Have You Played… Duelyst?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I bounced off Hearthstone, and I couldn’t care less about Magic: The Gathering. If there was a Netrunner adaptation for the PC, I’d play that endlessly, but apart from that I tend to shy away from collectible card games. All that deck-stacking, all those tiny sums. It just feels dirty. So why do I love Duelyst so much?

It’s pretty simple. When you fight in this CCG, you fight on a grid. You draw your little warriors, your battle pets, your minions or what-have-you, and plant them down on the squares according to whatever rules govern them. In Hearthstone and other games the action is happening in your head, many small logical steps, intermingling with luck, reaching for some end goal – the destruction of your opponent. It’s a purer form of battling, maybe, but it’s a fight that is removed from any physical realm.

Duelyst realised something important: the addition of a simple landscape, no matter how abstract, and of physical figures was all that was needed to enhance the game of numbers on a tactical level. Now you can’t just think about what you’re doing – about what digits will be assigned to what – but also where you’re doing it. Add in some strategically important pools of mana and a bunch of creepy monsters that can fly across the board, or trap you in place, or multiply upon death, and you have a silly, tough battler that feels exactly how that weird alien chess in Star Wars looks.

There are some downsides. It’s a free to play game and has all the usual randomised loot crate nonsense, as well as a seasoned playerbase that will thoroughly trounce you upon landing. But it’s also generous with new cards, especially early on, throwing knights and dragons and sprites into your card pile willy-nilly. If you’re into turn-based tactical duels with randos from across the planet, there’s no reason not to try it.


  1. Sakkura says:

    No, you see… Duelyst means something rather obscene involving pigeons in Danish, so I decided it probably wasn’t for me.

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Why do you even have a word for that in the first place?

      • Sakkura says:

        Compound words in most Germanic languages. You can combine just about anything.

    • TheDandyGiraffe says:

      Oh, that’s good to know! Now I know that the next time I lose against a Spellhai deck I can just tell them to go “duelyst” themselves and I probably won’t even get banned. Thanks!

  2. Mischa says:

    I’m not into turn-based tactical duels with randos, but I do like the daily ‘Daily Challenge’, which is like a ‘mate in one’ chess problem.

    • Mischa says:

      …and less than a week later, the daily challenges have disappeared. (They are put “on a break”, so they might return.)

  3. kwyjibo says:

    You can get it on Steam, but you can also just play in browser at http://play.duelyst.com

    • April March says:

      Ugh, I wish I’d known that when I was stuck on a Linux netbook. Then again, it might not even run.

  4. mikaela says:

    i have and i actually disliked the grid. feels like a hybrid of two genres that don’t mix well together. being used to more traditional ccgs, having to prod around your units like that is just clunky to me.

    to be fair i didn’t spend much time with it and it’s quite possible that i would have got over it in a couple more hours, but it gave me no desire to invest those hours.

    • TheDandyGiraffe says:

      I think the longer you play, the better you realise that Duelyst is actually a turn-based tactical game with some (admittedly important) CCG elements – rather than the other way around. I don’t think it has the potential to attract that many CCG fans; but if you approach it as an interesting twist on a tactical board game rather than another digital CCG – than you can have lots and lots of fun.

      Actually, the game most resembling Duelyst (that I can think of) is probably Mage Wars – a board game with some deckbuilding elements, in which the grid/board plays a very important role and all the cards are accessible from the start (you build a deck beforehand, but instead of drawing a certain number of cards each turn, you can play any of them anytime you want – you just need to accumulate enough mana).

  5. MasterDave says:

    Yeah that grid really turned me off with the bonus spots being a thing that if your draw didn’t have a party trick to take them you could get behind so fast that it’s tough to even want to play anymore when your opponent snags all three of them on the second turn.

    • TheDandyGiraffe says:

      What do you mean by “bonus spots”? Do you mean Lyonar’s “zeal” ability?

