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Miniature wargaming is an expensive, time- and space-consuming hobby that requires you to find a group of like-minded individuals in close proximity to fully appreciate it. With Longsword Tabletop Tactics, Zero Sum Games is working on a digital solution that does away with the tactile sensation of moving little plastic dudes over lovingly-crafted battlefields, but aims to keep most of tabletop gaming's other joys intact.

The game lets you collect and build an army comprised of miniature champions, spells, equipment, and structures. You can then customize the appearance of your army and enter it into battle on a hex-based tabletop battlefield against online opponents.

While the game's online component is going to be its meat and potatoes, there will also be story-driven solo and cooperative modules for you to enjoy and to try out new unit combinations and builds. What's more, Longsword aims to be a fully modular framework for tabletop games, allowing for different settings and scenarios down the road. As such, the current fantasy setting is just the first step for the game.

A tablemaker with integrated Steam Workshop support lets you create new battlefields and even whole scenarios and easily share them with other players. This editor looks like it has a wealth of options and could actually turn out to be one of the game's main, uh, selling points.

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Longsword aims for a free-to-play business model, generating revenue through the sale of card packs, vanity items for your miniatures, and solo adventure packs. New units bought with in-game gold, which can be acquired by playing, are locked to your account, but cards bought with real money can be freely traded via the Steam Market.

Card packs will cost $2 or less, depending on how many you buy, and each one will contain 5 cards, with one guaranteed rare. Considering the option to trade unwanted cards, that sounds like a fair deal. Solo adventures will have a higher price tag - around $6.99 - but will offer you a single player experience with unlockable rewards, as well as a (tradable) set of cards relating to that adventure which you can also use in multiplayer.

I asked developer Daniel DiCicco about the nightmarish task of balancing 400 cards in over 7 unique factions - with more to come at a later date. The way that free to play games with collectible elements are structured, this could turn into a pay-to-win scenario all too quickly. However, DiCicco is confident that this won't be much of an issue:

"The first line of defense in balancing this game is to apply a base mana cost to every skill and ability in the game, and a mana cost associated with each stat point. So a champion with a powerful ability or a powerful base stat will always cost more to mana to deploy to the field relative to a weaker champion.

The second line of defense comes from measurement - what units or spells, which combinations of cards are proving the most effective? We can track which cards are deployed most often, which cards are most often associated with victory or defeat, and from this we can draw conclusions about what might be over-powered or under-powered.

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As far as avoiding a pay-to-win scenario, it's important to provide excellent starting decks to free players and to provide avenues to improve their collection through play. For people who invest real money into the game to speed their progress, they will absolutely have more options available when making a deck, but because of the tactical nature of Longsword, that's not necessarily an advantage.

Depending on community demand, we might also institute some "common" leagues, where your deck has some additional restrictions like requiring every card to be Common rarity. This is a nice way to let people compete on an absolutely even playing field."

Fair enough. DiCicco hopes that the game will draw a large enough community to keep it going and updated with new content for years to come. With a wide variety of different play sets, it might even draw in different types of tabletop gamers getting their fantasy/zombie/World War 2 board gaming fix. That may not happen right away, but the game is free and it looks incredibly promising.

Ultimately, Longsword's future will be shaped by its community. It has a very flexible engine and for now, Daniel DiCicco is not ruling out anything with where it could go. If you want to support the game, consider backing it on Kickstarter. For more information, you can visit the game's website or follow Daniel DiCicco on Twitter.