Spectromancer!

By Kieron Gillen on February 7th, 2008 at 12:16 pm.

At long last. A game about arcane manipulations of the creator of Deus Ex. It’s what we’ve all been waiting… actually, sorry. Misread. It’s a computer-based uncollectable card game by the maker of Astral Tournament, along with Mr Magic The Gathering and Mr Magic The Gathering Expansion. And while my soul still cries out for a way to create my own demonic Warren Spector, from my time with the freely available Beta, Spectromancer goes a long way to soothing the pain of that perpetual disappointment.

Four of as kind beats a straight? What - it doesn't work like that? Man, I suck at card games.

And a little about why the work of Messrs Stankevich, Garfield and Elias is pretty neat beneath the cut.

Well, it’s free for a start in its Beta state, which helps. The full game’s should be available in April, but the Beta includes about a third of the campaign with one of the six classes of Wizards to play (The Cleric!). Apparently they’ll be a later Beta with the multiplayer working, but I still wasted an afternoon with it on Monday, waiting for Sins of a Solar Empire to be released.

The cards are actually a little deceptive – fundamentally, they just act like spells (i.e. You can cast each one as many times as you like as long as you have the magical energy to power it). It’s fundamentally a magical duel. You don’t have any deck-building per se, and the cards you’re given for any mission are drawn from your selection pretty much at random (You gain more cards as you work your way across the campaign map, so you can plan to have unlocked a certain card by taking out a certain wizard which will be handy if it turns up when fighting another wizard). The aim of the game is to use the spells you have to defeat the wizard you’re facing, either directly (using your magical energy to zap ‘im) or indirectly (using your magical energy to summon monsters to zap ‘im).

What’s fun about the campaign is that each challenge is exactly that – the wizard you’re facing clearly has certain strengths and weaknesses, and you have to work out how to get around that. Most of the time, there’s cards on the board already which have to be considered carefully. How you go up against the wizard with almost four times as many hit-points is very different from how you’ll approach someone with half the usual one, but with a series of weird healing stones on the map. So, yes, fun. You may find the lack of the ability to select what you’re going with grating – it certainly increases the sense of the game being random, but – at least in my time with it – it worked for me. Improvising with what I’ve got is a fundamentally different sort of game than one where you sit back and consider going in.

The card art’s also really cute, which in the afterglow of Armageddon Empires, is always a good thing for me.

Spectromancer‘s Beta is a couple of Peggle’s in size and can be got from following a link on Rock Paper Shotgun, the PC gaming blog.

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22 Comments »

  1. Satsuz says:

    Eh, what the hell. Not like I’ve got anything better to do. Maybe this will work my hyperactive brain out and give me temporary relief from my insomnia.

  2. Zuffox says:

    Isn’t this the second time Gillen used The Spector to lure in unsuspecting readers?

    Dude’s been reading one to many traffic optimization guides.

    Bugger.

  3. malkav11 says:

    A few of the scenarios are pretty much bastards to you, but the game’s definitely a very solid design. I only wish I could play some of the other classes. (But I understand not wanting all of that in a free beta – otherwise who’d buy the game, right?) I’m intrigued by their proposed expansion model, too. Basically, they plan to add new wizard types with all related cards bundled alongside, for some undisclosed fee (I assume five or ten bucks. Seems about right.). Probably add quite a bit of play value for minimal cost on our part and minimal effort on theirs.

    Multiplayer should be…interesting. I’m not entirely convinced that the whole randomized “deck” setup will be conducive to strong multiplayer, and I hope there’ll be options to have some special modifiers, as those have been the most interesting part of the singleplayer campaign.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Petty much agree with everything you said, Malkav11. I also wish I was more efusive in the entry, as I think it’s a Beta that a lot of people reading this would get a kick out of, and the lack of comments makes me think not enough people have.

    KG

  5. elias says:

    Well, my friend was supposed to give me Culdcept Saga tonight as a late birthday gift (it was supposed to come out the day before my birthday and was delayed), but he forgot to pick it up. So I’m trying this out; installing now.

    Sounds pretty cool from the description. I like Magic but I never play anymore because I hate paying for it… so games like this which are card-based but don’t cause wallet hemorrhages are really attractive to me. Looking forward to this installer finishing…

  6. Lorc says:

    I was ready to be underwhelmed. I was pretty critical of the game while I was playing it. But then I looked up and two hours of my life had gone.

    So, yeah. I might have to get this.

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    It really did eat an afternoon of mine. There’s definitely something there.

