Berserk: Universe is a fantasy online trading card game set in the world of Laar. Players summon units to a grid and engage in tactical combat with dice rolls as modifiers in a unique twist on the grid combat mechanic. This makes Berserk: Universe feel more like a board game than a traditional trading card game, but it still maintains all of the genre’s major elements: deck building, factions, booster packs and so on. The game also boasts a variety of online modes and features that place it more within the realm of a MMO (massively multiplayer online) game.
So how well does Berserk: Universe implement this board-game style of grid combat and is it a good game overall? Read on to find out…
In Berserk: Universe, players are Ungars: wandering mages that can wield magical crystals to control the creatures of Laar. Each Ungar comes to the battlefield with a deck of cards that can have creatures, weapons and locations in them. The first thing you’ll do when starting a new game is draw 15 cards from the deck into your setup hand.
This is a new and rather unusual mechanic for a TCG/CCG, but the idea is that you’ll get 15 cards to choose from to “build” your Squad into your battlefield’s slots. You’ll start with 24 Golden Crystals and 22 Silver Crystals, and cards in your deck cost Crystals to deploy them to your starting Squad. This is almost a secondary sort of deck building, except it happens at the start of each game. You can also pay Crystals to mulligan cards from the hand.
I found this to be an interesting way of forcing the player to build their deck with setup flexibility in mind, and it creates variance for each game even when using the same deck. You have to carefully balance higher and lower costing cards to ensure an even gradient of costs to be able to consistently build effective squads. I like that they also included an “Auto-fill” button which lets the game decide for you what cards to pick if you’re unsure of what to do. This especially comes in handy when first learning the game.
Once the Squad is built, the battlefield is revealed. Each player controls half of the grid, as well as their own “additional field” of four slots at the side, where flying creatures and locations are placed. Players roll dice to determine who goes first and then the first player can take his turn. Players take turns selecting cards to take their actions. Creatures can move for free but then must decide to either use one of their actions (an attack, or a special ability) or remain un-exhausted to potentially defend against incoming attacks (something they cannot do if exhausted).
Attacks are resolved with a die roll. If the opponent can defend the attack, they get to roll a die as well. The difference in the numbers will determine at which “strength” level the attack will resolve. Each creature has 3 attack values, a weak, average, and strong level attack. The amount of damage is usually different for each of these, meaning that the damage they deal will not always be the same.
This attack system is a large part of the dynamism and variance of the game. Combat is usually more “set” in stone in other TCGs/CCGs. You’ll either love or hate this dice system, to be honest, but I actually really enjoy the slight variance of attacks. It makes combat more exciting because you don’t 100% know the outcome before you choose to attack, like in many other card games.
Creatures in Berserk: Universe deal damage to the opponent creature’s health permanently until they’re destroyed. The players themselves do not have any kind of “life points” that are a target – rather, it is defeating the opponent’s Squad of creatures that is the victory condition. I think I prefer this to the “mages with life points” system we see in lots of other games because it means creatures are the priority for combat and winning the game and I really enjoy creature combat.
There would be a lot of headaches with damage tokens, rolling dice, moving cards around the grid and so on in if this was a physical game. Therefore, being entirely digital, it benefits massively from being able to handle all of the “fiddliness” of these elements. Everything is taken care of behind the scenes so all you need to do is pay attention to the changing values on the board.
The gameplay here is really quite refreshing for a TCG/CCG – the battlefield makes it feel a bit more like a board game, as well as those dice rolls for resolving attacks and blocking. This is definitely a step in the right direction for the TCG/CCG genre in my opinion. There are a lot of interesting decisions about what to move and where, when to attack and when to save for blocking, and so on. Many creatures have more than one attack which means more strategic options, and that’s always a good thing for this genre as we start to move away more from the “single attack value” style of combat we’ve been stuck with for many years.
Modes and Features
There is no single-player campaign here to speak of, but there is a rich selection of AI and PvP options to engage in. You can choose to challenge Master AI opponents to test out decks and earn wins for your character, which is an avatar image that you can buy and upgrade the more levels you earn. I enjoy when games enable to you have a greater sense of progression over time like this by leveling up and gaining achievements, especially when it comes with rewards like free cards as in the image below.
