An early look at: Smite Tactics [Windows PC preview]

Smite Tactics is Hi-Rez Studios’ foray into the DCG (digital card game) space. Like other recent entries into this space by larger studios Hi-Rez based the game on one of their other IPs – in this case, Smite. Currently in closed beta testing, the card game adaptation borrows heavily from Blizzard’s Hearthstone for a base framework, but then heads in its own own direction.

The elements borrowed from Hearthstone include mana progression, “The Coin”, and the use of small decks (although Smite Tactics’ decks are even smaller – just 20 rather than Hearthstone’s 30). Blizzard’s Heroes have been replaced by Leaders. From there though, the rest of the comparisons that can be made can be said of the majority of digital card games. Arguably the best thing Hi-Rez took away from similar games is the match length, sitting at a brisk 12mins or so.

For people who are not familiar with Smite, it’s an Action MOBA where you play as ancient gods from a variety of religions. Of course, a god’s normal elegances mean nothing and players can combine deities from all backgrounds to form a cohesive team. In Tactics, the decks are split into Pantheons by religion. The game currently features Greek, Egyptian, Norse and Chinese.

Tactics’ defining feature from other card games is its grid map of 5 by 9 with leaders starting with 5 tiles between them at opposite ends of the grid. There are several maps, most of them having anywhere from 2 to 5 tiles blocked off in various arrangements, and some maps have other unique elements. The various maps help keep the game fresh, while not rocking the boat too much.

Deck building starts with choosing a Pantheon then a Leader. Each Leader is a major god from that religion, either ranged or melee, and with their own special ability. Special abilities can all be used once a turn in place of attacking, they range from drawing a card, buffing friendly units, healing, and creating whirlpools. You have three card types to populate your 20 card deck; Gods, Minions and Items.

God and Minion cards are basically the same, both are deployed on an adjacent tile to your Leader, and can’t move or attack when they are deployed. Both also have an attack and health value, and many have abilities (although God cards are more likely to have a activated one rather than passive). The difference between them? You can only have one God card in play at a time, where Minions you can have two out on the field at once. Some of the more powerful Gods are classed as Legendary, limiting them to only one per deck, unlike the normal deck limit of two per deck for any card.

Items are better thought of as spells, covering everything under the sun. They do things like cause damage to non-Leader units (or just the Leader), give passive abilities, increase movement, or stun units. Items overall are used to tip the tide of battle quickly taking effect immediately, allowing you to quickly overwhelm the enemy or deal with a threat.

Like Hearthstone, Tactics features neutral cards that can be placed into any deck, giving all decks access to all the basic minion and item cards. I mostly use neutral cards to fill gaps in the Pantheon as cards from that Pantheon are commonly better and will jell with the rest of the deck better. That said, some of the higher-ranked players I have played against have made excellent use of the neutral Item cards in particular.

Each Pantheon has unit abilities that are mostly unique to it. The new Chinese Pantheon’s common abilities are based around gaining stats each turn or when an Item is played. For example, the Imperial Soldier with “Command: +1 Movement and +1 attack” will permanently gain those bonuses each time an Item is played. Per-turn stats are applied at the start of your turn, the Stone Guardian gains +1 range each time giving it the longest range in the game after having been on the field for just one turn. With these abilities it makes it advantageous to strategise, and get the most out of your cards.

Each turn, all units that were not placed on the board that turn can simply attack, move then attack, or use an ability in place of attacking. Default movement values are 2 or 3, with a few cards that can do more or less. These movement values make it very important to plan ahead when spawning a minion to make sure it’s safe from enemy attacks and be ready to move into the battle next turn. The other way to think about spawning units is that only friendly units can move through each other so by using either a wall of friendly units or just one in conjunction with terrain can make it much harder for melee units to attack your leader. (Remember: Movement is only to non-diagonally adjacent tiles, but melee attacks can be made to adjacent diagonal tiles.)

The game is currently in beta and shaping up quite well, but it does still need some work. In the time I have been playing the game, Hi-Rez has made a lot of great strides in improving many of my gripes with the game, including UI and card descriptions, which leaves me with no major criticism from the games systems side of things.

Hi-Rez continue to take pride in their work making frequent updates to the game and are playing around with the balance a lot. Both of the balance patches recently added to the game seemed reasonably balanced and the developers are making meaningful updates about every 2 weeks.

Overall, Smite Tactics is a strong contender in the DCG space, learning from others while still being its own game. Its grid-based map most definitely lives up the name making it much more than just timing when to play your cards but also about positioning units so they can make attacks every turn and not get blocked out of combat. If you’re a fan of either turn-based strategy games or fast paced card games, then this one is definitely worth taking a look at.

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