Alteil, An In-Depth Review

7.2 TCG RATING
Gameplay: 7/10
Sounds: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10

Unique battlefield layout that emphasizes the strategy of battle. | Glorious artwork and decent music.

Unreliable online client that crashes too frequently. | Small community of players.

PC, Mac, Linux

Free to play with in-game purchases.

June 1,2008

English

Alteil has been around for a while, amassing quite the following along the way. This web-based fantasy tactical battlefield card game has some stunning artwork and a refreshing combat mechanic that sets it apart from other CCGs.

Despite its age, it still looks relevant and has consistent updates from the development team. There are several warring factions that are imbued with power from the sun or the moon. With a rich narrative and ongoing story as the game progresses, Alteil sure looks like a unique game.

Can Alteil stand up against the competition? Read on to find out…

Main-menu

A brand new interface and layout for the golden age of digital card games. Gone are the drab menus and bland colors, and in comes a refreshing look that’s modern and sleek. Things are looking promising already!

GAMEPLAY

Alteil underwent a recent transformation because of the innovations in web-based development tools that are now available. I’m pleased to say that the user interface looks much better and the overall presentation is far more appealing. The game sorely needed this overhaul to be able to compete against popular tablet and phone-based games that have captured most of the market with their amazing looks and improved gameplay. Web-based systems still have their flaws and the one that is most apparent in Alteil is the long loading times between screens and the occasional error message that completely stops you playing!

Setting these flaws aside, I tried to test as much as I could. There is a tutorial to learn the basics of the game which is driven by a half-decent story. After this you can participate in some practice matches aimed at progressing your understanding of the mechanics. I was thankful for this, as the game is more complicated than many other CCGs out there.

What I like about the card-drawing system in Alteil is that there isn’t one. You have complete access to your deck during a duel and can summon any unit and cast any spell, as long as you can pay for it. The only restriction is that you can only play one card per turn (this is called a set). Once both players have chosen (or passed) a set card they are revealed. They come into play at the start of the next turn and can be placed on one of your free spaces. Spells are cast instantly and some units have effects that are triggered when they are revealed, placed on the board, and in some cases, both.

Setting-a-card

The start of the game will be slow. This increases the need for foresight and planning ahead, using your SP and your deck’s resource color to bring your units on to the field. Who should I choose first?

At the start of the game you’ll likely be stuck having a one-on-one showdown between two cards. As you build up your resources, you’ll be able to summon more powerful units to the field. There are two resources in Alteil that restrict what you can do even further. SP is your go-to resource for triggering card abilities and summoning units.

There are also 4 different faction resource pools that need to be upgraded at the cost of SP. These determine the level of the card that can be played. Obviously the more powerful cards are of a higher level. However, I found no real reason to sacrifice too much SP to use higher level cards, as you can survive well on a majority of level 3 cards.

Because there are three rows where you can summon your units it is only natural to have units that have a greater range of attack. This is called RNG (ranged) in Alteil and is coupled with an AGI (agility) statistic that determines the order of attacks performed by all units – including the opponent.

When bringing units out, you have to constantly be aware of what is on the board and what is sitting in your opponent’s Set area. If all of the opponent’s cards have a higher AGI than yours, your units are more likely to die before they can perform an attack.

Soul-skill-activate

Losing HP will cause some of your Soul Cards to activate. These give you a way of clawing back some of the game-state in your favor when burying units or taking direct hits.

This is what brings about a lot of the strategy in Alteil. It’s not a simple “summon and attack” game because of all the different things going on at any given time. These systems should make it one of the most enjoyable battle systems in a card game, but they don’t. There is one huge flaw in this system that I — and I am sure others — find infuriating. Your units will attack a unit at random that is within range. You cannot select the target of your unit’s attacks and more often than not, it will avoid attacking the very unit you wish to destroy first. I found this to be a huge disappointment after a massive build-up of some epic gameplay mechanics, but if you’re okay with the random attacking mechanic, you might find it less frustrating than I do.

The goal is to defeat your opponent by reducing their life to zero. Starting life is low, but is not representative of the attack values of the units as they only deal one damage when performing a direct attack. There are ways to extend your life through the use of Soul Cards that have their own place on the board. When you take direct damage from an attack these are revealed one at a time and their Soul Card ability activates. This is one of the better parts of the game and adds so much flexibility in the deckbuilding aspect of the game.

