Battle For Suliara Preview: Real Time Strategy Card Game
We had agreed to meet at a local coffee to talk business. This, my highest profile interview to date had me on edge. I entered the crowded shop, electing to not purchase the acidic, overpriced coffee and prepared to experience firsthand a game that has gotten so much praise around my hometown. On a cloudy Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of speaking to the President and Vice President of Punch It Entertainment about their upcoming release, a promising Evolving Card Game; Battle for Sularia.
Gamers at heart, President Jesse Bergman set out to create a game that felt represented his passion in the computer gaming world; the real time strategy game. However, as any RTS fan can attest to, games of that particular genre can get hopelessly complicated and daunting for new players, a hurdle that Bergman recognized early in development.
A common thread throughout the RTS genre is the two resource system. Multiple real time strategy games use this system of resource management, controlling player progression through managing choice. Do you construct multiple barracks and flood the battlefield with low cost soldiers through focusing on a military, or you focus on science and achieve victory through progression all while managing your borders. Time, research and development, wood, coal or gold... whatever your game series of choice, many RTS games direct player development though decision points. Battle For Sularia executes this resource system through Influence and it's titular resource, Sularium.
As the game progresses, players will gain Influence. Through this experience, you can establish methods to mine Sularium, what Bergman refers to as “lifeblood of a growing army.” Think of this as a smart upgrade to the “mana” system of Magic: The Gathering, where instead of relying solely on drawing a card to cast your bigger spells, you need to work for it a little harder.
This leads to the base gameplay of Battle For Sularia, a familiar step up for any player of Magic... but this isn't necessarily a bad thing for veteran players. Combat mechanics follow a very familiar theme; creatures have a power and toughness rating, known here as a character's attack and defense value and you win by taking your opponent's life to zero. Sound familiar? Thats great, considering Magic is far and away the biggest card game played in the world today.
Any CCG player will have a leg up on the somewhat steep learning curve that Battle for Sularia, or any card game for that matter may present. However, the game seems to be designed with the new card player in mind. It's a very played out statement to make, but Sularia is true to the statement of “Easy to learn, difficult to master.”
During my sit down with John and Jesse I was shown the turn break down. Although I didn't express it in great detail, at first I was a tad overwhelmed. Turns and steps seemed to break down in greater detail than a standard Magic turn, however as the discussion continued, and I was able to actually study the document, I was able to pick up on the concept rather quickly. Compare this to a game like Netrunner and you can see why I'm thrilled that a game that as a whole is rather complicated, especially for a new evolving card game intellectual property, can be broken down in way that is easy to comprehend for a new player. This is a testament to the dedication Punch It Entertainment has given to attracting a new player and creating a lasting experience.
No one likes to open the box of a new game and fumble with rules, videos on YouTube and tutorials just to figure out how to get through the first turn. On the other hand, its equally as frustrating to invest in a game, only to "solve" the mechanics after a handful of games... looking at you Star Realms. Battle For Sularia seems to accomplish the impossible; creating a lasting, evolving card based experience without bogging the base game down with clunky, complicated rules.
Admittedly though, talk to any manager of a niche card game and they will be the first to tell you; if you're not Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic, your chances for survival are slim.However, Battle For Sularia isn't a typical new card game, destined to fight for it's life on the shelf next to the Power Ranger Trading Card Game or dozens of unsold pack of World of Warcraft releases. In both playing the game and speaking with John and Jesse, a constant thread came up in the conversation and research; “Battle For Sularia is different.” They're absolutely correct.
Although some of the mechanics and features have been dabbled in other card games, combined in one package, Battle for Sularia is sure to stand out as a great addition to store shelves. Through a combination of great artwork and some unique game mechanics, Battle of Sularia has a very good chance of becoming the next Netrunner.
I've already dabbled in the two resource system of Battle for Sularia, but there were two mechanics that blew me away even more than the unique system used to cast spells. Through semi constricted deck building and round based combat, card players everywhere have to rethink not only how we play the game, but how we approach the table before we shuffle up and deal.
Before you construct a deck, you must not only consider the power level of certain cards, but the point value that cards are assigned. As it is in Magic, decks must contain exactly 60 cards, however in addition, decks cannot contain an exceeded value of over 90 points with cards currently ranging in value from one to four. While not a new mechanic by any stretch, in a game as deep as Battle for Sularia this does raise some interesting questions as to how you are to approach deck construction.
