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iOS Review: Cabals: The Card Game

Brad Cummings
United States
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The Stats:
Compatibility: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch (Universal), Web
Current Price: Free
Developer/Publisher: Kyy games
Version: 1.02
Size: 74.7 MB
Multiplayer: Online Multiplayer
AI: Yes, multiple levels.
Itunes link: Cabals: The Card Game

The Good:
- Cross platform play allows you to play the game on many devices.
- It is a fun tactical card game that is more about deck tuning and gameplay than rare chasing.
The Bad:
- The app lacks a decent tutorial. I spent my first few games in utter confusion.
- The in app purchase model has received a price cut but is still quite expensive when compared to other collectible games on iOS.

Cabals is a collectible card game for iOS. Rather than strict card play as in something like Magic: the Gathering, the cards in the game become tactical units on a board that can control different areas. The game is a unique take on this genre and also presents a peek into the future of gaming through its cross-platform design.

In Cabals players are attempting to complete one of two objectives: conquer the opponents stronghold or collect 60 points. The first player to accomplish one of these two goals is the winner. The game of Cabals is played on a map of areas with each player having a stronghold at either end of the map. Players have a deck of 30 cards made up of units and event cards representing the different factions in the game (there are 4 factions total in the game). They also have a Cabal who has a onetime use special ability (the Cabal does not appear on the board). On their turn, players summon units using resources they get each turn, and units must be summoned at the player’s stronghold or at a few other special map locations. Players can only summon to areas that they control. Units have a printed cost plus a certain number of symbols of the faction they are a part of (similar to Warhammer: Invasion). Thus if you play with units of the same color, your summoning costs will be lower. Most units can only perform one action per turn whether it is moving one space on the board, fighting an adjacent enemy unit or using a special ability. When players move onto to a space on the board they gain control of it and at the first of each turn they will earn one point toward their 60 point goal for each area on the board they control. There are also special areas on board that will give the player more resources each turn or the ability to summon at a different spot on the map. When players are adjacent to an enemy unit they may attack. Each unit has a power value which represents both how much damage they will deal in combat and how much damage they can take. Damage is dealt simultaneously (barring a few special abilities) and if a unit is not destroyed by the damage they take, they retain it as wounds. Units will always deal damage equal to their power, but if they have wounds they will only be able to take damage equal to their power minus their wounds. Combat is important as players are attempting control key areas on the board and push for their opponents stronghold. Generally games will end with one player sending one of their units to conquer the enemy stronghold but the ability to win by gathering 60 points acts as a timer for the game and prevents games from dragging out for too long.
The four factions each have different strengths but also many things that are similar. The game has several cards but not so many that you will be often surprised by what your opponents are playing. The game does not have dozens of combos so it really lends itself to deck tuning and aiming for perfection. The two paths to victory also allow players to build their decks towards certain goals.

Collectible games have had mixed receptions on iOS. Their style of play and heavy use of in app purchases can be polarizing to many iOS board game users. Cabals: the Card Game follows many of these same patterns, but it has many positive features that set it apart in the genre. These include the fact that it is one of the first iOS board game apps to feature cross-platform access and play. Also it features a tactical card game system that is somewhat unique and evens the playing field.

One of the greatest advantages of Cabals is that it has a universal interface across multiple platforms. Whether you log on via PC, iPad or iPhone you will be getting the same experience. This offers some great advantages and a lot of flexibility but it also creates some limits in the interface and graphical design. The menu system has a very “web” design feel to it and there is occasionally some lag or lack of visual feedback when clicking some buttons. The interface in general is a mixed bag. The choice to shrink the cards down to medallions is convenient but it also means that each card must be clicked in order to read its special ability. You will eventually learn what every card in your deck does, but this is a setback for new players. Parts of the interface can also be confusing as different touch gestures bring different results on different menu screens, for example a double tap may bring up a card’s ability on one screen but the same double tap add that card to your deck on another. These inconsistencies can make the app burdensome to navigate. The graphic design is actually quite well done and most of the card art is phenomenal (an aside: some of the card art is not appropriate for children, so be aware of this when presenting the game to different audiences). Each faction has art that really fits their theme and it adds to the experience.

