Review: Runespell: Overture (PC)

Runespell: Overture
Genre: Alt-History/Fantasy/CCG/Poker/RPG
Developer: Mystic Box
Publisher: Steam
Release Date: 07/20/2011
Price: $10

In every review here at Diehard GameFAN we put a description in the beginning of the game, which includes a description of the genre that the game falls into. Some games fall a little outside of one genre and need multiple descriptions. Runespell: Overture is one of the very few games that fall completely outside of any genre description. The best I can do is say that the game is a Alternate History-Fantasy/Collectible Card Game/Poker/RPG, and even that isn’t a very good description of the game. It falls outside of the boundaries of genres.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I loaded up Runespell, and what I found blew me away with how much fun it was.

When I loaded the game up to start the single player story mode, the first thing I thought of was that the game resembled Puzzle Quest. The overworld is similar in that it is a top down view where you can direct your character to different points of a map. On that map will be various enemies and locations to visit. However, the similarities are merely in the presentation of the game. Runespell: Overture might remind people of Puzzle Quest because of the presentation and the unique and addictive nature of both games, but Runespell: Overture is very much an original product.

The game features a full single player story mode. You play as a Changling, a hooded character that doesn’t really know who he is or what his purpose is. As you play the game you discover more about the main character as he meets different characters who all have their own motivations. The story itself draws on inspiration from both mythology and history, blending the two in interesting ways. The plot is interesting in how it develops, though it also helps that plot is driven along by good sense of humor. There are usually at least two options to choose from on how to respond to any conversation, and many of the responses are humorous. The game even has fun with itself at times, like how the story explains how the character moves around like he can almost see a map of an area.

The story is fun to play through, and there are a number of side missions to play. Overall, it will last you about 10-15 hours, depending on how many side missions you play through and how often to grind other enemies for Power Cards. There are no modes currently aside from the single player mode, though the developer has talked about future free updates that may add multiplayer.

Graphically the game is very well produced. The cutscenes look good, the 2D graphics are nicely drawn, and the battle animations are decent. For a smaller game developer, everything from the menus to the art to just the overall layout is extremely polished. I only have some minor complaints – while the main characters all have individual appearances, some of the enemy types get repetitive. The attack animation could also use some work. It looks fine, however the same animation that does a little damage is the same attack animation for one that does a lot of damage. These are minor problems, but issues just the same.

There is little audio in the game outside of the background music and the occasional sound effect of cards flipping and Power Cards being used. The background music is a nice orchestrated track that fits with the game and is never obtrusive.

Playing Mythic Poker is what the game revolves around. Like the original Puzzle Quest game you will wander around a map completing quests that have you fight different enemies. These fights are played out through Mythic Poker. The screen is divided with a horizontal line, your cards are on top, your enemies cards are on the bottom of the screen. The battle screen is bordered on the sides with a HUD that displays the Changling character on the top left, with a lifebar that shows your remaining hit points, a rage meter that shows how much rage you’ve built up. Under that it shows what Power Cards you have equipped, along with brief information about cost to activate, effect, and remaining uses. The right side of the screen with have an avatar of the enemy at the top with similar information below it.

The Mythic Poker game is played by each character having seven stacks of cards, laid out in a descending fashion like Solitaire. The card on the bottom is flipped up. The point of the game is to try and make poker hands out of the cards that are showing. You click to move the cards around to form pairs, straights, full houses, and so on. Creating a five card hand will deal damage. The harder it is to assemble a hand, the more damage it will deal. For example, assembling a simple pair does extremely weak damage, while a royal flush does a ton of damage.

The game is broken up into rounds and turns. Each player can make three actions during a turn. Moving a card, activating a hand to attack, or using a Power Card counts as an action. This is really well done since three actions feels like the perfect amount needed to try and set up a hand or make tactical choices on what cards to use. Had they set the default limit to any more or less, it would have felt imbalanced.

