The deck-building genre is one of my favorites. Going back to when these card-playing/RPG cross-overs were first finding their feet most of the games that had card mechanics were TCGs. While I love a good collectible card battle, these games were always really PVP-heavy and I was wanting more of a single-player experience. Fortunately, my prayers have been granted in a massive way and there are some excellent games on the market that focus more on the story and less on the multi-player element; with Slay the Spire and Deck of Ashes being two brilliant examples that spring to mind. I’ve been having an early look at Sigil of the Magi, a new entry into the deck-building genre that will hopefully be making a few waves of its own.
You can see where Sigil of the Magi is getting some of its influences right from the beginning of the game. As I’ve just mentioned, Slay the Spire is a game that I know and love well. This being said it was hard not to draw comparisons. Mechanically there are definitely a few things that stand out as similar. The first of these is the map. Between levels, you’ll follow paths on a map that branch off in various directions. Each of these paths leads you from point to point with these points representing battles, mini-boss fights, treasure, and rest points. In true roguelike fashion, these maps are randomized and you have to get through and kill the boss in one run. This system has been adopted in Sigil of the Magi. This might be a case of not fixing what isn’t broken, but at the same time, it would have been nice to see a slightly different way of getting about the place.
Something else that’s similar to other games is the way your deck replenishes each time it runs out. This being said you’ll have a draw-and-discard pile that is constantly interchanging as one empties. Other similarities come in the form of the way the merchant works, the fact that you pick up cards after each battle, and the relics you acquire which offer unique passives. That seems like a lot but fortunately, this is just the skeleton of the card-battling process, and this is where the similarity stops. In this title, you’re controlling a party of adventurers each with their own cards, (I’ll come into this in a bit more detail in a moment,) so you won’t always draw cards that are useful to you. In addition to this, you also get a shelf where you can store cards at the cost of a bit of mana. This is hugely useful as it enables you to better plan your strategy.
I’m mentioning similarities because I feel it’s justified but by no means is Sigil of the Magi copying other games. You can just see influences but it could be argued that this is the case with tons of titles, we’re more interested in what makes this game unique. The differences outweigh the similarities and the biggest area this happens in is the battle arena. Here, instead of controlling a single character, you’ll find yourself commanding a unit of three champions in tactics-style battles. This means that you’ll need to decide which characters are targetting witch enemies and consider the range of their attacks, something that doesn’t come into play in other games. You’ll also have to think about character placement and how and where you’re going to move your forces so you don’t get penned in by enemies and butchered.
I mentioned the difference in cards earlier but this is really important in Sigil of the Magi. When I said that cards wouldn’t be useful, that’s because when one of your champions dies you’ll lose access to their part of the deck. This means that you may draw five cards but only actually gain two on account of the others disappearing. This makes keeping your champions alive even more important because if they die during combat it’ll really cripple your deck and limit your choices. Character death has more severe penalties than just making combat more difficult. Between levels, your champions will respawn at 25% of their initial life. In exchange for this boon, a wound card will be added to your deck. You don’t want to start accruing wounds because they take up space and are useless. You want to be drawing a killer hand every turn so what seems like a small penalty can have really severe effects in the long run.
The fundamental way that cards work really makes you think about the way that you play. Instead of having one character with cards attributing themselves to their skills you have class-based cards. So for example your wizard is a powerful damage dealer but also has some very useful buffs at their command. The archer is great at range, (obviously,) but can use some useful debuffs that will aid your knight in hacking foes apart. Each character works as part of a well-oiled machine so if you take one of those aspects away from the others, you really miss what they bring to the table. When this is placed into a strategic, tactical setting it’s even more important to have everything working as it should be and I really enjoy this style of play.
Nuts and bolts-wise we’ll need to be a little bit lenient as this is an Early Access title and a lot can change. If they keep the direction they’re going in artistically, Sigil of the Magi looks cute and colorful in a very retro sense. The graphics have a 90s RPG flavor that I really like and the sound is fitting for the game. As far as the controls are concerned everything works like a charm and it’s all governed by your mouse. This is great because you can concentrate on the matters at hand without worrying about faffing. The biggest element that will, no-doubt change, is the story. To put it simply, there isn’t one. You get events and these are all written out really nicely but at the moment there’s no over-arching plot; well, none that I noticed at least. With this being an RPG we’re going to need something pulling us along but this is bound to appear in due course.
All in all Sigil of the Magi is off to a brilliant start. I really like the tactical element of play, it gives you something else to think about other than card-slinging. If you’re a fan of tactics-based games you might really enjoy this one, even if you don’t readily jump for deck-builders. I would say the same the other way around too because the two elements that make up the bulk of play sit really nicely together. With the addition of a good bit of story and the addition of a few more cards, something that’s also bound to come, Sigil of the Magic could be a real winner for fans of the strategy genre.
This preview is based on an early access copy of the game provided by the publisher.