Collectible card games – CCG’s – are a bit of a weird thing for me. I’ve always loved the core concepts of games such as Magic: The Gathering, but the actual gameplay never really grabbed me. However, instances where CCG elements have been transplanted into other genres such as Sony’s PoxNora, EA’s Battleforge, or even Mojang’s upcoming Scrolls, I find the whole experience more compelling. No longer are summoned creatures just illustrations on a piece of card, but units on the playfield with their own stats, abilities and movement ranges – a much more satisfying way to play, so I was intrigued when I was invited to a closed weekend play session of Abrakam’s upcoming browser-based CCG/Hex-based strategy game Faeria. Here’s how things went down:
The developers describe Faeria as a blend of CCG and turn-based strategy board-game. Heavily inspired by Magic: The Gathering, you collect cards, assemble decks, and fight other players. On the board, each player is represented by an immobile magical orb, and when your orb runs out of health, it’s game over. Each turn, you have 80 seconds (to help keep play moving at a decent rate) to play cards onto the board, move units around, expand your usable territory by placing or colouring land hexes, and harvest the two resources needed to place units – Gold and Faeria. You can gain one gold piece (used to play rank-and-file cards) instead of placing land or drawing a new card, and Faeria (required for higher grade units) appears on the board itself and needs to be harvested by mobile units.
Like M:TG, units and cards are divided into several colour-coded categories. While there are a good range of ‘neutral’, uncoloured cards that can be played on any owned hex on the board, the best and brightest of your army require a certain number of environmental hexes controlled by you, and coloured units and structures can only be placed on the type of land supporting them. There’s a strong element of territorial control to the game – the board starts empty, except for the islands the orbs themselves are on, and each turn the players place land tiles in order to expand their movement options. Instead of placing a new tile, you can opt to convert one of your existing hexes into a forest (Green), mountain (Red), lake (Blue) or Desert (Yellow), increasing the range of usable cards.
The weekend started with a hint of larger things to come. Before you can match up against other players and test your strategy against theirs, you need to work your way through a couple of small singleplayer tutorial scenarios. In the full version of the game, this will be expanded into a full solo campaign mode, so that players can learn the ropes at their own pace, and possibly earn themselves some cards and XP (more on that later). It’ll be interesting to see how the campaign side of the game develops, as right now it seems solid, if marred fractionally by a few typos and grammatical flubs. Understandable, as the studio behind it is Belgian.
Outside of the tutorial, finding matches wasn’t an issue. Despite the small number of players invited to the test, matches were usually found within seconds. Not knowing what kind of deck the other player was rolling with was a strategic challenge in itself. At the moment, most newer players have the same pool of common, neutral cards to work with, and a subset of coloured cards chosen at the end of the tutorial. I found myself favouring Green magic, which often has indirect ways to attack the enemy orb’s health and seems to reward constant pressure. Between the four colours of magic, plus deck-building, there does seem to be a lot of room for a player to find their own style and pick your personal dependencies on Gold, Faeria and Land.
Later on, the developer set me up with a pre-built Blue-centric deck, which seemed perfect for heavily aggressive play. Victory came easily once I started sending aquatic units (which can’t walk on land but can cross the neutral ocean expanse) to pick off enemies trying to navigate across land-bridges. There seems to be a lot of depth to Faeria, both strategic and tactical. Establishing a beachhead in enemy territory with creatures with the Conquest trait – allowing them to convert enemy land to allied – and summoning more forces behind enemy lines seemed a useful approach, especially given that most units can only move one hex a turn, and the full playfield is about 10 hexes across.
There were a lot of unfinished elements in the early build I was playing. A lot of unit/card art was just unfinished, and some elements of the UI were a little finnicky. Due to the isometric viewpoint it was occasionally tricky to select a unit if there was something in the hex directly beneath it, but these are minor issues that will almost certainly be fixed by launch. A larger issue – one which I have been assured is being worked on – is that higher level players simply have more Orb health and assorted perks, putting lower-level players at a disadvantage. There’s word of some kind of handicapping system to help ensure even matches in the final version, so it’s probably nothing to worry about.
While there’s obviously a lot of balancing, tuning and tweaking to be done, Faeria is actually shaping up to be something rather special. Matches play out over 25-30 minutes on average (or until one player gracefully bows out – things can drag on if a clearly losing player refuses to surrender), and the browser-based nature of the game makes it good for pick-up-and-play fun. The only real question is what business model the game will be using – the traditional CCG method of buying booster packs of random cards seems to be losing popularity these days. Either way, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the game as it approaches release. Keep an eye on IGM for more Faeria coverage over the coming months.[/private_insider]