Zems – Early Preview

So many impressive games are being released or are in the works right now, we can hardly keep up! This is turning out to be a good month for Kickstarter projects in our genre. Another top offering is coming from Impulse Games, the developers behind Zems — a CCG that has a mixture of familiar and innovative gameplay, with top-notch card art to boot.

Zems will be a free-to-play tactical CCG where the weather, unit placement, and movement across a hex grid will all be key elements to playing and winning. I say will be, because Zems is currently on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, looking for your support. I was also lucky enough to be invited to their Alpha to get a feel for the game and share my experience with you. You can check out the Alpha for yourself, too!

Does Zems offer enough to be worth backing? Read on to find out…

Menu

This is the menu from the Alpha build. The current level of detail in the graphics can already be seen here. With 40% of the Kickstarter funds going to artwork, you can be sure it won’t be wasted!

Gameplay

The usual basics of digital CCG gameplay can be found within Zems such as an incremental resource system, card draw, deck building, and fairly standard combat mechanics. Zems shares these core concepts because it has to, as a CCG. However, this is no “paint by numbers” CCG, with a variety of unique and downright addictive mechanics thrown into the mix.

Each deck has its own Hero which is also your starting unit on the board each game. Their attack and health varies, which is an interesting design choice. The Hero has its own special ability that can be cast at the cost of the required ‘Zems’, the game’s resource system. Heroes can also move and attack like any other unit in the game. The difference being is that you can only summon Units next to it, so you can’t hide it away in a corner of the battlefield, and when it is defeated, you lose the game. So you’ll want to do your best at protecting it, whilst still getting the benefits of its ability and summoning close to where the action is happening.

The field is a hex grid that your units have to move around in order to attack other units, avoid dangerous terrain, and obtain line of sight. Units can move twice and attack on the same turn, allowing for some dash, attack, and retreat-style plays. This also allows you to get some distance between strong melee units or remove the line of sight from dangerous ranged units.

Zems are the sole resource within the game and will increase with each passing turn – nothing new there. Your Zems can be altered by casting certain units that can increase or decrease your maximum Zems. You can cast as many cards as you like, as long as you can afford them. Though the thing you have to remember is, just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should!

Mulligan-your-hand

The mulligan system helps to modify undesirable hands and can set you up for some awesome combos for your subsequent turns.

Gameplay Continued…

During the Alpha I’ve played several one-on-one PvP battles. My first few battles were over very quickly with me learning the rules and finding the optimum card combos, but once you do, the fun really creeps up on you as you start to see all of the possibilities available. There’s something oddly addictive about this one, probably due to the fact that the games are not long enough that they overstay their welcome.

Zems is definitely a different style of CCG. Sure, the way you summon units and attack is similar to some other TCGs/CCGs, but it does have its own style of doing it all. The mixed type of units, such as melee and ranged add a whole new dynamic to the gameplay and strategy. Hero abilities are far from your usual “summon a unit” or “inflict direct damage”. Instead, the abilities make use of their positioning and that of the opponent’s units, or can even go after the deck instead in some way. This was extremely refreshing to see and experience first-hand.

Make-it-rain-and-get-wet

The weather plays a huge part in the strategic element of the game. Spreading rain across the map and then shocking an area will stun units, thus preventing them from moving or attacking. Be careful though, as you can easily inflict this upon yourself too!

One of the key strategies is to implement weather effects to your benefit. Other games have included weather or field effects, but these are usually considered a side-feature instead of a main tactic. Here, you’ll fail pretty quickly if your deck doesn’t account for weather in some way.

You can cast weather cards that will affect the entire field or cards that will turn a certain number of hex tiles into a certain terrain type. Make it rain, cause thunderstorms, or clear it all – all in the name of victory. Many of the early Alpha testers built their decks around the weather effects – I doubt they were wrong to!

Combat is just as you would expect. Units will strike one another in an effort to kill one another. If you strike a melee unit with another melee unit, the attacked unit will retaliate with damage to the attacker – as you’d expect to see in a real battle. Ranged units are the only type to escape retaliation damage from a melee unit, but won’t escape it from other ranged units. In addition to attacks and movement, many of the units will possess additional abilities that will auto trigger or require you to trigger them manually.

What you’re left with is a deep and rewarding strategic CCG. It shares and borrows the basic concepts of other CCGs, but offers a different way to play that feels fresh. I love the input of the weather effects and the ability to move-attack-move. Instead of having a minimal number of choices per turn, you are given many. Imagine playing something a bit chess-like, but with fantasy units and a little bit of weather control and you’ll get the idea as to how strategic Zems is.

Deck-building

The Alpha build currently features some cards from the White and Blue colors (the game’s Factions). Even with this limitation I was able to build and experiment with multiple deck types. Each color promises to have its own unique style of play. Love sacrifice/reanimation effects like me? Purple will be your color!

Features

The unique way the weather has been implemented has to be one of the largest features within Zems. I loved the way I could build a deck around this and use it to my advantage. Of course there will be times when your opponent has had the same thought and built a very similar deck, but I’ve always found mirror matches to be a true test of your skill.

The development team will spend a large portion of your backing on the artwork, which is already looking amazing. In fact this is one of the most visually impressive previews I have covered for quite some time. There are no unit animations to accompany the amazing artwork as of yet, but we are treated to some very nice weather effects.

The emphasis of the game focuses on PvP and as yet it is unknown if there will be a single player mode. I would assume you will be able to test your deck against an A.I. opponent at least. Zems will also feature a ranked mode in addition to the casual battle mode. If you are able to win these matches you will climb a seasonal ladder to show off your prowess to the rest of the community.

In addition to these standard modes, you will be able to participate in a Draft mode, which I’m very much looking forward to trying out. In a usual drafting mode you open packs and build a deck from what you open in a “pick and pass” format. Once your deck is ready, you’ll play one another in a knock-out tournament until there is only one victor. It is unknown to me at this stage if any of the cards opened can be kept. We can only hope so, especially for the more money-conscious player!

Summoning-units

The beautiful artwork is something to behold. I have not seen this caliber of card and game art in a while. Hats off to Impulse for making this one of their priorities.

First Impressions

Zems impressed me right from the start. The amazing artwork alone made me sit up and take notice. I had even been following the progress of the game on their Reddit and Facebook pages long before they started their Kickstarter.

The tactical elements of this game are far more advanced than a lot of other TCGs/CCGs where you have no control over the combat. In Zems you have control of everything, including the weather. The chess-like decision-making and endless stream of possible combos make for a highly enjoyable experience so far, one that can only get better with a larger card pool.

Zems can only be a success if you get behind it and I think this game deserves to be given the chance to redefine the digital CCG standard. We should be tired of the same old rehashes of the same product that is released on our PCs almost every month. Let’s make a stand and help Impulse Limited bring Zems to the forefront of the CCG world stage!

To back this game on Kickstarter, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by

Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

  • Rubicon Development

    Wow, I’d be happy they copied most of the ideas from Combat Monsters if we could get some wider exposure for that in return…

    • Zesix

      I’ve never heard of Combat Monsters and I’m pretty sure Zems didn’t steal anything from your game.

      • Rubicon Development

        Most people haven’t heard of it, it’s a bit of a failure commercially. But how does this disprove what I said?

      • Rubicon Development

        Really, what makes you “pretty sure”. ?

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