Ironclad Tactics: What We Think
The latest title from Zachtronics (creators of Spacechem) is a fantasy take on the early American Civil War era. In this particular iteration, the soldiers march alongside powerful battle robots known as Ironclads. Ironclad Tactics is a CCG styled strategy game that looks and plays a bit like Mojang’s Scrolls, but is fast-paced to the point of almost becoming an RTS.
The game starts with a slick, stylish comic book (the first of many) that sets the stage: The Ironclad is an automated iron hulk capable of being weaponized. Both sides have them and mastery of them will likely be the force that decides the outcome of the war. As Maxwell, an inventor close to the creator of the Ironclads, you get pulled into the heart of the conflict when rhetoric between the North and South bubbles over into all-out war.
Left vs Right
The action takes place on a grid consisting of 4 rows. Units are placed by selecting a card from your hand and indicating which row you wish to occupy. Action Points are spent placing units, equipping weapons, and for using certain ability cards.
When you unleash your Ironclad onto the field, it’s mostly automated. You can order it to hold position, and you can tell it when to resume marching across the field, but without action cards to play on them, that’s the limit of your control over them.
Placed ‘clads will start out unarmed. This means you’ll need to have weapon cards in your deck as well to equip them if you want them to do any damage (other than stepping on squishy infantry). Some units come with special abilities that get put into your hand soon after you play them.
A ‘clad with a jet pack can jump ahead a few spaces. A clad with high mobility comes with a free side-step card that can be reused indefinitely, but costs 1 Action Point per use. Some infantry can be replaced with a barricade to make a blockade wall that takes up one tile. It all means that you need to put together a strategy very quickly, and a lot can happen in a few seconds.
The goal of each match is quite simple: Score 8 Victory Points before your opponent. This is usually done in one of two ways; either get 8 points worth of mechs across the field to your opponent’s side of the screen, or have infantry occupy strategically important tiles long enough to accumulate the needed VPs.
About Those Jet Packs…
You and your opponent take turns simultaneously whilst a dial spins in real time through the various turn phases. Turns are only 5 seconds long. You get 1 Action Point per turn, 1 new card draw per turn, and everything currently in play takes an action and a movement per turn. And again, this all goes down within a 5 second interval.
To add to the pressure-building speed, your deck is made up of a maximum of 20 cards. Decks must be highly focused and well built, but things like your typical ‘mana clumps’ you get in other CCGs are not as big of an issue here because after a minute’s time, you’ve already gone through half of your deck.
One extra benefit of the fast-paced nature of the game is that you’re never waiting for your opponent to take their turn. It’s as active and immediate as a game of Quake.
Cards Against Humanity
There are several factions to choose from, and you may only choose 2. Overall, the types of cards within all factions are similar enough that once you see the first unit, you should have a general idea of what to expect to be up against. It’s hard to construct a deck to prepare for any circumstance since you’re limited to only 20 cards, but everyone is limited by the same restrictions. There is, however, enough card variety to keep deck-building interesting, so that you won’t keep seeing the same deck being used by everyone.
As you progress through the Campaign mode, you’ll continue to unlock more cards; most campaign missions have a faction theme, so you’ll start unlocking the set of cards from a faction in burst amounts. There are no booster packs – you simply unlock the sets as you go.
Each mission also comes with several side objectives which will unlock extra copies of cards so you can build your deck with as much frequency of specific cards as you like. The missions are set up with special conditions, deck restrictions, Puzzle mode, and 2 multi-player modes that will unlock every possible card and duplicate.
Gears of War
Finally, the last way to unlock cards is to simply use some of them a set number of times. For example, some cards will have something along the lines of ‘Play this card 10 times to upgrade’ written in its description, and feature a counter. After the resolution of the match in which you played it the tenth time, it will unlock an upgraded version of the card. These upgraded cards tend to require more Action Points to play, so when you swap them out, be aware that you could be slowing your deck down in exchange for more power.
I felt the Puzzle modes were incredibly easy, and gave me more of an impression of an advanced tutorial than actual puzzles. The Skirmish and Nemesis modes are multi-player modes wherein you can also get card unlocks, but can only be done with friends off your Steam friends list. Nemesis mode is you and your buddy playing against one another with one of you using a special deck that is normally used by the AI.
There is a final set of all one kind of Faction that you can only get for winning random 1v1 online matches. If you have no friends, then you don’t get those cards. Or, if there are no other people playing 1v1 matches, you’ll have to wait til there are to get your PvP set unlocks.
All in all the game is really solid. The comic art style is superb, the first-class American folk soundtrack that includes bugles, military snares, banjos and fifes is catchy (there is one tune in particular that I could not get out of my head all day). With the promise of more campaigns, cards and challenges promised in upcoming DLC expansions, there is hope that Ironclad Tactics will enjoy a very long life-cycle.