Part of the strategy of the game isn’t just making hands, but also trying to stop the other player from creating good hands as well. You can steal cards from the enemy, and in fact this is a major part of any battle strategy. If you see that the enemy has three of a kind and another of the same card pops up, you do not want to give the enemy a chance to make four of a kind. Once cards are stacked they are no longer available to steal or be stolen. So every turn is a delicate balance of using action points wisely while trying to determine what will help you build the best hand, what cards to try and protect, and how to make sure that the enemy isn’t building a powerful hand.

Stick with me here, because Mythic Poker goes deeper than that. While trying to juggle all of that, you also have to pay attention to the rage meter and Power Cards. Rage is a pool of points that you’ll need to draw from in order to use Power Cards. Power Cards are cards you’ll earn or buy through the game with different abilities. The Fate Power Card, as an example, can be used to add more action points to your turn. There are a number of different Power Cards with various offensive and defensive abilities. You activate the cards by using Rage Points. Rage Points are earned through dealing or receiving damage as you play Mythic Poker. Depending on the benefit of the card, it may have a low Rage Point cost or a high Rage Point cost.

That is the Collectible Card Game aspect of Runespell: Overture. These cards usually have a limited number of uses. You earn more through battles, or buying more with coins earned in the game (which is also usually done through battles). Over time you’ll end up with a pretty decent inventory of these cards, except you can only equip seven at a time. At times you will have to plan carefully which cards to equip – if you’re facing an enemy that uses a lot of fire damage Power Cards, you will want one that blocks fire damage. Luckily every battle screen lets you arrange your equipped cards before battle.

When you take all this into consideration, you have three actions per turn in which to consider what cards are available on the board, the Rage Points of both characters, and what Power Cards can be used. It is a system of surprising depth that is just plain fun.

Every aspect is so finely tuned that while there is luck involved as well as skill, but the game never feels like the enemy has an unfair advantage. Usually any advantage that the enemy might have can be countered if you assess the situation correctly. The computer AI is smart about building good hands, and it even does a good job trying to keep you from building good hands as well as trying to bait you into making poor choices. You can also bluff the computer sometimes into using an action to take a card you don’t want over a card you might need.

As the game progresses the enemies have more health, access to a larger selection of Power Cards, and it does become more difficult. As you play though you will also gain access to more health, cards that will grant you abilities from characters you ally with, and more Power Cards. It all builds at an even pace so that it is always strategic, but never either too difficult or too simple.

It should not be a surprise that a game that mixes poker, CCG, and RPGs should be addictive. The game is so addictive it should have a warning on the menu screen – every time I meant to play just one battle I’d end up playing for a couple of hours until my laptop threatened to burn through my pants (the game seems like a resource hog if the heat my laptop generated is any indication). If anything, I hope the game succeeds just because I want it available on more platforms so that no matter where I’m at I can play a quick round of Mythic Poker. Since the game can be easily understood by anyone who has played poker, anyone is a likely victim of Runespell: Overture addiction.

I can’t think of many negatives about the game, but I can think of some suggestions. While I like the Power Cards and how they have different affiliations with nature (such as fire/ice/thunder), these seem more aesthetic than really practical in the game. It would be nice to have enemies that were either weaker or more resistant to these attributes to make them feel like more than just a slightly different version of another Power Card. The game only has a single player mode, which is long enough and enjoyable enough to be worth a purchase alone, but I would love to see multiplayer. Even same screen local multiplayer should be feasible – I’d love to play the game against my wife. I know they plan on rolling out free expansions of the game to include suggestions the community has made, so I look forward to seeing what the developers have in store for the game.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Classic
Originality: Unparalleled
Addictiveness: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Classic

Short Attention Span Summary:
Runespell: Overture is a surprise that came out of nowhere, and is a fun, addictive game that I got hooked on so badly I started dreaming of Mythic Poker in my sleep. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes poker or interesting games in general.



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