I've been playing Ironclad Tactics off and on for over a year. Only now, after earning every card, I realize that I forgot to write a review. It’s sort of a Plants VS Zombies game except that it’s Zombies VS Zombies, and the zombies are steampunk mechs.
The pace is realtime, but it moves slow enough to allow some thinking time for your next moves. Most of the challenge comes from building specialized decks to solve the puzzle that each level presents. Your AI opponent will have the upper hand with some new attack or defense and you’ll have to come up with a counter. Most of the time this results in a tense battle of planning, wits, and fortune. When you tweak a deck combo into working just right it feels great! Each new card opens up lots of tactical options and completing challenges for cards feels rewarding.
The civil war theme and story are awesome. I love the characters and animated comics that set up you journey across America. The in-game art and animation is beautiful. It’s easy to tell every unit apart and their abilities match the visuals. A robot with a jetpack files, dude with a shotgun has spread attack, and a flame thrower hits multiple targets. The music fits and is serviceable, but for me it’s one of the weakest points of the game. Something less traditional and more gutsy could have really helped some of the longer play sessions.
Each level starts by showing you 5 random cards from your deck of 20, so sometimes it feels like a lucky/unlucky start can make or break a win. If cards come out in just the wrong order it can kill a plan, but managing this problem is also part of the art of deck building. It improved a bit with the release of the first DLC where you can now spend 1 action point to ‘save’ a critical card for later.
The first DLC uses an army with a completely different and fun style of play. It’s satisfying playing as the boss enemies that were beating you down in the final levels and to understanding the logic behind how their robots transform. It also fills in missing parts of the story with more comics. The second DLC is very stripped down, but still provides new interesting abilities. Playing the ‘War’ mode, where you’re stuck with either French or Germany armies, varies the play styles just enough to keep things fresh.
After completing everything it feels like every inch of the design space has been explored. Not every ability or tactic is perfectly balanced, but there’s lots of viable strategies to solve each problem. That said, I haven’t played multiplayer which would be a much better gauge of balance. There’s not enough players to support random matchmaking and I don’t feel like it would be that fun against friends (even if they unlocked all the cards). I also haven’t tried the co-op mode, which is supported throughout the entire game.
If you liked Spacechem, you might like this. It’s about building machines, but stochastic machines rather than logical ones. If you loved Spacechem then definitely play this to support the awesome developers!