This is another post that I lost with recent mistake on my part. However, Spellweaver is such a game I really admire its fundamental game design, I have decided to re-write. Since the original write up, the game now has a status of official launch i.e. no longer beta, and it is on Steam. So it is no longer first impression, but I put this is a real review of this game. So let’s take look at a DCG with perfect fundamental game design.
In short, this is a digital card game that has the level of depth like Magic the Gathering or HEX. This may not be for those who likes Hearthstone because of its relatively quick play style and easy to understand game design. The game has lots of mechanics that is analogous to Magic or HEX, which may be a downside for some especially beginners due to its complexity. But once you are beyond the complexity concern, this game is a must check one.
The primary difference from game like Magic is that this game has just launched after about an year of closed and open beta, but given the team of five developers, there are merely 220+ cards in the game. So you won’t feel late comer to the game. Even HEX, which just got rid of its beta status, already has over 1000 cards.
Fundamental Game Design
In a big picture, it looks similar to Magic or HEX but there are some distinguishing features and those make this game in my opinion best fundamental game design I have ever seen since the Carte CCG.
Type: Dedicated Card Based Resource System
This is where the game really shines and personally thinks the best sales point especially for those who did not like Magic or HEX because of the infamous “resource[mana] screw”.
Above is the most basic resource card in this game. A player choose whether to gain a level of a given color, in this case called Order, or gain a mana and draw a card. This design fundamentally takes care of two of three types of resource screws.
Similar to the HEX, Spellweaver separates resource points from color points. The latter in this game is called “level.” Level is essentially analogous to threshold system in HEX. By separating color and resource points, the game alleviates “color screw.” For example above card costs 2 resource points and player needs to have met 2 order levels. This means if you have 4 resource points and 2 order levels, you can cast 2 of this in one turn. In Magic, similar card will require specifically 2 white color mana i.e. having just 4 resource points with 2 being white color won’t be enough.
This helps in an incidence where you’ve been waiting for second Order level, and as soon as you get one, you can suddenly cast two of the above card; whereas, in Magic again that will only let you play one of them and have to wait for another turn. This by itself may be a game changer or enough to allow you to catch up.
Then second interesting part of the design is instead of choosing level up, if you chose to gain mana point, you also draw a card. By drawing card, you are increasing your chance of drawing something else. So this actually alleviated second type of resource screw, “resource flood”, where you have too many resource cards in hand and no playable card.
The last of the three resource screw is “resource drought”. This is an opposite of resource flood where you have playable cards but can’t play them because you simply don’t draw resource cards. In Spellweaver, you have an ability to look at top 3 cards and if there is a resource card among them, you draw it in. In return, you have to give one of your hand card back into a deck. So if you don’t see resource card in top 3 card on the deck, you lose one card from hand. Basically, it is a mini-Mulligan to search for resource, but you can do this once every turn if needs to.
Combining these components, Spellweaver really minimize the resource screw but still leaves the fun of the card game where there is dedicated resource cards.
Nowadays, using a hero/champion type system where instead of directly attacking player, you attack the hero/champion is a very common game design. But what makes Spellweaver more flexible for its design is in addition to use of Mana to activates their special powers, it also costs “turns.” This means some abilities once you use it, you have to wait several turns before you can use again. This is fundamentally similar to HEX where it separated Hero’s ability power cost from other resources. Basically, if games have a hero’s ability that’s simply uses resource points and nothing else e.g. Hearthstone, developers have to make sure those powers are not too strong because in a games where resource points resets every turn, once the player acquire enough resource points, he/she can technically use the power every single turn. But by giving turn restriction, Spellweaver can potentially give very strong hero power but it can be only used every X turn.
In Spellweaver, hero’s ability can be added. Above is Shrine/resource card. Instead of drawing another card, in this special resource card, hero gains new ability/hero power. This by the way also showing the game is also supporting alternative win conditions like above.
Perhaps,this is more of an unique element in the game.
