I was looking forward to trying this game a while back, although I had no clue it came from Zachtronics, developer of the infamous SpaceChem. I haven't played much of SpaceChem yet. It intimidates me, and I'd like to devote my full attention to it, when the time comes -- soon, I'd say.
So, when I knew this came from the same people, I wasn't sure if I wanted to play yet. I did anyway.
Well, Ironclad Tactics is a different take on the lane strategy "genre", with the added complexity layer of deck-building.
This game is really, if you don't know what you're expected to do. This is mostly a deck-building game, as other reviewers have stated. Each level has a different challenge for your to overcome, and you overcome it with a different deck, mostly. Certainly, tactics are also very important, but a good tactic will do very little if you don't have the correct deck.
While the concept is interesting, and I did enjoy the game, I can't say that it's perfect. At all. It has several design points that I heartily disagree with, and make it simply a "good" game. Which isn't bad, mind you. Just not quite what I expected after trying SpaceChem.
I've completed the game (without the DLC). Done all the optional objectives as well as game plus. It was a challenging task, for sure, but also very rewarding!
Each level has a main objective. There are several different types of levels: there's the common level, in which you try to get victory points by moving your units into the end of the map, there's an "hold position" level, in which you try to survive for x number of turns, and there's the Boss levels. Each of them play very different. Level variation is also pretty good, which is surprising. It seems very limited with the 3-5 lane maps, but there is a surprising number of subtle changes that make all the different.
Then, there are optional objectives. Some are puzzle levels -- these were easy, but really great! Basically, they teach you a certain mechanic with that: limited deck with 3 or 4 cards, and you have to make the best out of it. Unfortunately, there were only 3 or 4 of these levels.
Then, there are some that make you gain VP by other means than moving units to the end of the lane. There are some that make you play with a completely different deck: don't use Y faction, for example.
All of these provide interesting challenges.
Now, what's wrong with it, exactly?
Well, you unlock cards by completing levels and secondary objectives. However, since this is such a deck-oriented game, you'll often be missing the cards you need for a given deck. And so, you have to push through some challenges, until you can go back and complete the secondary objectives.
It has a very awkward pacing, like that. Some game encourage you to play previous levels better, but this one does that weirdly, since you can only play some
of the previous levels better, since you're missing cards.
You'll have to go back and forth a few times, but it's doable. Just not as elegant
as I would have liked.
Then, there's the random elements. Argh, the randomness...!
So, you build a deck. Great. Then, you have to hope that you draw the correct cards at the right moments. One bad draw can screw you over and make you restart a level. Oh, but wait: there's no restart button! I'll talk about it later.
Yeah, lots of restarting, until you get the right draws. It's... not to my liking. Maybe it works in multiplayer. It certainly works in most card game. But here, it's just a matter of restarting... Tactics play a lesser role than the actual cards used, and that's why the randomness doesn't work as well.
Also, the decks are very limited -- maximum of 2 factions, exactly 20 cards. So, you can't really create as much variety, or even guarantee to get a certain card, since there are at most 4 or 5 of each.
It's an interesting limitation, and it requires some creativity to beat levels. But then again, the randomness is frustating, since it's a matter of trying over and over until you get the right draws that you envisioned all along.
Now, about the lack of a restart button. I don't know why it is. It makes little sense. Perhaps it's simply a question of the designer saying "create the right deck and you won't have to restart". Maybe...
The game came off as a bit too random for that, but I don't know. Just a minor gripe made bigger with the amount of restarting...
Honestly, this is a very frustrating game, at times. Especially when you first start, not exactly sure how it works, it will be daunting. But if you keep trying, you'll learn how the game works, how the AI works, and how certain levels can be easily beat with the right decks.
NewGame+ is almost a whole different game, also! Don't just complete the main campaign, thinking that's everything. It's definitely not.
Well, not a perfect game, but certainly a very rewarding experience, if you feel like a challenge!