Summoner Wars is based on the popular card/board game of the same name by Plaid Hat Games. It makes its debut on iOS as the first free app from the developer Playdek, Inc., and takes you into the war-torn world of Itharia as a Summoner of various factions that are battling over the Summoner Stones.
The game is one part deck building — like Magic the Gathering — and one part board game, perhaps with some loose similarities to chess. Decks are built, cards are drawn, armies are summoned and the enemy is faced creating interesting strategical and tactical situations. Use your Summoner Stone after the break.
Summoner Wars is free to download, and with the free version you get one faction, the Phoenix Elves, which you can play against a few other factions vs. the AI or go online for multiplayer. The Phoenix Elves are a good army to learn with, as their special abilities tend to favor the beginner.
Going beyond the free version, the game offers a number of in-app purchases, all for $0.99 each. These include more faction card packs, reinforcement card packs for already purchased factions and the Mercenary card pack which can work with any faction, for a total of eight factions to play with, all with wildly different capabilities.
At the start of each turn, you draw cards from your deck to fill your hand. From this hand you can summon any cards you have enough magic points for. Next you use event cards, move and finally resolve conflicts with any enemy cards you can affect. The final phase of each turn allows you to keep the cards in your hand or convert any of them into magic points.
The basic trick to play is in balancing how many cards you turn into magic points with how many cards you can summon with the points you create. Some tough decisions usually come along, as you never know what you might draw next turn. Plus, there are other ways, including card abilities and events, that make you gain or loose magic points.
Variety of Play: Factions
This game has the advantage of having been played for years as an analog tabletop game. The factions are well balanced and well expanded upon. Once you move on from the Phoenix Elves you will quickly find that your entire approach changes depending on which factions you play and play against.
The abilities for each faction reflect their concept, which adds a lot of narrative appeal to the encounters. The Cave Goblins come in hordes, and strike when you least expect it. The Guild Dwarves can block your progress and pin you down with ingenuity. The undead of the Fallen Kingdom have a way of coming back from the dead, or even raising those they have slain to serve them.
For those new to the game, as mentioned, you are able to play one faction for free. If you get hooked — and many do — there are a bunch of expansion packs to choose from in order to get a completely different feel for the game. You can then build and save custom decks for each faction, and play them in any game.
An alluring option they offer is to buy all the expansions at once for $7.99. Admittedly, this is the route I choose after playing a dozen games with the free Phoenix Elves. Looking through the card gallery and reading their abilities got me thinking just how different each set would play, and I realized I would get them all eventually anyway.
Playdek has already brought a few board and card games to the iPad, and their experience shows in this implementation. The main play area feels like a perfect fit for the device, as one zooms in and out of the battlefield, zooms in to read card descriptions, and shows/hides the cards in their hand to reveal more of the table. Admittedly, with so many options there is a bit to learn, but once I got used to it I found it all flowed quite well.
There is a lot of depth to this game, as all the factions bring with them different rules and styles of play. This makes reading each faction in the card gallery a necessity, so you can study up and plot out strategies for your deck. The iPad screen is the perfect fit for this kind of browsing, and makes the whole process very smooth.
After a few games of learning the ropes, I started to get into a pretty quick flow with this one. The AI gives a decent challenge to get you going, then the sky is the limit once you head into the online multiplayer games. There really is so much variety to what a game can consist of, I have rarely had two games seem the same.
If you go all in and buy the whole expansion package, it will cost you a bit, but I have gotten a ton of play out if it so far (and imagine I will get a ton more) so I feel like this is a great buy. If you like deck building games, this will do the trick, and the added layer of playing out the battles on a grid takes it to a whole new level.