match.jpgSpellweaver is a digital card game from Bulgarian developer Dream Reactor LLC which largely takes after traditional tabletop CCGs. Rather than go the way of a game like SolForge, which would be a nightmare to manage as a physical card game, Spellweaver distinguishes itself from other CCGs by shaking up fundamental CCG mechanics enough to make fans of the genre think twice without making it hard to pick up. There are two major differences between Spellweaver and the genre conventions fans have come to expect, with the effects cascading outwards in interesting ways.

As with many card games of its type, Spellweaver is framed as a battle between two spellcasters. A match ends when one of three conditions is met: if a player runs out of cards, they lose; if the health of a player's hero drops to zero, they lose; if the health of a player's hero rises to 40, they win. In the pursuit of victory, players can cast different kinds of spells, including summoning creatures to fight for them.

The first major difference I noticed when I tried the game is that there are two resource pools. That might sound like a bad idea, but it's implemented well. The first resource is mana, which is not tied to any of the game's six factions. It acts similarly to Hearthstone's mana pool; mana are consumed when cards are played and the mana pool is refilled up to max at the beginning of the player's turn.

Unlike Hearthstone, however, the maximum mana pool size does not automatically increase every turn until it reaches a cap. Instead, the maximum mana pool must be expanded by playing a shrine (or possibly some other card) during the player's turn. Only one shrine can be played per turn, with the player able to choose one of two actions to take. One option on basic shrines allows the player to increase the maximum mana pool by one and draw a new card. The other allows them to add to the second resource pool, which is called "levels".

Where the mana pool represents magical power that can be brought to bear in a turn regardless of faction, the levels pool is what enables more powerful cards of a given faction to be played. Each card has both a mana cost and a levels requirement. To play a card, the player must both meet the levels requirement and have sufficient mana in the mana pool. The mana is consumed, as mentioned before, but levels are not. A player with only two red levels can therefore cast a lot of fireballs in one turn if they have enough mana because the available levels aren't reduced when a card is played. That same player can't play any cards that require three red levels, however, unless they use a red shrine to raise their red level count by one.

BetaMainScreen.jpgThey've essentially taken the idea of colored mana and divided it into two parts, color/faction and mana. This in combination with the ability to sacrifice a card in hand to pull four cards off the deck and choose a shrine (if there is one) makes it much harder for a player with a multi-colored deck to lose just because they can't draw the right resource cards. A red shrine in a hand full of green spells isn't completely useless because it can expand the mana pool and get the player another card to boot. I still wouldn't recommend playing a full on rainbow deck, but three-color decks are not out of the question.

The other major difference between Spellweaver and the average CCG is that creatures have three stats. In addition to attack power and health, every unit has a speed stat. There are four possible speed values. When declaring attackers, no unit can attack anything faster than itself. Attacking the enemy hero is always an option, even for the slowest creatures. However, the defending player can assign faster creatures to intercept any attack by a slower creature, taking damage in place of the creature or hero originally targetted.

This means that the attacker must take into account the defender's options for foiling their plans when choosing attackers. Sometimes the attacker will be able to steamroll over their enemy in any way they choose, but just as often it's in the attacker's best interest to set up painful choices for their opponent.

cardart.jpgOverall, it's a good, solid CCG. I wouldn't say that it will change the landscape of card games forever, but the aspects outlined above give it its own unique character and make it feel like a fresh addition to the array of card games out there, digital or otherwise. The game has other characteristics, like hero special abilities, which I haven't covered here. Its interface is pretty good, too, even though the game is still in closed beta and nothing is quite finalized.

Spellweaver is using the kind of free to play model that is common for digital CCGs. You can buy card packs and the like or complete an array of daily quests to earn more cards. There's no set date for the switch from closed to open beta since it's dependent on improving server stability for larger numbers of users, but the switch is anticipated to occur sometime next month. In the meantime, interested players can apply to be added to the closed beta via the Spellweaver web site and new players are approved regularly. Any purchases made during the closed beta will be returned with a 50% bonus when accounts are reset for the open beta.