SHARDS of INFINITY is a 2-4 player deckbuilder from Ultra-Pro/Stone Blade. Point to note: this is a very good 2-player game. Online between £15.00 - £20.00
Credit for it's design is given to Gary Arant and Justin Gary (with additional game design by Ben Lundquist and Jason Zila). Justin Gary is well known in the card-playing games fraternity having been a Magic the Gathering© Champion at the age of 17 and then owner of Gary Games, which is now known as 'Stone Blade'. As a game designer he created the ASCENSION Deck-Builder hot on the heels of Dominion ® (Donald X Vaccarino) and Thunderstone ® (Mike Elliott) with all three games (and several more since) using similar mechanics for the playing and building up of card decks. Credit for SHARDS of INFINITY being popular should also certainly go to the illustrators; Aaron Nakahara, Rod Mendez, Thien Nguyen and Digital Art Chefs.
If you've an affinity for deck-builders or if you haven't played a deck-builder but fancy trying one then SHARDS of INFINITY is a fine entry level game that is also enjoyable for experienced players. It is also a game that is likely to see expansion decks arriving any time in the near future (I hope so). By calling it 'entry-level' it sounds like I am saying it is simple and that's not what I mean. It's the fact that there are four types of cards and these are colour coded as Blue/Gems, Red/Power, Yellow/Mastery and Green/Health.
SHARDS of INFINITY comprises of 4 over-sized Character cards (the cards are over-sized not the Characters), each with two rotating wheels for 'Health' and 'Mastery' and 2 decks of cards. One deck is four sets of the same 10 white bordered cards, one set for each player, and the other deck is made of 88 black bordered cards that make up the central draw-deck. Standard deck-building rules apply with each player beginning by shuffling their 10 cards and dealing themselves a hand of 5. There is a central bank of 6 cards which can be bought using the necessary type and number of resources on the cards in their hand, with bought cards usually going straight to the discard pile. Next round the players will have hands of the second five cards from their ten originals but after this all discards are shuffled so original cards will mix with bought cards and thus the deck builds.
Each card is very well defined as to its type/faction, cost (in Gems) to buy from the 'bank', effects such as gain this or that, draw a card etc. and any Special Effects - these generally come into play if other things correctly align during your turn. Character cards are mainly for show and for aesthetics, keeping track of Health and Mastery would be just as easy with pencil & paper but wouldn't look anywhere near as good. All Characters have the same single Focus ability which is they allow the player to spend one Gem to gain one Mastery, and then only once per turn.
In general you play cards from your hand, one at a time, ensuring that you play them so that you get the best out of each one - some cards give bonuses or special effects if played with another of the same type or if certain other cards and/or resources are available. The different card types you can obtain from the central supply/bank are known as Ally cards. These are mainly bought, put into your discards and played when they are dealt into your hand from your deck. Some Ally cards are Champions and once played in front of you they stay there throughout the game. Mercenary and Regular Allies are generally played, activated/used and discarded, though there is a neat rule that I, personally haven't come across before in a deck-builder, and that is paying the cost for a Mercenary Ally using its effect straight from the bank and then returning it to the bottom of the central draw deck - in other words you pay to hire the Mercenary for one turn but you don't own it.
To win the game you have to knock your opponent's Character health down to zero from its start of 50 with it remaining on nought at the end of your turn. Every Red (Power) resource on the cards you play do an amount of damage to your opponent or the cards they have in front of them - each card has a health value that has to be beaten in one attack (count up all the Power values) with any additional Power going past the defeated Champion and hitting the Character (move the wheel on the Character card to show the current Health (and Mastery) totals.
Unlike other games in this genre you do not have to target the Champion cards and knock them out of the way before striking at the Character, you can bypass any defence as such and head straight for the Character. Sometimes it is useful to knock a Champion out, especially if it is being too helpful to an opponent, but in just about every game we have played there has always been a player that has never bothered to purchase Champions and has used the effects of the cards in their hand to continually attack and damage other player Characters. We have found that it is often a good strategy to try to build your deck with one main colour, not only one colour but with a majority of one colour. This is because many card effects are only brought into play when other cards of the same colour/type are put into play or are in the player's current hand, ready to be played.
Some cards have a grey shield with a number in them, this number negates that amount of damage as long as you can show (not play) the card in your hand when an opponent attacks whether the damage is aimed at your Character or a Champion. I will state again as it is quite important that it is very rare in our games that a Champion is targeted, it is almost always the Character. There are many cards that give healing to your Character, never past the original 50, so if you had to defeat all Champions first the game would probably never end.
My wife has a tendency to try for a majority Purple card deck. These are Wraethe Allies and can be very heavy on dealing damage. If you see someone collecting these then it's a good idea to make sure your deck has a good number of Shields, though this isn't that easy to do as there are only 10 cards with Shields: 5 Blue cards 3x5 and 2x8 defence, 2 Green cards with 3 defence and 3 Brown cards each with 2 defence. At this point I should remind you to know what cards you have in your deck to the best of your memory, but also to know what cards you have in your hand during your opponent's turn/s. I like to have one or two Wraethes, two or three Homodeus Chapions and a good few Undergrowth Allies.
Like MtG some cards are tapped (in this game it's called 'exhausted') when their abilities are used. This brought up a rules question which we eventually worked out, or at least decided on our own interpretation. I had a Homodeus Champion in play, in front of me, an Undergrowth card in my hand and I had played a Wraethe card. I exhausted the Homodeus Champion to gain 2 Gems and then played from my hand an Order Champion. This allowed me to draw a card and then I used the Dominion ability to exhaust the Order Champion for 3 Mastery. The wording for Dominion basically says you only get this ability if you have played or revealed an Undergrowth, Wraethe and Homodeus card this turn. As I said earlier, I had played the Wraethe and showed the Undergrowth and had 'exhausted' the Homodeus that was already in play. As I exhausted it we decided that this counted as having 'played' it thus allowing Dominion to be used. As I say, this is our interpretation, but it works fine, and as long as it's the same for all players there's no harm no foul, even if we have misinterpreted it.
I have mentioned Mastery a few times so it's about time I said what it is used for. Some cards have extra bonuses, damage, gems, etc. if your Mastery is at certain levels. For example, two of your start cards give extremely good bonuses if you have the correct amount of Mastery. Shard Reactor gives 3 Gems instead of 2 if you have 5 Mastery or 4 Gems instead of 2 if you have 15 Mastery, but the best card is your Infinity Shard which has a basic 2 Damage which rises to 3 (10) 5 (20) and Infinity (30) - the latter being an automatic death sentence on one Character even if their owning player has every card in their hand with a Shield, infinity is infinity!
A few years ago I would have said that the artwork was exceptional but there are so many card games nowadays where the artwork is amazing that exceptional is almost becoming the norm. It is very good though!
The only minor negativity about this SHARDS of INFINITY boxed game is that 88 central deck cards isn't enough to sustain regular play. This is why I am pretty sure that expansion sets are on their way. There are so many good things about the game though and one of them is that several players I have introduced it to have begun by saying something like "Oh no, not another deck-builder" and ended up with at the very least, a "Well that was enjoyable".