I’m a huge fan of the original Puzzle Quest. While I sang its praises as loudly as I could, I’ve been disappointed by the many puzzle RPG hybrids that followed in its wake. The one title that has come close to the bar set by Puzzle Quest is Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. None of the others need apply, including Puzzle Quest 2 and Galactrix–especially Galactrix. Fortunately, that may be about to change. Today I am excited to bring you a glimpse of Runespell: Overture, an upcoming puzzle RPG for PC that somehow manages to combine solitaire and poker within a beautiful framework.
Solitaire? And poker? The folks at Mystic Box refer to their combat system as Mythic Poker, and we’ll take a look at how Mythic Poker works. Looking at the screenshot above you see two decks of cards laid out in what looks like a typical klondike solitaire setup; everybody has seen a basic solitaire layout like this before, so it is immediately familiar. Your deck is up top and your opponent’s cards are on the bottom. You play the hooded fellow on the left with enemies on the right. Stats and abilities are displayed underneath the portraits.
The object is to move cards between stacks in order to build the best possible poker hands. You can move cards anywhere you want; suit and value don’t matter. Once you have multiple cards in a stack, though, you can’t split them up again. After you have five cards assembled, you can then launch an attack based on the value of the poker hand, and that stack is freed up to start building something else.
To make it easier to build high-value poker hands, you are able to steal cards from your opponent, but only if they are single cards. Making a stack of two or more protects cards from getting stolen, a skill you’d better learn quickly, because your opponent will happily steal your cards as well. Attack values range from 8 for a pair to 50 for a royal flush.
Attacks aren’t the only way to defeat your enemies, though. Along your travels you will meet allies that join your cause. These are represented by cards. Other cards that you find or purchase at shops represent a variety of abilities, from elemental attacks and shields, to healing spells, and my personal favorite, cards that give you more action points (more on actions in a moment). A few of these have unlimited uses, but most have charges that are spent each time a card is activated.
You equip a maximum of eight cards from your available inventory prior to entering combat, exactly as you would with abilities in Puzzle Quest. As you take and deliver damage, you fill up a rage meter. Rage is then used to activate allies and abilities. Some cards have a cooldown period before they can be used again. Naturally, the more powerful cards tend to use more rage and/or have longer cooldown periods.
During your turn, you can take three actions, each can be used to move one card/stack, steal a card from an opponent, launch an attack, or use an ability. My favorite aspect of Runespell: Overture is that on every single turn, you’ll wish you had more action points. There is inevitably something else you’d like to accomplish on a turn, so you’re always making difficult choices. Do you use an ability? Steal a card? Finish building a hand?
The constant decision-making is a sign of excellent design and keeps you engaged in the action even though the pace is fairly slow. You’ll also have to be careful what order you perform actions in. There’s nothing more frustrating than accidentally revealing a card you desperately need on your last move, then watching your opponent steal it from you.
Runespell: Overture looks fantastic and has lovely music as well. Production quality is very high throughout. One quibble I have is that the magic system feels somewhat generic. There are many cards with multiple-strength variants such as Fire Strike I, II, etc. Combined with the fact that card art is shared among abilities of similar type, the abilities don’t seem very distinct. This bleeds over into creature design somewhat, since many of the abilities they use are ones you can equip as well.
Keep in mind that I’ve only seen a small slice of the game, and since the game is still in development, they may not have all graphical assets in the build I’ve been playing. What is here looks wonderful, and I’m excited to see the final release sometime next month.
In the meantime, Total Biscuit has a great video showing off the Mythic Poker system, as well as touching on the story and other aspects of Runespell: Overture. After you’ve had a look at the game in action, I think you’ll be as excited about it as I am.