Title: Ironclad Tactics
Genre: Casual, Indie, Strategy
Release Date: 18 Sep, 2013
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I was a very big fan of Space Chem (previous game from this designer) coming into this, with hopes of a similar brain-xploding idea of complexity condensed down into pure fun. While this has some great deck building elements and interesting play mechanic, it seems to just boil down to spamming cards. And sometimes the only way to learn a level is play it and lose 20 times with different deck builds each time before finally one clicks. Now this same process can be said for many games like Super Meat Boy or others of the same ilk, but while those are quick to reset and get you back into the meat of it, this game takes time and turn order. It builds up and leaves you very twitchy and\u2665\u2665\u2665\u2665\u2665\u2665\u2665\u2665when the next deck combo doesn't work. Interesting premise and great presenation, but just hampered down by mechanics that seem to wear down before their final destination.. A rather disappointing game considering the system itself had potential, but is unfortunately woefully incomplete (apparently more content is coming out as DLC, but the base content as it is is barebones).
Initially the game possessed a intriguing system of unlocking new units through the completion of mini-achievements, allowing your cards to evolve into a more effective and specialised fighting force. Unfortunately this feature is only seen in the first half dozen cards before never being seen again.
The game also featured several factions with different tactics and units that you can mix and match. Unfortunately again, all the factions with the exception of the army (Union and Confederate's are both considered the same, begging the question as to why it is set in the Civil War) have barely enough cards for a playable deck, much less one that you can base a unique strategy out of. This is further made worse by every faction's units being essentially the same thing (Army riflemen and bandits have absolutely no distinguising characteristics between them).
Even worse, the potential dynamic was there, in the form of unattainable weapons and units the computer gets during the campaign. After completing the game, and every last achievement (both single player and multiplayer) I was upset that the only things I receieved were more of the same cards. Indeed, the final boss's deck is displayed as an available playable faction, but does not have a single unit or weapon card in it.
The story serves it's purpose I suppose, so it is hardly disappointing, but it is somewhat baffling that early in the story you can clearly see a sibling rivalry, only for one of the brothers to disapear, and only come back at the end of the game to do absolutely nothing, unlike the collection of minor characters who assemble for the purpose of serving as an Deus Ex Machina during a mission. Whoever is actually manning and directing your ironclads is never mentioned (unless it is assumed that the sergeant who gets a brief mention early in the game is the PC). The Civil war is barely mentioned, and the game might as well be set during the Anglo-Russian war for all it matters.
The campaign itself is not so much challenging as it is putting you in a situation with an outright disadvantage. In the early stages this disadvantage is negated by unlocking a new weapon. However, due to the fact that there are no decent unlocks in the later missions the game simply becomes a matter of chance. Hoping that the luck of the draw gets you exactly the unit you need, and that the computer does not use the obnoxiously overpowered ability that he is granted this mission on the turn it would hurt the most. The last mission in particular is guilty in that the enemy boss is not only invincible (unless you kill two heavily armoured units guarding an electric outlet, and procede to occupy both outlets with infantry that can be killed instantly by said boss) but possessing a repetoire of weapons far superior to what you can get, and heals completely should you fail to stop him from going to your side. The strategy towards defeating him involves praying to your chosen deity that the enemy AI will decide to lay waste to your ironclads, rather then stepping on your infantry, and will stand still for that brief moment where you miraculously achieve enough firepower to destroy him in one turn. God help you if you decide to go for the achievements.
All that said, the game has potential. If it simply had more content and diverse factions that would allow for actual tactical options.. Ironclad Tactics is a game from Zachtronics, and while I am a huge fan of Zachtronic games, most notably TIS-100, and Opus Magnum, Ironclad Tactics doesn\u2019t grab me in near the same way.
Ironclad Tactics is set up like a Collectible Card Game. The player has a number of cards (And before long this number multiplies quite a bit.) and is able to form a deck of 20 cards, containing two \u201cfactions\u201d which are basically the groupings of the cards. It limits your choices a bit, but it allows cards to have good synergy without just allowing the player to pick the best cards of each faction. The factions aren\u2019t really named, but there\u2019s a definite type of card in each faction.
