A Druid’s Duel Review – Turtles, Bears, and Turn-based Strategy.
A Druid’s Duel is a turn-based strategy game developed by ThoughtShelter Games, following a clan of druids as they watch the seasons change rapidly, affecting the land around them. They set out, battling other druid’s in order to find the source and stop it from getting any worse.
A Druid’s Duel uses a grid system with the ability to change the landscape through certain powers, and turn-based combat for added strategy and planning. The pace of each level increases quickly as each team of druids claims more territory. There are four different druid classes with vastly different abilities, allowing for versatile strategies. Firstly, the core purpose of each level is to be the last druid of the same color (blue, yellow, or red for example) alive, and to claim all of the enemy’s spaces. The game doesn’t have any RPG features or HP levels, which means that druids are killed by simply entering their space, much like any piece in chess.
Each level is played using any number of four summon-able druid classes: Guardian, Wind Rider, SnarlClaw, and WayWalker. Each class then has the ability to turn into its own animal: Wolf, Eagle, Bear, and Turtle in that respective order. The power to transform into these animals offers temporary abilities that are important for gaining an advantage within a few turns. Players will find that using the powers of each druid and their animal transformations isn’t really a bonus, but rather a necessity to achieving victory as long as each druid is used effectively. The Guardian can transform into a Wolf in order to move four squares and claim more land than the others. Wind Riders use 2-square ranged attacks, and can teleport to almost any square on the map, including those held by an enemy. SnarlClaw can move through two land spaces, and can transform into the powerful Bear capable of destroying obstacles on land, and three enemies in a row. Finally, the WayWalker is the Druid capable of casting land-changing spells, using three actions, and transforming into a nearly indestructible Turtle.
Any druid can claim a land space as long as it doesn’t have an obstacle on it or a bridge. Each claimed land then raises the amount of mana that a player will earn and start their next turn with, which will allow for more summons and powers. Taking over spaces claimed by enemy druids will also affect their pool of mana, allowing for quick gratification for bold and aggressive strategies. There are other ways to gain mana as well, including moving through squares with fairies in them for some instant mana, and claiming a relic for a massive boost on the next turn. As there are six seasons in the world of A Druid’s Duel, there are six types of land spaces, each offering a slightly different amount of mana. Levels can have the layout of their land spaces and obstacles randomized by location, allowing for some varied gameplay across multiple playthroughs.
There are also six chapters that players can get through, one for each season, filled with a variety of level layouts and enemy formations. The game definitely has replay value, allowing for four different difficulties, and multiple paths to take when moving from level to level. This way, each play through can be different, leading to different starting layouts for enemies and maps. The story is simple by itself, with little bits of expositional dialogue starting and ending each level. However, these are usually superfluous, and do nothing for individual characters. The soundtrack itself is also simple, changing with each season but feeling repetitive within a single level.
A Druid’s Duel is a challenging strategy game that comes with a bit of a learning curve. But most importantly, it’s fun. The core goal of the game is unique, but there’s also a need to understand the range of abilities with each druid and how they can be useful in different scenarios. Players will need to think several steps ahead to avoid losing pieces, and to strike at weak spots within the enemy. The enemy AI is fairly unforgiving early on. While the Initiate (‘easy mode’) doesn’t pose much challenge, enemy AI starts playing more aggressive and tactical within the Adept, or normal mode. Then there are two more difficulties beyond that. There are also certain boss encounters with special enemies that do not remain killed, and instead must be the last thing defeated, adding another twist to the encounter.
The game’s innovation comes from how quickly strategies change because of the difference in abilities between druid classes. WayWalkers can change the very map by removing or adding land, while Wind Riders can teleport behind the enemy, or strike on isolated druid’s safely. The campaign is sometimes challenging by itself, but the AI leaves a bit to be desired for strategy enthusiasts. However, A Druid’s Duel also features multiplayer, which allows players to truly test their skills. The unique set of rules devoted towards claiming territory as a priority instead of killing off enemies is something players may take a little while to wrap their head around.
A Druid’s Duel will be available on Steam and other digital platforms for PC, Mac, and Linux for $8.99. The price is fair considering the amount of gameplay available within the main campaign, and the potential in multiplayer. The challenges almost always feel frustratingly fresh with the added difficulties, plus the different level layouts and random variables to encounter.