Runespell: Overture Review

Collectible card games have always been weird to me. I played Magic: The Gathering back in the mid-1990s, which I’m pretty sure every nerd of a certain age did at one time or another, and I never really got into it – too much purchasing and too much time spent getting grilled by players with better cards, richer parents and more free time.

Collectible card games in video games correct that problem by digitizing all the cards and fitting the play mechanics and story around the card system, and this always seemed to make a lot more sense (although it’s harder to make money off of spoiled kids when you’re not selling them actual cards). In the case of Runespell: Overture, the card system is drawn down even further – you collect cards but they’re not even really that essential to the way you play the game. If you never used the collectible cards in the game, you’d have a tougher time, but things don’t seem like they’d necessarily be impossible.


Runespell: Overture (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Mystic Box
Publisher: Mystic Box
Release Date: July 20, 2011
MSRP: $9.99

What results, then, is a nice melding of customization and the better parts of card games, without the overbearing need to pay a ton of attention to the card parts. Runespell is an RPG at its heart, with the player moving around a map to engage in battles or enter locations to speak with characters, and it’s highly simplified and streamlined in that you won’t be wandering too much and you always know exactly where you’re headed. When you do encounter enemies, you play a card game against them that’s more a mix of solitaire and poker than it is M:TG, which means every battle is about strategy and a little luck, rather than just relying on great cards you’ve collected.

Runespell’s combat gives you a deck of cards and your opponent a deck, and you get to take turns making “combos.” A combo is a set of five cards that makes a poker hand – so for example, if you can put together three of a kind with two other cards, that’s a successful combo. All the poker hands you make represent attacks against your foe, and the better the poker hand, moving from a pair to a royal flush, the stronger the attack.

Each player gets three actions per turn, and each time you move a card on top of another card, that counts as one action. You can also steal free cards from your opponent’s solitaire deck to add to yours – but your cards are similarly vulnerable, so in order to keep your opponent from turning his four-of-a-kind into a five-of-a-kind, you need to place the card he might need into a combo, thereby making it impossible to steal. The stealing mechanic requires you to be aware not only of what you’re trying to make out of your combos, but of the possibilities offered to your opponent as well.

As you hack away at your opponent and he hacks away at you, you’ll each have an HP bar that depletes and another set of points, called Rage, that build up over time. These can be used to activate the collectible cards you gather in battles and at shops, but you’ll also need to purchase “uses” for most of the consumable cards. Rage Points allow you to activate them in battle, provided you’ve got a few uses on tap as well, and there are cards that will boost or attack RP for players and enemies as well.

The whole thing works well to break up traditional RPG gameplay and infuse it with card-style gameplay. You end up with something that’s roughly akin to Puzzle Quest, with an engaging RPG surrounding a card system that demands planning and strategy, a little luck and smart use of resources.

The only trouble with Runespell’s formula is that it never becomes much more intense or trying than this. Poker and solitaire are inherently random games, and that degree of chance is built so deeply into battles that you can play a fight and get trampled by an enemy, then replay the same fight and win handily. It doesn’t happen often – usually your planning and special cards will have a bigger effect on the battle and let you feel that you’re winning because of skill rather than luck, but luck is still a very big factor.

As for the RPG aspects of the game, you’ll spend a great deal of time completing quests that basically boil down to heading out to a location, killing a thing you find there and retrieving an object for completing the battle, then returning the object to the quest giver. It’s a little bit repetitive, and Runespell doesn’t offer a lot of variety in the things it asks you to do during much of the game. But then again, the game runs at $10 – what it does, it does well, and the depth of the game makes sense for its price.

Runespell: Overture is available on Steam right now, and it’s hard to complain about anything at its price. It’s a bit of a niche title and could do with some more variety and a reduction in randomness, but in many ways those complaints feel nitpicky. But the game is definitely fun to play and should strike a nerve with RPG fans as well as those who enjoy this style of puzzle or card gameplay.

Pros:

  • Easy to learn card-based combat
  • Hand-painted graphical style
  • Great price
  • Somewhat more casual RPG presentation — easy writing, simplified world map, etc.
  • Cons:

    • Maybe a touch too simple — not a lot of variety
    • Outcome of many battles heavily influenced by the luck of the draw
    • Not a lot in the way of character progression, etc.

    Final Score: 80/100

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