Finally, I got to play actual games on Alpha client. Here is my first impression about the game.
The fundamental game mechanics are relatively simple, which actually is not a bad thing. It is easy to understand and allows players to focus on core elements of game play. Here I might perhaps use classic analogy of Chess. There are fixed number pieces with board starting always same fashion. Yet when you play the actual game, depth of strategy is infinite and even supercomputers have hard time keeping up with.
The goal of the game is to take opponent’s hero life down to zero. The game utilizes tactical element with a board with each zones occupied by hero and its followers. The latter is essentially a creature/troop card in other games. In general, you summon follower adjacent to your hero.
Hero has their own attack and they can indeed move just like follower. Furthermore, each hero has their own special power. You can use them by spending specified amount of mana each turn. Heroes have different statistics including both health and attack. All creatures (hero and follower) can move 2 squares each turn.
Attack takes place when your creature (either follower or hero) is next to opponent’s creature and then you can decide to attack. If you do, the attack takes simultaneously between your creature and enemy’s creature. There is of course some cards that has distant attack, which only be countered if opponent’s troop also has ranged attack or the opponent is next to your creature. The attack is basically attacker driven i.e. attacker player moves creature and decide what target to attack.
Resource system is also a simple. Each turn maximum resource points goes up by 1, and no color to the resource. Basically, this is analogous to Hearthstone. I call this automatic resource system (ARS), which provides simplest form of resource system that allows still an element of resource distribution and ramping element to player compared to games that allows casting any one of two cards per turn.
In Zems, there are only three types of cards. Follower is one type. A spell type card is another and as the name says cards that does not take up the field space but rather make some sort of immediate effect in the game. This is analogous to action cards in HEX, sorcery cards in Magic. The third kind is construct, which can be thought of as artifacts in other card game, but with a battlefield, these card do take up a square and result in some sort of effect around. They do not move or have attack power (at least ones I saw).
The fundamental of the game rule seems very simple and so is game design. But the game provides interesting feel.
Weather & Environment
One of the main sales point of this game, according to developer, is the use of weather & environment effect.
In the previous article, I had mentioned other game that utilizes battlefield mechanics can easily implement this. Although it still remains true statement, the impact of weather & environment in this game is substantial and indeed game is designed such that they form critical part of game strategy.
Now only they are critical part of game play, but actually makes the game fun to play.
For example, we can make the weather rainy, which randomly creates wet field. Some cards can boost their power within the wet field or perhaps simply based on the number of wet fields.
Then we can have weather turn into thunderstorm, which causes all the hero and follower on the wet field to get electrified/shocked i.e. stunned. These creatures cannot move, attack or even use hero ability.
We have blizzard weather, which can freeze a square and effect are same on the creatures, but also it creates iceberg on wet squares, which we cannot move through unless damage it and break it. Of course, we have a way to change weather back to sunny.
What’s not in the game
As one would expect from the design decision to make a game relatively simple fundamental rule, this game does not have instant/counter spell/ability i.e. you cannot do anything during your opponent turn. This is negative to some player as it does take away some of the interesting tactics utilizing this design space, but it is indeed one of the confusing element especially beginner. Also, some may argue game like Chess does not allow you to play during opponent’s turn and still perfectly fine strategy game. So yes. it’s a missing piece, but not as bad as some would think.
As I have already said, the game has gorgeous and perhaps one of the best arts in any dTCG/dCCG. The quality seems to be relatively consistent across the board unlike some other games where tends to show only the best of all.
The weather/environment feature in this game is not a gimmick. They are real part of strategy in this game, and despite relatively simple fundamental game design, it is fun to play. I’d certainly go back again to try another round of play even with disconnect, lagging from alpha status of the client. If anyone is interested in this game, rather than taking my word, just go play the alpha.