The deck of cards is created from three types of cards. Units (automatons called ironclads and infantry, that can do minor things, but the ironclads can crush by moving into their square.) There are also equipable items for the ironclads and tactics that get different effects.
In addition to the deck, the game is played on a four-lane board. The player spawns units that try to march to the other side. They can change lanes with the right cards, and attack enemy units as well as control special tiles (if they are infantry). There\u2019s a strategy to where the player spawns cards and which cards they use. The goal is to get units to your opponent's side of the board to score victory points.
The cards themselves are gained through gameplay though with not even a hint of randomness. If you beat a level you get the "story cards\u201d, after which there are two additional challenges per level. There\u2019s always at least one challenge for story mode such as \u201cDon\u2019t let any of your units die\u201d. And often there is a puzzle challenge or a second story challenge The puzzle challenge is more about showing you how a card works than really stumping the player. It illustrates great synergies or great uses of cards, and I rather enjoy them. In fact, I wish there was more of them.
The game is set up to be played at a constant speed, you can have a hand of up to five cards, you can play a card almost at any time, but they only activate in a specific play phase, then the game quickly moves to an \u201cact\u201d phase, which is attacks, Kill which resolves enemies with no life, and then move when all the robots that want to will move forward. (You can pause movement of your units as you want so you can control points)
The phases of the game are quite fast, there\u2019s almost a rapid-fire movement to the game that is a bit faster than expected, for some puzzles it\u2019s a bit overwhelming, and they expect an action in the first rame. But give less than what feels like three seconds to act. The pace though makes the player have to stay with the game and focus. I only found a long\/\/dull level once and it was due to trying to tackle a challenge with a special deck. I often was either playing a card, equipping an item or waiting for the end of the current move (something I have to wait less than ten seconds for). It\u2019s about 5 seconds to play cards, and then the resolution moves at a quick pace that it\u2019s engaging after a bit.
There are enough games that linger and allow the player to make choices, but this game feels strategic enough to make the player come up with strategies but not require them to wait long periods to implement them. At most they have to wait a few seconds to get the necessary resources to play the next card, however often that waiting feels quite long when you need 4 action points, and have 0
However, there are two pieces that really don\u2019t work here. The first issue is the story. This is an alternate history of the American Civil war where the war is mostly fought with robots and infantry. It\u2019s certainly a nicer idea than reality, but rather than really give anything a personality, or discuss the deep-rooted issues of states rights, slavery, or the right to succeed the game ignores that and says \u201cThis is 1860\u201d and then has you chase down ironclads. It\u2019s\u2026 a bit laughable. Zachtronic games have never had what I would call a strong story, but this one feels particularly out of place. It doesn\u2019t add to the feeling of what I\u2019m doing, usually giving me a cutscene just to try to explain why I\u2019m in an area or why are enemy units bombarding me, but overall, it doesn\u2019t really work in a strong positive way.
The other issue is a bit more damning. I love Zachtronics game, I\u2019m really passionate about their puzzles, and their gameplay. I always feel powerful in their games because they tend to be about programming or planning. This isn\u2019t that type of game, and that\u2019s ok. I bought this because of the strength of the company and want to see how they tackle a different genre. The issue is the game\u2019s very random. The enemy appears to always use the same tactics from what I saw, or get the same cards. Problem is, if you have a great deck, but get only items and tactics for the first 10 cards, you could lose a match. If you get only ironclads, you still might lose. If your combo cards don\u2019t come up at the right time you lose.
That\u2019s the nature of CCGs when you play other people of course. And it makes sense here, but it\u2019s a pain to sometimes lose because of a random dice throw even when you have a good deck. You can\u2019t even mulligan your first hand, you just quit and re-enter the game until you get the starting hand you want. I\u2019d like a little more agency. Because it\u2019s a real-time CCG, you can\u2019t even \u201cselect a card\u201d. There\u2019s not even a drawing of a type of card. You just quickly get a card every 5-10 seconds and if you have 5 cards, you lose the oldest card. It\u2019s faster pace but it feels spastic. I keep wanting to have that little more agency so I can strategize a bit more.
