If you've ever played Spectromancer on PC, you know what you're getting into with Hothead Games' Kard Combat [Free, with in-app unlockables]. Not because it's been ripped off, mind you, but because the co-creator of Kard Combat is Richard Garfield, the man behind Spectromancer and the big daddy of TCGs, Magic: The Gathering.

The thing that sets Kard Combat and its progenitor apart from other card games is the complete lack of deck building. For some, building a carefully constructed deck designed to devastate your opponents is what the genre is all about, but I find it more of a necessary evil. I don't particularly want to spend all my money buying boosters, or spend hours agonizing over whether this card or that card is a better fit for my deck. If you feel the same, you'll find a lot to like here.

For starters, Kard Combat completely eschews the booster pack model. Instead, you earn your cards in the game's substantial single-player mode. There are four mages to take through the campaign, The Tower, each defined by an affinity: Death, Holy, Dominator and Machine. Whichever one you choose, your cards will be randomly chosen from four elements, Fire, Water, Air and Wind, and a fifth that matches your affinity. Each match, your deck is built out of twenty randomly chosen cards picked from those you've unlocked and spread evenly between the five categories.

When you face off against an opponent, you each get a field with six positions to fill. On your turn, you can play one card, which is either a unit that can be placed in one of those six positions, or a spell that affects you, your opponent or his cards directly. Units face off against the cards placed directly across from them. Each card has a mana cost, and you have a pool of mana for each category of card - this mana starts out at random levels and increases by one point each round, barring any cards that modify your mana growth. Both players have a pool of health, and the loser is the one that runs out of health first.

There are two ways to unlock cards. You can play through the Tower, which is free for the first few levels and can be opened up with a $0.99 in-app purchase for each mage (or $2.99 for all four). Each opponent you defeat on your way up the tower gives you a new card or an item. If you'd rather just hop straight into multiplayer fully armed, you can unlock all the cards, mages and items with a one-time purchase of $9.99.

Kard Combat has asynchronous multiplayer through OpenFeint. Strictly speaking, this means you can walk away and take your turns whenever you want to, but most of the community seems to play as though this is a synchronous game. There's nothing to stop you from playing in real time, and with such a fast, strategic game, you'll probably prefer it that way.

That's a lot of technical stuff, but the technical stuff is pretty important here. You know what else is important? The art. The card art in Kard Combat is pretty great, in a moody, gothic sort of way. Unfortunately Hothead has chosen to only let you see it in tiny little boxes to keep the game's file size low. Since the game's interface isn't much to speak of (it's functional, but with an unpleasant 90s-retro-gothic style), and the art is so small, the whole thing is a bit bland to look at. The sound design is also underwhelming, leaving us with a somewhat uninspiring package.

But looks aren't everything, and thankfully Kard Combat makes up for its weak points with a great personality. It's a fun game, and the lack of deck-building means it's easy to get into -- even for card game newbies. The single-player campaign has three difficulty modes, so you should be able to find a challenge no matter your skill level, and the multiplayer is both functional and well-balanced. Our forum users are pretty into it, too. Kard Combat has a bright future ahead of it, and Hothead Games has given every indication the plan to keep it growing for a long time to come.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Ron Goodrich

    Is this the only asynchronous one?  I prefer asynchronous mutiplayer games because I don't get to "hang out" with friends and play games.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gregan-Dunn/651715728 Gregan Dunn

    It is indeed asynchronous. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Quickmix Frank Quickmix Hassas

    Great Game!

  • Artfoundry

    The game is VERY similar to Orions in gameplay.  I'm surprised that comparison wasn't made in the review.  It's pretty fun.  Haven't decided whether I'll make any purchases yet though.  Without deck building or a story for the campaign mode, it feels like it may get pretty repetitive.  We'll see...

    • Crickets

      This game is all about multiplayer. An expansion and (initially) card drafting are inbound. That said, even in it's current state, you get 5 different classes of cards each with (I believe) 11 different cards. And every game you get four randomized selections from each class. So even when you play the same class every time, you have to tweak your strategy if you want to come out on top.
      I have my favorite cards certainly, but often enough I don't pull them, and have to figure out what my strats goin to be with what I've been given.

      This, coupled with playing against another evenly matched player create some amazing games that are never the same.

      By the way I play as "cymbal" on openfient. Anyone look for a good game add me.

      • https://me.yahoo.com/rekzkarz#a0df5 REkzkaRZ

        I haven't played this in ages, but will look for you b/c we share similar names (on some of your posts).

        I played this game all the way thru, and found it imbalanced but fun.

  • ronisize

    The launch trailer link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wa2Z1Fesk0

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      Ah, thanks! I'll fix that.

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    Mortal Kombat is the only IP allowed to switch letter C with the letter K. Ask Scorpion.

  • The9quad

    Decent game but it does have some issues:
    1.)The UI is pretty bad, the game is locked into portrait,  some buttons are oddly placed namely "skip turn" is one layer deep when it should be on top. The games title screen looks very amatuerish, the card art is decidedly mediocre as well. ( they are working on moving that skip button and on possible new card art, as well as an option to download higher res card art)
    2.) lackluster sound
    3.) openfient MP is meh-GC is coming in an update. (the MP falls short of carcassone and ascensions MP setup)
    4.) Some cards take forever to play each turn and make the game tedious. Namely, If a card hits each opponent and the opponent has 5 cards be prepared to wait for that animation for each card to play out all five times.

    Here is the deal even with those issues the core game makes it one of the best ios card games atm.  Of course, there are only a handful of decent ones anyway, This easily fits in with the better ones (ascension,orions 2, shadow era etc..). Personally, I would say it falls somewhere along more polished than orions2 but less polished than ascension.

    So technically speaking I would give it 3.5 stars, but the fun factor makes it a 4. Definitely worth getting for free at least and trying it out.

  • Donalddumptruck

    Still no Orions 2 review?

    Man, TA...falling down on the job...

  • 711

    Played this one earlier and didn't like it very much just not my type of game I found a new game yesterday called Lollipop Penguin that I liked a lot it's kind of like doodle jump but free so it's a must have.

  • islesfan

    So addicted to this game, I paid for the full unlock after only playing two games!

Kard Combat ™ Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 3.5