Today I’m going to review a new game from Soiree Games called TactDecks, by Eric Etkin. TactDecks is a skirmish-style fantasy card game with elements of CCG deck building. The world of TactDecks is in a mess. The Gods, known as the immortal OtherOnes, have pretty much been forgotten, although they are making a comeback. In addition, a strange technological alien race called the Anemetai has appeared, fleeing the destruction of their home reality. Some denizens of the world have sided with these creatures, and some fight against them. But their technology is faltering, and the OtherOnes plot to retake the Land.
The Basic Set includes enough characters, terrain, Event, and Resource cards for either two players to play a smaller version of the game, or it can be used by one player to create a more competitive deck to use against someone who also has a Basic Set. Characters move about on the table similar to miniatures on a board, and combat is resolved with an Attack/Defense mechanic that anyone who has ever played a CCG will be familiar with. There are no dice in TactDecks. All effects are resolved by cards.
First we will take a look at the components, and then get into the rules and game play. As a caveat, please understand that I am writing this based on the PnP version.
First, the rules. At a modest 3 ½ pages, it does not take long to read through them. There are several pictures included as examples of movement and targeting, and for the most part it is laid out in the order the rules would come up in a game. The exceptions to this are the ‘Additional Rules’ at the very end. These are not options, they will come up in most every game, and should have been included in the relevant sections.
The character cards themselves are attractive, and have most of their stats on the front, as well as descriptions of that card’s special abilities on the back. Stats are Attack, Mobility, and Defense. This last is split into Near (for melee attacks), Far (ranged defense), and General, which comes into play against certain spells and game effects other than direct attacks. Underneath the character portrait are the unit’s Strength Condition boxes, which are it’s Hit Points. They also act as an actual Strength score if one or more units attempt to force a Gate open, but more on that in a minute. The Basic Set comes with 10 characters, including two copies of several of them.
Event cards are the ‘dice rolls’ of the game. Whenever you attack you draw an Event card. This will be either a hit, a hit with a +1 or +2 bonus to the attack, or a Miss. One interesting bit is that several Miss cards have additional effects, such as moving the attacking character, having an adjacent ally move, or even allowing an adjacent friendly spellcaster to use a spell out of turn.
Reserve cards are the buffs of TactDecks. Bonuses to defense, special movement, and other effects are what these cards are about. Some have to be played alone, but a few can be combined with other Reserve cards and played as one. Learning the riming of these can be tricky, but can also be a life saver.
Spells are the smallest deck, due to there being only one mage in the set, the OtherOne Disciple. The spell cards are also the only deck that is not reshuffled when out. Use them wisely, because once one is gone it is gone for the game. There are only four different spells, but they do a good job of offering direct damage and board control. An opponent’s Vanguard hiding in that Forest to get a +3 Defense? Use the Burn spell to expose him! As with Reserve cards, some spells can be combined for a larger effect, or to target multiple opponents at once.
Obstacle cards are limited to Forests, Walls, and Gates. Forests make you immune to Far attacks, at the cost of not being able to make Far attacks. Walls block all movement, but Gates allow the controlling player a way to move through Walls, as well as opposing characters who can move characters with a total of five Strength Condition boxes adjacent to said Gate. Expansions add Stairs that allow characters to move onto Walls for attack bonuses.
Finally, there are Collect cards. Four of these come in the set, each representing either an arcane relic or a strange technological device brought to the Land by the alien Anemetai. Each player gets one randomly drawn Collect to place face down on the table, without looking at it. Either player may then capture and use whichever one he gets to first. Collects can heal, move Obstacle cards, or siphon arcane energy used against the holding character.
Now for the game play. There are two setup options. For two players using a single Basic Set, the Event, Reserve, and Collect cards are shared, and both players choose 215 points worth of characters. Wait, 215? Wow, that’s an odd total. Until you realize that the Obstacle cards cost one point each to include in your total, and there are a total of fifteen Obstacles in one Set. We missed this the first time we played, even though the point cost is plainly printed right there on the cards. For players who both have a Basic Set, the total increases to 315 points, and each player uses their own decks of cards.
The setup is pretty interesting. When initially placing cards, you must imagine a grid pattern on the table, each space the size of a card in the vertical ‘portrait’ position. This is how movement and range is counted for everything in the game. There is no maximum length or width to the setup, as long as everything stays aligned so any spaces between cards can be divided into even card-sized segments. Characters go along the player’s near edge, and Obstacles can be placed anywhere on the owning player’s side of the board. Collects are placed last, at least four spaces from any friendly character.
Once the game starts, Each player will have a Primary Phase and a Tactical Phase. During the Primary Phase, all characters can move up to their Mobility in spaces, as well as perform a Feat, such as attack, use a spell, or sometimes use a special ability. When attempting to rain death and destruction on an opponent, the Attacker draws an Event card and gets either a Miss, a Success, or a Success with an Attack bonus. The target’s Defense is subtracted, if any, and the balance is the amount of Strength Condition boxes get tokens on them. Once all the boxes are filled, the character is eliminated. During movement, each space moved through while already adjacent to an enemy will trigger a Retaliation attack, so plan carefully. After both players have completed their Primary Phase, they can perform 1 action each with all remaining characters during the Tactical Phase, including moving without fear of a Retaliation. End of turn, discard all Reserve cards, draw two new ones, and start another round. Play continues until one player has no units remaining.
The game in play is pretty fun. Just when you think you’ve got that Darkstone Mercenary’s number, your opponent whips out a Reserve card that turns it all around. Reserve cards can make or break you, but they are discarded at the end of the turn, so use them when you can. Another thing I really liked was the OtherOne Disciple, the single spellcaster in the set. As her action in either the Primary or tactical Phase, she can Heal an adjacent ally, restoring one Strength condition, with no Event card draw or Spell card required. Games take about an hour or so, although my opponent and I both suffer from minor cases of ‘Analysis Paralysis’ sometimes, so your mileage may vary.
My quibbles with the game are minor, and one is related solely to the PnP version. Each of the card file pdf’s must be printed single sided, not double, or else the front of your OtherOne Disciple will have the back to the Vanguard unit. All the pages are this way. Since I sleeve cards anyway, this wasn’t a big deal overall. A tablecloth or felt mat is a must both to keep cards from sliding around, and to make it easier to pick up a card to reference anything on the back, such as details of their special abilities. As I mentioned in the beginning, the rulebook is not laid out as easily as I would have liked, but all the information is there. I would like to have had a wider choice of spells, instead of multiples of the ones you can’t combine together. Also, this game screams for custom-sized playmats with the grid already there, as lining things up at the beginning was a minor greivance, although once you have six to eight cards laid down, the spacing is easier to get.
All in all, I like. I can’t find where I saw it, but someone else described TactDecks as being between Summoner Wars and Battleground: Fantasy Warfare. I agree. It gives a slightly more ‘battlefield’ feel than SW, without the fiddly measuring of B:FW. There are six boosters for the game, each being set-piece instead of blind draw. Most are new units, and one is extra Obstacle cards including the Stairs mentioned above.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. As I sit here writing this, I realize I should have left twenty minutes ago, my opponent thinks he can take down my OtherOne Disciple with his Archers on the first turn. Again.