Summoners Fantasy review - Tricks up its sleeve
| Summoners Fantasy

"Hey, do you know what I'd really love? Another tactical card game on mobile. Ideally one with a fantasy theme and elemental combat."

Surely nobody has had cause to say such a thing in years. And yet here we are with another one, this time from Chinese developer Darknights.

But while you may not feel as though you need another CCG in your life - Hearthstone exists, after all - Summoners Fantasy shakes up the formula in a few significant ways that might just inspire you to think again.

For starters, it doesn't try to compete with Hearthstone. Many have ill-advisedly attempted to challenge Blizzard's market leader head-on, and have ended up looking all the worse for it.

Battles in Summoners Fantasy take place on a 3x3 grid, and in each round you have to choose one of three cards randomly drawn from your ten-card deck. Each has four numbers on it, representing strength - one for each side.

Players take turns laying down cards, the end goal being to own more spaces on the board than your opponent.

Dominate the board

The key to this is that when you lay a card directly next to one of your opponent's, it attacks and attempts to claim that space. Simply, if your card has a higher number on its touching side than the opposing card, that space is claimed for your colour.

Furthermore, beating another card can spark off a chain reaction around the board, meaning that - for as long as there's an unbroken sequence of cards that trump one another - a single, shrewdly-played card can see you sweeping the board.

This gives the game a dramatic back-and-forth rhythm, and means that even if you're losing badly, there's hope of a dramatic turnaround until your very last card.

As for the cards themselves - obviously a key part of any CCG - the designs are of the typical anime-inspired fantasy variety.

In fact, things are kept pretty simple on the visual front all-round, so don't expect any flashy effects to accompany the card battles.

There's plenty to get your teeth into though, with a single player campaign of nearly 200 battles spanning nine different taverns and some particularly interesting PvP modes.

Time for a challenge

Draft mode is the best among them, a mode in which you draft a temporary deck - three random cards are drawn for each of your ten slots, from which you must choose one - before battling it out with an online opponent until you either lose three games or win five.

There's also the standard ranked matches, and a slightly riskier option to Play For Keeps - a mode in which the winner gets to choose any card to keep from their bested opponent's deck. Too rich for my blood, I'm afraid.

Besides this, there's a deep card upgrade metagame in which you can attempt to improve a card's strength on one side using Essence - a resource earned by selling unwanted cards from your deck.

Cards can also be combined with runes, which is where the elemental part comes in. Some boards have spaces imbued with certain powers - ice or lightning, for example - and depending on a card's runes, its strength will be either positively or negatively impacted by being placed there.

It all sounds complex, but Summoners Fantasy's difficulty curve is actually far smoother than many of its competitors. You start out playing it like Dominos, simply trying to use a bigger number than your opponent. But before long you're playing the board in a tactical, savvy manner.

So if you've got time for another CCG in your life, Summoners Fantasy does, in fact, offer something a little different. And isn't that remarkable in itself?

Summoners Fantasy review - Tricks up its sleeve

Lacks the glamour of its competitors, but the game at the core of Summoners Fantasy has a lot going for it
Matt Suckley
Matt Suckley
Achingly contrarian. Proud owner of an N-Gage and a PSP Go. Matt spends most of his time writing about indie games of which you've never heard. Like that one, yes. Matt is an English student, and largely terrible at games. Go figure.