It is no secret that the digital trading and collectible card world is filled with games that claim to be free-to-play – only to have them grasp at your wallet with numerous in-app purchases. The usual purchases of random booster packs, energy, and special features always come at a cost that leaves you wondering how you got so deep into the game in the first place. I guess it’s hard to turn back once you’re committed!
Elemental Clash is a CCG that was originally published as a tabletop game in 2013. However, it is not a CCG in the conventional sense, because here the acronym actually stands for Customizable Card Game instead of Collectible Card Game, with sets and expansions coming in non-randomized packs. In Elemental Clash, you take on the role of a powerful spellcaster trying to defeat all other spellcasters of the realm, with one goal in mind — to be the most celebrated spellcaster of them all.
How does the digital conversion of this spellbinding fantasy tabletop game measure up? Read on to find out…
Developers tend to take a lot of care to ensure their games look amazing and enticing in order to compel you to download their game. The development team behind Elemental Clash have done their best to convert a rather complicated playing field (x2, as there’s one side for each player) into a usable interface. The interface is functional but feels a bit clunky at times.
Graphically speaking, there is not too much polish added to the visuals here. The same can be said for the card templates and battle animations. However, the rest of the artwork is much better. The cards have a mixed bag of highly detailed or passable artwork, while the art for the spellcasters is astounding.
The gameplay is a far more compelling reason to play Elemental Clash. The game uses mechanics that will be familiar to Magic: The Gathering players in addition to some new ideas that help the game come into its own.
Elemental Clash is your classic two-player face-off style game. Both players have their own respective zones where they can play their cards that they hope will earn them victory. Your spellbook is your deck, and if you are unable to draw from it, you lose the game — so the emphasis becomes trying to empty the opponent’s spellbook before they empty yours.
You have three zones in total with two for your creatures and one for your resource generation. The ES Zone is where you play elemental stones that generate the resources needed to play a card from your hand. This is a fairly common mechanic, except there is a major twist to this mechanic that makes it far more strategically interesting.
Instead of playing each resource to make a cumulative resource pool, you play them in stacks. When you want to play a creature or spell you play it on top of that stack. The stack is then locked out from being used for the remainder of the turn. The first element stone to be played in the stack is that stack’s base element. This means that if you play a Water stone on top of a Fire stone the stack can be used for Fire creatures and spells only. Luckily there are neutral and dual-colored elemental stone cards that allow for more flexibility.
The second and third zones are where you place your creatures after they come off the stack in your following standby phase. The zones are specifically for attack or defense and where you place the creature will determine its role until the end of the game or it’s destroyed, whichever comes first. I like this flexibility in choosing what role you want your creatures to play and it’s one of the more interesting things about the combat system here.
Creatures in the attack zone can attack opposing creatures in the same zone or attack the opposing player’s spellbook directly. For each point of damage dealt to the opponent, the topmost card of the spellbook is sent to the archive (discard pile). This is your victory condition, rather than attacking the spellcaster’s health as in other similar card games.
The number of cards remaining in either spellbook is always shown so there is never any guesswork as to how many cards you need to eliminate before you can win. It’s a bit like having health points, except that your health points are tied directly to the cards you have in your deck. Losing a crucial card to an attack can be devastating to your deck’s strategy!
The gameplay in Elemental Clash moves along at a decent pace. There are times an interrupt can be played and the game will endlessly ask you if you wish to play that card, which can be frustrating when you’re emptying the opponent’s deck of many cards in a single turn only to be asked 20 times over if you want to play a card in response to the opponent discarding. This is similar to priority in Magic: The Gathering digital versions, which shows the clumsiness of trying to implement these technical two-player card games.
The biggest win for Elemental Clash is the fact that you can pay $2.99, $3.99, or $4.99 for the full content of the game. The amount you pay is entirely up to you with no pressure to pay the higher amount. You unlock all content at any of the price points on offer and are encouraged to pay if you enjoyed playing the free-to-play version, but would like more content. You gain access to new cards and spellcasters for your troubles, which can be used to create a variety of different deck types. I prefer this model over any that compels you to pay for booster packs just so you can remain competitive.
MODES AND FEATURES
There are three core game modes supported in Elemental Clash, two of which are available when you pay to unlock the full content of the game.
