Before I begin, I was provided with a prototype of the game and will receive a production copy upon funding in exchange for an honest preview. This is not a paid preview. If you would rather check out a video of this preview, or a solo play video you can check those out below. Get your own copy here.
I really enjoy deckbuilding games. In many ways they give me the vibe of an rpg game, as you are slowly becoming more powerful as you adventure. However, my issue with many deckbuilding games is that though I love that mechanic I do not ever feel like they are filled with a need for said character growth. However, deckbuilders that have that adventurous vibe I love: Battle for Greyport, Clank! in Space, and I have high hopes for the Few and the Cursed. Now Arkenshield promised to be a deckbuilder game where you had to build a party, and march them across the continent to reach a city across the world. Sounds pretty adventurous to me! I am in!
In Arkenshield you start the game with a starter deck of cards and a single hero. Each round you will collect resources based on the members of your company, as well as your location on the board that you are traveling across (note that each player has their own path to take, you do not encounter each other along the way). Once you collect those resources you will draw six cards from your ever shuffling deck and play them in any order you wish, again collecting more resources, and occasionally playing a card that affects another player.
Then like in any deckbuilder you purchase cards from the market, which will power you up, making special note of new companions that might be available, as these are the most important cards in the game. You see, in addition to resources the companions give you the all important experience which allows you to advance along the map, as each location has a minimum amount of experience required to move to. At the end of each turn you get to spend left over resources to buy victory points at a 3:1 ratio.
The game ends when any player reaches the final city. Once there, that player gains a victory point bonus, but then you add up all the VP’s you have earned throughout the game by beating enemies, and from drafting cards, and even from capturing critters along the way. High score wins.
So what do I think?
I really enjoy the overall flow of the game. It is very enjoyable to build your deck, and even more enjoyable to see your party progress across the board, as you show just how powerful you are each turn. Along with that, you are always flush with resources, this is due to the added bonus of getting additional resources based on your location on the map, your companions, and even the combination of companions that you have. It is great.
I also really enjoy the mechanic that has you shuffling your entire deck every single turn, so you never really know what will come up (more on this later as well).
I spent a lot of time playing the solo variant, and the AI works very seamlessly, and quickly. The mechanics of it are exactly how I like it, easy to manage, quick and clear.
Finally, I think the way you grow your party, and the necessity of growing your party to succeed is a delight. It really helps solidify the narrative that you are creating as you play.
The game has quite the table presence! From all the player boards to the center board, to the massive stack of cards. It is a thing to behold, though it certainly does take up a lot of space. The prototype only has black and white art on the cards, but it certainly has the possibility of being awesome, once it is in full color.
The game has a very cool concept with the inclusion of emotions, and events that can flip out of the deck. I really like the idea of unexpected things happening to your party, and having highs and lows, but, the current state of the cards are a little lackluster. They just are not particularly exciting, and could be more of a thing that you have to deal with.
The version of the game I played has a solo mode that just does not work. The AI works wonderfully, but the balance on the results of each tile the AI flips over is just out of whack. In some games you can find yourself out of the game halfway through the game as the AI has already scored over 200 points, or they might eliminate your companions and leave you stuck partially down the path.
Edit: This balancing issue is being worked on by the designers, and has been addressed I leave the text here to highlight the recognition of a problem and the fixing of it.
Now that I have mentioned companions, this is another issue I have. There simply are not enough in the game. They are of the utmost importance to get, but it is possible to simply be unable to get new ones, if other players draft the few that come out before you do. Adding more to the deck would likely solve this issue.
Bringing it all together
Arkenshield is a unique feeling deckbuilder with an adventure game vibe to it. It has some very cool mechanics regarding party building, and it really does give you a reason to create a stronger deck rather than just “winning”. It has an awesome AI for solo mode that will really shine, once the balancing on it is figured out. At the moment it does not work as intended. The game also could use some rebalancing on numbers of cards in the deck, but once done, the game will shine.
It would take me longer to read all that than to walk across the continent.
* Some cool mechanics, and some choices that are different than most deckbuilders
* Really manages to make you feel like you are building a party, and adventuring
* Great AI, but unbalanced AI results, once fixed solo will be quite good
* Some issues with the importance and necessity of some cards vs the number of those cards available.
* Incredible potential in this game to be very good, once the bugs are worked out
* Designer is very open to critique and has made many adjustments to correct problems in the system, and has made great progress