Review: Chip Chain

Writing reviews for addictive games is hard.  Mostly because I have to stop playing them long enough to write the review.  There are some games that are instantly addictive in their simplicity while others require you to peel back some layers of the gaming “onion” to really get to what makes the game so great.  Occasionally, you get a game that not only instantly hooks you, but gets more addictive as you figure out the deeper nuances of the game.  The movie WarGames inspired game W.O.P.R. (my review) very much fit that mold and I’m extremely happy to find another gem in the Android gaming arena with Chip Chain.

Chip Chain comes to you for free via the Google Play store, clocking in at about 22MB.  The game features In-App Purchases as well as in-game ads.  It uses touch screen controls and requires portrait screen orientation.  For the purposes of this review, the game was played on a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone and a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition).  This title also supports logging into Google Play Games service and features dedicated per-mode Leaderboards and Achievements.  The game plays well on Shield Tablet and while compatible with Shield Portable – it might be uncomfortable.

The Basics

The board is set ...

The board is set …

Even the basics of this game will seem complicated to the uninitiated, but I’ll do my best to keep things simple.  If you feel lost, don’t worry.  The game features a tutorial that will take you through how this works.

While this game looks like a casino game; complete with poker chips, cards and green felt playfield – this game has very little to do with cards or even gambling.  It’s just a nice skin to enhance a game that could have easily been done with non-casino graphics.  Don’t let the gambling look fool you; this is no Vegas game.

There are various modes of play; Long, Short, Timed and Daily.  Each offers a slightly different game.  We’ll talk about the differences in the game modes in Advanced Play.

Regardless of the mode, the core principle of the game is the same; capture groupings of chips by connecting 3 or more of the same number then tapping one of the group’s chips.  The chips all fall into the one you touched, and that chip number is incremented.  For example, if you had a grouping of 5 chips, each one with a 1 on it – when you capture the group, the one you touch will turn into a 2 chip.  Groupings work horizontally and vertically but not diagonally.

Everyone likes Achievements

Everyone likes Achievements

Every time you feed one of your chips (dispensed from a clear tube-like dispenser on the bottom of the screen) into the playfield grid, the “dealer” will randomly throw a random numbered chip on the table.  There is really no strategy or “dealer” per se; he doesn’t capture groupings or do anything other than accidentally hinder you as you play – literally being the chaos in an otherwise very controlled environment.  Since you can “see” six chips ahead in the tube, it allows you to use the chips very strategically.

As you create capture groupings, you have the opportunity to “chain” your captures.  We’ll cover this more in Advanced Play.

Each time you capture a grouping in succession, your bonus multiplier is incremented.  Should you run out of captures and have to play a chip, the multiplier resets to 1x.

Yeah, now you’re starting to see how greed works in this game.

If all this weren’t enough, you also earn play cards (you can initially hold three) for multiple captures in succession.  These cards let you modify chips currently in play by adding or subtracting a point from the chip, letting you erase one or pick it up for replay – even clone chips in play.  The best part is that play cards don’t count as a “move”, meaning your multiplier isn’t affected by their use.  You can earn or “buy” cards as you play – more on that in a minute.

Once you’ve run out of time, run out of chips or run out of moves (depending on the mode) – the game is over.

I really appreciate how great the game looks – regardless of which screen I’m on.  The title looks great on my tablet and sweet on my phone.

Advanced Play

The game comes in four flavors; two each day are randomly available (unless you unlock the All Games option); Long, Short, Timed and Daily.

The Long game allows you to play until you run out of cards, moves or options.  You get infinite chips.  This game can run you upwards of 30-45 minutes (the better you are, the longer the game).

The Short game limits your number of chips (starting at 40; you can buy this up with gems).  Again, you play until you run out of options – or chips.

Timed games run for 2:00 by default (again, you can buy extra time with gems).  You have an allotted amount of time to score as high as you can.

Choosing the Daily game is a preset board each day.  The board is the same, the chips are the same (even the ones you get in the tube are the same) for the whole day.  This gives you a means of “score attacking” yourself (as well as your friends) – trying to up your daily score.  Don’t worry – your friends are getting the same board as you are.

