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X3F hands-on: Culdcept Saga

Culdcept Saga is, for lack of a better term, an interesting game. To describe it quickly, you really only need two words: Monopoly and Magic (as in Magic: The Gathering). Now that's oversimplifying it, but by now you're already either incredibly intrigued or thoroughly disgusted. For those of you in the first camp, please read on for a brief dissection of the new demo on Xbox Live Marketplace. The rest of you can either read on for your own edification or move on to something more pleasing.

At its heart, Culdcept Saga is a board game. The object is to collect a certain amount of points, called TG. You earn TG by capturing land, raising the level of your captured lands, summoning monsters, and using your cards effectively. At the beginning of your turn, you draw a card, cast a spell if you want, and then roll the dice. Similar to Monopoly, you can claim territories. In order to claim a territory, you must summon a creature to guard it. To summon a creature, you must use a creature card and pay a certain amount of "magic" which should really be labeled "gold" for the purposes of the game. It's even abbreviated with a "g," so let's just refer to it as gold, mkay? Each territory is aligned with a certain element, as are the creatures, so ideally you want to match fire monsters with red territories, etc. When you hit certain points on the map, you're awarded more gold. Again, sort of like passing "GO" in Monopoly. Once the total value of your lands, various monsters, and pocketbook reaches a predetermined limit (in the demo it's 4000), you win. And that's the basic game.

Of course, it gets a little more complicated than that. Your opponents are also gunning for land and creatures, so your bound to stop on territories that aren't up for grabs. In these situations, you can either fork over the required toll (which is dependent on the "level" of the territory and other bonuses) or you can fight the creature that guards said territory. To fight, you pick a creature card (and pay the cost of the card) and watch the antics ensue. Optimally, you'll want to pick a creature that's stronger than the one you're fighting. There are special modifier cards that will boost abilities or deal damage to other monsters though, so a weaker monster can still win a fight if you play your cards right (oof!). If you win the fight, you get out of paying the toll and you claim the territory as your own, with your victorious creature now standing guard. If you lose, you pay the toll and your creature is lost.

Beyond the combat, you can also upgrade your territories, which increases the tolls that opponents must pay and also any bonuses awarded to the creature assigned to the territory. There are other territory options, like exchanging creatures, moving creatures, or even changing the elemental alignment of the territory. So, for the right price, you can turn a yellow territory that you own into a blue one, giving a nice stat buff to your blue ogre. Finally, there are spells that you cast at the beginning of each turn. These cards directly affect you, your opponents, or the various creatures in play. Some deal damage to creatures (or heal them) while others might force your opponents to roll a 1 on the next turn (perfect for making an opponent walk smack into your angry minotaur).

Of course, the game isn't without its problems, though really the "problems" boil down to taste. First of all, to say the presentation is simplistic is being very generous. The game's PS2 roots are definitely apparent, but there are some stylistic choices that hamper the experience further. For instance, the monster battles take place between two cards ... literally. You'll see two cards on either side of the screen swinging swords at one another. It's a bit odd, especially considering there are fully rendered creatures on the actual game board. Still, it's a $40 game, and it's not a deal breaker if this is the sort of game you find interesting. One thing that is annoying on a gameplay front is that the battles can end in a draw. Basically, each monster makes one attack (as far as we can tell) and that's it. In one instance, our monster would have won the fight if the battle simply alternated. Instead, the battle ended in a draw, resulting in our avatar paying a toll but not losing his creature. Weak.

If it all sounds crazy and complicated, it is. At least at first. However, like Magic or Monopoly, you'll get into the flow of gameplay before too long. All in all, the game is surprisingly fun and actually pretty addicting. I found myself wishing the demo kept going after the one match available in the demo. If you enjoy card games or board games, definitely give Culdcept Saga a try.

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