English physical version of WoT is releasing soon. I have got a chance to see all the cards from its Core set. I’m a digital card gamer but this game has so many things done right at its fundamental design, I just cannot pass this. Here is my first impression.
Warlords of Terra is an unique card game in several ways. Sometimes, the uniqueness in the card game may be just an result of oversimplification and not satisfy experienced strategy card gamers. However, looking carefully at all core cards and have read rule book several times, I can assure myself; hence, translating to you, we don’t have to worry about this in WoT. This is a game for hardcore card gamers by its design.
There are six core features of WoT that makes the game feel different from other strategy card games despite having full depth game mechanics supporting design.
- Highly tactical combat System
- Dual Resource System with Double deck system
- Dynamic Interactive Play Support
- Strategy defining Hero system
- Full variation card types
Let’s take a close look at individual features one at a time.
Battlefield ~ Non-gimmick, tactical design ~
Immediately noticeable difference of WoT from other major TCG such as Magic the Gathering and many others is the battlefield system. WoT uses 5 x 5, 2D game board where your cards can move around the the each space. The goal of the game is to take opponent’s player’s health down to zero, which is standard in this type of game. However, in order to deal damage to player, your troop must reach opponent end zone, called invocation line. Not surprisingly, when you summon a troop, they typically start at your invocation line.
It is not uncommon to see slot based card game where one can only summon troop/creature in certain slot. My personal experience for these types of card games are generally, the design decision were made to keep the game more casual i.e. simplify rather than adding more depth or tactical element. Example here is actually the very first card game I devoted my money and time, Eye of Judgement. 3 x 3 battle board on that game indeed had several unique features utilizing the field system, but other parts of game were rather simplified e.g. no instant spell, auto-generation of resource to name a few design simplification.
However, in WoT 5×5 battle field mechanics appears to be added to add new dimension of strategy and tactics in hardcore card game. Let’s take a closer look what this battlefield mechanics adding to the game.
The third parameter
There is no surprise troop cards in WoT has standard two parameters: Health and Attack point. There is; however, the third parameter, Speed. This is the parameter defines how many spaces the troop can move each turn. This new variable parameter in troop demonstrates the importance of battlefield mechanics.
Imagine new definition of Rush type deck in WoT context. Since placing high attacking troop is not enough to start attacking opponent player, one can potentially think of a deck such that all troops having high Speed parameter and perhaps reach down to the opponent’s invocation line immediately upon summoning and start attacking opponent’s player. As a trade off, these troops are like to have perhaps low health and low attack? Well, that sounds perfectly fit the definition Winny, rush deck.
Battlefield specific mechanics
When there is new system, there is potential for game design space. Battlefield system has a tremendous potential of its own.
For instance, normally new troops start from invocation line. However, there is a specific mechanics that allows those card to be summoned on any place.
There are mechanics that hit beyond standard single enemy/zone.
How about formation mechanics? One may tactically want to place Nova center of opponent’s troops because of his Radiate effect.
The game certainly implicitly make where to put your troops as part of strategy. But as the game evolves, one can easily imagine there will be mechanics that specific formation of troop to do very special thing e.g. if one can put five of your troop in a single line whether vertical, horizontal or diagonal, you can summon ultimate troop. Say hello to Yu Gi Oh, Exodia!
Highly tactical combat system ~ Potential for true strategy game element within card game ~
WoT’s combat system fully utilize battlefield element of the game. Below are quotes from the official rule book.
… attack is made by puing your troop adjacent to an enemy one, and turning, but you must know a couple of important things:
• First rule is that attacking when your troop PASSES BY an enemy Therat Area. Combat is, in that case, mandatory and imminent. This must be considered to build ﬁeld strategies and develop them.
• Second is that a turned troop LOSES its Threat Area, so that any troop (even enemy) can pass by its adjacent zones without declaring combat. However, if this passing troop’s owner wants, they can choose declaring it anyway (but they are not obliged to do it).
….Troops in your Invocation line (which is your last defense line) are considered to be On Alert, which means that their Threat Area is ALWAYS active, no matter if they are turned or whatever (unless an eﬀect disables it anyway).
Next, we explain some situations could be tricky if you don’t know well rules:
• If a troop passes by the Threat Area of 2 or more diﬀerent enemy troops, attacker decides which troop will hit to, but all of them will strike back.
