If you never got into the strategy card game Magic: The Gathering, you probably know a few people who did. They are the incorrigible type of bastards who lay siege over dorm rooms until the wee hours of the morning with their boxes and boxes of cards, snarfing up all your beer and pizza along the way. Playing through Culdcept Saga, which blends Magic's card-style combat with a Monopoly-esque board game, we can’t help but understand the draw to such a game. Put bluntly, there’s never been a more niche title that’s so easy to get into and so addictive, and yet so difficult to truly master.
You play as a boy who discovers he’s a Cepter: a person who can use the Culcept cards, which are parts of an ancient book. Honestly, the story’s fine but it's all folly-roll compared to the gameplay. After some text-heavy cutscenes, you jump into battle on maps very much like the tiled trails in any board game. Every round, you draw a card, which will be one of three types: creature, spell or item. You then cast a spell if you have the card and the desire to do so, "roll" the die and move the accompanying number of spaces around the board.
When you land, you can summon a creature to guard that spot. Unless someone else has a creature guarding it already, in which case you either pay a toll or call up your own monster to fight it. Then, a quick one-round fight comparing each card's attack against the other card's defense dictates who wins the square. This continues until one player obtains the target amount of magic points, which double as money, and gets back to the starting square.
It sounds simple, and it is. But, like all the best games, there are layers of strategy and nuance that hook you ever deeper into the game. The creatures have either one of four elemental attributes: Fire, Water, Earth and Wind, or are neutral or a mix of several elements. So is every square on the board. The elements coincide with the tiles on the board, which when combined with a like-elemented (yes, we made that up) creature yield a variety of chain bonuses. Put a Minotaur on a Fire Attribute Land territory and you’ll get +10 HP. If you position more of your monsters on adjacent squares, you get more multipliers. You getting all this?
You can also use one other card each battle, such as a mace or armor or even another monster, to enhance your fighting cards' offense or defense. Finally, you can spend magic points to "level up" each cell of land - just like putting a hotel on a Monopoly square - to give it a higher rent, or even change its elemental affinity entirely. Oh yeah - you also win new cards each battle (there are more than 500) and can construct your own decks, which the game calls "books".
In fact, you'll need to do a ton of that in order to beat some of the higher-level enemies. The game gets progressively more difficult, but there’s a Versus mode that let’s you jump out of the story mode if you get stumped by a particular fight, build up your book and then go back and kick some serious ass.
Suffice to say, there's enough depth here to have you going for months. The great thing about Culcept Saga is that even if you didn’t understand anything we just described above, you can literally just jump in and start playing and you’ll do great. On an equally cool yet vexing note, you can play 150 matches (even online!) and still not fully have the skill and know-how to call yourself a Culcept Master. Translation: Culdcept Saga has an infinite replayability factor.
If you give it a chance, you’ll be amazed by how difficult it is to put Culdcept Saga down. We found ourselves pulled away from Devil May Cry 4, Burnout Paradise and Supreme Commander, all to jump into another match of cardbased tit-for-tat. It’s not because the story is so compelling. And it certainly isn’t because of some great visual wizbangery, the graphics are generally pretty ho-hum, though the art on the cards can be pretty. It’s just damn fun.
Feb 12, 2008