Choose-your-rival

Test your decks in the arena using A.I. opponents. These range in their level and difficulty, and are perfect to hone your skills. The truth is you’ll be playing these guys more than real opponents.

MODES AND FEATURES

Alteil has the advantage that it is not restricted by app size to determine how many features it can have. This is probably why it has a decent number of features – though they do take a while to load between screens.

Of course, with this being a CCG, we have both a single and multiplayer offering. I would love to tell you about the single-player feature, but I never got it to load. It was the one feature that, despite trying it on three different browsers, simply never loaded.

I’m going to assume it has a variety of missions that’ll reward you with either of the game’s in-game currencies of GRAN (soft currency) or FM (premium currency). It may even reward you with new cards to add to your collection, but without seeing it I cannot be sure.

Deck-editing

The deckbuilder is very easy to use. The filter system is super efficient and helps to narrow down the card choices you need to build the deck you want.

I did manage to check out the multiplayer and it is of the standard variety. Fight an opponent online using your custom-built deck and the victor gets a ranking increase, along with some experience. Nothing really noteworthy or special about it, and it will probably take a while before you have a deck decent enough to compete with the long-standing fans of the game.

The Arena is essentially a practice ground and spectator area for you to compete against an A.I. opponent or watch a game in progress. The A.I. opponents scale in level and difficulty and will provide you with some experience to get you on your way to leveling your Iczer (avatar).

The shop area holds your usual booster packs that can be purchased using soft or hard currencies, but the real fun part here is the mass of customization options you have for your avatar. You can completely personalize your avatar using an array of costumes and accessories to show your personality off to the world. I spent more time here than I thought I would, and despite not committing to a purchase, I did have a lot of fun tinkering with the different outfits!

Big-damage-skills-can-win-games

Use the card effects and placement to your advantage. Although I had to commit a lot to my resource level, it paid off because this mammoth wipes my opponent cards out in one move!

DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY

The deckbuilder in Alteil is your classic drag-and-drop interface. You have access to your entire pool of cards on the one screen and can filter these with ease. You can go for a mono-faction build, or choose to use more than one if you think you can pull it off. As in Magic: The Gathering, it is common for mixed-faction (color) decks to do better than the mono decks.

There is much to think about when forming your strategies. The first thing you need to do is be sure you can afford to bring your units out quickly and without too much risk of them dying immediately. Buffs are super important, as they mitigate damage that can then prolong the life of your units. A unit’s HP is its life-force, and the DEF of a card can help reduce the incoming damage. This makes the buffing of a card with a lower HP even more important.

RNG is probably more important than ATK or DEF for the units’ positioning. Sticking a RNG 1 creature on the back-row is a complete waste of positioning. It may be able to perform its ability from there, but it cannot perform basic attacks. Layering your units in terms of their RNG value and the different stats they can provide one another is a hugely beneficial tactic, I found.

Randomly-attack-a-unit

If I could take one feature out of the game it would be the randomness of the attacks. I want to be able to select my targets as it would be more beneficial for me to do so. The sheer randomness was seriously discouraging, but you do have some level of control elsewhere in the game’s mechanics, at least.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I was so psyched-up when I was learning the basics of the game, but was totally disappointed by the randomness of the attacks my units would perform, the consistent crashing of the game in-browser, and the slow loading times between the game’s modes and features screens. There is a solid game under all of this, though, and it does deserve a try, but I don’t think I could ever be enticed to put some real cash into it.

Progression in games is often slow, but nothing felt as slow as the progression in Alteil. I would lose to A.I. decks that were the same level as me. I could not get a decent online game going and even if I could, I’m sure the people would completely obliterate me as it takes some dedicated fans to stick with a game that has crash and loading issues.

Overall I think Alteil has done well by its current fan base with an overhaul to the aesthetics of the game and frequent updates. All too often we see older web-based CCGs fall off the grid or are completely abandoned by the development teams behind them. So, credit where it is due for this team to continually show Alteil some love and to give back to the community that continues to back it. I’m not sure how successful it will be at bringing in new players with so many top-level games coming out right now. If you’re into the art style though, it’s definitely worth checking out.