Use the cards, Luke

Use the cards, Luke

You won’t get anywhere in this game if you don’t embrace “chaining” of captured groups.  Chaining does essentially three things; increases your multiplier, earns you cards and earns you face value of the chips.  To chain, you just have to make sure you can use the last chip you just used to capture a group in ANOTHER chain of the next higher number.  With careful planning, you can set up groups of 2’s next to 1’s.  3’s next to the 2’s.  4’s next to the 3’s, etc.

Mastery of using the cards will be required for top scores.  By manipulating chips with cards, you can continue chains (and score their multiplier value) where normally it would be impossible.  End on a 5 chip but there are no 5’s to chain to?  Use a MOVE card, and move another 5 next to it.  Use the ADD 1 and make a 4 chip next to it into a 5.  Use COPY to clone that 5 into another 5 and play that.  Remember, you can only hold three cards at once, so if you’re chaining four, five or six groups or more – be sure to “spend” your cards appropriately  to make room for the ones you’ll be awarded for the next chain.  This can be difficult in Timed games, but if you’re not against the clock?  Take your time.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this game has casual written on the outside but on the inside is a complex game that requires thinking ahead if you want to score big – and it is all about greed (one of my favorite elements of gaming).

The Smurfberry Factor

Looks familiar ...

Looks familiar …

If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I’m very anti-IAP and Smurfberry.  I don’t appreciate a game milking me dime-by-dime while I play; I want to own games outright.  While there are IAPs in Chip Chain, they are incredibly respectful to the consumer – offering a “one time buyout” mode too.

First up, let me assure you – this game is FULLY playable without spending a dime on IAPs.  There is only ONE form of currency in the game – gems.  You constantly earn gems free as you play and finish each game.  Naturally, it is a slow trickle – but you can easily make do with what is offered for free.  There are standard TapJoy means of getting free gems, but really – you won’t really need them.

While some of the IAP can give you a slight advantage on the leaderboards, the core factor in changing the outcome (the modifier cards) are locked down to purchasing two of each per game.  You simply are capped at how much you can spend on a given round based on the cards you have unlocked.  As long as you have enough gems on hand to purchase x number of cards, you’re no more advantaged than someone with unlimited gems.  This is a key element for those looking to chase your friends on the leaderboard without a lot of IAP bias.

So how do gems work?  What “costs” gems and what doesn’t?

Use gems to unlock new cards ...

Use gems to unlock new cards …

You’ll be pleased to know that you do not have to “pay to play”.  There is no “entrance fee” every time you want to play.  Of the four game modes, two are available each day.  If you want to always have access to all four modes, it requires a one time gem purchase of 40,000 gems (that’s a lot of grinding, but doable).  Still, if you love a particular mode, chances are you’ll get to play it every other day for free.

During play, if you want a card you didn’t “earn”, you’ll pay a small increasing amount for each card you want to purchase.  50 gems, then 100 gems, and so on (you can only buy two of each card per game).  Since you earn about 150 gems each game, you can essentially “pay” for a couple of cards each game without depleting your gem supply.  You can also use gems to unlock up to five more powerful, cool cards – these cards will randomly show up as you earn them.  These range from 500 gems to 30,000 gems.

Finally, there are some upgrades you can “buy” with gems.  We mentioned the 40,000 gems “unlock all game modes”, but you’ll also be able to “buy up” the max value of your chips (starting at 9 – going up to 15) and that costs more each time you increase the max value.  You can increase the number of chips for quota type games (up to 60 for a Short game), and increase the timer for timed games (up to 3 minutes) – even increase the number of cards you can have active at one time (maxed out at 5 cards).  You can also buy a 20% bonus gem multiplier so that you earn even more each round (easier to grind) – and this goes up to 100% (essentially x2).

It seems like a lot to buy, but it is worth noting that IAP prices are EXTREMELY generous.  $2.00 will buy you 100,000 gems – which easily unlocks all game modes, lots of cards and upgrades.  For $4.99, you’ll get 500,000 gems which is more than enough to keep you busy for some time.  Last, you can actually pay $10 to get “unlimited gems” – that’s right, for $10 you essentially own all IAP purchasable items outright.  As a bonus, this unlimited gems status follows you across all devices you log into with Google Play Games.  More about that in a minute.

