Many of you have no doubt been hanging out for this release. It is a game with a fairly large scope and quite a lot of replay value. I’m not as devoted to card games as I am to other types of strategy board games, but this one tends to appeal to me more than not.
It is effectively a duel between two forces, which at this release includes a number of trope fantasy races. It has some comparisons to other card-based duelling games in that it is a race to destroy the opponent’s principle figure (the Summoner). What tends to distinguish Summoner Wars from other similar card games is its use of a ‘board’ or landscape to play those cards in, which gives a spatial element to the necessary tactics of the game.
A game evolves over six steps each turn, with sometime optional steps before and after those six depending on the powers of individual cards. Turn sequence is as follows: Draw (draw up to five cards); Summon where you can bring Units into the battlefield – they must be summoned next to a wall and can only be summoned if you have sufficient magic to do so; Events, where you play various event cards you own, including walls; Movement, where you can move up to three Units two spaces orthoganally; Attack, where you can attack up to two times with your Units on available targets; and then Build Magic, where you can discard cards from your hand into the discard pile to bolster your magic.
For the most part, the game revolves around the strategic placement and manouevring of these various cards, the effective implementation of their special abilities, and clever use of events to tip scales in your favour. However, strategy fiends beware. The relevance of dice rolls in this game is quite significant and most of the combat (the central point of the game) is resolved through dice rolls. Personally, I think that a game with such a high level of strategy is ultimately undermined by how relevant chance is in the success of a game, but other people may not find it as much as an impediment as I do. From another perspective, the use of chance does tend to simulate the chaos of battle forcing strategists to adapt to the situation as much as create it.
This is a hefty game, have no doubts. I noticed frequently that my iPad 1 would crash through loss of memory. Undoubtedly in its second year my device must be reaching senility, but consider it a testament to the computing requirements of the game. Other more modern devices may have better experiences in the running of this game. However, what I was able to see (I did complete a few games) were enjoyable experiences.
I will note that I’m often reserved about card game implementations onto the iPad for reasons I had readily detailed elsewhere. There is still that problem relevant to how much a player can extract at a glance because the rules are highly particular to the text on the cards. I suspect that if you are reasonably familiar with the cards and their unique combinations this game will feel much more accessible to you. Yet, despite this limitation, I found the use of the board to help offset that, both in terms of the sense engagement with the game and in terms of grounding the abstractions of rulesets to the game. The cards begin to function more like pieces rather than abstract narratives.
Some of the graphics in the animations are a bit crude, reminding me of a throwback to previous generations of polygon graphic rendering. However, for the most part the visuals, sounds, and user interface is extremely well done. The graphics on the cards, being arguably where they count most, are much more refined and subtlely enhanced by simple animations.
It also meets the mark on the three fundamentals of implementation. There is an AI opponent, there is a guided tutorial, and there is online multiplayer. Most intriguing is the implementation of timed asynchronous multiplayer, where players agree to a time limit and failing to respond to a move in that time induces a penalty. This, for me, overcomes one of the major barriers for playing online asynchronous play as I often dislike the long wait between turns.
9/10: This game is brilliant in many ways, and marred only by a few subtle flaws that are implicit in the implementation of card based games. Additionally, it’s free to try, but costs for any significant engagement.