Arena for True Duelysts
Many board games feature various card-mechanics and virtually all card games are played on some sort of a board. It may be a bench in the park or a table in the tavern but all cards need a surface to be slapped on. In Duelyst the surface slaps you.
In traditional trading card games the board is of significant importance, allowing the player to weave a strategy and outwit the opponent. However significant it may be, the board remains nothing more than a surface to display the value of the card, to play its effect. Positioning matters a lot but the cards remain static and only the cool animations in the digital world or the imagination of the players IRL make them come to life and shout “The Light protects me!” when charging into the opponent’s face.
Duelyst has removed this static presence of the cards by replacing the board with one taken straight from chess or checkers. Each battlefield is a grid of squares where the two opposing generals (the players) settle it. They can summon various creatures under their command and cast spells of great value. Each creature, the generals included, can move 2 squares in straight line and only one diagonally.
Controlling the battlefield and maintaining the proper formation is the key to victory. Each of the 6 generals is embodiment of their peoples, who have equipped him with powerful artifacts. He possesses their arcane knowledge and a horde of mighty – or shady – creatures follows in his stead. Led by his masterful strategy, they are able to secure victory, even against the worst odds.
It is hard to describe the depth and complexity of Duelyst. Not only because I am a total noob in it still but because the variations are simply staggering. This indie game has married two fully fledged mechanics – trading cards and trading active pieces on the board with their own value and skills – in a perfect way. One has the deck building phase, the search for combos and synergy, plus the element of the unknown: who will the opponent be, what deck would s/he play?
Then there is the battlefield, so similar to a chessboard. With 3 points of tactical importance, each grid is open up for a staggering variety of strategic approaches. These 3 points are mana wells, which grant one additional mana point to spend this turn and can be taken by stepping on them. An additional mana point could secure an advantageous play or simply deny the opponent one.
Much like Hearthstone, the players gain an additional mana crystal at the end of each turn, to a total of 9. Unlike Hearthstone, the second player starts with 3 crystals, one more than the first to play; this balances out the advantage of the first move. Every turn, the player gains two new cards from the deck and can replace one of them.
Another major difference with pretty much any other trading card game is the fact that it is the general, hitting, healing, and inspiring right there on the field of battle, who is the victory condition. It is his hit points that have to be taken to 0 for the game to end, and not the hit points of an abstract hero, who overseers the game from the edge of the field of conflict.
Recently, Duelyst launched its open beta phase and, for the dismay of some of its many backers on Kickstarter, became free to play. Originally announced to be a paid game, the developers of Counterplay Games decided that the free-to-play model is the only way to sustain themselves and to ensure that the game will receive the proper support, maintenance, upgrades. It is still early in its life but so far Duelyst does seems to be avoiding the trap of other trading card games where paying for cards is pretty much a necessity if one is to be competitive. Duelyst reward the players for participation, there are daily quests, there is leveling up, and a few other ways of obtaining new cards; paying real money is only one way to do it. Also, the starting decks are rather adequate because the value of the cards is weighted against the decisions made on the board. After playing a handful of competitive games I saw a few decks clearly stronger than my default ones but with the correct plays I could hold my ground for quite some time.
I am eager to see – and report in due time – how the game develops. One thing is certain, I will be spending many hours striving to become a legendary Duelyst.
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