      Anyway, the main advantage of the grid is that whenever you want to do something, you have to set it on the board first – you need to prepare your assault, and a significant part of this preparation is visible to the opponent, giving him/her the chance to react almost instantly. Sure, there are surprises and unexpected comebacks, but thanks to the grid you really feel that you interact with the opponent all the time. You could say that the primary relationship in Duelyst is not between you and your deck (and this can happen even in Netrunner), but between you and your opponent – that is, your units and his/her units, as they appear and move around on the board.

      Still, it’s a pity that the developers themselves seem to forget about this basic design principle every time they update Songhai; it’s a whole separate faction based solely on the idea that you can ignore the board and deal huge amounts of burst, out-of-hand face damage. It’s very frustrating once you enter Diamond division.

      • kwyjibo says:

        The bonus spots are the mana tiles. The “party trick” draws the op refers to are 2-mana minions that he refuses to put in his deck.

        • TheDandyGiraffe says:

          Well, mana economy (both the mana springs and the curve in general) is one of the core mechanics of the whole game. Complaining about the fact that you cannot have an efficient deck without some cheap minions is like blaming a game for not allowing you to ignore basic rules/mechanics/principles. It’s like saying that Netrunner sucks because you can’t really run a corp deck without including at least some of that “ice” stuff. Either criticise the whole idea of the curve (and the fact that there is no real resource building, your mana pool grows no matter what you do) or just accept the fact that all those cheap minions exist for some reason.

  6. Arkorim says:

    I finally got tired of Hearthstone because the mechanics and card design make it rely too much on luck. Then I tried Duelyst and while being very similar to HS (it’s HS + a landscape, the game modes constructed and arena are identical and the Daily Challenge is original and great) it’s far better.

    Three little details that make the difference for me:

    – opponent turns are fun. The complexity of the game allow you to spend the whole opponent’s turn thinking in what will you do. Of course what the opponent plays can affect the game, but you have to think where to move your units, what to summon, what to play, which order… Also, you don’t draw a card at the beginning of your turn, you draw it at the end, so you can plan according to all the cards you will have during your turn.
    – you can replace one card of your hand each turn. This adds a bit more complexity and the most important it removes some ‘luck’ in the gameplay equation. If you replace each turn it’s very likely you will rotate through most of the cards in your deck.
    – quests make you win more gold than in HS and packs get you better cards (a legendary every 5 packs more or less, epic and rares almost every pack), so you don’t need 1000s of hours to get all the cards to be competitive.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      while being very similar to HS

      Why do people keep saying this!? No it isn’t! It shares some very generic “CCG” concepts in common (which can mostly be traced to M:TG), but is otherwise a COMPLETELY different game.

      You want a game that’s “very similar to Hearthstone”? Try nearly any other online card game which literally take the exact same mechanics and give them shitty new names. Elder Scrolls Legends, for example.

      • Arkorim says:

        Probably Elder Scrolls Legends (which I don’t know) is even more similar to HS, but Duelyst takes a lot of inspiration from HS too, and adds lot of new stuff like I already said. But there is no point in denying that inspiration, specially for people that doesn’t know Duelyst and probably knows HS.

        MtG was the foundation for card games but HS and Duelyst have lot of core gameplay things in common that MtG doesn’t have: simple rules and turn steps, “automatic” mana system, minions life is not regenerated every turn, avatar having a special skill that uses mana, same card types (artifacts in Duelyst are like weapons in HS and completely different to artifacts in MtG, with limited number of uses and almost always adding attack to the character), etc.

        And that’s only taking into account the core gameplay. The game types (arena/gauntlet with 12 wins or 3 losses and same prizes at every tier), the quests, the loot (5 cards per pack, same rarities for cards) and crafting system are exactly the same, but more generous.

  7. Someoldguy says:

    I loved MtG back in the day when meeting several friends for a weekly gaming session involved hopping a couple of stops on the underground rather than overnight stays planned weeks in advance with platoons of cooperative relatives and babysitters drafted into the mix to ensure a few hours of uninterrupted gaming. Shuffling the decks, drinking beer, groaning as well-known combos hit the table and swapping all the tales of farcical events of the week forming part of the enjoyment. As soon as everyone scattered to the four winds and we started trying to play games electronically all these deck-builder games just lost most of their charm. Without the pleasure of good company, they just become a stat-crunching exercise. Instead of wasting money on pixels that might disappear at the flick of a server switch we’ve taken to investing our cash into tabletop games. We probably aren’t the only ones given that Tabletop Gaming Magazine are declaring tabletop games raised over $113m on kickstarter last year. Now I just need to coerce my gaming friends to moving back a little closer so we can play more often.

