Richard Garfield.
That name means a lot to gamers around the world. In fact, without him an entire portion of the gaming industry likely would never have grown to the heights it has. If you are not familiar with the name, you likely are not a Magic: The Gathering player, or simply haven’t read the credits in any Magic rulebook. Professor Richard Garfield, is credited with the design of Magic, as well as various other gaming systems such as Robo Rally, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and others others.

What do Richard Garfield and Magic have to do with an iOS game, you ask?

This new entry to the quickly-growing iOS card gaming genre was designed with the assistance of Richard Garfield himself, which gives an immense amount of geek-cred to the title and helps to attract the attention of many traditional card gamers, such as myself.

Now normally I am happy to try any card-based game on any device (or in the real world), but I usually do my best to avoid drawing comparisons to existing card games like Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh! and judge it completely on its own merits. This was difficult for Kard Combat ™ with the publicized association of Richard Garfield, so comparisons are inevitable.

All that said, Kard Combat ™ plays pretty uniquely for better or worse. Right from the start, the game design shows you that it couldn’t really exist as a traditional paper-based trading card game since the stats on the cards change very frequently as various effects boost or penalize the cards on the field.

Let’s take a step back and go over how the game functions.

The object of the game is to decrease your opponent’s life points from ~60 to 0 using the different cards available to you. Rather than having a randomized deck from which you draw cards, you play cards, one per turn, from a selection of 20 random cards from your Mage’s collection which will grow as you progress through the tower campaign.

There are two types of cards in the game; Spell Kards and Regular Kards. All Kards are played by spending mana of the corresponding element, Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and heart your Mage’s specialty mana. You gain one mana of each type at the beginning of your turn. Spell Kards are usually quick effects that immediately change the game a bit, by gaining you life or reducing your opponent’s, giving your more mana, removing Kards from the field, etc. Regular Kards remain in play in the six slots available to you and typically attack your opponent at the end of your turn.

Attacking happens automatically, if there is a Kard directly across from your attacking Kard, then the attacking Kard will inflict damage equal to its power to the defender. If there is no Kard opposing your attacking Kard, then the damage in inflicted directly to the opponent’s life points.

Now, remember how you have only up to 20 random Kards from your Mage’s collection? The interesting thing is all Kards are reusable. As long as you have the mana, you can play the same Kard over and over. This opens up very interesting strategies, and somewhat removes an aspect of chance found in most card games.

I say somewhat since the 20 Kards are chosen at random at the beginning of the game. This works pretty well and consistently early on in the game, but as your deck grows, you start gaining some Kards you probably don’t want to play. This is a very odd design decision, as I would love to trim my dominator deck back down to the original size of 29 Kards from the complete collection of 52 Kards available to the Dominator Mage. Not being able to customize your deck to trim some Kards that don’t fit your play style really strikes me as a missed opportunity for depth and strategy.

Overall the game is very fun, and definitely worth buying the different Mages for at least some variety in gameplay, but there are lots of little aspects that keep the game from being a stellar entry to the genre.

A few examples are the tower campaign being virtually identical for the different Mages, so having to play through it with each Mage to unlock all the Kards becomes repetitive.

In the most recent update, Hothead games added 4 more Mages, a very welcome challenge mode, and a ton of new minor features and improvements. Kudos to them, let’s keep it up with new modes and features as time goes on.

The game features multiplayer, which is functional, but unless you are playing with friends, don’t expect to complete games. I have run into a significant amount of players who don’t check their game, which leads to me checking mine less frequently to see if Player 905725072 has made their move yet this week. (Still waiting for you to take your first turn…)

I wanted to rate this game higher, I really did, as the gameplay itself is very well done and the graphics are crisp and clear even on an iPod-sized device. (Normally card games are hard to read on a smaller screen) The repetition and the fact the game almost seems to punish you for unlocking more Kards in the campaign by making your deck more random and lacking a deck editor in any fashion hurts a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game, I play it often, but I find I don’t want to play the tower over and over to unlock more Kards. This has also stopped me from purchasing the 4 new Mages, knowing I need to do the same tower I’ve already played through 4 times to unlock their Kards. The Tower campaign mode is easily beaten when you figure out what strategies work best vs the different characters, adding to the frustration.

In Conclusion

Download it. Kard Combat ™ is free and you can pay to unlock all the Mages if you so choose. Just don’t expect a ton of variety in decks except for your Mage’s special cards.