A while back I got the opportunity to check out a new deck building game from Stone Blade Entertainment and Ultra Pro, the same folks behind the Ascension deck building game. As someone who had recently gotten into Ascension over the past few years and reviewed a few sets, I was excited to check out their latest venture and it didn’t disappoint. One thing I was hoping would happen was that a digital version of Shards of Infinity would be made at some point similar to how Ascension made the transition from physical to digital. Well that day has finally come and I got the chance to check out Shards of Infinity on Steam.
If you’ve never played Shards of Infinity before, it plays similarly to other deck building games such as Ascension and Star Realms. Each player begins with fifty life and a personal deck of ten cards. Each turn begins with a hand of five cards and you’ll play those five cards to gain gems to spend on acquiring cards from the center row, and power to use to defeat your opponents. The cards you acquire from the center row can help you gain more resources or help defend your health when your opponent attacks you. Unique to Shards of Infinity is a mechanic called Mastery. As you gain Mastery certain cards you acquire and play will gain more powerful effects. The goal of the game is to eliminate all of your opponents by reducing their life to zero before they do the same to you. If you’ve never played Shards of Infinity before, you can read up on the rules via a link to a PDF file, plus there’s an in-game tutorial that takes you through the basics of how to play.
Shards of Infinity can be played locally or online and can be played with two to four players. You can fill in any empty spots with AI opponents if you wish and you can set the difficulty of the AI opponents to one of three difficulties. Each player then randomly receives a character to play as and gets a certain number of Mastery to start with depending on the turn order (the first player starts with none, the second starts with one, and so on). For the base game (the first expansion isn’t out at the time of this review) it doesn’t matter which character you pick; each one can exhaust (or tap for CCG fans) to gain one Mastery (the first expansion has cards to acquire that have added effects depending on your character). After that the game proceeds until only one player remains.
The first thing I looked at for Shards was the play field itself. The field for Ascension was laid out pretty well and you had easy access to everything you needed and the layout for Shards is pretty simar. The cards in the center row and in your hand are easily visible, you can see the stats of your opponents at the top of the screen, and your character card is at the bottom which is where your Champions will go when you play them (champions give various effects and stay in play until an opponent destroys them). In terms of how the game handles the various mechanics, the game will remind you if you have unspent shards, if you want to use any power to defeat opposing Champions before you end your turn, let you know that you have Champions that haven’t been exhausted for their abilities yet, and letting you divide up your power between your opponents (you can split your damage among your opponents or deal it all to one person).
As stated earlier, Shards of Infinity allows for online and local play. Human players can join in using “Pass and Play”, meaning when it’s their turn they can easily see their hand and playfield while the stats of the other players are at the stop of the screen. Once they end their turn, the next player will take their turn and their hand and playfield is shown (if the next player is a human). For online play you can join a game already setup or you can create your own. If you create your own you can have up to four players total with a mix of human and AI opponents. Human opponents can come from either random people playing online or from your friends list, while AI opponents can be set to one of their three difficulties. You can also set players three and four to optional, meaning that your game can have up to three or four players, but it’s not required and it can start with fewer (or you can make a game that must be three or four players).
In terms of how the game plays, the digital version of Shards of Infinity if pretty faithful to the physical game. That doesn’t necessarily mean its perfect and there’s one area in particular I have an issue with, and that goes back to the difficulty. There are three difficulties for AI opponents: Easy, Normal, and Hard. However, at times it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of difference between them. On the default difficulty in Ascension I can usually defeat the AI rather easily as it tends to use some strategy, but not a lot of it. In Shards the AI tends to use quite a bit of strategy even on Easy. It also doesn’t help that the overall objective is different and there are mechanics to help you regain and protect your health. It surprisingly took me about five or so games before I finally took down an Easy AI. For giggles I tried playing on Hard difficulty and fared about as well as I did on Easy. Basically what I’m saying is that the Easy difficulty actually isn’t that easy unless you carefully plan out your strategy in advance…which basically means making sure the AI doesn’t acquire the cards that help them gain health and mastery, or cards that let them protect their health.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. The digital version is very faithful to the physical version as far as I can tell. Graphically the game looks great and the playfield itself is very well done to where you have easy access to what you need on your turn. My only real complaint is, again, the difficulty where it seems like there isn’t a huge difference between Easy and Hard. Then again I like a challenge and I’m a sucker for deck building games so I’m not that deterred by this. If you enjoy games like Ascension and Star Realms, you’ll likely enjoy Shards of Infinity, and if you go to their store link in-game you’ll see that their first expansion, Relics of the Future, is coming soon, another deckbuilding game called Race for the Galaxy is now available, and a spin-off of that called Roll for the Galaxy is coming soon. If you’ve been wanting to check out Shards of Infinity but don’t have anyone to play the physical version with, the digital version is a great way to get started.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.