Apart from its cross-platform design, Cabals features tactical game play that really sets it apart from other collectible games on the app store. The gameplay in Cabals is quite fun and engaging once you rise above a somewhat difficult learning curve. The game as it is now does not feature a tutorial but rather a multiple page rulebook. This rulebook does contain all the necessary information but it is hard to navigate and I missed some key points in my first read through. For example, it took me a while to realize that you gain stronghold points for every spot you control on the board, not just those with special symbols. This was clearly in the rulebook but a graphic tutorial would have made learning easier. Another rules annoyance is that some of the card special abilities are not clear. Generally moving or attacking causes a unit to exhaust, but units also have some special abilities that may or may not cause them to exhaust. There are certain cards I have encountered that have abilities that cause them to exhaust, even though this is not stated on the card. I know now, but greater clarification on things like this would be great. Once you learn the rules, I find Cabals to be a very fun tactical game. It has card play and resource management from games like Magic combined with tactical board control similar to games like Summoner Wars. A lot of the game is about knowing when to advance and when to hold back. Moving causes a unit to exhaust so they will not have an opportunity to attack that turn, so if you move adjacent to an enemy unit during your turn, you must remember that you are giving them a chance to attack you first. This game of chicken is really quite fun and often captures that risk vs. reward dilemma of many tactical games.

Of course, Cabals is also a deck building game. The recent Assassin’s Creed: Recollection featured several different factions with many different strategies within each faction, whereas Cabals has fewer cards with less specification. Each faction certainly feels different but they also have much in common. I find this actually to be a positive feature. In many collectible games you can get into a game where you are set to lose. For example if I build a location heavy deck in Assassin’s Creed: Recollection and I get put randomly into a game against a deck that is focused on stopping the location strategy, I will ultimately lose. In Cabals you are on more of a level playing field. My Rasputin deck may be aimed at more brute force where another deck may be aimed at killing units from afar with special abilities; however, there are no situations where I feel like one strategy can ultimately trump the other one. The balance is akin to something like Summoner Wars (ie armies with very different powers, but expertly balanced). There are not hundreds of cards in Cabals so the deck building is satisfying but more about subtle tuning. I have enjoyed seeing what cards seem useless in my games and weeding them out.

Each player get to choose a starting deck of one of the four factions upon downloading the free app. Players can then purchase individual cards, boosters, starter decks, and whole play-sets through an in-game store. Unlike a pure collectible game everything is right out there in front of you if you want it. If you feel there is a key rare you need for your deck, you have the ability to purchase it directly. If you like a certain faction you can by all of their cards for a set price. With this initial set the game does feel like an even playing field. You can spend $60 and get every card in the game or you can spend much less than that and just focus on a specific deck. He who spends the most does not necessarily rule in this game, just has more options. It feels more akin to a LCG (living card game). It is hard for me to comment a lot about the price of in app purchases but I will say that they recently cut them in half and I still feel they may need to be even lower to match the iOS market. Currently a booster is around $1 and a full faction set is $15. Because the cards set is limited in number, the amount you need to purchase in order to be competitive is not very high, though this may change with future expansions. In app purchases will always tend to polarize but I do like that Cabals gives you the option to avoid blind buying.

Cabals features both online multiplayer and a solo campaign. The game does rely heavily on the web for many of its functions, but you can play the solo-player campaign offline with decks you have previously constructed. The single player campaign holds some challenges but mostly it is a good way to test your deck and learn the strategies of the game. Playing through the campaign does reward you with a new card each time you gain a level (not the fastest way to earn cards, but at least it is something). Online multiplayer is real time but most game take between 10 and 15 minutes. The ability to win by accumulating points really acts as a timer and keeps games focused. All the games are ranked and you will either lose or gain a certain amount of rank points depending on if you are victorious or not and how your rank compares to your opponent. I did find that once you are above 1500 in ranking it is difficult to find opponents near you rank so you end up playing lower ranked players which raises your rating slower. It would be great if they could do some sort of player matching but this may be impossible with the current size of the player base. All in all I have found the online multiplayer quite fun. The single player campaign offers quite a bit of fun for a free app and if you are willing to put a little money down, there is a decent online community to compete with.

I am aware this review has been long and rambling. I find it hard to talk about Cabals because it so mixed. The cross-platform features generally work well and it offers a lot of content at a low entry fee. The tactical play is a great direction to take deck building and makes the game about more than chaining combos. However, this game will not be for everyone and the somewhat high cost of in app purchases will drive many players away from this quality app.

Rating: 3/4 Good
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