In the span of two weeks we have seen the release of two great games, each with a different take on the same genre. So for today’s post, I wanted to examine how each game takes elements of what makes the CCG genre so compelling.
While we will be comparing both Ironclad Tactics and Card Hunter, both games are great in their own right despite who comes out on top at the end (if we can even pick a clear winner in the first place.)
Let’s begin with deck building, anyone who has played a CCG can tell you of the importance of deck building. This is also the main way that CCG based titles offer the player personalization as the deck defines everything about their play style.
Card Hunter features a nontraditional deck system in which loot equipped on each of your character defines their individualized decks for combat. Their armor, attacks, strengths and weaknesses are all based on whatever you have on.
Ironclad Tactics goes with a more traditional system, giving the player complete control of what cards they have in their decks. The only limits are that decks must have 20 cards in them and no more than 2 different factions worth of cards in them.
This is where I would give the nod to Ironclad Tactics as I prefer the control over deck building that it offers. The further you play in Card Hunter, the more uncontrollable your deck becomes as characters unlock more equipment slots which in turn increases their deck sizes dramatically. It gets to the point where you start to lose control of the cards in your deck and can easily have cases where characters are useless for several rounds.
But building a deck is not just about the system in place, but what cards you’re going to fill it up with and this is where both games went in different directions.
Card design is another major factor of any good CCG and where both games differentiate themselves.
Creating good card design is a huge process and one that would be too big to go into detail about in this piece. One of the basic concepts of a CCG is the mechanic of “hard rules”
A hard rule is a condition that is set in stone by the card itself, no dice rolls, no debate, if a card says that something has to happen then that’s going to happen. However the beauty of a CCG is that there are always cards that are designed to contradict the rules of another card.
For example in Card Hunter, if you’re wearing a piece of armor that prevents fire damage and then fight monsters made of fire, you would be invulnerable for that fight.
But if they have a card that removes armor, even if it’s made out of fire, then you could lose your armor and find yourself vulnerable again.
While both games feature hard rules, there are two different philosophies around card design present.
Ironclad Tactics features a more streamlined design: Damage values have a base value between 1-3 and there are no cards built around deck manipulation (IE: Play a card to draw new cards.) With the limited damage values it allows the cards to stand out more and prevents any of them from being considered trash.
However at the same time, the limited number of cards does hurt the longevity of deck building as the only way to increase the number of cards in the game is to focus on side grades or risk upsetting the balance present.
Card Hunter features a traditional CCG based system of card design. There is a power curve built around the design of the cards, as you play further, you will find new gear with stronger cards to replace what you have. In that case, cards and their respective equipment do become trash at certain points and there are cards that are just inherently better than their weaker counterparts.
The game also features a more complicated rule system with cards that do affect deck manipulation, armor and defensive cards, trait cards that strengthen or weaken characters and more.
What’s interesting is that both games share the same requirement of deck modifying to conquer the game’s challenges. In Ironclad, many story levels feature unique twists or even boss fights that require specific tactics or combination of cards to succeed.
And in Card Hunter, due to the hard rules at play, fights can be incredibly easy or immensely frustrating based on what cards you have available and the luck of the draw.
This is where Card Hunter has the slight edge in my opinion, while the system isn’t as elegant has Ironclad Tactics, it has a greater foundation for expansion and longevity.
Looking at both games there isn’t a clear winner as the CCG designs branch out in two different directions. But I would give the nod to Card Hunter on the grounds that the foundation of the game was built towards continued expansion. But at the same time, I do really like how streamline the design was in Ironclad and how every card remains viable.
When I spoke with Ironclad Tactic’s designer: Zach Barth on the podcast last week, he talked about how his team was focused on delivering a single player experience and wanted to create a very streamlined system to assist that.
But as we said, because of Card Hunter’s power curve and deeper ruleset, there is a lot more room for growth and expansions.
Although Zach did mention that Ironclad Tactics will have at least two additional DLC packs released in the coming months. It will be interesting to see how these two different games develop over time as Card Hunter seems like the better fit for multiplayer with the huge variety of cards and ruleset.
While Ironclad Tactics with its streamlined design and better control of deck building and stage variety, fits more with a singleplayer experience currently than a multiplayer.
Whether or not we see both games expand in their respective fields or try to go both ways remains to be seen. And with other CCG based titles in the works, such as Blizzard’s Hearthstone, the cards are going to keep on coming.