Faeria review: Card collecting and strategy mix in this slick free to play Steam game

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Faeria gameplay review

The Collectible Card Game (CCG) market has grown rapidly since the release of Blizzard’s Hearthstone. With so many games drawing from the same well of ideas, it only becomes more impressive when a CCG brings something genuinely new or innovative to the genre. Faeria continues this trend with an emphasis on the battlefield on which each side’s creatures wage war, a battlefield that the players create themselves.

Building the battlefield

Faeria follows the relatively new trend of introducing a gameboard into the CCG mix, already used quite successfully in Duelyst. Unlike Duelyst however, this grid starts empty, with players able to choose to perform one of several actions each turn.

To start, you’ll need to create the board by summoning either two neutral land tiles or a single colored land: forest, lake, desert, or mountain. Instead of placing land, players can also opt to draw a card or generate one extra mana, which (just to make this review confusing) is called faeria.

Some creatures are neutral, able to be summoned on any land type that you created. Others have a specific color, this requiring a certain number of that land color. These must also be summoned onto an available space of that land color.

The gameboard places you and your opponent facing off at opposite ends, with four wells located in the corners of the hexagonal grid. If you have an active creature at these wells, you will gain an extra faeria at the start of that turn, on top of the three that you generate each turn. Unlike many CCGs, faeria does not reset after your turn, making these wells a common point of contention in the early game since both sides need faeria to play cards.

Diverse strategies

The tactical puzzle offered by this setup is wonderful, and feels completely fresh in the increasingly diverse CCG genre. Creating a bridge to a well is usually the way to start; otherwise your opponent will bury you with a larger arsenal of creatures. But depending on each side’s deck, you might need to take different approaches.

Aggressive decks will rush straight up the middle with prairies, making use of neutral cards and cards with low colored land requirements. However, they sacrifice easy control over the wells, forcing them to end the game quickly before they’re overwhelmed.

Midrange and control decks will play a little slower, creating land out to the side to contest the wells. Those matchups force you to decide whether you’re happy sticking to your own side or whether you need to get in your opponent’s face as quickly as possible.

Because faeria doesn’t reset after every turn, this game has a different feel than many other CCGs. Instead of always ramping up from low- to high-cost cards, different decks take different approaches here. Some decks might immediately start pumping out a steady stream of cheap creatures, while others may save a turn or two for something big.

When an opponent goes through multiple turns without playing a card, it creates a real sense of fear for the other side. These mechanics go a long way toward eliminating the bad feeling you’d get when you don’t have a card to play on a turn in other games, since the faeria is not wasted.

It’s in the cards

Faeria isn’t just land summoning and faeria harvesting, of course. We’ve got all sorts of cards to play with too. Most of the card-based mechanics will feel familiar to anyone who has played a CCG or two before. You’ll spot the usual suspects like Haste, which allows creatures to move and attack on the turn they’re summoned, or Taunt, which prevents adjacent creatures from moving away or attacking non-taunting creatures.

Naturally, Faeria takes strong advantage of the its unique gameboard. Flying creatures can move over empty spaces in addition to lands, whereas some blue creatures can only travel through the ocean or lakes. The Dash and Charge abilities allow creatures to reposition after being summoned or move multiple spaces each turn. Rarer cards have flashier abilities as well, such as a costly 15-faeria legendary green creature that fills every empty space with a forest when it dies.

Spells and enchantments add to the mix, as do structures, which can’t attack or move after being summoned. None of the basic mechanics will blow your mind, but they don’t need to. Players have plenty to think about already between summoning lands, moving creatures, and keeping an eye on opponents. The simple mechanics allow players to focus on tactical elements – which proves quite satisfying.

Modes a’many

Faeria offers three modes:

Constructed mode has players build a thirty-card deck before taking it into a casual or ranked queue. These queues are shared, so you might queue for ranked and face someone who queued for casual – or vice versa. This could theoretically make ranked a little easier (since you might run into someone playing an unreliable fun deck), but that slight chance is a small tradeoff for the better queue times. I never need to wait more than a moment for a game.

A win nets you one or more stars. Rank goes up and down, but reaching certain thresholds makes them your minimum rank. Once you hit rank 15, for example, you can breathe a sigh of relief. As with any CCG, your deck is an important factor in how well you do. But Faeria does a good job of providing a steady income for new cards. Cheap decks can still be effective, and even some of the top tier decks don’t use the extra rare legendary cards. Non-paying players can still be successful.

Solo mode pits you against the AI in a variety of challenges. Normal duels allow you to bring your own deck. Puzzles give you one turn and a fixed board state on which to defeat an enemy. This mode offers a pile of missions for free, with the later missions unlockable via coins (soft currency) or gems (premium currency). Solo doles out a solid amount of rewards while introducing mechanics and hints for higher level play.

Pandora mode is the final mode. This draft mode should feel familiar to fans of CCGs, but Faeria adds its own flair once again. Players must choose one card from a selection of five, repeating the process until a 30-card deck is formed. At the beginning of the draft, one color is randomly removed from the pool to keep the choices a little more consistent. This all works fine, but I wish we had an opportunity to draft a few extra cards.

Needing to play every card makes it hard to make speculative picks (to take a card that might make for an interesting combo only if you get the chance to pick the other piece of the combo). Those situations make drafting more interesting in games like Magic: The Gathering. But the format of Pandora heavily encourages making the safe pick every time, leading to samey draft picks from game to game.

Pandora has its own interesting mechanics, though. After every ten cards, players choose one of three Treasures – powerful neutral cards unique to Pandora. And at the beginning of a game, both players shuffle Shards of Pandora into their decks. If drawn, a counter increases and players simply draw again. Once five shards are drawn, things get exciting because Pandora opens.

Upon that opening, wells are emptied, and players start gaining six faeria per turn. Both players immediately draw one of their treasures as well, while the other two get shuffled into their decks. This adds an exciting endgame to a mode that might otherwise drag out because of its unfocused decks.

Performance and eyecandy

Faeria is suitably pretty for a game about gods summoning new land and creatures doing battle. Lands emerge from the sea with flourish, and creatures appear in a swirl of the faeria required to birth them. These beasties look great both on the board and in the card art. That said, I occasionally ran into graphical glitches such as the large view of a card getting stuck on the side of the screen and a forest tile obscuring the creature on it. But these hitches didn’t cause too much trouble.

Another potential annoyance is the animations, which can’t be skipped. One of these led me to accidentally cancel a creature’s ability when it stuck around too long. Small frustrations aside, the game is plenty nice to look at (even on Paul’s Ultrabook), with a consistent art style that allows adorable yaks and ferocious dragons to fight side by side.

Final impression

With so many CCGs out there nowadays, it’s hard to discuss any single one without comparing it to the rest of the pack. But even placed against the stiff competition of Hearthstone and Duelyst, Faeria stands on its own. Building the board out yourself offers so many strategies to explore and situations to react to, while the vast arsenal of cards enables the creation of numerous styles of decks.

Faeria has found itself with quite the community since launch. Indie developer Abrakam has done an excellent job encouraging growth with resources like guides and decklists on their website, not to mention frequent community streams and tournaments. One expansion just launched a few weeks ago, and the next is already being teased. With a mix of strategy and collectible card gameplay, Faeria is definitely worth checking out.

Score: 8/10

Faeria is a free to play game for Steam and iOS. This review focuses on the Steam version.

Author: Luke Burnett

Luke lives in the far off land of Australia where he spends most of his time studying for his Literary and Cultural Studies degree. Along with videogames he's got a healthy love for books, film, and tearing all these things apart to see what makes them tick.