Shards of Infinity is no digital Dominion, but it offers its own innovations that will see it thrive as a multiplayer experience10 Apr 2019 0
When you open the current build of Shards of Infinity, one of the first things you'll look for, and find, is a tutorial button. The second thing you'll find is that it's greyed out, inert. The modern equivalent of an 'under construction' gif. Usefully, there is a link to download a PDF of the rules. Usefully, they are short. Indeed, if you've played a deck-building game of any stripe before, you'll find them second nature.
You start with a deck of ten cards. Most generate Crystals, the key currency of the game. One, though, is the titular Infinity Shard, a weapon of awesome power. Most of the time it generates damage which gets struck off the enemy life total: last player standing wins. If you can pump another resource, Mastery, up to thirty and can play the Shard, though, it's an instant win. Mastery is available from certain cards and you can also pay a crystal to get one.
Other than Mastery and the Shard, there's little in the rules to suggest that Shards of Infinity is anything other than one of the litter of Dominion clones littering the market. After digesting the rules and heading into your first AI match, though, the game quickly demonstrates some surprising innovations.
You're first faced with a standard UI with your hand at the bottom, a row to play cards into above, and a row of cards to buy above that. Running on Steam, on a non-gaming laptop, I found the game would often crash after the first few plays. It's a less serious issue than it sounds as you can open it up again and pick up right where you left off, but it's still annoying. Let's hope it's a gremlin ironed out before release.
As is common of games of this type, cards come in synergistic tribes. Homodeus cards tend to be cheap and aim for a snowball effect, letting you get and play new Homodeus cards. Undergrowth cards both heal you and hurt the opponent, gaining bonuses if you have other Undergrowth cards in hand. Order cards protect you from damage, cycle your deck and gain you Mastery. Finally, Wraethe cards build damage, get bonuses if you've got other Wraethe in your discard pile, and - on occasion - thin your deck.
Thinning is a critical ability in deck building games. Like most, Shards starts you off with weak cards, which you play to buy intermediate cards, with you play to buy powerful cards. Your aim is to get combos and synergies which race you into a winning position faster than your foes. After the mid-game, then, weak cards become a positive liability, clogging up your deck and making it less likely you'll draw the better cards you need. The lack of thinning in Shards, then, feels like an awful omission at first. But it isn't.
One of the game's better innovations is the concept of Mercenary cards. When you buy a new card, mostly it'll go in your discard, waiting for the reshuffle. But cards with a Crystal cost circled in red are Mercenaries. They can be bought and added to your deck as normal. But for the same cost you can also buy them and use their powers right away, after which they go to the bottom of the deck.
This concept of using cards without adding them to your deck is clever. It reduces the need for thinning effects while giving players a slew of interesting tempo decisions to make. Sometimes it's a tough call to know whether it's best to have a card right now or buy it for repeat play later. It makes the order in which you play cards more important as you can get some useful combo effects through buying a Mercenary. There are also times, when you know an opponent is collecting cards of a certain type, that it's a good idea to buy a Mercenary just to stop them getting it.
One of the key reasons that play order is important comes down to the game's other important innovation, that Mastery stat. It's a simple idea but very effective. Because the Shard can eventually win through mastery, it acts as a timer. But many other cards also get better as your Mastery increases. Turns thus require a careful balancing act, working through which sequences of the cards in your hand, plus possible Mercenaries, achieve the best effect.
There is, of course, an online play mode too, although I wasn’t able to check it out in the preview. But Shard’s focus on direct damage and last man standing ensure it works well as an interactive, multi-player game. The included AI opponents are good enough to provide a fun challenge during solo play. Shards of Infinity might not boast the smoothest, most innovative digital adaptation. But the game it translates is good enough and clever enough to paper over its small shortcomings.
Shards of Infinity is currently available in Early Access, and is due to launch into 1.0 later this month.