As the father of Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield is the man responsible for countless crazed gamers spending their savings on tiny bits of colorful card stock. With Kard Combat Garfield and Hothead Games deliver card-based strategy as deep as Magic, and it doesn't cost players one penny (unless they want it to).

Originally conceived as a sequel to the online multiplayer game Spectromancer, Kard Combat is a fantasy card game that doesn't require the player purchase countless booster packs in order to stay competitive. The deck is fixed, so there's no need for additional cards, and each player's deck is randomly generated at the beginning of each round, so no deck building is required.

With such costly minutiae out of the way, players are free to concentrate on that old standby of collectible card game goals: Tearing through their opponents' life points. This is done by casting spells and summoning creatures to whittle down an enemy's health.

The playing field consists of six spaces per player each facing the opposing side. Creatures summoned into these spaces will attack each round. If an enemy creature is in the space before them, they'll clash; otherwise the enemy mage's health is attacked directly.

While it sounds a lot like Magic, the difference lies in the gathering. Rather than casting land cards to generate mana, each player's mana pool grows each round across five categories: fire, water, air, earth, and a fifth unique to the mage type the player selects. The game automatically lays out the cards in the players' decks that they can afford to cast, a much more efficient system than aimlessly rooting through your hand for something to play.

The strategy lies in knowing when to cast a spell or creature, and when to hold onto your resources in hopes of being able to cast a more powerful card. It's knowing which creatures to place where on the board, when to heal them (creatures in Kard Combat have a health pool), and when to sacrifice them for the greater good.

It all comes together into one deeply satisfying card game with enough strategy to satisfy the hardcore without completely burying the novice player under a mountain of rules.

And it's free, sort of.

The initial download of Kard Combat is completely free of charge. Players gain access to all four current special mage types — holy, death, machine, and dominator — along with a limited selection of 400 cards, access to the first five levels of the 33 level single player campaign, and unlimited, one-at-a-time turn-based online multiplayer battles. Unlocking the full game via a $2.99 in-game purchase unlocks the full tower, the ability to run 20 simultaneous multiplayer battles, and access to all the cards the game has to offer.

So yes, there is a small price to pay for Kard Combat, but three bucks is nothing compared to the hundreds of dollars I blew on Magic: The Gathering cards during the 1990s. Just know that this is the last $2.99 Richard Garfield is getting out of me .

Until he makes another game. Dammit.

Magic: The Gathering Creator's New Kard Combat Won't Kill Your Wallet

Kard Combat [iTunes]


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