Back in the middle of this past summer we told you about the Legends of Fire and Steel Kickstarter from Boomzap Entertainment that was cancelled before the end of the campaign. As it turns out, the game was down but not out, because once again Monika Guballa from Boomzap emailed us last week to tell fill us in on the progress of the game, now called Legends of Callasia. She also offered me access to the Legends of Callasia alpha in order to get a taste ahead of the new Kickstarter campaign that launched today. I spent quite a bit of time over the weekend with the game and thus I wanted to write up a quick Legends of Callasia hands-on for everyone. Granted, it might be simpler for all of you to just head over and download the demo of the game that is available as part of the Kickstarter, but nonetheless let me tell you a bit about it.
When I last talked about the game I likened it to Risk except with a simultaneous turn-based system, although that was purely an educated guess based on the information at the time. Now that I have tried Legends of Callasia it would seem that that description was fairly apropos. Boomzap themselves are pretty open that they are taking cues from bigger and deeper turn-based strategy games such as Crusader Kings and Civilization and distilling that down into the gameplay more associated with board games like Risk. In some ways it seems like a smart move. Boomzap are hoping to give players a bit of deeper strategy gameplay packaged into an online game with matches that take less than an hour. The pre-beta version that I tried over the weekend has some stuff to flesh out, but I rather like what Boomzap is going for. If you enjoy playing board games and like the idea of having that same experience with the convenience of online gameplay then Legends of Callasia will have you covered.
When starting a game, players can choose from a range of match options including AI difficulty (if playing with AI), map size, game length, neutral armies, and so on. Each player also choose their race from the three that are available. Your choice of race dictates the type of units that you will have access to during the game, which each unit having different offensive and defensive stats. It also dictates which heroes you have access to during the set-up phase, and you can only bring along four of them into the game (or at least, I only ever saw four at most). Each hero has different bonuses and these bonuses can have a significant effect during combat and so it will be important to build a strategy around your choice of heroes. Personally I like having at least one hero that was good at defending and the rest having a more offensive slant.
Once all that is over and done with, the game starts. From here you have a limited number of turns to reach victory, either by total domination or victory points. As far as I could tell, this roughly translates into trying to hold as much of the map as possible, although it ends up being a bit more complicated than that. Like Risk, the map is divided into Kingdoms which are each sub-divided into Lands. And, like Risk, holding a Land increases your points and income while holding an entire Kingdom grants bonuses to your points and income. Thus, it can be advantageous at times to sacrifice a Land if it means holding onto a complete Kingdom elsewhere. In the same vein, trying to disrupt an enemy player’s Kingdom by taking a single piece of Land can be a vital strategy at times, even if you don’t commit to a full invasion.
Unlike in Risk, you can do more with the Lands and Kingdoms than simply hold them, and it is here that Legends of Callasia starts taking pages from playbooks of the big boys like the Civilization and Crusader Kings games. Players can choose to build either settlements or defensive structures on each land, increasing their income or providing access to new troops out in the field. You can also build portals if you want to move your troops around more quickly. One significant aspect of all of this is that every action such as capturing a Land or building a settlement require that an army enter the Land and stay there for at least one turn. This means that building up your infrastructure slows down the movement of your armies, and at times this can lead to a serious risk versus reward situation if you have enemy armies encroaching elsewhere. And given that you have a limited number of armies (one per hero) on the move, you will have to make some tough choices at times.
At some point in the game you are going to have to engage in combat, either with neutral armies or (more likely) enemy players. Combat is a very straightforward affair which is completely automated with a missile phase followed by a melee phase. Once this starts you can’t do anything to change the outcome, although in between the combat rounds you can play cards from your hand that can alter how the combat plays out (more on the cards later). I appreciate the auto-resolution to the combat because it keeps the pace of the game snappy, but sometimes I wondered why I needed to watch it at all given that I couldn’t do anything about it. At least you can speed up the auto-resolution pace so that it doesn’t take as much time. It is fun to watch the first few times but after awhile it felt a bit monotonous. Still, that is only a small gripe in the big scheme of things.
I mentioned the cards so let’s talk about them next. Each player draws a card each turn, up to a maximum of five cards that can be discarded if you don’t like them. These provide a variety of bonuses and effects, such as increasing the defensive or offensive capability of an army, preventing an enemy army from retreating, allowing your armies to escape, increasing a Land’s income for a single turn, razing an enemy structure, and so on. You can play multiple cards on a turn provided that you can pay the cost in gold. My favourite card is Peasant Revolt, which instantly converts an enemy Land into a neutral state and with a neutral army. This can be a really easy and yet devious way to disrupt an enemy player’s Kingdom for a couple of turns.
The final thing I want to discuss is the simultaneous turn-based system, which is actually a really great aspect of the game. First and foremost, this type of gameplay means that the pace of the game always feels like it is moving along nicely. There is never really much down time for players since you don’t have to wait around for every single player to take their turn. Everyone plans their moves at the same time and locks in. There can be a bit of waiting for others to lock in, but it is nowhere near as bad as waiting for sequential turns. The simultaneous turns also make the strategic elements more interesting since players are always trying to anticipate what the others will do. I really like this system and I wish more turn-based games would use it. [Update: Monika from Boomzap just informed me by email that the first person to lock in their turn gets a bonus to their income that turn. I never noticed that while I played, but it is another way to encourage faster turns.]
And that in a nutshell is my experience with the Legends of Callasia hands-on. Of course, it is much easier to see what I mean by watching some gameplay, so check out the video below to see some game segments from an AI skirmish match I played over the weekend. The video covers two different time periods from the match during the mid to late phase of the game. The complete match took 40 minutes to play. All in all I enjoyed my time with Legends of Callasia. I really appreciate the marriage between fast board game style matches and some of the elements from the more extensive and deeper strategy titles. The snappy simultaneous turn-based gameplay kept the pace moving along nicely and even made for some nail biting moments when trying to guess what the enemy players are planning.
So, if you are a board game fan, or if you like strategy games and are looking for something that is easy to dive into with quick matches, then Legends of Callasia is worth a look. I encourage you to check out the Legends of Callasia Kickstarter, and better yet give the demo a try (currently available for the PC and for iPads). If you do decide to support the game, it appears that every meaningful pledge tier will get you an early release version of the game. The beta testing of the game will be fairly open and you can check out the Legends Callasia website for more information. Oh, and help vote in the game on Steam Greenlight as well. Enjoy!
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