Hands-On Preview: Card battling on Boardwalk.
The original Culdcept was a strange game released for the PS2 in 2003 that could best be described as a mashup of Magic: The Gathering/Monopoly. This unique fusing of two very different games created a video game that has garnered a cult following from a devoted few and a raised eyebrow punctuated with a "What?" from the rest of the population. When Namco Bandai announced that the sequel, Culdcept Saga, was coming to the Xbox 360, a small group of people cheered while most of the world was left scratching their head. So in an attempt to raise the game's profile, Namco Bandai has dropped a demo on Xbox Live a little over two months before the game's February 5th release date.
Fans of Culdcept will be pleased to know that Culdcept Saga plays exactly like the original with the Magic: The Gathering and Monopoly-based rules all working the same. But for those who have never played the original game, a primer on the rules might be in order.
Players of Culdcept are known as Cepters. The goal of the game is to earn the target amount of magic power (called G) through a combination of collecting tolls, raising levels, and building chains. Players travel around the board passing forts and castles to earn extra G (like passing Go). Each board features several colored territories that a Cepter can claim with a monster (like buying a property). As players move around the board, they have to pay a toll (rent) if they land on another Cepter's territory. A player can build chains and charge higher tolls if they own more than one territory of the same color (like a Monopoly if you will). During a player's turn they are also able to buy level upgrades (Houses and Hotels) to force other Cepters to pay a higher toll if they land on their territory. If a player's magic power goes bankrupt they have the option to sell their territories (like mortgaging, but not quite). And if a Cepter loses all of their magic, they're Magic Depleted (or Bankrupt).
Culdcept also culls plenty of substance from Magic: The Gathering with it's card battling system. Creatures have two gauges, Hit Points and Strength. If a creature's strength is greater than it's opponent's Hit Points then they win the battle. Creatures can also gain extra strength or hit points through the use of item cards like armor, weapons, or other mystical items. if they're part of a color chain or if they have support from another creature in an adjacent territory. Combing Monopoly and Magic also gives you the option of Land Transformation, (which is like turning New York Avenue into a blue property) so a blue creature can get blue territory bonus hit points. Rounding out these Magic elements is the little booster pack of cards you receive at the end of every battle.
All of these game rules and other elements come together to form the core gameplay of Culdcept. The demo featured a single board (the first one) and the chance to go head-to-head against one other Cepter (other boards in the full game will throw multiple opponents at you). If you can imagine how the rules would work, it's easy to picture how the game plays. Dice are rolled. Players move. Territories are purchased. Creatures battle it out. The game is devilishly simple, yet the strategy is very complex and involving. Players who are obsessed with micromanaging every little thing will enjoy studying each card for its strengths and weaknesses and how they can be combined with other cards to create a killer battle strategy. And actually, how the cards are used in play seems clearer in Culdcept Saga than it did in the original Culdcept.
As with Culdcept for the PS2, a few problems with the gameplay still remain. For a game so built on strategy, "lucky" dice rolls play too big a role in the outcome of a match. Matches will also often reach a tipping point where one player jumps out so far ahead that the other cannot ever hope to catch up. This imbalance was particularly bad in the original game in some of the later boards where players went up against multiple opponents. Hopefully, Namco Bandai will be able to correct that in the final game.
The graphics can simply be described as Culdcept in high definition. The board design is very basic and the graphics engine features simple movements and static card designs. However, the designs themselves are very impressively illustrated by some very talented artists. Examining each new card becomes a major part of the game in itself.