The Campaign mode is unlocked when you purchase the full game. In this mode, you take on the other spellcasters of the realm in an attempt to become the most powerful spellcaster of all. You will face off against many different deck types that will test your deck strategies and player skill. As you progress, the opposing spellcasters become increasingly more difficult to beat which means you’ll have to alter your deck at nearly every new battle to navigate the strengths of the opponent.
The Spellcaster Match is essentially your trial version and is available in the free-to-play version of the game. Spellcaster Match is where you can make a bespoke match-up between your chosen spellcaster and deck and face off against a spellcaster of your choosing. It’s more of an extension to the campaign mode where you do the exact same thing, except this time you can use any spellcaster you like with a deck that fits the spellcaster’s parameters — more on those parameters a little later!
The third and final mode is the second mode that you can unlock by purchasing the full game. Multiplayer is very similar to Spellcaster Match with the one exception being that you play against a human opponent in real time. The benefits to this mode are that playing against a human opponent will heighten your skills further than playing against an A.I. opponent would. In addition to this, each win earns you experience and points that will see you climb a ladder. The higher your placement, the more notoriety you’ll have within the Elemental Clash community.
Elemental Clash is a cross-platform game, which means the multiplayer offering and leaderboard are shared between the different formats supported. Android and iOS users can battle it out to see which Elemental Clash player is the best, with no gray space allowed for different platforms! Sadly, the online community of players is very small at this stage, but on the bright side, it shouldn’t take you long to make it to the number one spot!
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
Elemental Clash lets itself down with a frustrating deckbuilder. At first glance, it looks like a simple drag and drop affair, and in part, it is. However, having multiple copies of a card in the deck will highlight one glaring flaw in the way it executes the drag and drop feature. For example, you might want to remove a single copy of one card that you have three of in the deck. When you drag the card out of the deck, instead of removing one copy, as per any regular deckbuilder, it removes all copies of the card instead.
To get around this, you need to tap on the card and then use arrows to adjust the quantity you want in the deck. It may sound like a trivial issue at first, but when you frequent the deckbuilder often enough during the campaign to switch up your strategy, it will become increasingly annoying. Admittedly, this is a minor issue, though.
There are no filters offered by the deckbuilder, either. Instead, you can arrange the cards by name and type (element). This obviously has the same limitation for both — you have to scroll through all of the cards before you get to the one you want. Granted, filtering by type does cut down the time it takes to find a card of a particular element, but more work could have been done to make the deckbuilding fun instead of a chore.
Each of the elements seen in Elemental Clash has its own unique play style. Air is all about control, Water helps with card draw, Earth manipulates the discards, and Fire is all about direct damage. You can run a mono-colored deck or opt for a multi-colored deck where the themes complement one another. Earth and Water or Fire and Air, for example, work in tandem with one another exceedingly well.
When building your deck, you will also want to take your spellcaster into consideration. All spellcasters have their own abilities that are static or can be triggered. Some grant constant benefits, whilst others are used to manipulate the field or archive. They also have deck, hand, and draw statistics that may affect the way you play. There is a lot of strategic depth to Elemental Clash simply because of the amount of different spellcaster and deck combinations you can come up with.
If Elemental Clash flowed a bit better, I am sure it would have much more of a following online. There is a solid game here based on a physical card game made lovingly and with passion over many years by the game’s creator. The sad fact remains that big budget games are what sell most in the app stores. More than likely, most downloads of the game have come from people who own the physical tabletop version and are looking to be able to play the game on the go.
Convincing people to part with their free time is much harder than getting them to spend money. We usually decide within the first few seconds of looking at an app in the store if we will download it. Elemental Clash would need to have a massive face lift and features overhaul in order to get more people to try it out.
However, the great news is that once you do try it out you will enjoy it. Better yet, if you can convince your friends to do the same, you’ll have people to play against online without having to wait an awfully long time for someone to join a game you’re hosting.
As a free-to-play title, Elemental Clash is well worth a playtest. If you decide you like it, then purchasing the full game and unlocking all of the content will take your experience much further. Putting you in control of how much to pay is a refreshing approach to a genre that wants you to spend as much as you can afford in one sitting.
For more screenshots, click here.
Did you enjoy this review? Like!