a daily quest. Daily quests are typically to win five games while playing a specific Splinter. Rewards can be new cards, or the game’s main currency Dark Energy Crystals, or DEC for short.

Selecting a team for the match above. The Fire summoner Pyre gives your cards +1 Speed and restricts you to playing Fire or Neutral type cards.

Before I go off into more detail on DEC, a little about the cards first. Cards have five main stats: Mana Cost, Attack, Speed, Health, and Armor – which not all cards have. For that matter, there are some cards that have no Attack value as well, but instead typically have some special ability similar to your Summoner. There are also three types of attacks: Melee, Ranged, and Magic.

Melee cards can only attack enemies adjacent to them, unless they have some other special ability that overrides this limitation. Ranged cards can only attack at a distance and are helpless against melee cards next to them. Magic cards can attack from anywhere and their damage ignores armor, but usually their other stats and cost balance for this advantage.

My first actual match in Splinterlands.

For a match, both players select up to 6 cards and the order in which those cards are arranged. Your first card is going to be in melee combat against the first card on the enemy team, so you need to plan out an effective arrangement. The developers have also said that they plan to look at adding actions during a match in a future release.

For winning a match, you earn Rating points and DEC. Splinterlands is on the Hive blockchain and the cards can be traded on that network. DEC can also be traded, bought, and sold. At the time of this writing, 1 DEC is worth about $0.0004. This has led to a problem with people making automated accounts to earn DEC and cards.

Over the last year it had an all-time high price of $0.0008!

The ranked leagues in the game run for a two-week period. At the end of this, you receive a number of reward chests based upon how well you placed. Until recently, this system was simply based upon your Ranking points earned through winning matches. However, the developers have recently added a card power requirements.

Cards can be leveled up by combining multiple copies of the card, at a rate determined by the rarity of said card. Common cards require the most to upgrade while the rarest Legendary cards require the least amount to combine. So, to advance in the rankings on Splinterlands you now must acquire more cards and increase their level.

Here you can see the number of cards required for each level of upgrading a Common card.

Reportedly, this is to discourage automated accounts that are just playing to earn rewards, then turn around and immediately sell them. This requires that accounts hold a larger collection of more valuable cards to be eligible for earning more rewards at higher ranked tiers. However, this also has the impact of making it quite costly for any new players to advance in the game.

After the Bronze League, there is Silver, Gold, Diamond, and Champion – each with three tiers or inner ranking.

After playing for about 70 matches, I have only earned about 168 DEC from quests and rewards chests – the majority of which was from ending in Bronze II before the new requirements were in place. (Eagle-eyed readers may note I have 1,168 in screenshots – 1,000 was from winning a community contest by commenting on a post). My cards’ total power is 335, well short of the now 1,000 required to enter into Bronze 2 – even though my current ranking is itself over 1,000. This is also after a couple of friendly community moderators on the game’s Discord chat channel sent me several additional common cards.

The most expensive card in the in-game store is $12.99 at the time of this article being written. Also, they show that the store has done $3,539 in sales over the last day.

At the end of the day, the question is can you make money playing Splinterlands? Well, the first thing you should know is that it costs $10 to be able to earn rewards. You can play for free with the starter cards, but can’t progress without purchasing a real account, or Summoner’s Spellbook. After receiving a few additional cards as rewards or gifts, my current collection rates as being worth about $0.28 at the time of this writing.

A pack of 5 new cards cost 2,000 DEC. You would have to play quite a bit to earn that much, get very lucky opening a rare card, and have it actually sell to earn your initial investment back. Unless you are willing to commit some serious time to playing Splinterlands then it’s likely going to take a long time to earn back that initial investment. This is particularly true with the current rewards system, where you need to own a more expensive collection to progress to tiers with more prizes.

Peakmonsters is a great site for seeing all kinds of stats about Splinterlands. Like the sad value of my collection.

Overall, Splinterlands is an amusing game with simple gameplay, quick matches, and a very friendly online community. However, as a way to try to make money, I wouldn’t suggest jumping into it at this stage. If you enjoy the game, it might be worth putting in the $10 to support it and earn prizes. Ranking it on its gameplay merits, I would give it a B, or 7.5/10 stars. Ranking it as a way to try to earn some extra income, I would give it a D+, or 2.5 stars.

Splinterlands faces some tough competition from the large number of free-to-play online card games, though it’s simplified style and card ownership do set it apart. I would say that God’s Unchained is probably its closest competition, and I will likely write up something on that in the near future. If you want to check out Splinterlands you can play it here (This is a referral link to be upfront about it. There is a second non-blockchain in-game currency Credits, which you get 500 of, if someone signs up for the $10 account from your referral.)

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