There’s been a large update to the game! Read the Large Update section below.
Cards and Castles is a cartoon-style fantasy game on iOS and Android mixing elements of collectible card games with grid-based strategy. Summon units, build structures and cast spells onto the field in an attempt to destroy your opponent’s castle before they can destroy yours.
There have been a few more games coming out recently on mobile/tablets that blend CCG mechanics and deck building with a spacial dimension on a grid, involving tactical movement and ranged combat with animated units and attacks.
So how well does Cards and Castles do this, given that there are a lot of games in this design space? Read on to find out…
Players bring a 40 card deck full of units, spells and buildings to the battlefield. You start the game with 2 gold and each turn you’ll gain 1 extra gold. Crucially, you can’t save gold in between turns so if you don’t spend it, it’s wasted. You draw one card per turn and there is no other means by which to draw cards, except when card effects bestow extra card draw abilities.
Each player controls a castle with health points that you need to defend. Units are summoned within close range of your castle and will then have a movement stat that determines how far they can walk in one turn. Each of your units can move once and attack once (in either order first). Some have ranged attacks, but many are melee and require being adjacent to the target. When attacked, some units will do a small amount of damage back.
Most matches have some guard towers that start off neutral, but when dealt 5 damage will “convert” to your color. If any enemy units are close enough, these towers can do a small ranged attack on them. It doesn’t sound like much, but the guard towers really do end up influencing your movement and resting placement of your units in order to avoid them being attacked.
Cards and Castles‘ buildings have cool effects like restoring health each turn, adding extra movement to summoned units, or some can even be built on your opponent’s side for negative effects like damaging new units they summon. I love the buildings in this game because they’re also vulnerable to being attacked and have their own health values. Overall, they’re just fun to use.
One other slightly strange function is the “Take Back” button, which lets you reverse some of your moves during your turn. At first I thought this was kind of like cheating and enabled poor decision making, but eventually I came to see how cleverly they’ve implemented it. You can only do it a limited amount of times over a match, which means it is also a kind of scarce resource, and it helps you take back a mistake or try out something to see its effect before taking it back if you’re not sure you want to do it. I found it quite useful in many situations.
Battles are not too short and can take upwards of 15-20 minutes to play if both players are good enough to maintain a constant struggle. I found that since card draw slows down a lot at the end of a match, it can swing a lot by whoever maintains board control and then gets lucky enough to draw their powerful units. I think being able to spend gold or the castle’s health to draw extra cards would help ease this, but otherwise I think the game works nicely overall – it provides a fun, strategic, engaging struggle between players fighting to maintain board control.
Modes and Features
Cards and Castles‘ online modes are Ranked and Friendly, which are pretty self-explanatory. In Ranked, winning matches gains you stars and you rank up over time. It works a bit like Hearthstone’s Ladder. Friendly games are not ranked so you can be a bit more relaxed and do some deck testing.
Both modes support live and asynchronous play: this is great because some people really love being able to play a match over a longer period of time, just logging in casually to make their move. I prefer live matches though so I’m glad these are available as well. More choices and ways to play the game are always good.
There are single-player campaigns as well, and these are crafted individually to be slightly different experiences. Some of the scenarios give you a premade deck to play with instead of one of your own, and this was cool to experience because they were tailored to the story theme of that particular campaign. I really liked that and thought it made it more engaging overall.
In terms of other notable features, you can disenchant cards you own for a currency called “Shards” which can be re-spent on crafting any cards you’d like to have. While the rate of exchange for disenchanting is not that great compared to the higher cost of enchanting new cards, it is at least possible to acquire cards without buying boosters. That alone makes it worthwhile over time if you’re trying to obtain certain cards for a deck, in my opinion. This is a model that Hearthstone has set up and it works well there, so why fix what isn’t broken?
The shop contains a variety of boosters which have different purposes so you can make sure to get the kinds of cards you’re looking for. There’s also a “Daily Deals” section that has a few changing special cards on offer and you can usually get at least one of these with the soft currency. They’re often a “shiny” foil version too which appeals to my TCG collecting inclinations (which my wallet hates me for).
Cards and Castles also boasts a draft mode, which for me means that the developers have taken the game out of the realm of the casual and into the more dedicated realm of competitive CCGs. Draft modes are often the long-term lifeblood of a game like this so they’ve been smart to include it. You pick two factions (from two binary choices of two factions each, randomly determined) and then you draft a 30 card deck from choices of 3 cards at a time. Again, the Hearthstone Arena model appears to be the template here, mostly.
