Spellcraft is a release brought to us by Three Goblins, it is self-described as a “[f]antasy collectable card game made especially for the iPad!” that has been “[d]esigned and made by card players for card players”. I will say from the outset this is clear, though I would assume that when they say card players they mean those who specialise in Magic: the Gathering. Scratch the surface, and you will discover quite a lot of hidden things that are similar to MtG. I think there is enough variance that it falls short of being labelled as derivative, so maybe the way to approach this is familiar but different.
At its core, the game is a magical duel, where opponents use their pre-assembled decks to battle each other to the death. Both spell-casters have 20 health they are trying to protect, while whittling down the opponent’s through a war of attrition.
The means and methods are familiar, bring monsters into play, throw them at your enemy, and if you have enough, eventually they stick. MtG will also be familiar with analogies of summoning sickness, enchantments, and artefacts. In assembling your deck, you bring together a variety of monsters, traps, spells, auras, and other magical tricks.
The turn is similar too, each turn draw a card; then you have a pool of five magic points that you can use to cast spells by putting that card into play; then an attack phase; then a clean-up phase, discarding any excess cards. Here is where some of the difference lies, because the game board is arrayed into five columns, with each column being able to hold one creature and one aura. These columns prove important in conflict as once a creature is allocated to one, they are mostly immobile, and will be pitted against any creature opposing them on the same column. Each creature has a power and a health stat, conflict is resolved in favour of the creature with the highest power, and the difference is deducted from the defeated creature’s health.
One of the things that is most noticeable is the artwork; the developers definitely have a digital artist on their hands and their artwork is patently digital. In some instances this comes out really well, but unfortunately there are a few instances that depict humanoid images where it creeps into the uncanny valley. I doubt really fault the developers for this though, as an indie game it is really hard to refine the rendering of human characteristics without huge pots of money or technology.
There are some other UI flaws; for example, to access the rules, you have to click on the inconspicuous cog in the top left of the map screen. In being on the opposite end of the main menu interface, it does not strike you as the place to go looking. For this reason, I spent the first number of games failing dismally because I was trying to work out the combat mechanisms by observation and deduction.
My only only main critique is that there seems to be a fairly hefty learning curve. Even after figuring out all the bits and pieces of the game, I was still struggling to win more than half my games. Part of that may be attributed to me in the fact that I don’t click strongly with any game where pre-game deck building is a significant part of the strategy, but part of me feels somewhat suspicious that this difficulty is geared towards encouraging more in-app purchases. I don’t feel that I can make any headway unless I start throwing money at it, and this is the reason I avoided M:tG these days. Yes, you do earn money from winning, which can be used on new cards, but it feels very constrained. To win you need good cards, and to get good cards you need to win, only by sinking money in from the outset do you offset that.
6/10: This seems much of the same, and while there are differences unique to this game, which take advantage of the medium, I find it difficult to justify sinking money into this game. That being said, if you’re looking for a game that has a long play-life, maybe taking the slow route to success will work for you here. However, it’s free to try, so maybe it’s enough to get you hooked.Spellcraft,