This probably goes without saying, but one of the things I love about video games is that they give me a (somewhat) grown-up excuse to play with toys. That probably helps explain why Skylanders is one of my favourite games in recent memory. It's also why I'm so excited for Prodigy, a tactical RPG currently in development at the French indie studio Hanakai.
Prodigy plays like a combination of the tabletop classics Warhammer and Magic: The Gathering. The ornately crafted demons and elven warriors that make up the game's cast feel like they were pulled straight out of Magic cards. There's just one key difference: rather relying entirely on figurines or emblazoned cards, you play Prodigy on a PC with the help of a Skylanders-esque platform.
The game's NFC tech functions more like a traditional game board than the Skylander portal. The controller, set up in a grid-based format, is chunky white tablet that looks sort of like a tinier version of a Wii Balance Board. The player gets a handful of creatures along with a set of cards that are used to direct them to attack, defend, or use special abilities. At the start of each turn, you can move one of your characters around the board to place them in the best tactical position. After that, you drop one of the action cards down to tell the character what to do. There's also a thick plastic band called the "ring of power" that you're supposed to wear while playing the game, which is probably the silliest part of the experience.
Hanakai just launched a Kickstarter campaign for the game, and their pitch video gives a good sense of how it all works: This may seem a tad stilted for gamers accustomed to using a good old fashioned mouse and keyboard, or even those of us who've been won over by Skylanders' seamless swapping experience. But removing the more mechanical parts of the gameplay from the on-screen experience actually helps remove some of the clutter that these kinds of games often suffer from. In the process, it frees up Prodigy's lush visuals to let you focus on the characters themselves. Most of what you end up seeing on-screen is the different monsters duking it out turn after turn, which I don't have a problem with.
Hanakai says will offer both single player and multiplayer modes. I only got a chance to play a round against a member of the team last month at GDC. It was still pretty rough around the edges — Jean Bey, the studio's CEO and creative director and a veteran tabletop game designer, told me that they were still tinkering with how to best integrate things like the ring of power into the rest of the game. But as a diehard fan of games like XCOM and Fallout: Tactics, I was still impressed with how well the studio had carried that kind of gameplay into this ambitious new format. Obviously I can't render a final judgement of the game, but the small slice of Prodigy that I did get to see really felt like I was playing something like The Banner Saga except with toy vikings instead of strictly cartoon ones.
Seeing how it draws inspiration from several niche gaming genres, Prodigy might not be for everybody. But if any of what I just described sounds like it's up your alley, I'd highly recommend checking out the game's Kickstarter, which will give you a head start on hoarding all your favourite figures from the game.