So you're marrying Final Fantasy Tactics with a CCG?, I ask Counterplay co-founder Keith Lee, whose game, Duelyst, I'm about to play. It was Kickstarted last April to the sum of $137,707 – double its $68k goal – and it's sounding rather interesting.
"Yes!" comes the enthusiastic response. "We're combining top-down, turn-based strategy and the depth of positioning and movement with the accessibility and replayability of a CCG like Hearthstone. We love turn-based strategy games like Civ, but the challenge is that those games can last for hours, if not days. What we want to do is shorten and compress a game so that a ranked game lasts between 5 and 10 minutes. That's our average running time."
To say I'm intrigued at this point is to make somewhat of an understatement. Having only recently discovered the delights of FFT turn-based type games thanks to playing the likes of Suikoden and FFT during a number of our USgamer Clubs, and being complete Hearthstone addict, Duelyst is already sounding rather like my cup of tea.
I ask Keith to explain further.
"We're a tactical CCG where our goal is to have short 5-minute play sessions." He continues. "You collect and earn different kinds of battle units, artifacts and spells by winning gold in the game. That's used to buy booster packs and then you'll get new units at different rarity levels (or those less patient can buy packs of units for a cash premium). There are 300 different collectible units and spells across six different factions. Every faction has its own unique mechanics, units and spells that you can bring in. They all have different movement mechanics and positioning."
"You summon your units onto the battlefield, and once they're on the board they can move and attack in similar style to Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. Once moved they'll grey out and will refresh next go. We wanted to remove moving to the battle, getting primed up and ready to fight – we want to just throw you directly into battle so you get the fun of turn-based strategy tactics combined with assembling your perfect squad and optimizing your perfect party team. Right now you build a squad of 40 cards and then you take it into battle. In terms of deploying and summoning units – it's just like hearthstone. You have mana that increases by one each turn and you can summon any units you can afford with your mana for that turn."
I ask Keith how you win the game.
"The concept is that you have a single General and the winning condition is taking down the health of your opponent's General to zero," he explains. "We want to keep it intuitive, so there's no adding victory points or indirect winning conditions – we want to keep it simple."
At this point, I'm dying to play the game, so we start a round. On screen is a battlefield that's covered in very subtle squares, 9 x 5, a little like a fancy chessboard. To the left and right are the Generals – both with 25 health – and at the bottom of the screen are the first four cards of my 40-card "deck". I mulligan a couple of high-casting cost cards in search of some 1 mana critters and spells that I might be able to cast on my first go, and get lucky. I cast a 1/1 creature onto the battlefield and am immediately reminded of the old classic game Archon, for some reason.
Keith plays, and moves his General forward the maximum travel distance and summons a creature that he places next to his General. Turn done. I summon another basic creature, as does Keith on his second turn.
At this point I'm already getting the concept, and it's only the beginning of my third turn. I move one of my minions forward to a square adjacent to one of his creatures and attack, essentially trading like for like, and then summon a slightly more powerful three mana cost creature that has a limited-distance taunt effect when it's close to another creature. I place this next to my General to draw heat from my opponent's creatures, and indeed summon another one on the following turn that I put on the other side of my General so that he's quite well protected.
What's interesting to note at this point is that while you only have four cards in hand at any given time, every turn the cards are refreshed to their max limit – so playing as many cards as possible per go doesn't mean you'll necessarily be at a disadvantage. The game is also combo heavy, so setting up combos requires cycling through your cards quickly and efficiently, rather than hoarding them.
With Keith's creatures tied up getting rid of my taunt-ers, I eventually cast enough minions to whittle his General down for a win. The game takes a little over five minutes as promised.
While I'm missing a lot of the subtlety of the game, and indeed don't yet understand the metagame of spells and deck types, I "get" Duelyst. It's that perfect combination of basic mechanics that are simple to pick up and play, but there's clearly a tremendous amount of depth to the tactics of the game. I'm impressed!
I ask about play modes, and am told that the game will feature a four in all, including Ranked Competitive Play, Draft Format Arenas, Match-Making, and also synchronous and asynchronous casual play. I also ask when I can play it.
"Not yet" is the response. The game is in PC alpha at the moment, and accessible only to those people who Kickstarted it, but it'll move into Beta "soon." For me, that can't be soon enough. I'm really interested in playing this game more and getting a better understanding of just how deep and subtle it is. So far, it's looking extremely promising.