Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles, An In-Depth Review

7.9 TCG RATING
Gameplay: 8/10
Sounds: 7/10
Artwork: 7/10

Addictive castle-building mechanics. | Light, but fast and fun combat strategy.

Not as much variety of castle rooms and cards as you'd like there to be, just yet.

Android, iOS (Summer 2015), PC (Beta), Mac (Beta), Linux (Beta)

Free to play, with in-game purchases.

March 23,2015

English, Spanish, French, German, Russian

Recently updated with loads of new content! Read the Update section below.

Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles is a fantasy mobile combat strategy game based around constructing, developing and defending your own castle while attempting to raid others’ for gold and experience points. In doing so, you’ll be using a small deck of cards made up of Witches, Goblins, Knights, Warriors, and Spells to defeat the enemy castle’s defenses of fire-spitting dragons and booby traps.

It’s a unique blend of the addictive “building structures over time” style of gameplay that is popular on mobile/tablet devices with a little bit of a card combat and deck building aspect to it as well.

So how does this combination work, and does it result in a good game? Read on to find out…

player-castle

A view of your castle, where you’ll continually be working on building new floors and rooms within your structure. It’s a balancing act between focusing on productivity and defensive rooms to hinder other players’ attacks.

Gameplay

Players start off with a small castle that has a couple of floors full of empty slots. You must use your starting amount of gold to start building essential features for your castle, called Rooms. These have a variety of effects and they’re all pretty much needed: the Libraries dictate the size of your deck, the Card Shop is responsible for the quality and level of the cards you buy in packs, Foundries generate gold for you slowly over time, and so on.

You must also put in defensive structures of fire-breathing guards, barricades, traps, and canons. This is because at any time while you’re offline, other players can attack your castle and attempt to steal some gold from you. You are also able to attack other players too, and you do this with your deck of cards.

Combat consists of loading up your deck with cards and then choosing which floor to deploy each unit to. They come alive at the right-hand side of the screen and attempt to attack everything in front of them heading towards the left-hand side of the screen. They have to destroy everything in their path before they teleport away at the end of the floor. You can only successfully defeat the castle if you destroy the Castle Heart, which is the “core” of the Castle. However, you need to mostly attempt to destroy everything on each floor to earn the maximum number of stars and rewards from the level.

pvp-enemy-castle

Before mounting an offensive on another player’s castle, you’ll need to assess which floors to attack and in which order. This player has heavily defended the floor housing the Castle’s Heart, which is the victory objective.

Your units in Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles have a variety of special abilities which slowly become better and greater the higher the quality and level of the card. You earn these from better quality packs by upgrading your castle’s Card Shop Room. Higher rarity cards tend to have better stats and more enchantments on them, but you can upgrade lower level cards using gold. This makes the cards feel somewhat customizable, and they evolve over time as you make them stronger through upgrades. I enjoy this aspect of the game because it means the cards don’t feel static, but rather like living characters that can become stronger over time.

Combat in the game is fun, but the strategic decisions are not going to bust your brain here. You have to decide which units are going to be most useful on which floors and you’ll have to determine the best order to play them in for the most efficient attack. While light, I found the strategy to be really enjoyable precisely because it didn’t require chess-like mental powers to work out the most optimal play, which can sometimes be exhausting for a lot of strategy card games. Even then, the outcome is never certain because you’re not ever sure if you’ve put enough units on that specific floor until they’re all dying in front of you and “BOY, DID THAT FAIL!”

card-view

An example of a Witch card, which are ranged attackers with lower health. Individual cards can be upgraded for a lump sum of gold which improves their stats overall, or you can pay to change the enchantments on them.

Modes and Features

Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles doesn’t have too many game modes. You’ll mostly be attacking the AI’s castles to gain more gold in the early stages. As you finish a level, it will grade you based on how much destruction you managed to carry out. If you destroy each floor of the castle, it will give you three “skull levels” up on the AI and the AI will level up after enough of these perfect attack rounds.

As the AI gets harder, so will their castles and you’ll need to focus on bettering your deck and your own castle in order to improve your overall strength. You can also attack other players’ castles in the same fashion, but often I found the castles to be much harder than my current strength could defeat, so I stuck mostly to the AI enemies. I am sure eventually you will reach a point where attacking other players becomes worth the challenge.

Otherwise, there isn’t much of a single-player campaign to speak of: the Achievements are the closest thing you’ll get to a list of “Quests” to complete, but towards this end they are rather useful because they are instructive of what you need to do while providing gems and cards for doing them.

There are a few Ladders which show the players who have the most trophies, the most XP, the most stolen gold, and so on. These are fun but don’t really provide anything other than street cred. It will however attract more attackers to you, since you can automatically bring up any of these players’ castles to view.

achievements

The Achievements function as the “campaign” aspect of the game, gently nudging you towards higher goals of construction and combat with appropriate rewards for doing so.