That’s where the comparisons end, though. Here, you play a series of five draft matches (but are free to stop in between matches and come back later if you like). One thing I liked about the draft mode is that it lets you play the full five matches, even if you’ve lost most of them (anyone who’s played Hearthstone’s Arena will know this pain). You get to play until the end and only then does it give you the prize you’ve earned.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
Each of the five factions in Cards and Castles have their own distinct identity. The factions are: Warlocks, Pirates, Ninjas, Crusaders and Vikings, as well as Neutral cards which can be added into any deck regardless of genre. The restrictions are that all decks must be 40 cards in size and made up of two factions, but once you’ve chosen these two then there is no further restriction for cards as the ‘gold’ resource to cast/summon them all is factionless when playing.
The Pirates love to earn gold, and lots of it. They also like to draw cards, so you can assume that Pirates just love resources in general. Ninjas are sneaky and they love all kinds of control-type effects, from messing around with units’ speed values, to using stealth and bounce effects.
The Warlocks tend to be a bit weaker in health but love ranged magical attacks to shoot units from a safe distance. They also love spells that deal high amounts of damage. Crusaders are all about holy warriors and priests, which sees the faction boasting a strong focus on healing, protection and buffing with righteous spells.
Lastly, the Vikings are all about powerful melee warriors which are enhanced by buff spells and enchantments that add effects to their attacks, like chain lighting and frost which slows down enemies.
Other than the factions’ specifics, strategy for deckbuilding is pretty straight forward: you need a nice curve of lower to higher costing cards. This is because you don’t want to be overwhelmed at the start of a match with high costing cards that you can’t play. Nor do you want to get to the end-game and not have enough higher costing cards that will help you use the full advantage of having 10 gold per turn. Finding this balance is difficult, but generally you want most of your deck’s cards to cost somewhere between 4-6 gold with the rest being lower and higher than that average. Experiment and see what works for you.
In mid-August of 2015, Cards and Castles received a huge update that changed a lot about the game. So much so that I thought it deserved another quick look to see if it changes the overall user experience.
From the start, I noticed just how much the user interface and overall design had changed, and for the better. Everything is much brighter and the navigation is far more intuitive than it was before. Building a deck, for example, takes far less time than it did before and you can see all of your cards at a glance with more ease.
The colors and design used are far more appealing than in the previously reviewed version too, and this does a good job of giving the game even more of a unique identity. Visual tweaks haven’t stopped at the menu system, either. The cards and the battlegrounds have received a face-lift too. They all look much cleaner and refined than before and are a pleasure to look at during the midst of battle.
I’m a huge fan of the new look, especially how warm and colorful it is now, and I hope that this level of visual improvement continues into the game’s future.
Gameplay features have had some significant changes too. The option to now mulligan up to three of your opening cards grants you much more flexibility than before — we’re seeing a lot of games using this mulligan system now, probably thanks to the popularity of Hearthstone, but I think it’s the best mulligan system around so I’m glad to see it implemented here. I simply hate it when I open up poorly in any card game, and don’t have a way of changing my starting hand. When this option is given to me, I take it!
Additional changes have come in the form of new Hero cards that support players who wish to create the new mono-faction decks. Hero cards are reworked versions of Legendary cards that are more powerful than their older counterparts. You can only use these cards in a mono-faction deck, but to do so is well worth it given their increased power level.
Having played the game with all these new changes I have no hesitation in recommending it even more so than I had before. Cards and Castles may look cute, but beneath the playful exterior beats the heart of a deeply intense and strategic game. Without question, if you’re into the space between casual and heavier TCG/CCG gaming, this one will fill that slot very nicely.
Cards and Castles is a particularly enjoyable genre-mashing game that doesn’t drown you in too many stats and variables to keep track of. It’s just complicated enough to make you feel like you’re playing a heftier strategy game that is hiding underneath the cutesy, cartoon exterior. Matches tend to balance delicately on each player’s choices and all it takes is one wrong move to completely swing the balance of power in a match.
The game is clearly not supposed to be a somber, intense struggle of number crunching; with a lighter tone in presentation and execution, it definitely lies at the more accessible end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it still remains to be quite a deep and strategic experience overall.
With the recent update including the Tournament of Champions card set and some modifications made to the drafting system that have improved it a lot, now is a great time to be getting into the game. If you’re at all interested in turn-based strategy games or collectible card games, this is an enjoyable blend of the two genres that you shouldn’t miss. It has the potential to be an enduring success if they continue to “play their cards right” (see what I did there?).
For more screenshots, click here.
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