Tag: deck-building

Game Review: High Command

I’m a big fan of the Iron Kingdoms universe. This steampunk fantasy setting has an interesting marriage of magic to technology, several unique-feeling yet familiar nation-states, and semi-sentient steam-powered robot warriors acting as battlefield avatars for wizards who know how to handle themselves in melee combat. Until recently, the two roads into the setting were the two miniature wargames (Warmachine and Hordes) which featured finely detailed minis sure to drain your bank account faster than you can say “I need another warcaster to round out my army”, and the surprisingly difficult to find role-playing game. Privateer Press is opening more doors into their world, however, with the stand-alone deck-building game High Command, which I was fortunate enough to play at PAX.

Courtesy Privateer Press

In High Command, up to four players assume command of one of the factions within the Iron Kingdoms. The game does come in Warmachine and Horde flavors, giving players plenty of choices. The goal of the game is to acquire the most victory points by occupying territories and commanding the most powerful weapons available. Acquiring troops and getting them into the field is accomplished via drawing cards from the player’s individual army deck and spending them to acquire one of the resources available to that player. These resources then become part of the deck to be drawn later. Once in the field, troops, warmachines, warbeasts and spell-casters fight over the territories available in the center of the table. There are events that happen every turn that can tip the balance of the game one way or another, and one of those events ends the game. Whoever has the most points when that event occurs wins.

Each player begins the game with two decks of their own: a Resource Deck containing cards to acquire, and an Army Deck containing some basic means to acquire said Resources. The system feels a lot like Ascension but on an individual level. Instead of vying with the other players for unique heroes or weaponry from a common pool, a player’s turn consists of deciding how best to spend the cards drawn from the Army Deck to prepare for future engagements. There’s an element of random chance in both drawing from the Army Deck and setting up the Resources to be chosen from, which is mitigated by the ability to bank unused Army cards between turns and the removal of cards from the Army Deck each time it’s shuffled. The system is easy to understand for new players and seems flexible enough to provide interesting strategic permutations.

Courtesy Privateer Press
It’s nice to have big guns that are always available.

While Dominion only allows player interaction with certain cards available to all, and Ascension eschews direct player confrontation altogether, High Command is all about player-versus-player contention. Army cards deployed or rushed into the center of the table are bound to be opposed by Army cards employed by the other players. Each Army card has a strength rating and a health rating. Combat is a somewhat watered down version of Magic: the Gathering in that strength is directly compared to health to determine victory. Event cards and resources used from a player’s hand can tip the scales, a Warcaster or Warlock can appear in the field to give a one-time bonus to the encounter, and multiple troops can pool their strength to overcome larger foes. Much like the system of the two player decks, the combat system is streamlined and simplistic enough to appeal to new players.

My qualms about High Command are similar to the ones I have about Lords of Waterdeep, the Forgotten Realms worker-placement game. Veterans of deck-building games with more complexity and options may be turned off by the simplicity of the gameplay, and while the game can be good for getting an Iron Kingdoms fix, those with a keen interest in the universe may be more interested in either the pen-and-paper game or the wargames. My big bone of contention with the game is that it’s one of those experiences that can lead to a player focusing almost entirely on their own engine, rather than directly interacting. The pace of the game, especially in the first couple turns, feels somewhat sluggish. Players are dealing with their decks and resources and units, and it can be easy to focus on that rather than pay attention to what an opponent is doing, since your opponents are, in essence, doing the exact same thing you are. While I don’t think this is a huge problem for the game, it does bear mentioning especially if you’re introducing new players to deck-building in general or the Iron Kingdoms as a setting.

Courtesy Privateer Press
The art is high quality and the cards are easy to read.

In the end, I would lean more towards recommending High Command than not. I do feel that the direct confrontation and combat in the game make it fun and involving, and crafting your deck to execute your master plan can be intriguing. It definitely has appeal for fans of the Iron Kingdoms who are unwilling to make the monetary investment in miniatures. Everything you need for up to four players is right there in the starting box. Hardcore deck-building fans may be content with their Dominion set, but if you’re looking to check out the genre and like a bit of face-smashing to go with the card dealing and shuffling, I’d check out High Command.

