It's an odd thing to see deck-building games thrive on mobile platforms. Once Magic: The Gathering card scans began showing up on the internet, fearful players felt that the online world was hastening the end of their beloved hobby.
Games like Summoner Wars make it easy to see why deck-building games are doing so well on this new medium, especially given the rising popularity of asynchronous multiplayer gameplay.
In Summoner Wars, you take on the role of a summoner who calls forth units to fight for him. When these units come into conflict, the results are handled by an in-game dice rolling simulator.
This randomisation is a bit frustrating as it can dash even the most brilliant strategies to pieces, but it does level the playing field between new and experienced players somewhat.
A card board game
Colby Dauch created Summoner Wars as a hybrid boardgame/card game in 2009. Unlike several of its deck-building inspirations and contemporaries like Magic: The Gathering, Summoner Wars requires you to position and move cards on a battle mat, making it more akin to a tabletop strategy games.
This element translates well to the iOS version of the game. The sprawling battle grids feel at home on the iPad (the iPhone version is a bit pinched and hard to read at times) and navigating through the battles is a breeze.
On top of that, the artwork on the cards is quite striking and the background animations really shine on the iPad's bigger screen.
Bring 'em on
Each turn is separated into six phases (Draw, Summon, Play Event Cards, Movement, Attack, and Build Magic), which let you control every aspect of their fantasy armies. The game ends when you defeat your opponent's Summoner Card.
The turn sequence and flow of play can be a bit difficult to grasp at first, but thankfully Summoner Wars comes with an excellent and very helpful tutorial to guide new players through the phases.
What really makes Summoner Wars shine in terms of gameplay is its ability to support six different games simultaneously.
These saved games can be either single-player offline or online multiplayer, but in order to gain access to the online portion of the game you have to purchase a 'faction pack' (new army deck) for 99c/69p.
Summoner Wars offers eight such factions to choose from, with the default - and only free option - being the Phoenix Elves.
Each faction is geared to different strengths and strategies, giving you a wealth of options to choose from. Additionally, you may elect to purchase reinforcement packs that add new units to their armies. These are available for 99c/69p individually, or you can buy them as a bundle.
Cut & Deal
Given the expansive nature of gameplay offered Summoner Wars, the cost of all factions and reinforcements (~$15.00) is quite reasonable.
Unfortunately, this means the free-to-play version on the App Store amounts to little more than a trial version with only one playable faction and no multiplayer. Still, it's nice to be able to sample the complex strategy of Summoner Wars without having to spend a dime on it first.
While Summoner Wars never replicates the endorphin rush of opening a foil booster pack to find an exceptionally rare card waiting for you, it does prove that quality card-based strategy gaming is indeed possible on mobile devices.