‘A Druid’s Duel’ Review
Developer ThoughtShelter Games Publisher Surprise Attack Games
Genre Board Game/Strategy
Chess is one of the most popular games throughout the world. It is a battle between two players of equal strength and power, with the player who can mentally outwit their opponent usually coming out victorious. A Druid’s Duel provides a unique strategic battle similar to the game of Chess, with unique pieces possessing different traits that players must use to their advantage to claim victory.
Unlike the game of Chess, a match in A Druid’s Duel isn’t won by simply taking out an opposing player’s main game piece. Each piece may have different values and abilities, but is as important as the last; and instead of being able to move one piece each turn, players can move every single piece on the board. To win a match in A Druid’s Duel players must make sure the opposing players (up to four can play each match) do not own any titles on the board. Whenever a player lands on an unmarked title, this piece becomes their own and adds to the amount of Mana resources the player will have access to next turn. The more land you secure, the more Mana you will receive. Taking over relics and collecting different coloured fairies will also increase your Mana intake, but unlike most resource based games your Mana is only available for that turn. If you don’t use every piece of Mana you have in that turn, you will have squandered the remaining amount in your possession.
There are four unique pieces in A Druid’s Duel, each having its own range of attack and a powerful animal evolution. For example, the Guardian is a standard piece similar to a pawn and can only move or attack within one space per turn; though if you utilise your Mana resources and evolve the piece into its wolf form it can move up to four spaces but is unable to attack. The animal evolutions provide a critical aspect to each match, with those who learn and understand the best way to use each piece getting the upper hand. But here is also where strategy and personal game plans come into play. If you constantly evolve all your pieces to an animal form, you may find yourself lacking in numbers on the board – a real quality over quantity conundrum.
A Druid’s Duel succeeds at making each move count, whether you decide to consolidate your own forces, aim to attack your opponent directly, or simply cut your opponents Mana resources in order to restrict them next turn. Each turn showcases a glaring risk or reward, with each move setting you on the path of failure or victory. With so many options it’s easy to make the wrong move, or see a new opening once you decide to move one of your pieces. Which is why the lack of simple undo button is so strange. Though you can reset your entire turn if you make a move you regret, most of the time I only needed to remove my last move rather than repeating the rest of my turn again. This becomes an increasing problem when wanting to see where your animal forms can move. Once they have been evolved that decision is made, even if you only wanted to get an understanding of where they could venture, you will need to restart your entire turn if you decide against it.
Visually A Druid’s Duel has a cartoon-like art style, with beautiful crisp graphics and a bright colour palette. Boards themselves look great due to the bright visuals, but it’s certainly hard to tell the difference from one board to the next. Despite there being half a dozen different title variations, when compiled together the boards themselves don’t stand out from one another. A Druid’s Duel does provide a small selection of whimsical musical tracks, which fit the bright and colourful art style perfectly. The sound invokes an upbeat medieval style, unlike the dark musical score most medieval ventures possess.
A Druid’s Duel’s offers a single player campaign that puts you in control of Warren, a young Druid who provides short statements before each battle in order to give exposition to the story. Warren is trying to save the Realm of Six Seasons from an unknown threat, who is tampering with the Seasons and ruining the realm. The story itself means very little and seems to merely provide a reason for the extensive length of the campaign, which can take over 10 hours to complete; without factoring in unnecessary backtracking.
The campaign itself is a large number of challenge maps based on the A Druid’s Duel formula, which continue to become more challenging as it goes on. The more battles you complete, the more you will slowly notice the chances of victory continue to favour your opponent. There were times during the final two chapters where the opposing teams would outnumber my mere one piece by an insane amount, meaning each move was vital to my survival. The challenging aspects of these challenge-like maps are great and I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I completed the campaign against all odds, but for the most part the AI can be taken down with the same strategy – comprise a large army and then slowly overrun the opposing teams. There is also very little leeway for conducting any other strategy, due to the large number of opposing enemies and small amount of Mana on offer. This made the long 10 hour campaign become repetitive, since each AI team was easily overwhelmed by the slow and steady approach to gameplay.
A Druid’s Duel’s biggest campaign flaw comes post battle. After each map was cleared I was given an option to choose where I went next, with (for the majority) no direction and simply relying on blind luck. Frustratingly if you choose incorrectly you will spend up to an extra hour playing maps that have no relevancy to the campaign in question; or even worse, replaying five or more maps you already played in order to get back to the location where the choice was made. I found the punishment of spending an extra two hours backtracking through already completed levels to be completely unnecessary and caused me many frustrations. A Druid’s Duel’s campaign is the definition of a campaign that overstays its welcome, not because the challenge isn’t there, but simply because its forces you to make random decisions and punishes you when you don’t choose correctly.
A Druid’s Duel showcases the true brilliance of its strategic gameplay online, but it does also contain local gameplay options. Facing a strong online opponent opens up A Druid’s Duel for the better, with the predictability of the AI faced in the campaign now removed. Like a great game of Chess, matches online can swerve and swing after each turn depending on what strategy you implement. These matches provide some intense encounters that can take upwards of thirty minutes to complete when facing a strong opponent.
Though A Druid’s Duel’s online component is held back due to the unusual method these matches take place. Instead of facing an opponent until the match ends, each player can leave the game and come back to it when they choose. Due to the strategical elements of gameplay waiting for twelve hours in-between turns effects the enjoyment of each match. Think of playing an epic game of Chess, only to do one move, leave the game for a day and come back. At this stage the plans you had have been forgotten, the concentration is removed and remembering what your opponent was doing is difficult. A Druid’s Duel is best played between two players who want to have their match there and then and coordinated through other means. Playing A Druid’s Duel online in the manner available is simply not the best way to play, which is unfortunate for those wanting to test their abilities online and offers a poor showcase of what A Druid’s Duel can provide strategically.
The base formula of A Druid’s Duel is fantastic, there is a great strategically focused gameplay experience to encounter; the problem is there just isn’t enough methods to showcase the brilliance it can produce.
For those wanting a strong single player challenge, I find A Druid’s Duel hard to recommend due to the unfair backtracking and predictable AI. For those wanting an excellent alternative to Chess in a multiplayer environment, A Druid’s Duel shows brief glimpses of this in games that take place right away. But the weird decision to implement a “take your turn when your want” method to online multiplayer sacrifices strategic gameplay brilliance, for ease of use.
A Druid’s Duel can provide some intense encounters, but it seems better directed towards players who have someone to battle locally, or someone they can organise matches with outside of the game.
Bright visuals, charming soundtrack.
Depth of strategy showcased online.
Lengthy backtracking throughout campaign.
Campaign becomes repetitive due to predictable AI.
Online facilities don’t showcase strategic gameplay well.