  8. TheDandyGiraffe says:

    So, Brendan, what kind of deck do you main? My guess would be… Wallnar? Or Abyssian creep?

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      Abyssian minion swamp. It gets absolutely destroyed 4 times out of 5.

      But that fifth time. Oh that sweet fifth time.

      • Intrinsic says:

        Maybe your deck needs a few tweaks as Swarm is pretty darn strong atm, 3 examples are listed here under Swarm Lilithe which you could take some inspiration from. And if you want that hilarity go for either of the Variax variants. link to bagoum.com

        • kwyjibo says:

          By “a few tweaks” you mean, “buy more cards”, and “buy the expansion”.

          I don’t think budget swarm looks anything like the bagoum lists, you’d probably do a soulshatter/voidsteal type play and have shadowdancer as backup.

          Abyssian is expensive, particularly Cass which probably wants Rite, Spectral and Obliterate.

          • TheDandyGiraffe says:

            The Badmannered’s one is actually close to a budget deck and seems interesting; but I still don’t think abyss swarm is particularly strong right now – legendaries or no legendaries – because of the sheer number of ways in which you can wipe a board.

            A good Magmar control deck destroys abyss swarm like 80% of the time (it’s great they nerfed Blistering Skorn recently, but with flash reincarnation it’s still available on turn 2), Reva is still annoying as hell (but she’s annoying no matter what deck you run) and abyss creep is practically a hard counter to any abyss swarm.

            Thing is, as Brendan already pointed out, when it works, abyss swarm is immensely satisfying. Not least because of all those situations when you manage to establish some wipe protection and your opponent doesn’t notice before it’s too late and wastes a card or a turn or both (Magmar’s plasma storm against a swarm and a bloodmoon priestess whose attack you managed to boost on your last turn – priceless).

      • TheDandyGiraffe says:

        Fellow abyss swarm player? Can’t be! Come, let us tell tales of Magmar trickery and complain about Blistering Skorn, which (as we all know) should be nerfed out of the game, completely, right now.

        Again, out of pure curiosity – do you have any cards from the Rise of the Bloodborn in your deck? Furosa really helps to counter the wipes (and if your deck really gets destroyed 4 times out of 5, I assume that’s the main problem).

  9. meepmeep says:

    If there was a Netrunner adaptation for the PC, I’d play that endlessly

    There is, and I do

    link to jinteki.net

  10. Lord_Reynardine says:

    And it’s freeeeeeeeee! (jinteki.net)

  11. Captain Narol says:

    Despise loving both Magic and Tactical games to the core, I must confess that I’m still on the fence about Duelyst, and being quite refractory to Pixel Art doesn’t help…

    For those who have tried both, how does it compare to Pox Nora ? Which one of those two is the more tactical and requires more skill ?

    • Captain Narol says:

      Btw, why did RPS NEVER EVER wrote a single article on Pox Nora (which was released in 2006) despise its regular expansions ?(29 so far !!)

      It’s considered by many of those who tried it as one of the best turn-based strategy games ever, just check the steam reviews if you don’t believe me…

      So what happened ? Did the devs killed the cat of someone in the Hive or something like that ??

      • Questionable says:

        I always wonder this too. Does Pox Nora just sit in some RPS blind spot or something?

        In fact, I read through every RPS article on Duelyst just to check whether it is mentioned because Duelyst really does look like Pox Nora-lite. I’d love to hear from anyone who plays both here.

  12. Mattsetback says:

    Brendan! It’s Jinteki.net that you’re after then!

  13. April March says:

    I played it a lot until my PC went on the fritz. Now it’s back and I’m playing a lot again.

    I like it a lot. It’s Magic plus chess, basically. And it scratched an itch for unforgiving turn-based games I’d had for a while, for unfathomable reasons.