I’ve been thinking about miniatures recently. Sitting on one of my bookshelves, guarding nothing in particular, are a bunch of about 20 Space Marines that I picked up a couple of years ago from a charity shop. Not that I have anything to play that utilises them. They just sit there, ready to attack. They look pretty cool, it must be said – whoever painted them did a pretty good job – but they’re never going to be used because miniature gaming utterly terrifies me. The games themselves appeal but the investment of time and money means that stuff like Warhammer 40K is pretty much out of my reach.
What I was looking for was something that provides the strategy without having to hand over my first-born child. The excellent Summoner Wars scratches that itch very well, of course, but you should always be on the lookout for new things and that’s where Soiree Games’ first release comes in. TactDecks is an entirely card based tabletop strategy game that is as large or small as you wish – the only limitation is the space you have to play. You’re still using a grid system, except it’s now essentially in your imagination…
The Starter Set is more than enough for two players to face off in a low-level skirmish and really gives you a good feel for the game. Of course, if you’re looking for something a bit bigger, two Starter Sets will allow for full scale battles, but I’d recommend going for the pared down introduction for your first couple of tries. There are several different card types in TactDecks, some of which you use as your representatives on the battlefield (the Characters who also have talents and skills to utilise in-game) or stuff to manoeuvre around (Obstacles). There are also Collect cards (a single card on the field that your opponent can grab to gain an advantage) and the all-important Event Deck, of which there’ll be more in a moment.
Armies of (roughly) equal value are chosen – each character has a points value, as is traditional in these skirmish games – and the field of play is built up using the Obstacle cards. The objective is to be the last man standing, but this kind of game is open to all kinds of different formats – I tried out a Capture the Flag variant that worked rather well, for example. Turns follow a set series of steps that players work through together, beginning with drawing Reserve cards that grant special abilities (and spells if you happen to be using someone capable of magic) then dealing with what the game calls the Primary Phase – basically moving all your characters and resolving any attacks. Once both players have done this, it’s time for the Tactical Phase – all characters are activated once again, except this time you now have a choice of either move or attack. It’s here where you really need to get thinking; do you go for a second attack on your opponent but risk leaving your Character open on the next turn, or do you skulk back out of range and try to draw the enemy towards you?
As the game is entirely card driven, the random element is provided by the aforementioned Event Deck. The deck acts as a way to break ties for initiative but is mainly used to apply a modifier to attacks (which are worked out in a very simple fashion, your Attack rating with the modifier minus your opponent’s Defence score – more than zero and it’s a hit). Considerations must be made for the Event Deck cards which, despite your best plans, can utterly wreck you – total misses are common occurrences, but many come with an extra instruction to complete that may potentially soften the blow.
A couple of negative points now, albeit minor ones. TactDecks isn’t exactly the most attractive game I’ve ever played. I know that a lot of gamers demand beautifully sculpted pieces and detailed artwork from their purchases, and I’m afraid to say that TactDecks falls a bit short on that. The printing on the cards is also a tiny bit fuzzy, but you must consider that this is the first edition of a new game from an independent one-man operation. Look below the aesthetics and you’ll be rewarded with a very good little game.
TactDecks is miniatures gaming stripped down to its barest bones, simplifying and streamlining a genre that can often be quite unnerving for beginners. It’s a solid gaming engine that is accessible enough for new players to get their teeth into but also worthy of attention from more experienced gamers who are looking for something that plays quickly but isn’t ephemeral. For a comparatively small entry fee you’ll get a game that has a huge amount of potential. Should the bug truly bite you, there’s also a selection of character expansions available to add a little more to your experience. TactDecks works well as an entry point into a more strategic gaming mindset and deserves to be investigated.
TactDecks was designed by Eric Etkin and was first published in 2010 by Soiree Games. At the time of writing it’s not available outside the USA, but if you visit the game’s website at TactDecks.com (or their Facebook page) and drop Eric a message, I’m sure that he’d be able to provide you a copy no matter where you are. And at US$22, how can you go wrong?