For more screenshots, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.
  • IlyaKipnis

    Okay, so, a little about me–I was once one of Alteil’s highest-ever rated players, reaching a rating of beyond 2200 (which fewer than 10 in its history have ever achieved), from a base rating of 1500. I’ve played the original game for a few years. Most people don’t play long enough to see the game’s downsides, so allow me to elaborate.

    I’m not sure what state the game is in now (not sure if it’s even playable, it hasn’t been for years, it seems), or what the size of the community that still plays it, assuming any, is. In any case, the problem with the game is that here’s the thing about randomness–you can try and move it around, but ultimately, you can’t have every match be a question of who outplays whom.

    There is a very critical downside to a deterministic “have your entire deck available to you at once” type of game–namely, that good matchups become auto-pilot, and bad matchups become automatic losses. Both destroy engaging gameplay.

    Alteil’s greatest weakness, more than anything else, is that due to the tiny deck sizes, it’s very difficult to actually create a strategy which has a playable chance to win against anything an opponent can come up with. This makes not only high-level play degenerate, but most other play as well. Why? Because if one can’t just create a deck that can stand up to any other, it gives rise to a pernicious meta-strategy of playing a deck that can stand up to most others, but has a particularly good matchup against the several high-level players currently in the arena. Given the tiny deck sizes and the small player base, it’s actually feasible (in fact, I’ve done this in the past) to actually *memorize* an opponent’s deck, down to its last card.

    But, say you do create a deck that actually can fight off any other opponent. After all, I’ve gone on a winning streak of more than 40 games in a row, and one person has actually achieved a winning streak of more than ONE HUNDRED wins in a row (with a deck that’s basically Alteil’s exact analogue to Magic the Gathering’s vaunted mono-blue control decks of yore). Well, regardless of player skill, will the balancing team let that sit?

    Oh, heck no!

    Throughout the game’s history, Alteil’s balance/testing team, mostly comprised of mediocre players themselves, changed the metagame through very questionable balance decisions by stripping cards of their original versatility. Now, back to the point of tiny decks, the biggest blow you can deal to a card, is to remove one of the aspects that made it worth playing in the first place. Now, this seems like good game stewardship, but the size of these changes weren’t simply a subtle change that made a card slightly less oppressive, but drastic changes that turned some matches from “unfavorable, but playable” to “throw your deck out”.

    This has happened multiple times to multiple cards that formed the foundations of multiple high-level decks.

    Now, here’s the real kicker–creating a deck that one can actually play and not feel utterly frustrated with playing half the time (because, again, small player base -> get placed against the best decks in short order), takes a LARGE amount of resources, including but not limited to acquiring three separate copies of cards of the highest rarities, which only appear randomly once in a blue moon, but also acquiring cards that are only *on sale for a limited time only*. Whether through time spent grinding, or money spent, these are some serious resources deployed in an effort to actually have an enjoyable experience. So when the ill-formulated balance changes come through, it’s quite possible that a deck which may have taken several hundred hours or dollars worth of playtime to assemble, will suddenly become a shadow of its former self–with you having *nothing* to show for it.

    And then of course, there’s the power creep. After all, in order to provide incentives for people to actually buy new cards, the developers have to make those cards *worth buying* (duh). So, how do developers provide incentives to buy the new cards? Well, have them beat out the old cards. In this case, it’s simply about the math. If you have one set, everyone uses those cards. When you release a second set, you need to make the new cards be worth using, which means replacing some old cards–from one set. Okay, feasible. Now, the third set comes around, and those cards need to replace cards from two previous sets. Fast forward to 12 or 13 sets, and you see how, eventually, something beyond variety has to give, especially if the new “variety” will just be kept out of tier-1 status by older cards.

    To give Alteil credit where it’s due, when the game is played as it was *intended* to be played–that is, neither player trying to win the game before it’s played, neither player knowing the composition of the other’s deck, at high level, you truly can get some amazing back-and-forth games that are a blast to play.

    However, due to the flaws in both deck size, and the lacking capabilities of the developers, the game, which was the most popular online card game in all Japan, is now still in a tiny little sandbox beta, with no player base to speak of. Basically, Alteil as it currently stands, is basically a case study in how to take something good which had the potential to be great, and run it into the ground instead.

    I’m just hoping there’s a game with as polished an interface and as good artwork, with a deeper strategy space, and whose biggest challenge is other opponents, as opposed to trying to stay ahead of the arbitrary balance changes.

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