In this game, in addition to traditional health and attack power, creatures have a third parameter, called speed. What this does is, you can only block attacking troop only if your troop has equal or greater speed than the attacking troop. This system adds another layer of tactics.
Support Zone System
The card above will be placed on the support zone. So what does that mean?
Cards in support zone can’t be targeted by attacking troop, nor it can participate in block. Conceptually similar to Carte TCG, defending zone or Infinity Wars support zone. Basically, more zone there is more potential game design space there is.
Not surprisingly, the game covers essentially all the basic types of card in other games like Magic or HEX.
This is an area where game is still in development.
There is tournament mode, but no draft mode. The game allows single player mode but no story/campaign.
The game allows you to build any card you want from basic shrine. Basically, you can unbind/dienchant any card and it will become basic shrine of the color. Based on the card’s rarity number of shrine you get or you need to pay will be different. The conversion ratio is 1:5.
Five people group but UI, graphics and sound are as good as any other DCG out there.
Fundamental design of the game is the best in genre, which means the game have a infinite potential for future expansion of what it can do. The concerning side is the current player base, and team being rather small. No matter how good designers are, more cards added, it becomes harder to balance all cards. Balancing can break the game and even game like Magic will still get some broken card despite such large, experienced company making the game for so many years. So small team have higher risk of this. Furthermore, smaller player base have a potential of vicious cycle. No matter how good the game is, if nobody else to play with, player won’t be able to enjoy the game unless it is single player driven game, which we know card games are not.
Again, this is best in this genre.
This actually goes to both Pros as well as Cons. It really comes down to what type of player you are. First good thing about Craft system in Spellweaver is that unlike Carte CCG, crafting result is not random. So one won’t feel cheated for spending precious cards just try to get one card you want. Another positive point is crafting cost is purely based on the rarity of cards so there won’t be $100 equivalent card. All epic card cost the same. So those of you who wants to make just one or two deck that you really want to play, this game allows you to make that deck with reasonable time/money investment.
No trading/auction house
Again this can be either Pros or Cons, but I personally consider this is a downside. Although there can be cards that are overpriced in a game utilizing trading/auction house due to card costs decided based on player’s demands, in a long run trading/auction house retains value to each card you own.
If you are moving to new set and don’t care about older set, you can sell older cards and use the in game currency to buy new one. This is very difficult with games utilizing craft system, simply due to its conversion ratio. For example, here Spellweaver has conversion ratio of 5:1. So you have to unbind 5 epics to get 1 epic. Making 1 epic from common or uncommon, 75 or 150 extra cards. Although I have lost the calculation, as I recall in order to complete a set in Spellweaver utilizing craft system cost somewhere around $600-$700; whereas in Magic each set typically costs $400. This is because couple cards may cost really high, but others will compensate in games with trade or auction house.
Another hidden benefit of trading system is one can potentially sell there collection outside of game for real money. Of course there is a risk of getting scammed so I won’t advise but imagine a situation where you decided to quit the game after investment of several hundreds dollars. Game without trade, you are really done there. Your investment won’t ever come back. But with trade system, you can sell those to your friend and may get partial or even more than what you spend (depending on the value of cards) but at least you know what you spent are partially redeemable.
So to me lack of trading/auction house is a negative point.
I think it is just matter of time for these modes to be implemented. Though campaign may take a bit longer considering the team size.
In summary, Spellweaver has the best fundamental design of digital card game. It has minimized/eliminated the infamous resource screw without giving up the fun and potential of having dedicated resource card system. Speed and support zone systems are other features in the game that simply proves future design space of the game is infinite. Craft system is friendly to general player who wants to make one or two of his ideal deck. There won’t be $100 card. This is a game all DCG fan must play especially if you like Magic or HEX but there was some concern with those games because Spellweaver might have solved the negative aspects of those games. I am truly looking forward to the game be ported to iPad. At which point, I know I will be playing this game every single day.