Any purchase (not just the $10 one) will also remove the ads, according to the developers – but at the time of writing, my 100k purchase did not remove the ads.  They have been notified and say there is a bug on their end.

If there was any logic to our language, IAP would be a four letter word.  But this isn’t gestapo style IAP.  It is closer to the “shareware unlock fee” of old – and I, for one, embrace it.

Because of the consumable vs full unlock confusion – I can’t give this IAP-equipped game a 1 of 5, so I will give this a Smurfberry Annoyance of 2.  Don’t let the fear of IAP keep you from enjoying this game.

The Dark Side

No game is perfect – in this section we’ll discuss the  negative aspects of the title.

Gems will help you upgrade...

Gems will help you upgrade…

Obviously, IAP-based gaming puts a lot of people off.  There is no “time cool down” crap, no real “Smurfberries” per se.  It’s more a means of unlocking the full game for a small fee.  Still, I would prefer the game be Free with a $4.99 unlock and be done with it.  There is no real forced obfuscation here – but IAP is still IAP.  It is worth noting that the Unlimited Gems also allow you to play the maximum number of cards each game – so it isn’t just an “unlock”, but a gift that keeps on giving.

The Google Cloud only saves your “Unlimited Gems” purchase; your XP, status, etc. will not carry from device to device – even if you sign in.  However, if you purchase the Unlimited Gems pack on one device, you can restore that to another device (like your phone or tablet).  I contacted the developer for an explanation and it kind of makes sense.  They really wanted the game playable fully offline which meant an isolated save/profile was needed.  App stores like Apple and Google do not allow the restoration of consumables (like gems) so they couldn’t even do that – hence the “unlimited” is the only thing that syncs down to another device.  Cloud syncing is possible, but could get messy – but it is apparently a much-requested feature that the developers could consider if the game sells well enough.

If you are rooted and handy with Titanium Backup, you can sync the game this way (I recommend using backup to Google Drive), but what a pain.  At least you can carry over what you paid for – even if you didn’t blow the wad on Unlimited Gems.

If the developer wants to upsell you to the $10 package, there needs to be more communications to the buyer what the limitations and advantages are – especially when the cash you’ve thrown to consumables ends up “wasted” if you buy the unlimited package.  It would also be nice to have known about the ads without an email to the developer.

Some folks in my peer group have mentioned that the game is a battery hog, but personally it doesn’t seem to be any worse eating battery than any other game I’ve reviewed.  Your mileage may vary.

Finally – and this is pretty nitpicking, but it would be irresponsible of me not to mention it – the game doesn’t respect the 180 degree rotation – the portrait mode orientation only works one direction.  If you are one of those people (like me) that prefers to flip your tablet so your soft keys aren’t on the side your hand is holding the device with – you may find issue here.

Final Words

I serve my master well ...

I serve my master well …

It is rare that a game can storm all levels of my inner circle – from friends to spouses, everyone loves Chip Chain.  We are in a frantic score attack on the leaderboards, every day we’re clawing our way up for bragging rights.  My co-workers are playing it.  My friends are playing it.  The universal appeal of the game speaks volumes to the addictive quality.  Forget about “just one more game”; think “just ten more games”.

With companies like EA looking to gouge you for every little Imp you slap, it is refreshing to find developers that are still willing to give you the keys to the kingdom for a fair price; developers interested in making great games instead of cash grabs.

Insane, deep and addictive game play wrapped up in an attractive, IAP-responsible package makes Chip Chain easily one of the best games currently on the Android platform.

Get It Google Play
Developer AppAbove Games LLC
Price Various IAP or $10 full unlock
Smurfberry Annoyance Factor 2 (of 5)

 

One Response to Review: Chip Chain

  1. […] they are frustratingly addictive.  Like the previously reviewed Chip Chain, there is no way you can “just play once”.  Your struggle to beat your score could […]

Leave a Reply