Shardbound is an early access, free to play, tactical, collectible card game. Even though each one of those adjectives is usually associated with terrible games, Shardbound is surprisingly amazing. I first heard about this game when they were promoting it at conventions with streamers so when it went free to play on Steam I dove right in. I have spent a total of 5 hours with the game as of this writing with an average game time of 15-20 minutes.
While the game is missing a lot of art assets, ranked gameplay, and quality of life deck building features, all of the core mechanics are there. The core game takes place on a hexagonal board with you and your opponent’s hero on opposite sides. The goal is to bring your opponent’s health to zero. You do this by summoning minions, casting spells, and attacking. You gain one mana per turn so as the game progresses you can play better and better cards. What makes the game interesting is minions can only move three tiles per turn and line of sight matters. To be honest, the game feels closer to a tactics game like X-Com or Warhammer 40K than to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering. In every game I played, having good board control meant having my units in good positions rather than having the better minions. I have won games by my opponent giving up board control because he/she thinks they have already won.
The deck building is similar to Hearthstone as it involves a class system as oppose to mana types like Magic: The Gathering. There are 6 deck classes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Each class has one hero with its own ability you can cast in true Hearthstone fashion. Each deck is composed of 30 cards with a maximum of 2 copies per card. I played mainly Orange and Yellow decks during my time with the game so far but went up against all the deck types. From my experience, each deck type did play and feel different from one another. They all seemed to be balanced so far, except for Purple decks. Purple seems to be a little too strong in the end game due to its graveyard mechanics. Once again, the game is early access so it being this balanced so far is impressive even though it can be improved
Now there are cards with RNG basis to them, which is unfortunate if you do not like that stuff. So far, it does not seem to be anywhere near as bad as Hearthstone but it is still there. For example there is a card that summoned a random creature of a certain type when that minion died. Hopefully the RNG will either be balanced more than it is in Hearthstone or removed.
So that is the good, but now for the bad. Getting cards in this game sucks. So by doing the tutorial, the game gives you 30 boxes, what this game calls card packs. When you open a box, the game shows you three cards of the same rarity (common, rare, epic, legendary) and you choose one to keep. So one box = one card. Buying 5 boxes cost $2.50. So by cost this game is cheaper than Hearthstone. In that initial 30 boxes I got 1 legendary card. Cards can be destroyed in order to create other cards just like Hearthstone.
The problem is getting cards for free is very slow. To get free cards you have to unlock vaults. To unlock vaults you have to do certain things to get 100 points to open the vault. These things can be simple like do damage to your opponent or they can be very difficult like win with decks with an average mana cost of 4. Each vault has five of these challenges associated with it. In my 5 hours I unlocked one vault and am half way to unlocking another. Now, I may have just lucked out and gotten terrible challenges (as they are randomized per vault) but something needs to change.
When I finally unlocked my vault I got 3 boxes and 22 of the shard currency. You need 50 shard to buy one box. So in lets say I opened 2 vaults in my 5 hours, that would have been a total of 6 new cards in my library, 7 if I somehow totaled 50 shard. Oh, and playing games does not give you any shard, only opening vaults. If you got like 5 shard for playing a match, things would be a whole lot better.
Now I cannot fault the developers for being on the greedy side while the game is in early access. There is clearly a lot of work to be done and the free to play system is not terrible like some other games. I just hope when the game leaves early access they improve the system so that new players do not have a barrier to entry.
I can honestly say I am addicted so far and you should definitely check out this game. There really is nothing else like it out there and games do feel tactics-based rather than luck of the draw. The developers are hoping for the game to leave early access by the end of this year; keep an eye out for it then if you want a more complete experience. The developers are very active on both Reddit and their Discord server as well, which is always a good sign for early access.