There are many seasoned trading and collectible card game players out there that have become disillusioned with their favorite games. Among them are some very skilled programmers and designers who have taken it upon themselves to create the games that they enjoy playing and are hopeful that you will enjoy them just as much as they do.
One such group of gamers formed the indie studio Dream Reactor and created Spellweaver, a free-to-play, fantasy-themed, PvP-driven digital CCG that aims to deliver an enjoyable experience while exploring some innovative ideas. Part of the team that created Spellweaver is a former Magic: The Gathering National Champion, so there is substantial TCG/CCG experience behind the project.
With its recent release on Steam, we revisit Spellweaver to see what improvements have been made since our early preview back in February 2015.
Is Spellweaver just another Magic: The Gathering wannabe, or can it stand up on its own? Read on to find out…
The first thing to note is just how beautifully presented Spellweaver is. The user interface and visual design are superb and have been significantly updated to surpass what we saw in our early preview. The card art is fantastic and fits the theme of the game’s different magical realms to which the creatures and spells belong. Perhaps the best visual feature takes place in combat, where the board splits open and inserts a combat row between the two player zones, which then retracts when combat is over. It’s a nice touch to have a 3D animated battleground like this.
If you’re at all familiar with Magic: The Gathering, you will be able to grasp the basic concepts in Spellweaver very quickly. However, there are also new gameplay features that distinguish it from the numerous Magic clones that are out there while also utilizing more modern CCG design elements that are in games such as Hearthstone.
What Spellweaver delivers in gameplay is what Magic could have been if it were released today as a new game, using modern design and mechanics. Most of the core card types and names remain much the same with a few adjustments here and there: creatures are your fighting force, spells replace Sorceries but work in the same way, Instant Spells are just that, and Artifacts have permanent or triggered effects that are designed to give you an advantage.
All cards have a faction threshold to meet and a resource cost. The first few turns of a game are all about the setup and how you manage your resources to match the requirements of your cards. Both of your resources are managed through a single card type called a “Shrine” which has replaced the usual single resource card seen in Magic-style games (like “Lands”). This is where the game departs from Magic‘s resource system in a brilliant way.
Shrines are a multipurpose resource card, allowing for maximum flexibility in gameplay. You can gain +1 to the Aspect Level of the Shrine played (permanently adding a resource threshold of the type required), or +1 Mana to your maximum and +1 Card draw, or an additional Hero Skill for your chosen Hero with the more advanced Shrine cards. The +1 Card draw is amazingly useful and ensures that you never go negative for playing a resource to increase your maximum each turn.
Mana itself is colorless, used for playing as many cards as you desire in a turn that you can afford. You will need the necessary Aspect Levels (faction threshold) required too and the more powerful the card, the higher its Level requirement is likely to be. The Shrine cards feel so much more useful than any single resource system you will have used or seen before, and they’re honestly my favorite solution I’ve ever seen to the resource problems of Magic‘s core design.
Spellweaver also implements a method for trying to avoid the usual “resource screw” that we see in Magic-style games. Once per turn, you may discard a card to search the top five cards of your deck for a Shrine card and put it into your hand. When you consider that you can then draw from playing the Shrine card for its Mana options, you’re not down much at all. There is also a mulligan system that lets you refresh your opening hand once.
Your Creatures come with the usual attack power and defense values that are seen in many TCGs/CCGs today. However, Spellweaver builds on this system by adding another layer of strategy with a Speed value ranging from 0 – 4. Creatures may only block or be blocked by other Creatures that carry the same or a faster Speed value. I love the inclusion of this pseudo-initiative value as it offers you a far more strategic level of gameplay than any other Magic-style game out there.
There’s even more strategic depth with the inclusion of a support row for specific Creatures. Unlike Spells or Artifacts, these Creatures offer a different utility that can provide advantages that your opponent will find hard to disrupt. Creatures in the support row are immune to attacks and may also not defend unless they are flying units or have an ability that lets them do so.
Combat is, of course, a little more complex because of this. Attackers will need to be aware of Creatures the opponent controls that can throw themselves in front of the declared target. Also, as a key departure from Magic, the defender gets to choose the order in which damage is assigned to their cards, giving the defender a distinct advantage in combat. Many Creatures also carry keywords that can change the way they interact with other Creatures on the board when in combat.
The pacing of the gameplay feels just right. It is neither too fast nor too slow, and in PvP matches both players must work with both match and turn timers so that games don’t drag on unnecessarily.
MODES AND FEATURES
Much of Spellweaver‘s gameplay has a heavy emphasis on PvP with friendly and ranked matches. You may also take on the A.I. in practice matches that allow you to adjust the difficulty of the A.I. opponent. The map contains many quests and PvE events that result in rewards of Gold (in-game soft currency), booster packs, and fame. Aspect areas can be unlocked when you acquire that Aspect’s starter deck and this will open up many more events and quests for you to take part in.
