Culdcept is one of those weird niche Japanese titles that have a small, but very strong audience. Because of its niche status, games like Culdcept don’t receive the amount of attention that the bigger name titles do. Some are rather fun and interesting, while others are just plain weird. Culdcept falls in the weird category more often than not, as the game is both a card game and a board game wrapped up in one. Imagine, if you will, that Magic: the Gathering decided to go off and marry Monopoly. That’s basically how the game plays out. While interesting, the game seems too random to be any fun. Culdcept is a sprite based game. All characters look like something out of a Super Nintendo Game, and all the boards look very basic. The actual hand drawn pictures that accompany the text boxes and the card art are actually very well done, though some of the characters are very odd. Namely Goligan, the old timer staff of the gods. Yeah. As I said, odd.
Whenever the cards do battle, they’re accompanied by some fairly bland CG environments. When they attack each other, little CG weapons come up and hit the card. When a card dies, a little animation of how it died follows, whether it was slashed, bludgeoned, or stabbed. These animations are nothing special, but they aren’t particularly bad either.
Music and sound are fairly average. There’s nothing too amazing, but nothing too bad. Music is your standard synthesized fantasy fare. Sounds are standard as well. Bells ring when good things happen, grunts and thwacks when damage is dealt. A fairly cheesy announcer will say various things that are happening on the board, as well as who is attacking who when the cards meet in battle.
Controls aren’t that complex in this game. Everything is more or less menu driven, and all actions are chosen with the X button. If a battle ensues, and the game will let you use an item on a card, the card is highlighted by a button on the controller, so there’s never a question as to what card you can use. This is one very complex game. As I said before, it’s a combination of the play mechanics of Magic: The Gathering and Monopoly. This makes for some interesting, but very randomized and very lengthy gameplay.
Basically, the game pits you against up to 3 other opponents on a board. These boards can be simple squares or have multiple branching paths, but they all have something in common. They have four colors spread out throughout the board (red, blue, yellow, and green) and they have checkpoints (“Free parking”) and the castle (“Go”). The goal for each board is pretty basic and always the same: Increase your total magic to the set value and reach the castle first. You can do this in any number of ways. Putting cards on territories, leveling up said territories (the Monopoly equivalent of putting a hotel on a space), battling other cards, making your way around the board, and various cards which give you magic.
Turns go like this: you decide if you want to use any cards before you roll the dice. Then you roll the dice, move the spaces indicated, and then when you arrive at your destination, you can perform several actions. If there’s no one on the space, you can place a creature card. If the card is of the same affinity as the color of the square you are on, the card receives special bonuses. If you’ve passed any territories that you control, you may strengthen one of them by paying magic to level it up. If the space you are on is occupied by an enemy, you may either pay the magic cost of the territory, or you can try to fight so you don’t have to pay the cost and then take the territory.
Battling is fairly straightforward. The attacker chooses the item card they want to use, and the defender does the same. Based on the properties of the cards, one of the cards attacks first, then the other. If the attacker wins, the defender has to pay the magic cost and the attacker gains the territory. If the defender wins or the attacker is unable to defeat the defender’s card, the attacker must pay the magic cost specified on the space. This is where leveling up territories comes in. At the first level, spaces will only net you 20 magic or so, more if you own more than one territory (like a “Monopoly”). So when you level up a territory to, say three, instead of 20, you’ll gain 300 or so.
The game continues in this fashion. Alternating turns, you go around the board, collecting magic, claiming territories, battling, and once you’ve reached the total amount, racing to the castle to claim victory.
This whole concept is interesting enough, but there’s too much of a random element in the game. First off, you have the randomized aspect of the board. Based on die rolls, multiple paths and the like, it’s hard to plan where you want your character to go. Then there’s the randomized aspect of the cards themselves. It’s hard to determine what cards you’re going to get, even when making your own deck. These two randomized elements together form a very hard to predict game. It’s based less on strategy and more on actual luck. You can go through a level many times before you get just the right combination of cards and die rolls to beat your opponent. And because the levels last a fairly long time, it’s a bit annoying having to replay something on account of not getting the right cards or landing on the wrong spot. What value you will get out of this game will come from how much you can tolerate the whole randomized aspect. If you can tolerate it, then you’re getting a very deep game here. There are hundreds of cards, a lengthy single player mode, and a multiplayer mode as well. If you have interest in these types of games, it’s right up your alley.