When you think about it, board games and playing cards are kind of a precursor to some of the video game genres we know and love, particularly RPGs. Hell, where would our favorite turn-based titles be if it weren’t for Dungeons and Dragons and competitive card games? Well, you can add one more title to the latter category with Sword Girls, a game that’s simple enough to pick up but gets deeper the more varied your deck is.
You play with a deck of 30 cards. Each player starts a round with a set amount of health, which is dictated in part by one of the cards in the deck (We’ll get to that in a minute.) The game goes on until either player’s health is completely depleted or there are no more cards to draw in his or her deck.
The game employs three different types of cards during play: characters, followers and spells. Character cards are your avatar during a game and dictate how much health you have. They’ll often employ special abilities, like health saps and other augments for enemy cards.
The other two types of cards — followers and spells — have an attribute known as size. This characteristic serves two purposes. During any given round, you can have up to five cards on the table with a combined size of no more than 10, so the size of a set of cards dictates how many of them you may play at a time. If a card is destroyed while it’s in play, its size is subtracted from the character card’s total health. Your fate is tied directly to how well you utilize these cards. Most character cards you acquire at the campaign’s outset have an average health attribute of 30.
Follower cards are the ones that take actions for you and are the foundation for any good strategy in Sword Girls. Each of these cards has four different attributes, counting size. The other three characteristics come directly into play during battle. In fact, the battle system in Sword Girls is much of what makes the game so accessible. Each follower card has three numbers on the bottom: attack (ATK), defense (DEF) and stamina (STA). Calculating the outcome of a battle is easy. Simply take the aggressor’s attack stat, subtract the other card’s defense stat and the difference is the amount of stamina lost.
To add a bit of spice to the gameplay, some follower cards are members of particular clubs or classes. For example, much of my starting deck was made up of girls who were members of the cook club. A select few cards would boost the attributes of other cook club members if they were played. For example, some cards would boost the attack and stamina attributes for two random cards if there was a cook club member in play.
Spell cards buff or debuff followers and can either heal or damage characters and followers. One of my favorites was a spell that dealt one point of damage to my character card only to strike my opponent for four. I felt a little guilty playing it on unsuspecting foes when games were close, but you gotta do what’s necessary to get ahead in Sword Girls.
Each game starts with both players drawing a hand of five cards each. You can play one or all of them as long as the total size of the hand is 10 or less. A 30-second timer ensures you move quickly; the ability to make snap decisions is of the essence in Sword Girls. Once the cards are on the table, a coin is tossed to determine who moves first. Players take turns activating cards one-by-one with spell cards taking precedence. Your followers spring to life at random afterward and attack an enemy card of their choice. As one side’s cards are dispatched in battle, their sizes are subtracted from the character card’s health pool.
If one player loses all of his or her cards before all of the opponents cards are played, the remaining followers attack the character card directly. This continues until one player is out of either health or cards. The animations are robust. It’s especially satisfying to watch one of your Sword Girls break out a couple of blades and tear their opponents to pieces. Once a card loses all of its stamina, it shatters like glass, an aesthetic I found particularly pleasing.
Players can opt to take their decks on a single-player campaign to earn items and stronger followers or go head-to-head with other people on the server.
The single-player mode takes you through dungeons with several floors, each of which contains one opponent. Once defeated, enemies drop ore, one of many items used to create new cards. Once you win a battle, you also have the option of purchasing new cards for two, 15 or 35 tokens. When the game releases, you’ll be able to purchase tokens for one cent apiece.
In addition to the two battle modes, Sword Girls contains a variety of ways in which you can level up your cards, build new ones or gather materials to do either. All of this is accessible through the Lab feature. From here, you can have one of your Sword Girls hit the gym and buff up, send her out into the woods to gather materials or attend a swap meet of sorts where you can exchange cards and resources with other players.
The story behind Sword Girls is about as generic as they come. There’s an Empire oppressin’ folks and the resistance force known as the Federation is doing its best to keep that from happening. There are a few twists and turns — all contained within a prologue of sorts — but the story never influences progression or gameplay. It’s more a backdrop for card designs and spells, but you don’t need to know much, if anything, about the narrative to get into the game.
There’s no doubt about the fact that this game is easy on the eyes. The character designs and overall aesthetics are colorful and creative. There’s no shortage of features to explore in Sword Girls, either. But there are a few things that the game lacks, some of which can easily be fixed before the game goes public.
When synthesizing materials for new cards, there’s a display that lets you know what’s required for the creation process. If you have all the proper resources, they’ll glow a soft shade of red. If not, the icons will be grayed out. Unfortunately, the menu doesn’t tell you how many of any given resource you have in your inventory, so card creation turns into a tedious game of checking and re-checking your item list.
The combat, while simple and accessible, leaves far too much to chance. As I already went over, when your cards are in an attack position, they randomly select their opponents. I too often found my followers attacking other cards that were at full strength and would counterattack instead of picking off weaker opponents and racking up damage on rivals. If you were able to set some kind of priority for your cards to follow, it’d provide a deeper level of strategy and put more control in your hands.
I can see where the random attack mechanic would closely emulate the experience of playing with physical cards and using dice to dictate moves. But with so many other options available, including those where the aforementioned mechanics are in place, allowing players to set up a customized set of gambits would be a nice original take on an aged genre.
As it stands, Sword Girls is a fun distraction, but lacks a depth of strategy that prohibits it from being much more. Don’t get me wrong: You can easily get lost for hours dueling foe after foe in the game’s dungeons or going head-to-head with other human players on the servers — even the closed beta had a healthy smattering of folks with whom to get your game on.
Although the game’s beta is closed for now, you can look forward to playing Sword Girls soon. It’s definitely fun to look at and easy to get into. But if you’re looking for a deeper experience, there are alternatives.