The free-to-play model in Spellweaver is relatively fair for those who are new to the game. As a new player, you stand a decent chance of being able to defeat a player who may have injected a little money into the game. You can build your card collection through completing special and daily quests and by increasing your player level as this comes with its own rewards.
As your collection grows, you might want to take advantage of the crafting feature. You can turn unwanted cards into Shrine cards and then use these to craft the cards you do want, as Shrine cards themselves are the crafting currency. You can access this feature via the Collection tab on the main screen that also houses the game’s main interactive features.
You get what you would expect to see in the Marketplace. You have the usual offerings of booster packs, special offers, and premium currency. The booster packs are respectfully priced when you compare them to the pricing of the in-game currency, and some can be purchased using Gold that is earned at an adequate pace.
‘Trials’ is another excellent way of building up your collection but these do cost a little Gold. ‘Trials’ is a drafting mode against the A.I. where you take part in successive battles until you lose three times, akin to Hearthstone‘s Arena. Your final prize is dependent on the number of wins you manage to accrue before taking your third and final loss. Anyone that loves drafting will fall in love with Trials the moment they begin playing — I definitely did!
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
All of the colors of Magic are present in Spellweaver with the addition of one further color. These are called Aspects, and they are Order (White), Wisdom (Blue), Rage (Red), Nature (Green), with Dominion (Purple) and Corruption (Black) serving as a more detailed breakdown of the Black playstyle of Magic-style games.
Order contains plenty of small Creatures that will pick away at your opponent’s life points while the Spells pacify their cards. Wisdom is a control and card draw playstyle that has plenty of tempo and makes exceptional use of the Energy mechanic (a resource of counters that accrue on certain cards and can be spent on effects). Rage will fling Goblin after Goblin at you while also burning through your life points. Nature has a few big Creatures but offsets this with a very tribalistic feel with speedy Elves that have incredible synergy with one another.
The Dominion Aspect has half of the Black playstyle in poison and decay effects that can also be used on its own Creatures to imbue them with more power. Corruption is the side of the undead that makes use of graveyard play in addition to hand manipulation. All of these Aspects have their strengths and weaknesses that you will need to find to exploit them for your gain in battle.
Creatures and Spells aren’t the only things at your disposal in a game of Spellweaver. Your Hero is an avatar that comes with powers you can trigger in much the same way as playing a card. It will cost you some Mana, and you will also need the required Aspect Level to be able to activate the power. Some powers are better than others, but all are thematic to the Hero’s Aspect color.
Each Hero starts with one base power and can gain access to more powers by using a special Shrine card. Accessing new powers will make your Hero far more useful throughout the course of a match and makes them feel much more fleshed out than just an avatar with life points.
Finally, deckbuilding can be accessed from the Deck tab. It functions in much the same way as Hearthstone’s deckbuilder. First you choose a Hero and can then proceed to fill your deck with the cards that you want to use. The only restriction is that you cannot include more than four copies of a card. You may want to experiment with multi-Aspect decks and to do so you will need to include Shrines for both Aspects in your deck. You’ll want to accommodate a Mana curve when building your deck in addition to ensuring you can meet the Aspect Level requirements of your cards, too.
Spellweaver’s developers have put together one of the finest digital card games I have played. All of the small bugs and roughness have been ironed out since my early preview, and in its current state, Spellweaver is a true contender for the Magic crown in the digital space.
The visual presentation is astounding with its excellent user interface and visually appealing card art. Mechanically the game is very solid, and I’ve experienced no glitches or bugs during gameplay. There were none of the previous crashes that I had experience in the closed beta. Because of this, I feel assured that the development team actions every bit of feedback they receive to improve the game and to ensure that the user experience is nothing short of phenomenal.
The current Aspects and their cards felt well designed and balanced, with none of them having too much of an advantage over all other Aspects. Getting into the game as a new player seems far fairer than many other free-to-play games on the market because of the many ways in which you can earn cards and the overall balance of the game’s economy. The fair pricing of packs and premium currency should also appeal to those that don’t mind spending a little bit of cash for the thrill of opening booster packs!
You have to remember that Spellweaver has been designed and developed by TCG/CCG players like us. They have created a game based on our opinions and feedback as to how a great card game should look and play. I hope you have seen enough to entice you back into the fray and to give Spellweaver the well-deserved chance it has earned.
Spellweaver has taken all of the essentials needed for a great digital card game and cranked them up to eleven. The gameplay is so much more intuitive and refreshing than any other Magic-style game on offer. Don’t miss out on this new gem in the digital card game genre.
For more screenshots, click here.
Did you enjoy this review? Like!