Late last week a collectible card game, designed by a former artist and producer on Rogue Legacy and Diablo 3, finally launched. It’s called Duelyst, and as it turns out it’s basically a 2D pixel art version of Hearthstone — on a grid.
Duelyst was crowdfunded on Kickstarter over two years ago, raising US$137,707 (just over $180,000) from 3,578 backers. The visuals and UI have gotten a significant upgrade from the original pitch, though. Here’s what the game looked like during the Kickstarter campaign:
God it’s pretty.
The concept is pretty simple. Each player has a deck made up of 39 cards and one general. You gain one mana per turn up to a maximum of 9 (just like Hearthstone) and the objective every match is to kill the opposing general (also like Hearthstone).
Each deck can only have a maximum of three cards of any one type (again, Hearthstone). Each card has a mana cost and, if it’s a creature, an attack and health number. You start with a hand of six cards and draw one card at the end of every turn, although you can replace one card from your hand for a new one at any point during your turn.
Most of the standard Hearthstone mechanics make an appearance as well. Rush is Duelyst’s version of Charge. Opening Gambit’s the equivalent of Battlecry. Dying Wish is Deathrattle. Celerity is Windfury. Provoke is Taunt, except it also locks enemy units in place until the creature’s dealt with.
The nature of the turn-based grid makes some mechanics specific to Duelyst though. Some creatures will get a bonus if they’re within one square of your general. Flying works … well, like flying always did in Heroes of Might and Magic. Ranged creatures can shoot at anything they like. Infiltrate creatures are stronger if they’re on the opponents side of the battlefield. It’s pretty straightforward.
The game’s currently free-to-play, with new cards either acquired through spirit orbs (purchased individually for 100 in-game gold each or in bundles with real money) or through levelling up each of the game’s six factions. The Gauntlet is Duelyst’s take on Arena, although it’s only currently open four days a week to minimise queue times for players (which have been several seconds on average for me, across all hours of weeekdays and weekends).
Part of the appeal is the ability to have all the right cards and then still bugger it up because you failed on the tactical positioning. Games can still end remarkably quickly though — basic spells and abilities can fill squares with spikes that act as a end of turn localised board wipe, while others can add minions’ health to their attack for a crushing one-hit KO.
Turns are limited to 90 seconds as well, and most matches I’ve had will end when you get to 9 mana. Given that the first player starts with two mana and the second player starts with three and the first few turns are over fairly quickly, most games finish in around 10 to 15 minutes.
The crafting system is pretty similar to Hearthstone too. There’s five levels of rarities, and once you have more than three of any particular card you can disenchant it for spirit (dust).
It’s designed for mobiles as well, although the only way to play on your phone for now is through the beta web client. The PC version needs a bit of TLC in other places anyway: the game automatically installs into your Users folder, although that can be avoided if you wait for the game’s Steam release (or go via the web version).
But grievances aside — and having to use a third party tool just to get the install folder off my system SSD is a pretty frustrating one — I’m enjoying myself. Going through the grind of leveling each faction up so I can unlock the basic cards is a hassle, but that’s to be expected of any free-to-play CCG.
And it was the same in Hearthstone, which Duelyst shares a hell of a lot of similarities with. Except it looks a hell of a lot better. You can check the game out for free via the web client above or you can grab the installer for PC and Mac. There’s the sub-reddit too for strategies and deck building advice.