Runespell: Overture Review

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Runespell: Overture Publisher: Mystic Box
Developer: Mystic Box

Platform: PC (available here)
Reviewed on PC

At the dawn of the second millennium, an amnesiac changeling staggers through the snow. In this version of England, magic is rampant, creatures from Norse mythology stalk the landscape and the year 1046 brings the greatest snowstorm the island has ever seen. This changeling is not the first of his kind to be sent to destroy the Skullgrim. But perhaps he will be the first to succeed.

Kyle Ackerman

Runespell: Overture is part of that genre of games created by Puzzle Quest, that fuses casual play with hardcore gamers need for complexity. For the most part, Runespell: Overture succeeds admirably without being a simple copycat game. That's because the poker puzzle mechanic used to resolve combat is compelling, and the game's problems are minor.

When I first learned of Runespell: Overture, I didn't see how poker-style play could be used as the battle mechanic for a role-playing game-type adventure. I couldn't figure out how betting and bluffing would transform into blows, or how the AI would attempt to emulate a human poker player. Sensibly, Mystic Box avoided the whole dilemma. Runespell: Overture isn't really about poker. Battles are resolved by two opponents playing a version of solitaire where points are scored by forming poker hands.

It's a cleverly imagined version of solitaire. Each turn, you get a specified number of moves, and can move cards from pile to pile. The goal is to create groups of five cards as weak as a single pair with mixed cards, or as strong as a royal flush. You can move any unpaired card of your own or your opponents, as well as groups you've formed. Then your foe goes. There's more strategy than you might expect. It helps to form pairs or even group unrelated cards to block your opponent and decrease the cards available to him. It pays to work toward a straight flush and the cards often prompt real thought.

That's just the basic combat. There are often chests that reward attacking with a low-scoring pair, and each combat awards a higher score to those who use a wider variety of cards. Then there are the power cards. You enter each battle with a selection of power cards. These can be passive bonuses that grant more health, or abilities that can be activated that do devastating damage or even change the rules of play. Card selection and use require cautious consideration, especially when foes can give themselves an extra 10 turns with their own cards. All the while, 3D figures of the two combatants (and their allies) visibly exchange blows at the top of the screen.

These cards provide the role-playing game style leveling that the game promises. In truth, it's somewhere between collectable card game and traditional RPG. For example, you can only have one card that gives increased health, so if you just swap in the new card for the old, it's like leveling up. At the same time, you could forgo the health to add another spell to your arsenal. It's not a good idea, but it's possible. There are many types of magic, with as many types of counterspells, but given the value of a single move, I didn't find it worth the time to use defensive spells. Instead, I focused on high-scoring hands and spells that gave me more actions.

There is a story to follow – one long quest with several side-plots – that carries the player around the world map. Steeped in Norse mythology, it's not a bad tale, although the awkwardly precise language feels like it could use a pass from a native English speaker. The only really irritating issue with Runespell: Overture is the map. I don't mind that travel simply involves moving from node to node along lines that link quest locations. The random monsters that populate those nodes aren't overly bothersome, either. What disturbs me is that I can't scroll the map, so as I got closer to the Skullgrim, I often couldn't see where I was going. Or when I needed to backtrack, I couldn't see familiar locations I'd visited the day before.

Runespell: Overture provides an interesting enough story setting to bracket the entertaining magical battle elements it has imposed on a clever form of competitive solitaire (an unfortunate oxymoron, but I'm open to a better term). The game offers enough play to justify the $10 price tag, although the poker solitaire mechanic begins to feel repetitive after a few hours, and the story's abrupt ending explains why the word "Overture" is in the title.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 20, 2011 9:01 AM.

Bastion and a System Update Now Available for the Xbox 360 was the previous entry.

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