I’m pretty sure everyone has dreamed what the world would look like during a zombie apocalypse, right? Shelter is a strategic, turn-based card game mixed with a little bit of ‘tower defense’ video games set in such a ravaged world. The comic book art style adds to the aesthetic of the game, as does the spooky music and sound effects.
You are trying to cross England in the hopes of finding someone, and during the course of your journey you come across other survivors who lend their own expertise, represented as sets of cards which are added to your deck. Guns, weapons, and various survival tools come in the form of these cards. The goal is to stop the zombie hordes from breaking through your defenses and attacking you directly, by any means necessary. Let’s hope our brains are not on the menu tonight, eh?
Shelter has a great theme and interesting art style, but does this translate to an excellent gaming experience? Read on to find out…
Even with two rather distinctive gameplay styles at work, Shelter is surprisingly uncomplicated. The first few missions help you to understand the basics of the gameplay and any new effects that come to light are instantly explained. The simplicity continues with a lack of elaborate graphics or elongated gameplay mechanics. I would have preferred a little more animation and interactivity, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
There is a story behind the need to kill all of the walking dead. You receive a call in the early hours and promise to meet someone hundreds of miles away. It sounds so simple at first, but we need to find food, weapons and transport whilst avoiding hordes of zombies baying for our flesh. Progressing on the story path leads to the discovery of more survivors who lend their own supplies. More on that later.
The play area is split into three rows of five spaces for active cards. The decks and discard piles are located to the left of these. The top row is dedicated to the zombies. The A.I. controls the zombies, but I use the term ‘control’ very liberally here. All the A.I. needs to do is roll a number higher than the roll value printed on the card to play a zombie to one of its five unoccupied spaces. They can play as many of their cards as possible this way without the restriction of Action Points.
There is plenty of variety to the zombie types available for battling against, and these can be further enhanced by the A.I. with equip cards that can add armor, additional attack, or effect text to them. Each turn (other than the turn a zombie was played) the zombies attack, dealing damage equal to their attack power to our barriers. Picking which zombies to take care of in order to limit the amount of damage they can do is the main strategic emphasis of the game. I sometimes found myself about to lose because I chose the wrong zombie to kill in a previous turn.
We too have five spaces to play cards, but as we are limited by AP (Action Points), we need to choose carefully. Do I play the shotgun or the berretta? Do I play a card to reinforce a barrier, or a card that grants me additional AP in subsequent turns?
All these choices make for an engaging game with quite a lot of strategic decisions to make. I was impressed by how much I had to think about what type of weapon to use against various zombies and whether or not to enhance a weapon, but lose traits from it in order to deal more damage. It all adds up to something that is more than just killing random zombie cards.
In order to play any cards at all we need to spend AP, and each card comes with its own cost to play or use. For example, playing a simple handgun costs 2 AP and then a further 2 AP to fire it. Once a weapon is played you can use it until the ammo runs out, because as you’d expect, ammo scarcity is a common theme in zombie survival scenarios. One excellent feature of gameplay is the ability to discard a card at the end of the round that you may not need until later on. It gets placed at the bottom of the deck, so is never lost forever.
So where does the ‘tower defense’ element fit in to this? The center row consists of barricades, doors, and other blockages for the zombies to beat down before they get to the survivors. If they manage to, they start to fill up this row with each space that opens. When they attack from here they will damage your health. Once that drops to zero, we lose. So we need to kill all the zombies before that happens in order to win. This cleverly keeps the pressure on at the later stages of the battle and can really turn up the heat as more zombies pile up on top of you.
MODES AND FEATURES
Shelter is a single player campaign game that has little in the way of replay value or additional features. It’s a shame as there is so much scope for more elaborate survival and multiplayer modes. I’m confident that the developers missed an opportunity to reach a much wider audience by omitting many of the features seen in current mobile CCGs, but perhaps these can be included in future updates. The single player campaign is enjoyable enough the first time through, so it’s still worth playing.
There are only 3 things we can do during the course of the game. One is checking the map for pins that we can visit in order to grab more supplies by defeating the zombies at that location. Second, we can check which survivors we have and which one we want to accompany us during our battles. The last one is our incredibly simple deck editor, which I’ll explain in the next section.
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
Shelter continues the trend of simplicity by having one of the simplest deckbuilding screens I have ever come across. It is just a list of the cards with a question mark button to open up the cards in a larger, detailed view. Plus and minus buttons let you change the quantity of a card in the main deck. The deck has to contain exactly 20 cards, but this is bolstered by the accompanying ‘survivor’ character who is adding in their repertoire of cards to your deck during battle.
You’ll need an ample supply of different weapon types and as you progress through the story they get more powerful. Be sure to modify your deck to the types of zombies you’ll be facing. For example, you should use weapons with piercing damage on Burrower types to bypass their ridiculously large armor values.
Choosing the right accompanying survivor plays a huge role, too. I often opted for those that gave me additional weapons, so that I could put more support type cards in my deck. The poor lass you get at the start will see little to no play after you get the guys with guns. The cards she adds to the deck often get in the way of what you actually want to draw. I’m sure she’d be more use as a human barricade instead… Well, we have to survive no matter the cost, right?
If Shelter was any less complicated I would have assumed the target audience is young adults, but the theme obviously suggests otherwise. The lack of extra modes and features hampers any replay value the game could have had, but what is present is definitely an enjoyable campaign. The modest initial cost more than makes up for this and can be enjoyed for what it does have to offer without worrying about extra costs for premium currencies or booster packs.
I really enjoyed the strategy of the game, as well as the pressure it made me feel all of the time. Thankfully, having time to make my decisions made them a bit less stressful and gave me enough room to think each move through. Each card played its part and wasn’t without a purpose during any battle I participated in, so you’ll nearly always find a use for each card.
I wish there was more emphasis on the graphical content of the game. Perhaps some card animations would have made up for the lack of pizazz and sparkle, but maybe that’s just me. Lots of people will be attracted to the dark comic book style. I definitely warmed to it more over time.
If you’re a sucker for zombie themed games, this is a must buy. It is entertaining throughout and will push you mentally most of the time, especially with the harder conflicts. Its casual and simple approach will see it as a favorite go-to game for those times when you have a few moments to spare… which we all do! Now get your gear together and let’s go — we’ve got all of England to get across.
For more screenshots, click here.
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