Nature, three steps ahead
There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in out-maneuvering an opponent; in being able to plan steps ahead of them. Games like chess and checkers offer this sort of strategic fulfillment, where a player’s advancement isn’t at the whim of some random dice value, but solely in their own control.
Similarly, A Druid’s Duel offers exactly this type of enjoyment that it’s board game counterparts do, for those with a mind for it. The general goal of the game is fairly straightforward: Gain control of as much of the playing field as possible while denying your opponents the same. To do this, you’re given control of four different druidic avatars to summon at will.
Each druid type has abilities specific to that unit, each with its own way of carrying you to victory. Guardians and Wind Riders can both only move one square at a time. Wind Riders wield bows and can attack units two spaces away, but are poor close-quarters fighters while Guardians are the complete opposite, only able to attack units adjacent to them. Snarlclaws have a bit more mobility and wield gigantic hammers capable of destroying obstacles on the board. Waywalkers are the most complex of the four units, with a bevy of field-altering spells and an inability to directly attack enemies.
Finding the right combination of units can often require a bit of trial and error along with some proper situational analysis. One group of druids that helped you win in one game, might not work the same way in the next one. Part of this is due to the dynamic nature of each game, with opponents taking different paths and forming varying strategies, while another contributor is the variability of the boards themselves.
The game’s boards are grids with various paths and obstacles. Players gain mana by controlling squares on the field and gain control by having their druids claim each spot. Different seasons are associated with the squares, and depending on the seasonal type, the space will give up from one to three mana points. The more of the board you control, the more mana you get each round.
Mana can be used to summon druids or transform your current units into their animal forms. The primal versions of the druids adds another layer to the complexity to the already enthralling gameplay. Guardians transform into wolves, scout-like animals that quadruple the unit’s movement points but leave them unable to attack. Wind Riders change into eagles that can move and attack opponents up to six spaces away in any direction. Snarlclaws shapeshift into deadly bears capable of attacking up to three enemies in a row while Waywalkers can morph into nearly indestructible turtles.
Druid’s Duel’s background music is lighthearted and fitting to its environment, but I found it became a bit too repetitive as I continued to play. I would have settled for simply adjusting the volume to a lower volume, but was only able to choose between toggling it on and off. Further, sound effects have no such control, meaning that if you like listening to your own playlists while playing, you’ll still have to contend with that.
While the single player campaign starts out with a single opponent, as you get deeper into it (and into the multiplayer modes), you’ll find the difficulty ramping up as you try to contend with three or even four teams of enemies. Boards that once felt large and simple enough to traverse suddenly become almost claustrophobic as you try to out-maneuver three other players at the same time.
A Druid’s Duel is deceptive in its complexity, with enough strategic diversity to keep you coming back for more. While you might experience a bit of burnout with the game’s soundtrack, that won’t be enough to pull you away from the addictive strategic elements. The game is probably best enjoyed in short bursts, perhaps three or four matches at a time. A Druid’s Duel can be pre-ordered on Steam or its website and will release for PC, Mac, and Linux on February 25.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PC