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Ironclad Tactics Review: If The American Civil War Was Fought With Robots
Platform: PC, Mac & Linux
Price: $14.99/£11.99, two-pack: $22.49/£17.99, deluxe edition (includes 2 DLC, the soundtrack, and a copy of Spacechem): $39.99/£29.99
Release Date: 18 September 2013
There are so many collectible card games out right now that you couldn’t be blamed if you were bored of them. However – they’re not all the same. The card game genre is often viewed as fairly niche, and probably quite nerdy, but its growth has brought a lot of innovation. Look at Ironclad Tactics: a fast-paced mix of card game and real-time strategy, with hints of puzzle and tower defense.
The game centres around a battle between robot armies in which you can use the cards you’ve collected to play units, equip them or perform special maneuvers. Everything is very fast-paced and you have intervals of mere seconds to play your cards before the units all simultaneously take their turns. For some reason the game is labelled as casual, but it is hard. You generally feel disadvantaged compared to your enemy and games can get very intense when you’re on the verge of defeat and everything relies on your split-second decision-making. Because of the difficulty you will also have to re-make your deck pretty much every level to better suit it to your objectives and enemies. Your cards get refreshed very quickly in battle, and you only have a certain amount of action points to spend so you have to make fast, long-term choices constantly and consistently. It really takes it’s strategy seriously!
The gameplay is meaty enough but there are plenty of little extras to do. There are extra mission objectives that are often much harder than simply winning the match, a puzzle mode and the ability to upgrade your cards if you meet certain requirements. If you simply play the singleplayer campaign without anything else, the game is probably a little on the short side, but completing the additional content pretty much doubles your playtime. You can also complete the entire campaign in co-op mode with a second player which will take significantly longer as it is quite a bit more difficult. The puzzle mode is an interesting concept – you have to complete a level with a predetermined hand of cards – but it’s mostly just used as a tutorial mode for new card abilities which feels like lost potential.
Compared to a lot of card games, the list of cards is on the small side. On the other hand, even though you can upgrade cards, the older ones rarely become obsolete. If you get a stronger card it will have smaller range, or cost more AP, so they simply add to your possible utility instead of replacing others. The main problem is that each card is labelled with one of 5 factions, and you’re only allowed to use a maximum of 2 faction types in your deck at once. It does add more strategic choice but overall it feels more limiting than engaging. Some of the factions have twice as many cards as others, while other factions have one or two useful cards but not enough to warrant filling your deck with them.
Two DLC are incoming for Ironclad Tactics rather soon with more content and cards, which will likely fix the issue of the game being a bit too short and the faction cards not being fleshed out well enough. If this is the case, it is somewhat disappointing as it is like they have released the game unfinished. Even more so, because, besides some multiplayer issues, they are pretty much the only problems the game actually has. It’s understandable that the developers might just want to keep adding to the game, but in this state it feels somewhat like you are paying for 75% of the game instead of all of it.
The presentation of the game comes across as extremely charming. The story is told in comic form and comes across very much like a big budget action film. Lots of drama, shock, fights and humor. In this way, it is a bit cliche, but this doesn’t detract from it at all. The art style is naturally very cartoony but it is stylized enough to make it feel unique still. Unfortunately there are a couple of spelling mistakes, though!
Multiplayer can either be played in either 2-player co-op or 1-versus-1 battle mode. Both systems seem very easy to use and you don’t need to perform any complex multiplayer ritual to get it working like you do in a lot of games. Unfortunately, though, it seems that it is currently quite hard to find a game using the random battle finder system – whether this is permanent likely depends on the game’s developing multiplayer community. The 1-vs-1 matches that you can access in co-op mode work fine, though, and you can even play nemesis mode which allows one player to use a special deck and fight as one of the game’s bosses. The co-op campaign against the AI is not very casual friendly as it is even more difficult than the singleplayer campaign. Each player has their own independent deck but half of the AP that they would normally. This means that it takes twice as long to be able to place a card which can ruin the fast-paced thrill of the game, and leaving you feeling helpless as the AI stomps you. On the other hand it’s very fulfilling if you can master communication with your partner (voice chat is pretty much mandatory). You can make up for the lack of action points by assigning one player to send out an ironclad, while the other uses their turn to equip it with a weapon, for example.
Overall, the game’s attractive presentation and unique gameplay far outshine the problems with the game, but strange combination of gameplay genres may result in the game having quite a niche appeal. It’s a card game, so you need to constantly edit your deck, and the random draw of the cards can sometimes screw you over. It’s also a real-time strategy so you don’t have a lot of time to think, so you have to show off your quick wit. Whether you find all of that appealing or terrifying is down to personal taste. Either way, it’s not too expensive, so fans of strategy should pick it up just to explore all the new ideas and concepts that are experimented with in the game.
Check out the official trailer here, or listen to our podcast with the developer for an in-depth look into the game’s production!