Maven is an odd word. Apparently it means "an expert or connoisseur." It could be that marketing at Blue Tea Games weren't familiar with it either.

The only thing the Mavens in Mavenfall seem to be connoisseurs of is smashing each other's heads in.

That's pretty much par for the course for a card battler like this, though. As is the tiresome energy system which restores one of six points every twenty minutes, forcing you to buy more if you want to carry on.

Which is a shame, because almost everything else about Mavenfall is smart and inventive.

You run a team of three to five different characters across three positional slots - front, middle and back. Each character type has their own deck of cards.

At first these are full of weak default cards but, as you progress, you can acquire more powerful ones. These let you customise your deck, finding combos between different cards and different characters.

Crunchy

In combat against another team of Mavens, most attacks hit the characters in the front position. Some cards, however, can hit several targets or whole rows further back.

When a character dies, their cards get discarded from your hand and you lose their card slot, lowering flexibility.

It's an easy system to learn and intuitive to understand. Yet it allows a lot of variety and scope for interesting play. At the start of your turn you can choose which character decks to draw cards from.

The tempting option is to start with your front characters, since they're likely to be the first to die. Yet wizards and ranged types further back often have more useful cards.

They also tend to be more fragile, with lower hit points. But if you target them, you're using your front characters as nothing more than an inefficient damage sponge.

With cards that can summon new characters or buff existing ones, picking the right options keeps you thinking right to the end of each match.

Chewy

At first, playing the game can feel like a crapshoot, highly dependent on what cards you draw. There's no option to mulligan your first-turn draw which adds to the sensation.

As you progress and begin to learn what's available in each character's deck, you start to make more informed choices.

Sure, the draw is still random. But as you gain a sense of what lurks under each card back, you can fish with increasingly greater skill.

There's a lot of different kinds of maven in the game. Each of them has about ten different cards to build a deck from. In theory that's a lot of potential variety. In practice, things don't tend to work out that way.

Everyone starts with the same basic three Mavens. There are another six you can unlock and upgrade by playing through the solo campaign.

That's a bit too easy to be fun, but it's necessary to get you up to speed for multiplayer. At the end, the Mavens you started with will have more options than the ones recently gained.

Bland

As a result, almost everyone starts out playing with near-identical teams. As time goes on and people unlock more and more characters this will become less and less of a problem.

At the moment it can get a bit repetitive. And it's going to stay that way for newbies at the bottom of ranked play for a long time.

That, combined with an odious energy system and too much free to play hard sell, makes Mavenfall less than it should have been.

There's a lot to enjoy here, certainly enough to experiment with what is, after all, a free title. And with careful time management it's possible to play it without spending anything.

It's just such a shame to see yet another fresh, inventive title spoiled by excessive greed.