December seems to be the month of CCG releases on iPad, and this includes Cabals. It’s a freemium game, so free to download and play, but you’ll need to sink a small investment to be able to make and decent headway in the game. That or lots of patience. Cabals is also a cross-platform game meaning that you can play it on your iOS device, on your android, or your PC/Mac.
When you begin the game, you start off with one of four starter packs, which reflect the four factions of the game. These are the eponymous cabals, each has distinct flavours and speaks to the pulp era fiction they have drawn influence from. There is the Bearclaw Brotherhood, the Danaan Covenant, the Order of Zahir, and the Vril Society. The Bearclaw Brotherhood as a collective of Slavic shamans; the Danaan Covenant are a coven of faerie-aligned witches; the Order of Zahir are a pseudo-scientific cabal of alchemists; and the Vril Society use Hyperborean energies in engines of war.
Each game is set up as a duel across a variable terrain. The terrain consists of two strongholds set on opposite ends of the board, a number of regular spaces, as well as spaces that increase ‘manna’ (called resources) and other sites that allow for alternate agent deployment. Players win the game either by seizing the enemy’s stronghold, or by dominating enough land for long enough to acquire 60 domination points. This mean aggressive strategies are just trying to punch a hole through the defense line in a capture the flag style, while defensive strategies are trying to spread out and hold that line while possessing as much territory as possible.
Each player has their own deck built around one of the cabals and lead by a hero. Each deck will have a number of unit for deployment and action cards that induce effects (but no more than three of any single type of card). In terms of summoning, one of the unique facets of the game is the use of loyalty. Some cards have loyalty markers, meaning their cost is reduced if members of their own cabal are already out. This adds a level of strategy that means you need to gauge how quickly to send things out, and in what order.
Combat really only relies on one stat. Each unit has a power ranking, which is both it’s attack strength and maximum health. Cards with damage with have a -* next to this power, so a power 5 unit with 2 damage will show 5-2. Likewise units can be boosted with stamina meaning they’ll have a plus modifier instead. Units can also be given armour (reducing one point of damage from each attack), and quick strike (as well as having other powers).
The financial incentive within Cabals is what you might expect with in-app purchases used to expand and bolster decks in order to ascend the ranks. What they do that is reasonably unique to the setting is one of domination rather than an attrition of the enemy’s health. The game is following a burgeoning trend for online card games. On one hand, this is a smart move because it allows the company to play test cards individually and as decks. On the other hand, it’s the thin edge of the wedge as we’re seeing more and more companies throw their hand into this already competitive market. The benefit for us as players is we get to see a large variety of games, and ultimately decide which ones are worthy.
The market is also at a point where there is something of a saturation of games, and each of them is having to work hard to sell themselves as unique, because while all of them are freemium making them accessible to play I doubt a single player is likely to invest large money into each of them. Each will probably get a dedicated core of players, and the more diverse the market, the smaller those cores are probably going to be.
For me, while I think the strategy of the gameplay is somewhat demanding and goes through a learning curve, the most intriguing aspect of the game is the cabals themselves. We are given a look at some interesting ideas for factions and each has been designed to play to certain advantages and strength. That is to say, the thing that stands out most for me is the themes and perhaps the artwork, rather than the gameplay. I don’t know if that’s enough to make it stand out enough for me to embrace it with passion. Particularly since the exploration of those themes is incidental to the game, and not something in the foreground.
One of the big things that doesn’t work in the game’s favour is the ‘tutorial’. This is the label it claims, but in actuality is just an illustrated rule book. I found I had to struggle in the learning process, it took a few dry runs and double checking the rules to get it right. I definitely think that a game with this amount of strategy should walk its new players through those steps.
6/10: A decent game, with good art and gameplay. It is worth your time for a look, but whether it becomes your CCG of choice is really up to how it grips you.Cabals: the Card Game,