• If a troop dissappears from combat anyway before combat damage phase (in sudden phase, for example), it doesn’t combat. If it’s replaced after declaring combat but before combat damage, the replacing troop will combat instead.
• Enemy player CAN’T be hit if adjacent troops are placed in enemy invocation line (unless your troop, for example, ﬂies and adjacent defenders don’t).
• Whenever a troop starts its turn into an (active) enemy troop Threat Area (if it’s been invoked there or any other reason), it has two choices: leaving it before Tactical phase ends or combating before that moment. No other way.
The interesting part is, as you move through opponent’s threat zone(s), you essentially get damage from those troop, but your troop can only choose one of those enemy troop to deal the damage back. This certainly put interesting tactical component in the game. I see the tactics applies not just for attacker but also as a defender, experienced player may place their troops in certain formation.
Dedicated Resource System ~ Resource system 2.0 ~
When I review trading or collectible card games, I divide the resource system into one of four categories: No resource system (NRS), Automatic ramping Resource System (ARS), Sacrifice based Resource System (SRS) and dedicated Card based Resource System (CRS). These are typically in the order of complexity of resource system design, which equates to potential area of growth in game design space. Magic the gathering, HEX etc. use CRS and we know how land/resource card in these game quickly became more than just simple resource producing cards. However, whenever a game decides to use CRS, one major challenge/flaw/trade-off the designer have to consider, which is resource screw. There are many players like the complexity, challenge of strategy and depth of game mechanics added by CRS, but there are always players on those game complaining about they get bad draw with handful of resource card only or perhaps no draw of resource card at right timing resulting in loss of game as one could not do anything.
Resource screw has traditionally be tackled by game designer by means of either going off of CRS i.e. reason to use SRS, ARS e.g. as in Shadow Era, Hearthstone etc. Otherwise, designer has to come up with special cards to reduces the risk of resource screw e.g. called resource fixing cards. Neither seem to be the perfect solution as one loses all the fun/potential of CRS and the other still has potential of resource screw by chance, and generally including resource fix card are not that exciting.
WoT is developed by such a small group of team, yet I think they got the system right. This is the second generation of resource system. I see their solution retains all the fun of CRS without resource screw. So let’s take a look what they have invented.
Double deck system + ARS
In WoT, you have two decks: battle or building deck. Basically building deck only contains resource cards and battle deck contains all the rest. As a player, during your draw phase each turn, you get to decide whether to draw from battle or building deck.
That’s right, you have full control of whether to draw resource or non-resource card every turn. Say good bye to resource screw forever, unless you want to intentionally create one by keep drawing from one deck… oh wait. even with it, you may still have hard time getting resource screw because, WoT also has built in ARS. Each turn player gets 1 gold and 1 Mana.
Dual resource system
In WoT, you have two types of resource, one is gold and the other is mana. Certain card requires one or the other or both to cast.
One thing to note here is though unlike traditional CRS games like Magic or HEX, WoT has no mana color despite each card appears to have unique mana color (at least for now?). This is because when you choose your hero/faction, you can only use the chosen faction cards. I will elaborate on this later in Hero section.
Dynamic Interactive Play Support
Besides resource system, I like to look a card game based on whether it is purely turn based (PTB) vs. dynamic interactive play based (DIP). The difference is essentially, can I do something during opponent’s turn to surprise him/her, or do I just sit and wait until my turn comes.
DIP supported games are generally much more complex and they can be a source of hurdle on new players, but DIP adds layer of fun/surprise.
We can be assured that WoT indeed supports DIP.
Strategy defining Hero System
Nowadays it is not uncommon to see Hero/champion representing you as a player e.g. Shadow Era, HEX, Spellweaver etc. This system allows one to use certain defined abilities during the game. However, in many games these powers tend to be relatively subtle so despite there is substantial impact on overall game play, most player won’t feel much.
I personally always wanted Hero’s power to be more powerful and to the point strategy defining. So you have at least as many deck type/strategy variation as there are number of heroes. After all, we all like TCG/CCG because of variation in game play each time when compared to traditional strategy game like Chess, don’t we?
In WoT, my desire has been satisfied. These heroes have passive ability and THREE player selectable powers. These powers are very distinct and strategy defining. Basically, they are like planeswalker in Magic but you are guaranteed to have one on board from the beginning of the game.
