A Game: Warhammer Battle for Atluma (PSP)Wednesday, July 2, 2008 12:00
Yep, it’s yet another CCG for the PSP while I’m still waiting for a new gaming rig. This one is based on the War Cry card game by Sabertooth Games that was in turn based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy miniatures game. The license means that existing fans of the table-top wargame will find the factions, characters and units in this direct port of the CCG instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to save it from ultimately being a very mediocre video game.
The CCG mechanics are robust and appropriately enough, borrow significant elements from wargaming. Each player builds two decks. The Army deck holds only characters, troops and weapons while the Action deck holds special strategies and tactics to be played to change the outcome of battles. Each match actually consists of three battles and each battle begins with a muster phase. During this phase every player is assigned a set number of points with which to alternately play cards from his or her Army deck onto the table, drawing a new Army card after each one played until both players have spent all of their resource points.
During the Battle phase, only the Action deck is used and the Army deck is put aside until the next battle of the match. Each unit card has a Tactics rating that can be spent to play Tactics cards from the Action deck and naturally the more powerful the Tactics card, the more expensive it costs to play. Initiative in the Battle phase is determined not only by the combined Strength of a player’s units in the Reserve or rear line, but also by the Scout rating of any units deployed to the Battle or front line. Fights between two units is determined by a simple comparison of the respective units’ Strength value, modified by any special abilities available to the player or Tactics cards played as well as a random “die roll”, simulated by each player drawing a card from his or her Action deck and referring to the die value on it.
As any seasoned CCG player would find, all this feels much more like a wargame than a CCG and CCG purists might even object to the added randomization factor of the simulated die rolls since the randomized order of the cards in each deck normally provides more than enough uncertainty in most CCGs. As far as I can tell, there are also absolutely no cards in the game that manipulate the deck itself. Once you manage to wrap yourself around the idea that this is really more of a simplified wargame rather than a card game, it can actually be an enjoyable experience. Fielding a whole row of simulated cardboard elven archers to pepper your enemies with arrows is more fun than it should be. But I still couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that if I really wanted a wargame, I should be playing a PSP conversion of the original table-top wargame rather than a PSP conversion of a CCG based on that wargame.
The experience is further soured by the rather lacklustre conversion job. The main gameplay itself works well enough, but the rest of the game feels slipshod and incomplete. Instead of a proper tutorial for example, the game offers a series of videos showing how the game is played while the single campaign consists of nothing but a series of matches with absolutely no cutscenes or any other form of storytelling in between. Each of your opponents is nothing more than a face, a name and a faction and you can only have one single campaign going at once. This means that if you start the game playing on the side of the Grand Alliance, and feel like starting another campaign to look at the cards available on the side of the bad guys, you’ll have to delete all of your progress in the ongoing game. Even the premise of the game seems stupid. You’re supposed to defeat all of your enemies to gain the power of the legendary Atluma Crystal, but if you were able to defeat all of your enemies in the first place, then surely you have no need of the Crystal anyway?
To add insult to injury, while the Shopkeeper will likely have you salivating at first at the variety of boosters available based on the different expansions for the game, you will soon find that the game is so stingy with giving the players new cards that you’ll only very rarely be able to get the cards you need to make any adjustments to your deck. Typically, even if you win every match, you’re only given enough gold to buy one booster after every two matches, which is ridiculous when there is only something like 15 total matches in the single-player campaign. Furthermore, since Grand Alliance cards can’t be used in a Hordes of Darkness deck and vice versa, if the only rare card of a booster you buy turns out to be of the wrong side for your game, it’s enough to make you tear your hair off. Thankfully, the Shopkeeper does offer you a random assortment of singles for purchase every time you enter the shop and that is a much better way of getting the cards you want, but resorting to this feels gamey and untrue to the spirit of CCGs.
The one saving grace of the game is the fantastic artwork on the cards themselves and the neat way that the game allows you to zoom into the card so that it takes up the whole screen of the PSP, as if you were holding the physical card itself. This feature is so cool that it should be standard on all videogame adaptations of CCGs. Other than that, seasoned CCG players who are intrigued by the idea of a CCG design with wargame-like mechanics might want to check this one out for the novelty factor, but for the rest of us, there are better games out there.