Shards of Infinity Review22 May 2019 0
Shards of Infinity Review
Released 06 May 2019
The App Store doesn’t lack for deck-building games these days, but in a sea of dungeon crawlers you may be missing the tabletop classics inspired by the likes of Dominion. I don’t know what a 'shard of infinity' is, other than a great new card game in that traditional mode—but with some cool new ideas to set it apart.
Shards of Infinity comes from former Magic: The Gathering champion and designer of Ascension, Justin Gary. So as you might expect, the design is tight. The game has clearly been playtested to hell and back, because it never feels like it runs out of new strategies to try or new challenges to overcome.
Shards has a lot more player interaction than some deck builders, since your objective is to break through your opponent's defenses and reduce their health to zero. That means you need to pay attention to what they are up to and watch for ways to disrupt their strategy. Are they grabbing a couple champions that are invulnerable to attacks? Pick up the allies that let you remove them anyway. Then they’ll grab the one that brings their champions back from the dead. You’ll be doing a lot more than just attacking back and forth. Drain their Mastery points. Block attacks. The one thing you don’t do is force them to trash cards, which actually makes the game a lot less chance-based and frustrating compared to other deck-builders.
Card interactions are also interesting. Cards frequently work well within suits, where you'll get a bonus for playing another of the same type or having one in your discard pile. They also complement each other across suits. The purple cards frequently stack up damage, but they are also the best way to trash useless cards. A card that boosts your draws will help with any strategy. The fun part is spotting these synergies from the center row and building your deck appropriately.
Shards’ big innovation is Mastery—experience points you can build over time that make the cards you have more powerful. That makes the late game less of a race to trash useless cards and more thrilling as your power levels ramp up until even one of your starting cards can insta-win. Another cool feature is the ability to fast play some cards straight from the center row. That way you don’t waste extra credits, but you also don’t stuff too much dross in your deck.
The game can be played with up to four, but it really shines as a two player fight, quite similar to Star Realms. It only takes 20-30 minutes to play this way. So if that sounds up your alley, or you're already a fan of the tabletop game, the real question is: how is the mobile version?
The app version of the game is polished like chrome and clearly built for mobile (just play the desktop version to see what I mean). On a tablet, you get the original card artwork, but you can easily switch to Jumbo text on a smaller screen.
The interface has a lot of thoughtful features that smooth gameplay. A nice big button right where your thumb goes changes function depending on where you are in your turn. It starts as "Play All" so you don't have to swipe five cards onto the table every turn, serves as the pass button when you want to skip a card function, lets you use your last crystal to Focus for a Mastery point, then finally changes to Damage or End Turn when it's time to hand the reins over to your opponent. Then the game also reminds you when you have unspent crystals or when you can target Champions instead of your opponent directly. That said, an undo button would be nice for when you accidentally swipe the wrong card from the center row.
Because the design is focused on the center row, it can be difficult to keep track of what your opponent is up to. To see their Champions you have to pull down a menu. Likewise, it takes experience to recognize what your opponent is up to on their turn since the cards and tokens rapidly fly around the screen. In time, you'll know all the card capabilities at a glance, at least broadly, and can pick up on the strategies you are facing.
The AI is smart and challenging at all levels. The Easy level is appropriate for beginners, not too much challenge once you understand the game, but still cunning enough to take advantage of any mistakes you might make. Medium and Hard have clear differences in abilities, with Hard being quite tough.
The game has basic matchmaking for online play that works perfectly. You can set a match to have a 30 min (per side) time limit that makes it basically real time, or go up to days or weeks if you prefer a correspondence game. There's no ranking system, but I found lots of people to play with, who were usually quite a bit more challenging than the Hard AI. The online play is cross-platform too, which should help with keeping the number of online players high, and you can add friends to keep track of your regular partners. This game is full of fun innovations on the classic tabletop deckbuilder model from a master of the genre.