Wednesday 16 March 2022

The SongPop Remains the Same

A few months back I started playing Wordle, lured in like millions of others by mysterious coloured squares appearing in my Twitter feed. That ability to share the results of a game without spoiling it is really smart, combined with the simple core mechanics and once-per-day limit to stop you binging until sick it’s become the first game that my entire family have all been on board with, pinging results through on the family WhatsApp group of a coffee or lunch break. Variants, knock-offs, and deliberate rip-offs inevitably proliferated like green and yellow algae, and I dabbled with a few; Quordle, guessing four words simultaneously, was an interesting version, mutating into Octordle and Sedecordle for 8 and 16 simultaneous words, and presumably by now someone’s constructed a version where you get 160,000 guesses to try and complete every single five letter word from the dictionary at once, though the replayability might be a bit limited there.

I saw a post about Heardle, an audio version where you guess a song from progressively longer clips (more Name That Tune than Wordle, but still) and thought I’d have a go. I heard a snippet of guitar vaguely reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Wild Night, so I searched for that in the possible answers and hit upon the slight snag. Apparently the songs are taken from popularly streamed artists, and my post-2000 musical knowledge is appallingly shoddy (how amusing and eccentric!); I didn’t even recognise half the artists that popped up, let alone any of their songs. It did tickle a faint memory, though, of a Facebook game called SongPop, which apparently I was playing back in January 2013 when I first fired up War Thunder. Turns out that closed down, but SongPop 2 lives as a standalone application including a Windows version, so I installed that; it even carried progress over from the Facebook version, including matches that had been awaiting my turn for 452 weeks (sorry about that, PopDude 68).

Each match consists of rounds where you have to identify five songs, with players taking it in turns to select the playlist used. Playlists are bought with in-game currency, and where I seem to recall they were pretty limited, there’s now a vast selection of genres, eras and artists – rock, pop, country, blues, reggae, TV and film themes, nursery rhymes, even (to my great delight) Monty Python. When looking for opponents the game pops up two or three suggestions where you seem to have some commonality, but there’s also the option of picking a random opponent, which I’ve used a fair bit. That’s resulted in some good matches with both players having a good shot at the other’s playlists, and some definite mismatches. I generally try and start fairly broad (something like Rock Classics), but if the other player gets specific, so do I. I’m currently in a drawn-out battle of attrition with somebody who picks K-Pop or BTS every time (not a hope), so I retaliate with Monty Python and UK TV Themes. You can finish a match at any point, so I presume they’re just as amused/stubborn as I am about the absurdity of it.

On the face of it there’s not much similarity between guessing songs and a Second World War deck building game, but there are some parallels with the way I’m playing KARDS. As with many card games you can build a fairly generic deck where most cards have some value in most circumstances, or very specific decks built around certain mechanics – discarding cards is usually a bad thing, but some cards kick off a positive effect when discarded, for example. Climbing up ranked play the decks that really employ synergy (or cheap gimmicky decks, if you’re on the receiving end) are more common and can be rather frustrating to encounter; I thought I was in a pretty strong position against one opponent until suddenly he slapped down two cards and played a whole bunch of cheap infantry – one card damaged each of his new units as they were deployed, normally a Bad Thing, until the second card damaged my HQ every time one of his units was destroyed, and that was game over.

The devs seem to do a reasonable job of subtle adjustments when a particular deck is really dominating, and ensuring there are ways to counter particular tactics. Of course sod’s law says that if you gear up with a bunch of cards that are good against hordes of cheap units then you encounter a deck that massively buffs one or two powerful units (on top of the general sod’s law of card games when you have the perfect card in your deck but don’t draw it when you really need it). On the flip side I know that if I adopt a particular deck that’s always easily beaten me, every match I play will be against opponents perfectly tailored to deal with it. Still, I thought I’d give it a bash so had a browse of the user-submitted decks on the main website. A lot of them need a bunch of rare units, so require either incredible luck with random rewards or some real-money investment. One jumped out, though, that mostly used cheap common cards. It’s an ‘aggro’ deck that tries to get a bunch of low-cost units onto the field and buffed before an opponent can deal with them. It’s very much all-or-nothing, if you haven’t won in the first few turns there’s no Plan B, so at least it’s quick either way. It’s been pretty effective, I’ve climbed the furthest I’ve got to in ranked play, but it gets a bit stale doing the same thing every game so I mix things up with unranked matches using various decks that are more interesting to play, if less optimal, and draft games. Maybe if I had to identify military marches from brief snippets while attacking and also guessing five letter military words it would be a one-stop shop for all my gaming needs…