Return to the Gathering

Art by Kev Walker
Art by Kev Walker

It seems that lately I’ve been rediscovering old habits. First, it was World of Warcraft. Now, my father has me playing Magic: The Gathering again.

I first started playing back in high school. This was around the time the expansion Legends came out. I collected cards steadily until after my years at Bloomsburg. Then, in a moment which I still don’t quite comprehend, I gave them away to someone I haven’t seen in years.

Can’t even remember their name, honestly.

Anyway, a few years ago when I moved down to Philly, Paul Bagosy lured me back in. The Time Spiral block had just begun, and along with promising new and interesting ways to play with time, the set also brought back old favorites in a “timeshifted” form. We’d meet at the Roundtable down in Conshohoken to buy boosters, trade cards, even play in tournaments. Those were good times.

The Roundtable has since closed, an event that still makes me sad. I now live in Lansdale, quite a bit away from Paul. But I’ve held on to my cards. And my father has been teaching my niece some of the nuances of the game and invited me to come play as well.

Now, I’m not buying more boosters. I simply don’t have the extraneous cash. And if I did, I’d be buying Starcraft 2 and putting down pre-orders for Cataclysm. No, I have to build decks just with the cards I have. Thankfully, that year or so of binging on the game has left me some powerful and interesting alternatives. It’s something of a challenge, actually, to go through my “vault” of cards and put something together that’s both fun to play and stands a chance of winning a duel.

Here are the three decks I’ve assembled, or re-assembled, so far.

Reanimator: This is a deck built around Teneb, the Harvester. The idea is to have big creature cards that I discard from my hand, only to have the big dragon, Dread Return or Resurrection bring them into play. Creatures in this deck, quite simply, don’t stay dead. Greenseekers keep the mana flowing while Undertakers do some of the other reanimating cards’ heavy lifting, and both put fodder for the big three feature cards into the graveyard from my hand. It’s needed a couple tweaks to streamline its performance, but so far it’s doing okay. It’s always nice to not only have the option of casting a big creature for less than its normal casting cost, but also to snag an opponent’s creature from their graveyard.

Sliver Legion: Exactly what it says on the tin. There are no creatures but slivers in this deck. Rainbow decks can be difficult to manage, but Gemhide Slivers help fix any mana problems and Homing Slivers fetch anything I need from my library – my Sedge Sliver for example – for a mere 3 mana. Give it a few turns, and suddenly every creature I field is flying, regenerating, gives me life when it deals damage and has double-strike. It’s pretty fast, to boot, which is good considering how much my dad likes burn decks.

Chronomancy: I’ve dreamed of this deck since I first got into Time Spiral. My girl there, Jhoira of the Ghitu, is something of an inspiration, since the deck is built around controlling the game through suspended cards – Arc Blade, Chronomantic Escape and Reality Strobe. A couple Paradox Hazes to give me extra upkeeps, Timebugs and Rift Elementals for counter control, and a few different answers to creatures and spells allow me to keep an opponent off-guard before I break out the big guns. And if said guns are too expensive for me to bring out because of their mana cost (“hardcasting”)? Jhoira’s ability gives them suspension, and puts them in the dugout eager to come into play, for 2 mana. I think this one’s really going to annoy some people. And I slipped Walk the Aeons in there for good measure.

I also recently came across the synergy between Magus of the Future and Momir Vig, Simic Visionary and it’s got me thinking of yet another deck. This one probably featuring Vorosh, the Hunter in a starring role. A creature feature, if you will.

Who else out there is playing Magic? Where do you play and what sort of decks do you run? Has it been a while for you since you’ve played? And if you want me to post the actual lists for any of these decks, let me know. No secrets between you and me, Internets.

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