Ortus Regni is a free, two-to-four player card game by Jon Sudbury Games set in a feudal European world. Using customizable decks, players try to build their realms and smash rival lords, while fending off marauding Vikings. Ortus Regni has a complex rule set that will intimidate fair weather gamers. However, for players willing to learn its secrets, Ortus Regni delivers a deep and satisfying experience.
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Every so often a game comes along on the iPad that really stands out from the others. Whether it be new mechanics in a time-tested genre, or a new style of game entirely, the tablet is a medium that occasionally delivers surprises – and this is just that sort of game.
In Ortus Regni you play as an Earl trying to grow your realm and defend it from enemy players and an ever-present Viking threat. Each player has a deck of cards that can be somewhat customized from a small but strategically deep pool of cards. Turns consist of taking just one action such as laying down a card or making an attack, and then drawing a card before passing the turn.
The cards themselves can usually be played in various ways. For example, the “Treachery” card enables an Earl to slay a rival lord or abbot, ransack their land, or neutralize enemy mercenaries. Like every other card in the Earl deck, Treachery can also be flipped over to become a “Tower” — a generic defensive card that will keep you safe(r) from attack. The result of the variety of card-abilities means that there is a solid element of hand-management in a turn, akin to a game like Summoner Wars.
Although Ortus Regni is very nearly an abstract game in its design, there is quite a lot of satisfying stock medieval flavor here, with political intrigue, feasting, jousts, etc. One of my favorite mechanics in the game is the “Viking” faction – a non-player menace that gets stronger each turn and can be manipulated into striking one’s enemies. In a two-player game, the Vikings are just a blunt-instrument waiting to pound face. In a three or four player game, they become a politicized force as well, as players will inevitably negotiate where, whether, and if the Vikings go on a raid.
In-game combat is swift, involving fairly simple damage assignment to face-up cards like lands, castles, and units. There are a few combat tricks, and the outcome can shift with careful allegiance to the Church.
Overall, Ortus Regni builds up tempo, as cards are marshaled and plans are made, only to unravel and be remade again. A hasty player might get lucky and land a solid early strike, but more likely it will be the smartest player who walks away with the W.
Victory is awarded to the last player with a fief in play, or the last one with cards in his or her Earl deck.
Unlike other card game ports on iPad like, say Magic: the Gathering or Yomi (linked to their respective reviews), Ortus Regni does not try to “jazz up” the play experience by inserting cut scenes or animations. Instead, it stands solely on well-designed mechanics and a straightforward interface. The beauty of the cards mixed with the ambiance of the dimly lit castle game-room where the action unfolds makes this game feel like something to be savored over brandy and cigars. As much as it sounds absurd regarding a game on an iPad, this game has got class.
The images on the cards are taken from actual medieval art. They are colorful and interesting to look at. This brings me to one of the few drawbacks of the game:
Aside from the art, there is nothing else on the cards. Nada. Zip. Zilch. No numbers. No words. No symbols. It even reminds me of a colorful tarot deck a little bit.
The effect of this minimalism is that the cards are lovely but difficult to quickly learn. Cards can be tapped to display their rules, which is handy, and there is an additional free companion app that owners of the physical game might want to download to assist gameplay.
Another drawback lies with its “tutorial”. I use the term in air quotes because, as a new player, I did not find it particularly comprehensive or helpful as an introduction. After playing through it once, I was so confused about aspects of the game that I very nearly threw in the towel and jumped to Pathfinder Adventures, which I intend to review next. The reason I found it so difficult was because instead of outline the basic contours of play or describing key terms, it just dumps you into a match and instructs you which cards to play. Because I value well-made games, and because the app is otherwise very well designed, I decided to do something that I almost never do with iPad games: I downloaded the lengthy but informative rules PDF and learned to play from that.
This game has a solid if unremarkable musical score, and basic sound effects. Buttons are located in predictable places. The UI is solid, and the AI has beat me multiple times on the easiest level.
With perhaps a dozen games under my belt and a solid grasp of the basics, I can honestly say that I still feel like an Ortus Regni noob. There is more to this game that I have yet to learn. I kind of like the feeling. Although this is a game not easily penetrated, nor not easily mastered, it contains true strategic depth. Seekers of instant gratification will likely find themselves flipping back to Super Hexagon, but gamers who appreciate subtlety and craft will find quite a lot of worthy play here.
- Strategic gameplay
- Colorful imagery
- Customizable decks
- Difficult to learn
- Tutorial needs work