The choice though makes the game more random, a CCG IS random, but the game feels like a puzzle game at times, in that you have to figure out a good deck for the next level. And sometimes there are specific decks that might win. There\u2019s at least one stage where a lot of decks seem to lose (Las Vegas). The final stage is also quite challenging. So there\u2019s strategy, but it\u2019s randomized strategy, a disappointment.
Oh and there\u2019s ONE achievement. It\u2019s an odd omission that there\u2019s only one achievement to this game and it\u2019s to click an instruction card. That\u2019s a bit disappointing, especially when the PlayStation version had a full list of trophies attached to the game.
There are also multiplayer options including a co-op the main story mode the game offers. I wasn\u2019t able to try this, but it might be of interest to other people as that\u2019s a bit unique.
At the end of the day, Ironclad Tactics is a unique CCG, it has great gameplay, and a great feel as well as a ton of content. If you like CCGs, you\u2019ll find good gameplay here, as long as you can deal with the fast past. There\u2019s a number of challenges in the game, and if you like to build decks to tackle opponents or a good story, this has that. It\u2019s a solid CCG, and with not even a hint of monetization, that\u2019s fantastic as well. I think at the end of the day I\u2019ll personally stick with Opus Magnum, TIS-100, and Spacechem, but Ironclad Tactics is a good addition to my Steam library, and while I might not return to it as readily as the rest, it\u2019s rather enjoyable for the time I played.
If you enjoyed this review or want to see my opinion on other games you can find my curator page at this link. http:\/\/store.steampowered.com\/curator\/31803828-Kinglink-Reviews\/<\/a> Give me a follow.. (Most of the critisism here is about the expansion campaigns-- although I found the original campaign frustrating at times, it was in a more pleasant way!)
I love pretty much every game Zachtronics has released, and while I find this game mostly enjoyable, the amount of artificial difficulty introduced is maddening. The AI isn't particularly intelligent. The computer will frequently, for example, equip a weapon to an ironclad that is 3 empty spaces away from making it to your side, which is a waste of AP. If you pop an ironclad with a melee weapon right in front of an AI ironclad two spaces from your side equipped with a 2+ range weapon, they wont swap that weapon out to kill your ironclad and make it to your side-- it'll just sit there and die. To make up for the lackluster AI, however, the player is handicapped in a number of ways, making the game feel exceedingly frustrating at times.
The player receives a base 1.0AP per turn, while the computer gets 1.5AP. Then add on the fact that many of the AP-boosting objectives tend to be on the enemy's side, and the enemy often has units on the field to claim or defend them before turn 1.
This provides the illusion that the enemy's deck is an endless bag of cards where they can just pull out any card they desire at any point. The computer rarely needs to play defensively because they can just spam units to put YOU on defense. Maybe 10% of the time am I able to sneak a raider by the AI when there is an ironclad in play that they can maneuver into his path. Manage to an armored ironclad out to scrap with one weilding a 1 damage weapon? you've got about a 75% chance that they have some way to boost the damage to ignore the armor(depending on enemy factions). You can see how many cards the enemy has in hand, so I don't think the computer actively cheats in this regard-- it's just because of the massive AP boost that the AI gets-- cards don't need to go to waste.
TL;DR- Playing checkers with a skilled player is fun, even if they beat you. Playing checkers with an incompetent player whos friends pop in to give them extra game pieces whenever they lose some is frustrating.. I would rate this game a 7\/10. Although, I probably would never replay this game or play through a card based coop campaign game similar to this one again.
-Tons of Card Customization
-2 Player Coop campaign
-Lots of DLC and Side Quest content
-Not Dubbed (Although, my friend and I had fun voicing the characters ourselves. :P)
-Too much Time is focused on Deck Customization than on actual Gameplay. You have to consistently take the time to customize your deck for each scenario, otherwise you get trampled or overrun easily.
-Most of the mission pass\/fail outcome is entirely based on the lu...
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