Decromancer Review: A New Deck-Building Card Game Comes To Android
Those of you who have read some of my game reviews before will know that I’m a sucker for all kinds of tabletop games: card games, board games, any other games as long as they have cards, dice and minatures, I get all giddy and childish. So when I heard about Decromancer after developer UNIT9 approached me advertising a “Battle Card RPG”, I got excited to hear to a true deck-building card game was coming to Android.
For those who don’t know what a deck-building card game (DBCG) is, it’s essentially a game where either at the start of the game or over the progression of the game, you acquire cards to go in your deck of cards in the hopes that what you have will prepare you for the game ahead. There are a handful of hybrid DBCGs out there, like the new Injustice game which features deck-building with a side of real-time fighting action, but by and large most of these don’t really make the deck building a focus of the game, something Decromancer aims to do.
The story of Decromancer is a basic one. You find yourself in command of a ship that has recently run aground and your mission is to protect the Necromancer diplomat that is now stranded with you. In true game form, you will need to forge a path through the uncertain terrain, making deals with various parties to help reinforce your ranks while you prepare to push further through the unknown. This aspect of the story cleverly masks the deck-building that is required to progress through the game though sometimes it feels a little contrived as you merely recruit the newest card available to you as opposed to one that you feel suits your deck the best.
Travelling through the world map-style landscape is a joy as everything appears to have been hand drawn, right down to the details on tents and pirate ships. It’s delightfully impressive and relieving to know that there are studios out there who are still willing to embrace the hand drawn, personal, 2D touch over 3D models and flashy graphics. You control a rearing horse figurine on the world map who’s move speed depends on whether it’s on a road or off the beaten path. Even on the road, you move at a rather relaxing speed, though there is a chance to speed things up for a price; more on that later.
If there is any doubt that Decromancer was ever a DBCG, that will be dispelled when you enter a battle where the card game mechanics of the game are laid bare. The gameplay plays out in a turn-based battle where your opponent will always go first playing cards and you will play your cards to counter, and so forth. Each card will have an attack, defence and health value which will determine how effective they are in battle. Possibly more important that this is the positioning of your cards as while you are only allowed 10 cards on the field at a time, each card will have a specific attack range or area of effectiveness. This makes it particularly important to be aware of what your cards are capable and when to make strategic decisions. Furthermore, as you progress through the game, you will also gain access to spells which will have varied effects on the battle depending on which you get.
Battles can be decided either by defeating all enemy cards played or by depleting your enemies morale points. Most battles will end from morale points being depleted, however there will be battles that are specifically constrained to only defeating the enemy cards to win; these are easily the most difficult battles I have encountered so far. Winning a battle will net you XP, gold and a boost to your morale and summon points which will be invaluable in future battles.
All in all, the gameplay of Decromancer is compelling enough for you to want to keep playing and improve your deck. The most tedious part of the game is probably the travelling between two points as they can usually be quite far apart and as a result of your slow moving figurine, this process can become a grind. To mitigate this, there are shards, which along with gold coins, form the two currencies in the game. Gold is what you will use to purchase cards, upgrades and spells whereas shards will be used for purchasing more permanent upgrades like deck size and should you choose, instantly teleporting to your destination. While gold is quite easy to come across, large amounts of shards are not and as a result (or rather, by design), shards can be purchased for real-world money as an in-app purchase; gold too can be bought for real money if you should feel so inclined.
As I mentioned before, the art style featured throughout the game, especially the world map, appears to be 2D, hand drawn goodness which I think is easily the highlight of the game. It’s further enhanced by the ‘fog of war’ which exists where you haven’t explored yet and shimmers on the edges almost like ink or water. The areas that you haven’t explored yet will appear as an almost paper-like texture which fits in with the whole mystical, fantasy theme of Decromancer.
The majority of Decromancer is presented extremely well: we’ve already covered the delightful graphics and the sound and music in the game is appropriately themed and unobtrusive. Some of the text however can be positively tiny, even when viewed on my Note 2′s 5.5-inch screen. Decromancer can also be played in portrait mode, but this just accentuates this issue as well as the fact that some of the menu buttons scale to the resolution rather than just repositioned. This would definitely be better on a tablet, though it’s still a bit weird. There are also a number of bugs that I encountered while playing the game, though UNIT9 has put out updates since I reviewed the game so it’s likely that some of these issues have been ironed out already.
Overall, I enjoyed Decromancer quite a lot. You may need to be more of a fan of turn-based strategy games and be prepared to be a little patient, but Decromancer offers card game fans something that isn’t readily available on Android and I thoroughly recommend checking it out. Decromancer is available on the Google Play Store now for the uncompromising price of free, so you have no reason not to at least check it out and see what I’m raving about.