Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards is one of the earlier games made available for tablet and mobile devices that actually delivered a fully-realized trading card game, with deck construction, booster packs and internet tournament play. However, there’s a twist: units are played to a game board with tile spaces, introducing a spatial element to the game.
Cabals is a thoroughly player-driven strategy game that sees you casting spells and calling units from your deck and hand to a battlefield in an intense, area control style struggle — grabbing and maintaining key tile positions is more important than the result of individual combat between units.
Does this game still stand up to the competition, years after its initial release? Read on to find out…
One of the most unique features of Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards is that the game board being used in each game can be different from the last. The specific shape of the board and the placement of pathways and important tiles means that the strategy required to gain and maintain control is slightly different for each game. You’ll have to think carefully about how best to proceed moving your units around by capturing resource locations as quickly as possible. You need to do so in order to have more resource points to spend on playing cards each turn, as well as controlling deployment locations to summon them onto the board closer to your opponent’s stronghold.
There are no resource cards in Cabals, so the method of gaining resources is dependent almost entirely on generating them per turn from the resource locations under your control. There are also card abilities that will gain you resources, but these are usually conditional effects so you might not always be able to play them. Therefore, capturing as many resource locations as present on that particular game board is extremely important.
Deployment locations provide a further means by which to take over control of the board. Whoever controls them is capable of summoning units to that tile, just like on your own stronghold tile. This can be game changing if you are able to deploy units much farther up the map towards your opponent’s stronghold, making it faster for your units to travel towards it in your attempt to conquer it.
The maps are quite varied and have a number of unique shapes, some even asymmetrical, which leads to interesting power struggles for certain areas of the board and the special tiles they harbor. It is one of the most unique aspects to this game, which really makes it shine beyond just the card combat aspect of the game.
Deck Building and Strategy
Decks must contain a minimum of 30 cards but have no maximum limit imposed, so you can put in as many cards as you feel necessary provided there are no more than 3 copies of a single card in the same deck. Cards belong to one of the factions, which means that while any deck can play any card, cards will be much cheaper if they are paired with cards and Heroes of the same faction.
Each card has a cost in both basic resource points and loyalty. The loyalty cost is a kind of threshold which makes the card cheaper if you have a Hero and other units of that faction in play already. While it’s not always required to make a deck purely out of a single faction, this is usually the best way to make your cards as cheap as possible in terms of their resource cost when playing them.
Cards come into play with a base Power, and a hidden amount of Stamina which usually equals their starting Power cost unless their effect text dictates otherwise. When a card attacks another card, both deal damage equal to their Power and take damage as a hit to their Stamina. A big part of strategy for a lot of deck types in this game is manipulating Power and Stamina in various ways in order to strengthen your own units and weaken your opponent’s.
There are also Action cards which apply instantly when played. You can only play Action cards in your turn, but otherwise are free to play them whenever you like. Since there are no phases, you can play a card, attack, move and call new units in any order you like, provided you are able to carry them out. It’s often quite important to play things in an order that will give you the best outcome, such as playing a unit, boosting it with an Action card first, and then ramming it into an opponent’s unit. Therefore, it’s important to think out all your options and possible courses of action before you make a move.
The World and Art of Cabals
Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards contains beautifully hand painted digital artwork to evoke a mysterious, esoteric atmosphere. There are several factions fighting for control over the world and these factions are shadowy, occult groups that wield both magic and technology in order to assert their dominance.
The six factions in the game currently are: Bearclaw Brotherhood, Danann Covenant, Vril Society, Order of Zahir, Dragon Enclave, and the Sons of Osiris. Full of mystical shamans, beasts, faeries, Oriental priests, mad scientists and occult artifact-seeking archaeologists, thematically this game is quite the mixture of the weird and wonderful. The art is fantastically evocative of the kind of mood the developers are going for, with a broadly “Lovecraft meets fantasy meets steampunk” aesthetic.
The story is difficult to ascertain just through the game and the cards alone, as is often the case with most trading card games. On the Cabals website is a series of comics which flesh out the world a bit better, and it’s nice to see the developers putting in some extra work to give players some story background in this manner. I would like to see a bit more storytelling in the game, but this is only a minor issue as the game itself is a thoroughly entertaining and brain-stretching activity.
Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards is free-to-play, but at some point you will want to pick up more cards than your starter deck contains to tailor it further towards strengthening its current strategy, or attempting to craft a different one. Booster packs are relatively cheap at a cost of 150 gold, and they come with 10 cards: 6 commons, 3 uncommons and 1 rare.
Each booster available is a mixture of two specific factions, meaning that when you purchase a booster, you are going to get more of the cards you want for the faction you’re focusing on building. As a player, I really appreciate this as it reduces the random aspect to booster packs that many TCG players feel burnt out on. Nevertheless, the boosters are still randomized so it’s never certain what you are going to get. That just increases the excitement as you flip through the cards to see what you’ve pulled.
You can also buy individual Hero cards if you’re going to make a new deck with a new faction, and there’s a range of Heroes to choose from to suit your need. You can also sell cards you don’t want back to the shop in order to buy even more booster packs. This is helpful because you can dump cards from factions you don’t like and use the currency instead.
June 2015 Update to this Review
Since the last time I reviewed Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards, the developers have added quite a lot of content, and we are at version 4.0 of this now-classic mobile CCG. They’ve added more leaderboards, Daily Quests which offer Gold for completing them, player profiles, and even messaging. These all greatly enhance the game’s community aspects and add to the overall longevity of the game.
The developers have also added loads of new cards recently, including a whole new card type called Devices which can’t be moved from the spot they are deployed onto on the battlefield, so you’ll have to place them extremely carefully. Furthermore, new Nether heroes provide more deck building options, while the added Neutral units will allow for more flexible strategies as they’re not tied to any particular faction.
They’ve also enhanced the rewards for free-to-play players. The Level Rewards system has been greatly improved, offering a much more rewarding experience for players that prefer to endure a grind or are unable to put more money into the game. When you level up, you’re given a Common, an Uncommon, and a Rare card each, as well as the option to spend a small amount of Gold to “refresh” the cards you’ll be receiving. This is a very flexible system that meets players halfway between randomized rewards and player choice. The grind is much more fair now, as it’s faster to acquire a larger collection this way than the way it used to be handled.
Cabals 4.0 is the best version to date, and it makes the game feel fresh and vibrant again. All of the community events and competitions they have going on regularly are exciting to take part in, such as tracking fights between all the factions when players use a single-faction hero to see which faction comes out on top, with rewards relevant to that faction.
Also, the Cabals team has been working on developing a physical version of the game, converting it into a board game. Exciting, as we’ll soon be able to play Cabals on the tabletop! I can’t wait to introduce this game to my board game friends that are not as into digital card games as I am. I know they will love it.
Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards is definitely a cerebral TCG/CCG experience that requires more time and careful strategy than most digital card games. There is a seriously hefty trading card game beneath the simple, functional presentation of the user interface. There’s also an active community playing Cabals to a high standard with regular tournaments occurring each month, as well as special events and even chances at player-designed boards making it into the game, if you fancy your hand at a bit of game design.
I definitely enjoy playing Cabals and find it to be one of the best designed card games available for Android and iOS, especially. Just make sure you have a good 20 minutes or so when you sit down to play this, because the games can be quite involved and take some time to finish. With that said, I highly recommend checking this game out. It’s at the top of its game and is better than it has ever been before.
For more screenshots, click here.
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