Hero Power ~ Third resource ~
Hero’s powers are going to be undoubtedly making the impact on win/lose of the game. So when to use, which one to use are indeed part of tactics. But to make it even more fun, WoT let player control hero’s power point (the points one need to use each ability). This is done by means of at each of your turn during resource phase, player can decide to convert 1 mana into power point. Again, in certain deck, one may just want to keep casting troops as quickly as possible so may not need any hero power, in which case keep the mana. Another clever design decision by developer.
Faction bound is also not uncommon among games that utilize hero or champion system. For instance World of Warcraft TCG or Shadow Era, after one chose hero, one can only include subset of card that matches the hero’s race/faction.
Benefit of this from game design point is two folds. One is to allow designer to lessen potential unforeseen card interaction as they have to only worry about subset of cards whenever introducing/designing a new card. This; however, translates into player as a potential benefit as well. That is developer can push an envelop further. This means they can make otherwise balance breaking type card with strong/unique ability by ensuring within the faction, there is no other card that can interact with it to create infinite/game breaking combo. The second benefit is each faction can have their original flavor/feel so each time we play with/against different hero, we can feel playing completely different game.
Full Variation of Card Types ~ Infinite possibility ~
More card types there are, there is potential for more design space. WoT covers it basis fully when it comes to types of cards.
- Place (Resource)
We have already seen spell can have a type that can be played even during opponent’s turn, which in WoT called Sudden spell. There is of course, its counterpart, where you can only play during your turn, which is referred here as just a spell. WoT takes even additional step and having potential of subtype in spell, which are either curse or power. Both of these must be attach to troop, if opponent troop then its curse, and if ally troop then its power. Basically, this is like enchantment in Magic.
Object are another type of card in WoT. These cards can be attached/equipped to troops. Unlike Curse or Power Spells, these cards will have durability and if attached troop dies and durability remains, they are re-usable.
By now, you should not be surprised as WoT designer seem to be really carefully designed this game for future proof. They have divided object into armor and weapon, and additionally accessory.
So the basic five card type really becomes:
- Place (Resource)
Physical vs. Magical damages
WoT distinguishes damage into two different types. Standard physical damage and magic damage. Obviously, there are mechanics that uses these distinction such as one that only protects against physical damage but not other.
How much will it cost?
This sounds like still not fully decided. But as of now, the price point of what I heard may seem bit steep for starter or those who just want to check out and see if this is really a game for you. It is planned for $70 retail for 4 starter deck combination with included bonuses e.g. playmats and dices. The game is not a tradable card game, but rather collectable card game where one can expand core/starter set by buying expansion packs. Without these expansion, your original starter deck won’t have variance as expected in standard TCG/CCG because each deck are tied by kingdom and one is provided with bear minimum for each kingdom in the starter set.
I really have no complaints about this game for its core design. However, that does not mean the game is perfect for everyone or perhaps majority of audience. Two main shortcomings are due to the size of developer i.e. true for pretty much most Indie company developed card games.
The main concern is despite such great design, this is not published by big company so no advertisement power. The game has already been out in Spanish and though has decent score on Board Game Geek website (here), it is not a groundbreaking score to make me believe the word of mouth will spread enough in short term. This means one may not see competitive play community locally. This ties into the second shortcoming that this is physical only game; therefore, if there is no local player to play with, you basically have no-one to play with.
Another potential drawback is the price point. Based on what it is currently being planned, I do not think anyone would consider the game to be cheap. This would likely lead to majority of people who shows some interest in the WoT would end up passing due to cost hinderance.
Gorgeous arts in combination of various fundamental design decision pieces, WoT has one of the biggest potential in card games I have reviewed to this date. With dedicated card based resource system and dynamic interactive play support, WoT has no compromise in its depth of strategy and tactics. The WoT’s versatility in game mechanics design, it has the full potential for game’s future evolution, matching to the TCG gold standard like the Magic the Gathering. In fact, battlefield element in Wot has its own unique potential and perhaps a challenge. The battlefield system allowed WoT to incorporate very sophisticated, highly tactical combat system. This is a double edge sword for design decision. It is going to be the full reflection of the balancing of individual card stats, battlefield size, and troop’s ability. If the balance is perfected, WoT will be unmatched, handed down forever card game that the world has not yet seen. In fact, this is the piece, I cannot elaborate as I have not yet had a chance to play a real game and it will require numerous plays to truly test this. But one thing for sure is that the game has its full potential.