At last year's E3, I spent a lot more time enjoying Culdcept Saga than I really ever thought I would. It just didn't look like my kind of game, and with the exception of Eye of Judgment, I had never played any kind of game like it before. While I'm not hooked on the idea, and while the game does have its fair share of drawbacks, I was overall pleasantly surprised with Culdcept Saga.
Chance And Strategy
Culdcept Saga is what you might call a spiritual successor to Culdcept, a little known Playstation 2 title that came out in 2003. I had never heard of the original until I started reading into Culdcept Saga, but it was apparently rather well received by various outlets back then. That said, Culdcept Saga is a similar experience; it's a card game, like Magic, but it is also played on a board, like Monopoly. It is a turn based strategy title with the goal generally being to reach a preset amount of gold, or currency. Basically, the first player to reach this score wins. The way that you earn currency is through claiming squares or territories on the board and collecting fees from other players for landing on them. There is a fairly deep system in place that determines who owns which space, how much they are to collect, and so forth. The real strategy of the game comes in utilizing the cards you get from your deck to their best ability.
A lot of you can probably already tell how Culdcept Saga is played, either from what I have already described or from personal experience of playing similar games. For those not as familiar, which included me when I first loaded it up, you will find helpful pointers along the way, introducing just about every concept you will come across. You will learn about the various types of cards (creature, spell, etc.), and territories (earth, water, fire, etc.), and all of the options you have in making your areas on the board the most potent that they can be. Chaining territories, changing the terrain of the territories, and moving your creatures around are all possible. You can also upgrade your territories several times over simply by spending some of your currency on it; the upgrade is instant and means that anyone that lands there has to pay you, or, they could elect to fight.
The fighting element to Culdcept Saga is quick and decisive. As the player, you don't actually interact during the fight; you simply play as the offensive or defensive coordinator, if you will, as the fight begins. If you are attacking, you can elect which creature to send into battle from your deck and whether or not you wish to equip him with any sort of armor or spell. As the defender, the creature that inhabits that spot on the board can be given armor or a spell before the fight. Most of the time, you can easily tell who will win the fight as it happens. What you see on screen is just a basic animation of the attack and response. Either the creature that attacks first strikes and immediately destroys the other, or a counter attack is enacted. It is very possible to have a draw, whereby neither creature destroys the other. The creature attacking first isn't always the one that initiated the attack. Certain creatures have an attribute that gives them First Attack. You can begin to see that a lot of strategy can go into these fights; there are things to consider before, after, and during each battle that could sway the outcome of the entire match in a big way.
For the hardcore turn based strategy fan, I think this game offers a lot. At the same time, I like the randomness of rolling the die to determine where your hero will land as he traverses the board. I might not have yet made it apparent that each player controls a character on screen that roams around the board; when they land on a spot, you decide what to do from there. Anyway, as in just about every aspect of this game, not everything is as plain as it seems; you would think rolling the die is completely random, but there are certain cards that you can cast on yourself or others that force them to roll a 1, or maybe a number between 6 and 8 for a certain amount of turns. This only deepens what you can strategize; maybe you want to trap your foe in a particularly fruitful chain of territory you own; if you are able to juggle your cards and keep the card that makes their die roll a 1, then you stand a chance to really clean up. You can even land on neutral territories that can transport you to other parts of the board or emit random effects, like "every fire based character loses x amount of health;' as you can imagine, these random events can help or harm your chances of winning.
Speaking of your chances of winning, you can lose currency by paying a toll to another player, or another way to lose it is by losing property (which occurs when being defeated in battle)--especially if you have upgraded that property. When you lose a spot on the board, you not only lose control of that spot, but you also lose currency. Play long enough, and you will experience what it's like to have a winning amount of currency, only to lose some of it before you can get back to the start of the board. Which is another point I should make, to win a game, you must not only achieve the preset amount of currency, but you must maintain it or exceed it and make it all the way back to the starting spot of the board.
It's Fun For A Good While, But...
Culdcept Saga had me hooked pretty good for about four days. I played probably twenty or twenty-five hours, and it kept me up at well into the night. However, as each stage started getting very long and complex, taking several hours just to complete one, it became increasingly difficult to stay hooked. Now, this is coming from someone who wasn't before, and still isn't, interested in these types of games; I've never played Magic or D&D, and I really don't plan to. But, as I had an increasingly larger and more complex card deck to manage, and the number of players and size of the boards started to increase, it quickly became a bit too deep for me to want to keep playing. I should also mention that you do not have to finish each stage in a sitting, you can save your game as you play. Nevertheless, the amount of time required to advance, and the amount of deck management and strategy I personally had to put into it, were beginning to sharply outweigh the satisfaction I was getting. From what I have seen on the Internet, Culdcept Saga sports about thirty stages; I got through about a third of those in my time with it, but it was exhausting. It doesn't really help that the story isn't all that interesting (you basically play a young man who doesn't realize what power he has until a princess is sure that you do, etc.).