    KG

  8. Mr Pink says:

    I think this looks really good, but I have only just got my teeth into Armageddon Empires, the last CCG related game suggested on here. I’ll add this to my list of things to try though, perhaps when I stop playing TF2 (not sure this will ever happen).

  9. Lorc says:

    Having ruminated, I think that the really good thing about this is how easy it is to play. There’s exactly one decision to be made every turn, and the results of that decision are immediately obvious.

    Because it’s so easy to get into just by poking and prodding semi-randomly, you quickly pick up enough to start poking and prodding with purpose. And whenever I lost I always had the sense that I /could/ have won if only I’d done X differently. It has real “just one more game” compulsiveness.

    I’m still biting my tongue not to go on about my petty gripes, because it wouldn’t be fair; this is some good quality stuff.

  10. elias says:

    I played a bit last night, and I think it’s really fun. You do have a max of 2 decisions each turn (the first being whether to play a spell, play a creature, or pass and the second being the decision of where to put the creature if you play one), which I agree really streamlines the gameplay. But then there’s a whole lot of strategy hidden in those small decisions… do you play a weenie creature to defend a space for a while and let you save up power in another category, or do you play a spell to try to eliminate one or more of their creatures?

    There are definitely some cards that are better than others, which can make it disappointing when you start a match and don’t get to use one of the more powerful cards (Wrath of God…), but I think that part actually adds another fun challenge that has been mentioned earlier, which is to try to win with what you have.

    There are some combinations that work nicely, which are fun to discover. I like Ice Golem (Guard?) + Stone Rain (+ Jade Idol when I was in the match that let me have it).

    Anyway, I’m a fan. Really looking forward to playing more tonight after work. And I’ll be telling some work buddies about it today…

  11. Volrath says:

    Turn Based strategy card games for the win.

  12. Briosafreak says:

    This is awesome, I totally lost any notion of time last passing last night! This is getting more addictive than Peggle! woot!

  13. brog says:

    Nice, like it. A few bugs and typos for them to iron out though.

  14. alco75 says:

    Potentially great …

    This is what I posted on their forums:

    “I tried the beta for some 3 hours yesterday. Overall, I quite liked it, but I uninstalled it and decided to forget about it, primarily due to the deck randomization. However, realized I was still thinking about the game afterwards, and I feel strongly enough to bother registering and posting. I think you’re in danger of missing the boat and wasting an opportunity here.

    Deck randomness. Surely at least half of the fun of a game like this is in putting a deck together and figuring out clever combos? I can’t fathom the decision to randomize the cards for a given fight. Perhaps, as someone else suggested, it’s being done for balance. That’s very much the wrong way to go about balancing a game, which leads me to ask why the game creators are posting threads like “bad cards”. The game is online! Couldn’t you collect statistics about how many times cards are being used, and balance them based on that? (For example, if statistics show that card X is being deployed less often than one standard deviation less than the mean average number of times per day/week/month for all cards of the same (or very similar) cost, then card X becomes a candidate for being buffed. And visa versa, of course.) It’s not like a deck building module would be a large development task. A simple UI is all that’s needed to drag and drop 4 cards of each element.

    Spelling mistakes and typos. Obviously not nearly as important as the above, but c’mon, you can put the game’s content through a spellchecker, right? To me, it seems really unprofessional to have a commerical product littered with these.

    Anyway, I wish you the best with your game, but I really hope you’ll eventually reconsider the deck randomization decision. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’ll give this game a miss if you don’t.”

  15. Mr Pink says:

    OK, I’ve given this a go. It’s certainly good fun, although perhaps a tad simplistic when compared to Magic the Gathering (on which it is clearly based- no surprise considering the creators!). I like the mechanics, but I have to agree with alco75 that I miss the ability to make decks. I’ve always found deck constructing to be the most enjoyable part of these games.

    Incidentally, the campaign reminds me of the campaign mode in the ancient Magic the Gathering game by Microprose. In that you started with a collection of very average cards, and gradually built up a more versatile collection of powerful cards through winning duels and defeating dungeons. For me, that mode was the best approximation to a CCG I’ve ever seen in a computer game, as you were forced to build decks using the cards that you “owned”. I just don’t feel that the deck construction in this game supports the mode as well as it could.

  16. acidburner says:

    I have to agree with alco75 on this one. It seems like a solid game, but the randomness of the deck when you’re playing just takes away from the experience to such an irritating degree. Once in a while, that whole idea of a random deck is great, but basing the entire fight system around it, and getting stuck with seemingly bad cards you never play, isn’t fun.