The CABALS Magic & Battle cards game on Steam (it is also available for iOS, Android, MAC etc) is the latest in the growing genre of "collectible" card games where all cards are virtual and yet maintain the excellence of illustration that actual "real" cards have. By moving a game from the table to the computer there is the possibility of visualisations that can only be in the imaginations of the tabletop player, the same way that playing a role-playing game around a table is based on the pictures painted by the GM and MMO's bring those images to life in glorious colour and 3D.
In CABALS Magic & Battle cards there is the choice of the Modern or Classic game play which is basically using or not using the Loyalty Cost game mechanic plus you can play against online or artificial opposition.
The battles are played out on a board comprising of circles, two of which contain the Red and Blue fortified bases, the objects the opposition are trying to defeat and control.
For ease in understanding CABALS the following is an online description of the game:
The world of Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards is inspired by various real mystical and esoteric traditions. It has been developed specifically for Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards with the help of an award-winning author Johanna Sinisalo, and brought to life by original paintings for each individual card.
Set in Europe between the two world wars, Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards takes the players in the middle of a different kind of struggle, one fought in shadows. It's a war between cabals, secret societies dedicated to harnessing the forbidden powers to their own ends. It's a war over influence and a chance to shape the future of humankind.
The power struggle is between six cabals:
- Danann Covenant are a group of jazz-age witches who have summoned the forgotten Sidhe to their side
- Bearclaw Brotherhood is built upon the powers of the shamans and the command they have over the land, spirits and the Slavic people
- Vril Society combines strange Vril energy to the latest technological discoveries for powerful and unusual results
- Order of Zahir relies on the esoteric art of alchemy, and are masters over both mind and matter
- Sons of Osiris acolytes and necromancers from Egypt, relying on the art of necromancy and priesthood
- Dragon Enclave shaolin monks built upon fundamental taoism, along with the summoning of number of powerful, ancient legendary dragons on their side
My first foray into CABALS: Magic & Battle Cards game started me with a deck designed around the Danann Faeriefolk. I didn't know what cards were in the deck or what to expect by way of powers and abilities. Obviously I didn't know what I was up against either. As it was the first game gave me a false sense of possibilities with the given deck because the opponent played like as much of a novice as I was, maybe it played like even more of a newbie. This is another reason why you need to learn the ins and outs of the game mechanics and understand the capabilities of your own deck, as well as the opposition.
CABALS plays very much like the majority of other computerised games in this genre but with some subtle differences. Cards played, for example, rearrange their shape to conform to the size (and thus shape) of the circle. They can only be played into specific spaces but can almost always move off immediately they are played at the cost of no additional power. Combat is very much the same, Attack value versus Defence value and immediate counter attack thus two cards, each of value A1 and D1, in direct opposition will destroy each other whereas an A1D1 against an A1D2 will see the latter card survive damaged. However, although this sounds to be very basic the game is far from it. Unlike other TCGs the cards in play do not depend on just their own abilities and powers or indeed from the buffs they receive from other cards, they can also gain advantages from the position they are in on the board, and of course this creates another perspective of play for the player to contemplate. To my understanding this alone makes CABALS unique amongst electronic TCGs.
Cards can be played to modify (buff) other cards - hovering over a card in play brings up arrows of different colours; Blue meaning it's safe to move, Red meaning you will lose the attack and Yellow showing a battle you will win - or destroy opponent's cards in play. Moving a card into the space of another (opposing) card begins a very short-lived battle, there is an explosive flash and the result occurs.
From my short experience playing via Steam I deduce that you are expected to win your first practice battles as you learn the ropes but until you have added more cards to your deck and built the deck to suit your own design you are going to get creamed just about every time you play. This is a fairly harsh and direct battle game with no room for error. There are cards that can appear (or seem like they appear) wherever on the board the opponent wants them to whereas your regular deck of cards at the beginning is staid and slow to move. How you play your cards and whether you spend all your power is a matter for your own strategy. It may seem a good idea to spend your initial 3 power on a 3 strength card but by passing the first turn and thus having 6 power for the next round allows you to spend 6 points, bringing out one or as many cards as you can afford at the same time. Of course if you pass too often to get the power you are not drawing new cards and you are giving your opponent one heck of an advantage, so it really is a matter of tactics and strategies.
Is this unique mechanic enough to make you switch from the online TCG you are currently playing (assuming that you are currently playing a TCG) ? That's an interesting question. On the plus side it certainly is worth playing, it's a challenge, it's superbly designed and quite creative. On the other side of the coin (or card in this case) it doesn't have the flair of some other computerised TCGs in as much as there are no cut scenes of individual battles and neither are the visual effects of the magic as dramatic. Personally, much as I admire the hard work and brilliance of the designers of games that have these dramatics and cut scenes after the first few times of seeing them I find myself looking for the fast-forward button; there's no need to ever fast-forward CABALS.
Having weighed all things up and played the game several times (by that I mean spending many hours playing) I believe that CABALS: MAGIC & BATTLE CARDS is a game to invest your time in. It requires that you take the time to build and create and if you put in that time and effort the rewards are there in satisfaction and gratification, especially satisfaction when you see the Blue Riband of Victory proudly paraded across your screen.