Card-collecting games can be extremely intimidating. Veterans of card-battle duels know the lure of building another deck in a fascinating new universe. But if you've never understood the appeal of pitting your cardboard Yeti against your friend's two-dimensional Colossus, you might find these games tedious or intimidating. Culdcept Saga is neither. The depth of traditional card games is on full display here, but the addition of a game board, customizable avatars, and rules that are similar to Monopoly make Culdcept far more accessible and fun than traditional card-collecting games.
Your goal in Culdcept Saga is to score a set number of points before your opponent does. Every lap around the board nets you additional gold (like passing "Go" in Monopoly), but the majority of your money comes from the tolls you'll collect. Instead of just buying plots of land, you'll lay down creatures, claiming a spot as your own. If your opponent lands on your property, he or she can pay rent without making a scene, or challenge you to a duel. The winner takes the spot while the loser pays the fine. You can improve your land (like houses in Monopoly), increasing its value while making your creature stronger. There is more depth to this basic structure, such as chaining colors together to increase the toll value, but the property-owning mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played the popular board game. The early rounds focus on the fun and unpredictability of different game boards, letting you learn the ropes before the game presents you with the more in-depth strategies presented by the various cards.
Before the match, players build the deck they want to take into battle. There are almost 500 different cards in the game, but your deck can hold only 50, so you'll have to decide on your general strategy before the match begins. There are three different types of cards: creatures, items, and magic. Creatures allow you to claim property; items make your monsters stronger in battle; and magic affects the players, letting you do things like double the toll money you earn or force your opponent to roll a 1. Players hold up to six cards in their hands at one time, and your opponents are able to see what you have lined up. This removes some of the surprise but adds a layer of tension that makes the matches even more intense. A boastful player may leave a powerful card in his or her hand for a few turns, letting the unspoken threat linger and putting the opposing player on edge. If you build your deck right, though, you'll be able to counter the card before it can hurt you, leaving your opponent sputtering and desperate. The volatility and unpredictability of the matches make Culdcept Saga a blast, keeping you on your toes the whole time.
The battles themselves are even more delightfully devious than the prefight board play. The creatures are diverse and dangerous, imbued with all sorts of powerful secrets and hidden tricks. The game starts out with simple creatures to give you a feel for the conquest, so you're not overwhelmed with confusing cards. In your starter deck, you'll have trolls and rats, basic cards that will teach you that HP signifies your health, ST is your attack power, and if your ST is higher than your opponent's HP, you'll most likely win the battle. You can equip your Red Troll with a giant sword, though, that can tip the battle in your favor, and don't forget that Giant Rats always attack first. Taking advantage of the various quirks of each card is satisfying, letting you play your opponent like a drum if they come to battle unprepared.