Card games seem to be everywhere right now, from the behemoths of the collectible card game genre like Hearthstone to the skeuomorphic notion of opening packs of cards in games like FIFA. Chronicle: RuneScape Legends sits somewhere between these two, fully justifying Jagex’ assertion that this is different to other CCGs. It really is more than lip service.
In fact, I’d hesitate to bundle it in with the rest of the CCG genre, as to me it feels like more like a board game. Take a turn in Hearthstone and you’ll be using mana points to play cards from your hand, directing your minions in play to attack the opposing cards, and ultimately try to deal damage directly to your opponent. Chronicle, turns this on its head, so that instead of battling your opponent directly, your hero is adventuring and fighting against the cards in your own deck.
Each turn takes place across two pages in a magical tome, with environments and locations from the RuneScape universe popping into existence for you to adventure across. It borrows from the look and feel of a board game, so that while you and your opponent sit across from one another on the table, you’re represented in this game by figures on model bases.
Where as you typically go one after another in other card games, here you plan out your turn by picking up to four cards and deciding the order in which they will be played, symbolically placing them in set locations along your own character’s path. Once you’re happy with your plan, the two adventurers take turns to face off against the cards that lie before them.
Enemy cards will be the most common cards that you play, with health and attack numbers on their top edge, signifying how much damage your hero needs to deal to kill them and how much damage you will take if you can’t do so in one fell swoop. That’s something important to bear in mind, because your hero might only deal 2 damage, while the card has 5 health, meaning that they will hit you twice in your mini duel.
You have to consider whether that’s worth it for the benefits you gain from defeating them, with those icons along the bottom edge. Some cards might restore health to you, give you gold coin, give you a weapon or boost your damage, or could have a written effect that might even impact the opposing adventurer in the other lane. It also means that you’re always thinking about the order in which you play your cards, setting it so that you get a damage boost at just the right time, to take down a bigger and more dangerous card quickly.
Of course, not everything you can play will try to kill you, and by collecting gold, you’ll start to be able to afford support cards. Again, there’s a range of benefit these can give you, and depending on your deck, these can often be the key to victory.
I quickly found my rhythm playing as the mage Ariane – one of a handful of characters that draw from the legends in RuneScape, as well as RuneScape Old School – and her default deck has one particularly powerful support card that she can play. It takes a little while to build up the amount of gold in her purse, but once she has it, Earth Blast will deal damage to your rival equal to double the number of cards in your hand. Precede it with cards that have the perk of adding to your hand, and suddenly you can deal damage in the double digits, which is not insignificant when you only start off with 30.
And yet, while you’re thinking of how best to get through the turn and weighing up the various tradeoffs of playing a card, so is your opponent, and different legends and their decks will be geared towards different strategic approaches and different stats. As an example, Vanescula, one of the two new characters coming into the game for the open beta, uses her own health as a weapon against her opponent.
Should you reach the end of the fifth turn, the two heroes will face off, dealing damage to one another time and again, until only one stands. Taking a few points of damage for greater rewards is well and good, but not if those few points at the end of a turn end up being what kills you, when combined with particularly offence oriented cards from the other side of the table.
There’s something that feels inherently riskier about Chronicle compared to other card games, because of how you plan and play through your turns at the same time. It’s that difference which gets me excited about playing more of it, and while it’s a little tricky to get across to potential players what it is exactly which makes it special and unique, there’s no doubt that there is substance to Jagex’ claims.
Having had a closed beta at the end of last year, Chronicle is moving into an open beta on March 23rd for PC, with plans to expand to phones and tablets down the line.