Life is made of choices. Some choices set you ahead, while others set you back. Your choices often affect not only your own life, but, for better or worse, also the lives of those around you. And their choices, in turn, can often affect you. The moral pendulum swings both ways. While doing the right thing can often push you in the right direction, doing the wrong thing can sometimes push you in the right direction faster. And sometimes, you fall flat on your face either way.
You make countless decisions on a daily basis — right, wrong, good, bad, moral, immoral, etc. Now, imagine your entire life, from birth to death, summarized in only eight decisions. Which decisions would they be, and would kind of person would they make you?
And that’s the game of Karmastar, a virtual card game for the iPhone in which your entire life happens in only eight rounds, or rather, in eight choices.
The rules are simple: In Karmastar, three players take turns competing for the highest score. The game lasts for eight rounds. Each player has five traits — Health, Mind, People, Love and Money. Higher traits help you win in combat. Traits max out at a value of five, at which point the trait becomes locked and cannot be stolen by your opponents. Each turn, you are given a choice between three randomly drawn actions; there are two types of actions. Boosts raise a trait by one and grant you a single point. Attacks are waged against your opponents, and win you two points if victorious; traits do not improve, and losing combat grants you nothing. During attack, players roll “dice” against one another. The higher the trait used for the attack, the more dice you roll. Players also receive wildcards at the beginning of each round, which can be played during your turn. Wildcards can help you boost your traits, steal traits from opponents, improve your chances in combat and more. Through the course of the game, you may also be awarded bonus points for meeting particular requirements. Wildcards and bonus points are key to winning the game.
Presentation: Karmastar is both charming and attractive. Karma being a cosmic force that binds as all together, the game naturally occurs in space. Players are represented as astronauts floating around the planet Earth, and animate based upon your choices and actions. Traits and actions are nicely represented by icons, choices are randomly assigned karmic descriptions and pictures such as a hike in the woods, giving your first public speech, shopping for lingerie, being robbed by a bully, having a weird cousin move in, or having a bird poop on your picnic. These occurrences are well drawn and often humorous, and it’s always fun to find something new. The game is divided into four phases — childhood, adulthood, middle age and old age — and the action descriptions are also relevant to the phase in which you are currently playing. During childhood, actions may be school related, while in old age you might break your hip. The user-interface is great, and the sound-effects and ambiance are fantastic as well.
Karmastar is extremely well polished. Majesco Entertainment has clearly put a lot of care and effort into the game’s details. It’s been sitting at version 1.0 without an update since its March release, not because Majesco isn’t supporting it, but simply because there’s nothing wrong with it. The game offers a complete and well polished experience, without bugs or rough edges. I’ve been playing Karmastar for months, and the game has never crashed or offered up any other type of problem. Other developers should take notice; all games should be this polished at 1.0.
Strategy: Playing your turns is not going to win you the game. Victory is achieved by carefully managing your wildcards, and planning your choices to meet bonus point conditions. Bonus points can be scored by raising a single trait twice in a round, stealing traits from both opponents, winning the star by gaining a three point lead on the opposition, pummeling the star-holder in combat, winning the star twice in one game, being the first to max out each trait, and many other ways.
At first glance, Karmastar looks simple and very straight-forward. It quickly reveals itself to be a game of brilliant strategy, however. And with only eight moves in which to act, that strategy must play out quickly. Wildcards can be game-changers, and so strategies must also be adaptive.
Quick Sessions: I’ve never seen so much strategy crammed into such short sessions; eight rounds go quickly. I often find myself playing Karmastar in movie theaters waiting for the feature to begin, during commercial breaks while watching television, at restaurants waiting for my food to arrive, while having coffee at Starbucks, waiting in line at the bank, or between speakers at conferences.
Achievements: Karmastar includes a decent number of achievements which will only be unlocked over the course of many completed sessions. Some of them are quite easy to attain, while others require much more planning and/or patience.
Limited Social Aspects: Yes, you can play against other humans using multiple devices on local Wi-fi; but you cannot play against human opponents remotely, or by sharing a single device. Yes, there are numerous achievements to unlock; but there is no support for social platforms like Plus+ or Open Feint. If Karmastar ever does receive an update, I hope to see these issues addressed.
No Avatar Customization: This is really a very minor thing, but I would love to be able to customize my astronaut. This would be especially awesome if the game were ever to receive improved multiplayer support. Players could maybe be awarded additional customization options by unlocking achievements. This isn’t a complaint against the game, but simply an item for the wish list.
Karmastar is a great game, and I think the best of its genre in the App Store. If you enjoy games like Zooloretto or Uno, you’re going to love Karmastar and I’d rate it a Must Have. If strategic card games aren’t your thing, I still think Karmastar is worth a look, but it may not be an imperative purchase for you. I can tell you this much: I’ve sunk as much time into few games on my iPhone as I have into Karmastar. It’s another of those rare games to have earned a permanent place on my home screen.
For a limited time, Karmastar is on sale for $0.99. At that price, it’s a steal. Don’t miss it.
Karmastar is developed by Majesco Entertainment; reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 3G. Karmastar usually costs $1.99, but is presently on sale for $0.99.