Deckbuilding and Strategy

Strategy here is fairly light, but still requires some meaningful choices from the player. Choosing how to structure the rooms in your castle is the first area that requires strategic decisions. Mostly you’ll be wanting to create a lot of defensive structures, like guards and traps. It’s better to keep the ranged attacker guards somewhere in the middle with some barricades in front, as they can attack through those to stop any incoming invaders. No strategy is perfect though and the attacker may just have enough cards to throw at the problem, but it doesn’t hurt to make it harder for them.

Similarly, when attacking others’ castles, you’ll need to look at the structure of the castle and its room placement. After locating the floor of the Castle’s Heart, you’ll need to decide how many other floors to attack as well. Ideally you should be able to clear each floor, but that isn’t always possible if the castle is really built up tough. You will get much lower rewards just going for the Heart floor than if you clear out the whole castle, though.

It’s good to have a mixture of cards in the deck because each unit type has a different focus. Goblins have higher health which makes them ideal for the front line. They soak up incoming attacks and protect your higher damage units behind them. Witches are great for their ranged attacks, but low health makes them susceptible to a quick death if they start taking damage. Warriors and Knights are good to place just behind the Goblins if you can. Spells have a more limited scope and are situational but can help in a pinch, like healing a Goblin at the front who’s nearly dead.

deck-editing

Your deck size increases when you upgrade your libraries, so it’s crucial that you do so because more cards equals more attackers. This is the most important upgrade you can make for your deck.

Major Update

Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles has received a number of large updates recently. I decided to take a look at these and see what’s new, how this affects the game, and if it enhances the overall gameplay experience!

First of all, the game has added in a new Minion with the Archer, who has an innovative attack pattern (shoots in an arc which hits rooms higher up) and a new Defender with the Acid-Sprayer (making clouds of devastating acid that harm Minions when they walk through it!). These add a bit more variety which is always welcome.

New Spells have also been added into the mix, along with some other miscellaneous game enhancements that tinker with and improve things overall. Guilds, Leagues, and Seasons have seen some modifications and updates. Most notable for Guilds is the restructuring of Guild Ranks, with the addition of the Recruit rank. This rank has far less power than the more senior members and can be promoted or kicked by those of a higher rank. This should help Guild leaders organize their ‘guildies’ a bit better!

craft-cards

Now card crafting is available, using the mana resource which you earn by completing achievements and disenchanting cards you don’t want or need. This helps with the redundancy of having lots of useless common cards, that’s for sure.

Other enhancements come in the form of new achievements, new rewards for inviting friends, and making the game fairer. There are 10 new enhancements to enrich your Arcanox experience further. Healing, cooldown timers, attack range modification, damage reduction, and goblin revival are among these new additions which add much more variety and strategy to the game.

Another new feature is the ability to craft cards using mana. You can disenchant cards or complete achievements for more mana and with this comes the ability to craft any card in the game. Lastly, I love the addition of daily tasks for the guild system as well. It makes working together much more fun and rewarding than ever before, so make sure you’re involved in a guild to get the most out of the game!

Final Thoughts

Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles is a lot more fun than I was expecting just from the look of it. It has a seriously addictive quality to it. The game can be a bit light on strategy when it comes to combat, but there are still interesting choices to be made – “Do I send the Goblin to this floor, or that one? Do I back it up with a Witch or send in another Warrior? Oh, fudgesicles! I can’t cast these cards fast enough to keep up with the guards!” The real-time element means that you’ll need to think quickly about your strategy and then deploy it as fast as you can. It’s an interesting little problem that the game throws at you each time and you have to work out which of your tools are the right ones for the job.

I’m not a fan of games that have cool down timers, but since there is no stamina system that staggers your ability to play the game I can deal with cool downs on construction as that is a realistic representation of workers taking time to build things. I like that you can mount as many attacks against the AI enemy as you like and this is a really good source of quick and cheap gold in the early stages of the game. The building aspect is really fun and appeals to our human psychological desire to see something grow organically in front of us with our own input.

I think the distribution model is really fair as well – it’s free-to-play insofar as you can earn the premium currency in game, albeit somewhat slowly. The only place it’s really needed is to buy packs of cards, and otherwise it’s usually used to speed up construction which, if you’re patient, you can choose to wait instead. Gold is the more important currency for advancement in the game and you can generate enough of that through your gold foundries.

Overall I think Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles is a great little casual game that has some fun elements in it. I’d like to see more card types and more attack/defense rooms in the castles for a bit more variety, but hopefully future updates will be adding more content of this kind to the game. As it stands, it’s still a really enjoyable little mobile gaming experience that I can wholeheartedly recommend if the idea appeals to you.

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.

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