Chromancer – widescreen image

Chromancer Pre-Alpha Impressions: Out of My Depth

Pretty quickly after finishing up my last Under the Radar, I was met with a follow-up comment from Jon-Paul of the Chromancer team.  As fortune would have it, this past weekend was an alpha testing event, so I cleared my already empty schedule to make time to play.  I was not disappointed.

To say that, with card games, I am an “average” player is very likely an insult to average players throughout this universe and any other possible universes.  I’ve played outrageous amounts of Solitaire and Freecell, as well as a good bit of the PC version of Magic: the Gathering.  Unfortunately, neither my experience nor the two quick matches I played against the rudimentary AI were sufficient to prepare me for Chromancer.  To explain the game, so far, in three words: “Chromancer knows itself”.  Everything that makes Chromancer unique has well-represented even this early in the game’s development cycle and gives the impression of a very solid base from which the game can continue to grow.  The fun came because while Chromancer may know itself, the strategies necessary to win were unfathomable to me.  I relish the chance to fix that lack of knowledge.

As noted in other articles, Chromancer does away with the mechanic of attacking you/a hero unit directly to win a match.  Instead, you are given three structures and three land cards to place at the beginning of a match to fill up the Void.  You can only play creatures and structures on land though, in an interesting bit of risk-reward, you can move creatures played onto lands into the Void.  I like the idea of taking a tougher creature into the Void and weathering the damage per turn to attack lands and structures that your opponent thought were safe.

And, on that note, I feel it’s proper to mention that nothing is safe with the current system.  When dealing damage on your way to destroying structures, that damage has an immediate, injurious effect: damaging the Castle forces an opponent to discard to the Graveyard, damaging the Graveyard permanently banishes a card in it from play, and damaging the Bank steals 1 of any saved Chroma (the game’s resource) in it.  While it may seem that you don’t want to suffer any of that, the other outcome if any of those structures is empty will be much worse.  A destroyed Castle means that you can no longer draw cards from your deck.  A demolished Graveyard means that all cards that are destroyed or discarded  are banished, and thus cannot be cycled back into your deck at the start of each turn.  An obliterated Bank means that you cannot save unused Chroma from turn to turn, severely limiting the number of cards an enemy can play per turn.  Even the land that your structures and creatures stand upon be attacked to reduce the amount of Chroma you gain per turn.  Because of this, you might want to stop drawing extra cards from your Castle if it is starting to get low, or discard a number of cards from your hand to help buff your Graveyard against attack, or hold off on bringing out an expensive creature to leave a Chroma shield in your Bank.  At its base, like other card games, Chromancer is rather simple with targets that you can easily strive to defeat.  But it seems the depth of the mechanics from which a pro can utterly dismantle an opponent are frighteningly deep.

chromancer bladefin card art

Card art for the “Bladefin” (drawn by Alonzo Emata)

One of the more interesting things I noticed in my time with Chromancer is the freedom in drawing cards.  As has become standard, you can a draw a single card for free at the start of your turn but you’re not limited to that.  For an exponentially increasing cost, you can continue to draw cards and, despite the cost, it seems that you can effectively negate any sort of card advantage that your opponent might have on you.  I guess it translates not only into freedom in drawing, but freedom throughout the game.  It creates strange lack of flow in gameplay because it ditches the “draw a card and play/not play a card” cycle.  It could be anything like “draw a card, draw a card, draw a card, etc.”  Or draw only draw the basic for a number of turns then expend some 40 Chroma and play a ridiculous number of creatures.

The game needs quite a bit more polish but that’s to be expected a game that currently at the “pre-graphics alpha” stage.  If you want to help apply that polish, there is about a week left on their Kickstarter campaign and they’re a bit off of their goal.

Although I’m out of my depth, I couldn’t love the feeling more.  Perhjaps, I’m just a masochist.

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