I was impressed to find that beyond just the core game, Berserk: Universe boasts a range of supporting modes and features that really flesh out the overall player experience. Daily missions are a great way of earning in-game currency and they are relatively easy to accomplish: playing matches, buying mini-boosters with silver, gifting in-game postcards to other players and so on. You can challenge other players in the Arena hall, or you can join draft tournaments that use pro-booster packs as the basis from which to build a deck. I love drafting so games always get points with me when they include a draft mode.
Something unusual and new is the presence of pets, which are a rather cute and fun addition to the game. These accompany your hero when you have them equipped and they actually have real in-game effects that benefit your character or your position in the Clan Wars mode. You can feed them food which you buy from the shop with silver and they can gain experience and level up themselves. Little things like this make the game feel a bit more feature-rich and fun to engage with.
Another online mode likely to attract a lot of long-term investment from players is the Clan Wars mode where you can join or make your own Clan and then attempt to slowly take over regions of the Clan Wars map. Players can hold different ranks within a Clan as they help win battles for the Clan and move the Clan’s overall ranking up the ladder.
All the locations on the Clan Wars map are interconnected by a series of roads and trade passageways which you use to capture new areas and increase your dominance. There are also Barbarian Clans not controlled by any Clan which roam around attacking cities so you have to be mindful of that as well. This part of the game can get really addictive when you get into it, especially if you join a larger Clan that has a strong membership to engage with.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
The factions of Berserk: Universe are called elements and they are five in number, with a sixth neutral element. There don’t appear to be any restrictions on mixing elements when deckbuilding, which means the elements become primarily useful when abilities target cards of specific elements. The elements are: Forests, Steppes, Swamps, Mountains, Darkness and Neutrals.
Forests contain elves, centaurs, faeries, druids and other forest-like creatures. Steppes contain noble humans and warriors, as well as some orcs and gremlins too. The Swamps are full of twisted forest-like creatures such as trolls, swamp Maidens, and some undead-type monsters. The Mountains are home to dwarves, icy creatures and other viking-like warriors. Lastly, Darkness is populated with vampires, witches, zombies and other dark denizens. Neutrals have miscellaneous humans and other creatures that don’t fit clearly into any other element.
A lot of the strategy of the game comes with building decks that maximize the value of their effects. These are usually tribal effects that work by acting on sub-type keywords on creatures themselves, such as the Inquisitor or Coven keywords. Some decks even work around inflicting status effects on enemy cards and using that to your advantage, such as the “Cursed” keyword which I’ve attempted to build a deck around in the image below.
Berserk: Universe is clearly a game crafted by developers who have a deep love of the TCG/CCG genre. It appears that they are seeking to push the envelope with game design in the genre, taking it in a new direction that increases the strategic depth and choices available over the course of a game. I am incredibly impressed with this game precisely because I think it achieves what it clearly sets out to do: evolve the TCG/CCG genre rather than seek to imitate or clone what has already come before.
In doing so, they’re taking some risky chances that may alienate some traditional TCG/CCG fans: dice rolling has always been a pet peeve for many players of these kinds of card games, precisely because they are so used to being able to control the outcome of every strategic action they take with clear and precise results. Personally, while I am not a fan of effects that require dice rolls to resolve, I am very impressed with the way in which dice rolls are a part of the combat in this game because it feels much more controlled and they have won me over with this dice system. You’re always aware of what the 3 possible damage outcomes are when making an attack, and so the randomness is restricted more heavily when the outcomes are limited and you know what they are.
Further, the developers haven’t just created the game and abandoned it inside a shell of an online matchmaking system with a shop for boosters. There’s a whole range of other features and game modes here that put it squarely into the MMO realm – Clan Wars, draft modes and tournaments, avatars and pets with their own unique game-changing affects, achievements, talismans… there is so much to sink your teeth into here.
If you’re at all wanting to try out a new game with some unique mechanics and a whole structure in which to advance your character slowly but surely, you must check out Berserk: Universe. It meets all of those needs and more. Hopefully you’ll be just as pleasantly surprised as I am about it.
For more screenshots, click here.
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