"Lead an army of killer deathbots" is a good way to introduce a game. It's not the official slogan of strategy card battler Ironclad Tactics, but I think it sums up the game quite well. The title may suggest a dry and dreary precision focused game, but this is actually a pleasantly fast paced experience made for more than just hardcore strategy fans. At times, it can all be a tad overwhelming, but through a combination of well balanced mechanics and a fascinating deck building system, Ironclad Tactics presents an original and fun experience.
The plot is essentially a reason to battle deathbots, but it's still well constructed. You follow the tale of an engineer who's been caught up in the middle of the re-imagined American Civil War. The difference here is that ironclads, automatons under the employ of both the Union and the Confederacy, are the primary weapons of war. The story segments are told through neat animated comic strips which act as clear attempts to make the game more approachable. It's highly effective for the most part although the written story is a bit on the basic side.
Once in combat, the game is anything but basic. Gameplay sees two opposing sides selecting cards from their hands and playing them on a columned field, somewhat reminiscent of Plants vs Zombies. Instead of turrets you'll be placing an array of cards from standard infantry units, tactical manoeuvres and the ironclads themselves. Once played, the units advance one tile per turn as well as making an action, be that shooting, capturing or any of the other options. The real catch here is that the turns aren't controllable as in most other strategy titles, they advance regularly which means every decision must be made quickly.
The core aim of each mission (or multiplayer match) is to guide your ironclads from your deployment zone to the enemy's; doing so nets you victory points which you need so many of to win a game. It's a simple premise that's complicated, in a good way, by the inclusion of various different ironclads, weapons and abilities. There are a huge collection of cards to collect and they all bring something new to the table. On top of standard ironclads you'll find bulldozers that push other clads backwards, jetpack ironclads that can fly across the map and heavy duty automatons that can soak up a lot of damage. Then there's the weapons to consider, which can be attached to many of the ironclads, with rifles and swords being mixed up with more unusual devices like nail guns and Big Daddy-esque drills.
Abilities and tactics only make gameplay all the more complex. Although, in reality, there may be a lot of cards to choose from but in motion the game isn't overly complicated. You'll find yourself making strategic decisions based on enemy movement, as well as the cards you have available, pretty quickly and the story mode does a good job of easing you into the mechanics. The difficulty starts to gradually increase as the campaign mode advances but it never becomes unbeatably tricky. What's more, the constant unlocking of new cards gives you an extra incentive to complete the story mode and challenges found on every level give you the opportunity to unlock even more.
A lot of the strategy, and part of the fun, to be found in Ironclad Tactics is the deck building system which sees the player create an array of card combinations. You can create various decks at any point during the game but you're limited to 20 cards and 2 factions (every card belongs to a certain thematic faction). Adapting your decks and choosing the right ones for certain missions is surprisingly important, at times you'll even need to tailor the deck specifically for a mission. This doesn't mean, however, that the game is all about finding the right collection of cards for each level. The well balanced mechanics mean that you'll still need to play a good game as well as having a properly constructed deck. You can still win with a bad deck, but it's a testament to the game design that finding the right balance equals success.
What really makes Ironclad Tactics stand out from the other titles in the strategy/puzzle genre is the quirky art style. Following on from the comic strip cutscenes, the game itself features a cartoony art design that goes very far to breaking down the wall of obscurity that typically surrounds a strategy title. The units, battlegrounds, weapons and every bit of detail are lovingly drawn and look brilliant. The battle map is perhaps a little technically lacking, but it makes up for it with stylish visual design. Sound is less well handled; you'll grow tired of the backing music before long and although the weapons of war in action sound good, I can't help but feel as though there could have been more variety.
On top of the story mode, which can last anywhere between 8-12 hours (depending on how quickly you pick it up), there's also a charitable multiplayer offering which allows players to not only battle against others online, but also to play co-op story missions. The multiplayer is great fun and provides a deal of longevity to the game; although I dare say that you may grow a tad bored of it around the 20 hour mark after everything's been unlocked. Still, there's a lot here to challenge you and the various modes, maps and cards keep every new game of multiplayer fresh and exciting. It's probably the best part of the game and even features cards that can only be won through online victories. All the more reason to try it out.
Ironclad Tactics is an impressively deep and complex game from a small independent developer. The deck building system is excellently designed and perfectly complements the strategic gameplay. It's fun to play, while also remaining consistently challenging. My only issue is that I began to grow tired of the game a little earlier than I expected, largely due to the fact that the story mode failed to really hold my attention. Once I got in to multiplayer, however, I was hooked right back in. There's a lot to do, a lot to collect and a lot to watch; it's nothing revolutionary, but Ironclad Tactics is a great way to spend a weekend of fast-paced gaming.
Ironclad Tactics (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
"Lead an army of killer deathbots" is a good way to introduce a game. It's not the official slogan of strategy card battler Ironclad Tactics, but I think it sums up the game quite well. The title may suggest a dry and dreary precision focused game, but this is actually a pleasantly fast paced experience made for more than just hardcore strategy fans.