If you've played Hothead Games' Kard Combat [$0.99], it's a safe bet that Three Donkeys' Spectromancer [$1.99 / $3.99 (HD)] is going to seem familiar. Very familiar. It's not just that they're both card-battle games in the same vein as Magic, it's that they have exactly the same rules, play the same way, and while the cards have different names and art, their game stats and abilities are identical.

So is Spectromancer a clone of Kard Combat? Well, no. Then Kard Combat is a clone of Spectromancer? No, not really. The thing is is that Kard Combat is a licensed port of Spectromancer - the computer game that's been out for years. The new Spectromancer iOS game is also a port, but it's a direct port, keeping the title, card names, art and style of the computer game (which, apparently now exists in a free Flash version as well).

The crisis of origins doesn't stop there: Spectromancer is based on Apus Software's Astral Tournament (2001) a game heavily inspired by, you guessed it, Magic: the Gathering. Spectromancer is a joint project by Alexi Stankevich, the creator of Astral Tournament, and Richard Garfield himself (y'know, the guy who created Magic).

In short, Spectromancer is it's own Grandpa.

None of that changes the fact that it's a good game, designed to capture the intensity of the wizard's duel without all of that card management and deck building. If you want those mechanics, you're better off with Magic 2013 [Free (HD)] or Summoner Wars [Free]. After all, Kard Combat garnered a number  of awards when it came out last year, and we liked it well enough ourselves.

The question is, what's to choose between them? The answer, I'm afraid, is easy: Kard Combat never got all of the cards available in Spectromancer, and it seems that it's not being supported any more. This has to be a bitter moment for players who paid $10 for the "full unlock" of that game.

Spectromancer is not Universal, but it has a fairly good excuse: the design of the iPhone and iPad versions are very different in order to best cram the entire play area onto the mobile screen without needing to scroll. (Kard Kombat scrolled on iPhone and iPod touch, but was designed so you rarely needed to scroll the play area.) Overall the interface on Spectromancer is an impovement in functionality, at a price in style. Kard Kombat has a consistent, dark and creepy look, while Spectromancer is very much generic high fantasy.

There's are two places where Spectromancer really stands out: the single-player campaign and the pool of players for versus play. Kard Combat only has a vertical "tournament" style campaign called "the Tower," whereas Spectromancer has a full-fledged campaign with multiple maps, choices between battles, options for different permanent bonuses, and something vaguely resembling a story. That's probably not enough to draw invested players away from Kard Combat, but the fact that Spectromancer's multiplayer links up "fresh meat" iOS gamers with an existing community of PC-based players just might do it.

In the end, I'll be sad to see Kard Combat go - I like the look and feel of that port better than the "real thing" (summoning a Nephilim is way cooler than summoning a Troll), but the sacrifice had to be made in order to integrate the multiplayer pools. Maybe the Hothead team will link up with Three Donkeys for a sequel. For now, if your're a fan of Kard Combat or the PC version of Spectromancer, the iOS version will do everything you want it to.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • soldat7

    So....nothing in the text of the review really matches the 3.5/5 score. When compared to other, similar games on the platform, Spectromancer deserves a better score. Just me thoughts.

    • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

      Definitely! *At least* a 4 star game. Their online multiplayer is fun, fast, & pretty efficient. I've played a few games now & think it's pretty darned good!

  • http://twitter.com/KRWonders Korean Wonders

    I'll make sure to give it a try. Yet I'd like to mention Shadow Era, which is --although not as famous as MTG-- still the best TCG on the App Store when it comes to deck customization.
    Not to mention it's really multiplatform (iOS, Android, PC client, browser,etc.)

    • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

      Yes, Shadow Era. Again, it's a neat idea, very pretty, but I didn't find the gameplay to be very fun. Installed, deleted. Meh.
      Gameplay is where Spectromancer shines.

      • KoreanWonders

        I agree that Shadow Era's single player mode is no more than a training mode for the multiplayer. Still, I don't mind it because when I play Shadow Era, I just play for the PvP.
        To be honest, I think Spectromancer is more different from Magic in terms of gameplay than Shadow Era, so I don't feel like it's even fair to compare those games. Spectromancer actually feels more like a board game, and it's pretty fun as it is, but the deck building is somewhat limited compared to Shadow Era.
        So basically, I like both games the same way I like both Street Fighter and Dead or Alive :)

  • Jambo

    3.5 does seem low. This is a considerable improvement over Kard Combat in so many ways, and to me it seems unfair to lower its score simply because of its association.

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

      Kard Combat development is shut off after people paid up to $10 for all the expansions?  Weak sauce.
      Spectromancer looks interesting -- but I'm a bit unclear about whether it's any good.  3.5 doesn't sound like anything too good, but my impression from reading the review sounds different.That said, I played Kard Combat for a few days, then deleted.  Wasn't impressed.  If this is the same game, I'll pass.I haven't found a single card game on iOS where I'd say "wow, this is amazing".  But I'm optimistic & still waiting.  (Note: Played Shadow Era, Rage of Bahamut, Orions2, Bang!, Moonga, Cabals, Soul Card Master, & others.)

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/XEZ3DA4K7FTG7HMQ2LBF2J5F3U aurélien

        Try ascension best card game ever!

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        I did -- installed, & deleted. Kinda dull.
        I like Spectromancer setup & strategy, plus 'the luck of the draw' is significant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505973387 Frank Hopewell-Smith

    Yeah - I forked out $10 for the Kard Kombat full unlock - feel like I've been mugged. They were so nice in the beginning as well- listened to loads of feedback - I even had an email conversation with one of the devs. 

    Will have to think twice about getting a HotHeadGames app next time. In fact - my first thought will probably be - DON'T BUY IT

  • Espekayen

    Remember, reviews are the opinion of one person. Tof scored Spectromancer 3.5 and that's fine; my score would be 4 or 4.5. I'm really enjoying playing through the campaign right now. I like the fact that all the cards are available from the outset with each campaign victory giving me the option of upgrading a card.

    As far as Kard Combat is concerned, I also enjoyed playing it. But the developers promised so much and delivered so little; I'm just glad I didn't pay for the full unlock. I will not be supporting Hothead again.

  • Plynx

    I think the biggest difference wasn't mentioned at all: Kard Combat has asynchronous multiplayer with random matching while Spectromancer has synchronous realtime multiplayer with skill-based matching.

Spectromancer Reviewed by Tof Eklund on . Rating: 3.5