Like any good preconstructed product, there is a certain “blueprint” in the method new players are to construct their decks out of the starter pack, as the game grows questions come into play as to where the real value of a card lies. Will higher values come into play? Surly there is destined to be multiple strong cards printed at a cost of 0. The more I consider the system, the less afraid I am of the two most dreaded words in a card game. "Power Creep..."
In Magic, the value of a card like Siege Rhino is obvious; cheap mana, high power and toughness, a great enter the battlefield effect. Now... imagine that you needed to control four different lands in addition to paying it's casting cost. Is Siege Rhino still the Boogeyman that we all know he is? Does that make the card only slightly worse? Would you still play it?
Cards in Battle For Sularia are judged on so many fronts that deck construction is sure to become a complicated, exciting affair that kitchen table generals such as myself will relish. Building the best deck under 90 points may sound like an easy affair, however once you realize that you can't simply slam all the best rares in a deck to win you realize that you'll be back to the drawing board rather quickly.
As a Level 1 Magic Judge, complications that arise in deck building intrigue me from a rules perspective. I'm also intrigued by what I consider the most exciting gameplay mechanic of Battle For Sularia, and any card game that I've played recently; The Round Based System.
In most games, the starting player has a bit of an advantage, especially in a format as fast and furious as Modern in Magic: The Gathering. To combat the perceived bias of a player going first in a match, the game of Magic the Gathering has the second player draw a card. Battle for Sularia takes the elimination of player one bias one humongous step forward with their unique system of, “Initiative”.
In the game of Magic, we judges use what is called a “State Based Action” (or rule 704.5a for the layman) to determine when a player has or hasn't lost the game, regardless of who went first in a game. In Battle for Sularia, the player who is determined to go first at the start of the game, you have Initiative. If you “win” the game and you are the player with Initiative, you don't win until your opponent (the player who is off Initiative) has finished their turn. Conversely, if the off Initiative player does win the game, the game is over and the payer who has Initiative does not get another turn.
This ties directly into the whole of the Round Based System, giving each player an equal amount of turns and a fair chance to win the game. Think back to all the games of Magic that you may have lost just because your opponent went first, every game you've finished with a winning card in your hand and you were left thinking to yourself,” One more turn...” This game makes that fantasy a reality.
This makes for more than great bullet points on the back of a box, this could prove to be a genre defining mechanic for a combat based card game. Even through my admittedly limited experience in the game, I quickly gravitated to this as the one mechanic I fell in love with. While I'm not so bombastic to think that every game is going to come down to the wire and finish in such dramatic fashion, for the ones that do I'm certain that this amazing piece of game design will be the catalyst for such a rewarding experience.
Aesthetically, Battle for Sularia is unlike any new game I've ever seen. Compliments must be given to Vice President and Creative Director, John Kimmel for creating an amazing expanded universe and commissioning the incredible artwork gracing the cards. The art on Animus Vox or "Its a Trap" as shown above certainly doesn't look like it would be on the first release of a startup card game designed in the middle of Nebraska.
Holding the cards builds on the experience, adding further confidence to the longevity to the product. Cards carry a certain weight to them, similar to an air cushioned playing card. There's a springiness to the cardstock that reacts to bending in a way close to a Magic card would. Although great care has been put into the physical form of the card, of course you should always protect your investment with a sleeve.
For player's unfamiliar to the evolving card game format, its similar to a collectible card game in all but a very important aspect; there is no blind purchasing of “booster” packs. Meaning that a base purchase comes with everything two players need to play the game and build decks.
The game continues to evolve as new content is released in the form of new sets, each one containing a certain number of copies of each card in the set, eliminating the need to purchase singles or blind packs. For the budget conscious gamer, its a very enticing method to keep up with a card game.
I'll admit, while per the Kultureshocked reimbursement policy, I'm not receiving any product for this review, I feel a sense of pride as I pen this to paper. This game is a testament to living the dream. While this may seem a bit hokey, consider the following; this is a game that started life several years ago as a video game and is going to be on store shelves in a matter of weeks. If I was able to see every project or book that sit half started or see every concept to some sort of completion, I'd be a very wealthy man.
Jesse and John have created something very special in Battle For Sularia. Never before have I been so excited for a new card game release. Like Star Realms before it, Battle For Sularia seems poised to take over what, as of late, has been an undeserved market. There are some exciting things planned for the longevity of the game, things that unfortunately Punch It Entertainment isn't quite ready to reveal yet, but I'm assured that the game is on the right track.
As for the future of the game as a whole, Bergman stated he wants to capture a percentage of Magic's player base. That's a very lofty goal for sure, however if there is a game that had a chance of taking a chunk out of Magic's stranglehold on the card game market, Battle For Suliara just might be that game.