Add a touch of role-playing, a smattering of strategy, and a pinch of poker and you'll end up with Runespell: Overture, a title that has you engaging in a series of one-on-one fantasy battles within a medieval Europe setting. Your success in battle is influenced by the types of hands you create and play on each turn.
The object is to create the best hand possible using the same ranking system in poker or Yahtzee, keeping in mind that your opponent is trying to do the same. The better the five-card hand, the more damage you'll cause your opponent, until either you or your enemy runs out of hit points. A royal flush, for example, will deal 50 points of damage, while a pair is worth eight points.
One of the first things you'll notice is the game's high production values, with beautiful hand-drawn artwork (highly reminiscent of the style found in Bioware's Baldur's Gate series), well-animated 3D characters, and one of the most rousing, emotionally charged soundtracks you'll likely hear in any computer game released in 2011.
There's also a surprising amount of strategy in battle; you can steal cards from your opponent, play magic-oriented "power cards," and call on the help of allies.
If the premise sounds familiar, it is: the game's adventuring phase isn't much of a departure from games like Puzzle Quest or Battle Slots, where traveling is a simple matter of clicking across different nodes on an overhead map.
More often than not, landing on an area will activate a battle sequence against a specific creature type. You'll have to defeat the creature to advance, but if you lose the battle, there's no penalty. You simply are placed back on the map no worse for wear.
The battle screen shows your 3D character in the left corner and your opponent on the right. The center portion of the screen shows each side's cards -- yours on the upper half and your opponent's on the lower half. Each side has seven card piles to work with, arranged in a horizontal line, with each pile having one card facing up. To attack your opponent, you must create a five-card hand, which is accomplished by dragging individual cards from one pile to the next.
Sound simple enough? There's a catch, though -- each time you move a card, it costs you one of your three allotted turns. Taking an opponent's card, playing one of the "power cards" that you'll collect during the course of your travels, and attacking the computer with one of your five-card hands will also use up turns.
Power cards each cost a varying number of rage points, which are accumulated whenever you take or deal damage in combat. These cards are randomly earned as loot, so there's an addictive collectible card element on top of the poker and role-playing aspects.
There are a total of 108 power cards in the game, and you can arrange your deck before each battle to take advantage of certain enemy strengths or weaknesses. A fire shield, for example, will help protect your character from fire-based attacks for a set number of turns.
An interesting feature is that the majority of power cards have a fixed number of uses, so you'll have to spend your hard-earned silver to purchase new uses. You can also spend silver to enhance certain cards to increase their effectiveness.
Runespell follows the story of a mysterious changeling who has no memory of his past. You don't increase in levels, purchase equipment, or enhance your character's abilities as in a traditional RPG, so the customization is primarily limited to building your card collection and acquiring allies.
What separates this title from the other puzzle and card game hybrids is that there are dialogue choices that appear whenever you talk to characters in town or for quests. This keeps you a little more involved in the story, though to be fair, there's usually only one viable response (unless you like to be a surly type and tick off everyone in your path).
In the preview version, there didn't seem to be any consequences for choosing certain dialogue options, which is disappointing -- it would have been nice to have certain routes open up or close, certain characters like or dislike you, or specific events happen. There are 19 quest lines to complete, more than 30 monster types to battle, eight allies to find, and multiple boss encounters. Sadly, there's no online multiplayer feature for head-to-head battles against human opponents.
While it was difficult to determine the game's scope in the time-limited preview version, hours flew by as if they were mere minutes. The game's combination of strategy, collectible cards, appealing artwork, and moving music could make Runespell one of the sleeper hits of 2011.
The game is being developed for PC and Mac and will appear first as a digital download via Valve's Steam service on July 20, 2011 for $9.99. Runespell is also scheduled to appear on Impulse, Direct2Drive, and the Mac Store at a later date.