I admit that I missed the boat on games like Magic: The Gathering and other customizable card games. This is a gaming genre that I always thought I would enjoy, and I have even tried to play, with only minimal success, until now. I grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, the grandfather of all role playing games (I still have the Blue Book of Monsters), however, by the time the role playing offshoot of customizable card games became popular, I was getting ready to graduate from college, and most of my friends were much more interested in finding jobs than learning a new game. After I got settled, I tried out a few customizable card games, but I never had a consistent partner or group with whom to play. Frankly, solitaire customizable card games just felt a little too lonely to me. I tried engaging my ultra-competitive wife (then girlfriend) in a few games. Not only did she express a complete lack of interest, she would intentionally manipulate the cards to sabotage the game. Nonetheless, I have always been fascinated by this genre, more than likely due to my background with Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games (Did I mention that I still have the Blue Book of Monsters?).
When I first became interested in the Pocket PC, it struck me as an ideal platform for the customizable card game genre, but there was nothing available. Until now. A few weeks ago (in February 2007), More Games Entertainment released Orions: Legend of the Wizards, a fantasy based strategy game which successfully combines turn-based strategy with a customizable card game. This is the game I have been waiting for. Orions: Legends of Wizards has finally provided me with an avenue to fully immerse myself in a Customizable Card Game, without worrying about finding a partner or having anyone intentionally sabotage the game, just because, "if I can’t win then no one can."
Installation and Registration: Orions has a fairly standard installation package. Just download the desktop installer and load it onto your Pocket PC via ActiveSync. You will be provided with a 15 minute trial, during which you cannot cast any characters or spells higher than a level seven (keep reading and that will make sense). Register for the opportunity to access all of the cards.
I did notice, however, that when I upgraded from version 1.0 to 1.01, my registration did not transfer, and I had to ask for a new code. This was not a significant problem, but it would be nice to have a more seamless upgrade in the future.
Overview: I’m going to do this review a little bit backwards in that I plan to start with a conclusion. Orions: Legend of the Wizards is the best turn-based strategy game I have ever played on the Pocket PC.
Now that I have that out of the way, I’ll give you a quick glimpse at the storyline. Rather than have me tell you about the game, though, I thought it would work better if I have the game tell you itself. So, let’s take a look at the text which goes scrolling up the screen like the introduction to a new Star Wars movie. I’ll go ahead and get you started, "A Long Time Ago…IN a Galaxy Far, Far Away…"
You are well known for your bravery and strength. Although young, you have already shown great courage, and proven your loyalty. It is decided: I entrust to you one very important mission — perhaps the most important mission of all time. The fate of the whole world of Orions is in your hands — and only you can stop the Dark Lord’s Hordes of Darkness.
Fail and the beautiful world of Antavia you know, will be ruined. I entrust to you my castle, the only thing I have left — be wise and brave, and banish the Dark Lord into the void. Evil shall not succeed!
If that doesn’t sound compelling to you, well, put your headphones on and listen to some music or watch a movie on Conduits Pocket Player for the rest of this review. Otherwise, let’s take a closer look.
The World of Antavia is divided into a series of connected land masses called Orions. Each Orion is independently governed. The only way to defeat the Dark Lord (note that you can also choose to play as one of the Dark Lord’s henchmen) is to unite all of the Orions under your flag. Do this by battling and defeating the Lord of each Orion.
Tutorial: Orions has a fantastic interactive tutorial, which really helped me understand the basic elements of the game. To utilize the tutorial mode, just select "show tutorial".
In tutorial mode, you are assigned an instructor who will walk you through a sample battle. There is a lot of information available during a battle, and this helped me interpret and understand what was going on, and how to make the best use of my cards fairly quickly.
Frankly, I am also the type of person who learns better by watching or participating, not just reading, so this type of interactive tutorial served me much better than simply reading static instructions on the screen. If you prefer to read the instructions, however, you can always do that by simply selecting the instructions button from the main screen.
Graphics and Animation: According to their web site, Orions uses a powerful particle engine for animation. Now, I have no idea what this means, and I suspect that you don’t either; and it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the animation in this game is crisp, smooth, and exceptionally well drawn.
Unlike many graphically-rich games, however, Orions does not rely on the graphics and animation to tell the story. In fact, this is a game which would probably be just as interesting and enjoyable with minimal animation and graphics. Orions does not need these graphics, however, it certainly uses them well and benefits from their presence in the game.
Audio: I admit that I am the type of game player who usually keeps the audio off. This is not because I feel the audio tracks will detract from the game, but because they typically do not add a lot to the game, and I usually am playing in loud areas where it would only add to the background noise.
Nonetheless, I have to admit I was extremely impressed with the audio tracks in this game. The music was rich, and precisely what you would expect from a fantasy game such as this one.
I have also found that many games featuring intense graphics and audio will frequently not work well together on the Pocket PC. One will usually interfere with the other, causing the graphics to freeze, the audio tracks to skip, or both. This was not the case here. Both the animation and the music remained smooth and crisp, even when overlapped.
Additionally, while the sound effects made during battle, such as attacking and casting spells, was appropriate, the same sounds were used for every card. Since each card already has its own unique graphics or animation, it would seem to make sense that each card or family of cards would also have its own unique library of sounds. This would add to the game and help create a unique aspect for each card or element.
Modes of Play: Orions features two modes of play: Campaign Mode and Duel Mode. Campaign Mode is the primary game. Here, you control a hero (or villain) instructed to…well…essentially to save (or destroy depending upon your unique point of view) the world. To do this, you must defeat each Orion Lord and take possession of all of the Orions.
Duel Mode allows you to conduct an independent battle against the computer or against another player via the Internet, Bluetooth, or simple, old fashioned, passing the device back and forth.
This game would also seem to lend itself, however, to a third mode, in which you could be assigned quests or missions which must be accomplished. Such a quest mode would help keep the game fresh, long after you have united all of the Orions together.
Saving: If you are a frequent reader of my reviews, then you know one of my biggest pet peeves is not being able to put away a game anytime. As I have frequently mentioned, I ride the train to work, and this is where I find the time to test a lot of the games I review. There is nothing worse than reaching your destination, only to find you are in the middle of a level with no way to save your progress. What do you do? Do you risk killing your battery and leave the game on until you can get back to it? Do you turn it off and figure if you made it that far once, you can do it again?
There are no good answers to these questions, and fortunately, Orions does not force you to make this Solomonic decision. Orions conveniently includes a save feature, with space for five saved games, which allows you to save your game at any time, and pick up exactly where you left off. Nothing is nicer than knowing you can take a break and come back any time without losing your progress.
II. Campaign Mode
As I mentioned, Campaign Mode is the main mode in which the game is played. Your goal is simple, unite all of the Orions. To do this, you must travel to each Orion and defeat the Orion’s Lord in a battle to the death using your personalized deck of monster, character, and spell cards.
When you are not battling, you can travel to any of the Orions you have already conquered and build on them. Building will enable you to increase the variety of cards you can add to your deck, and build your economy.
Difficulty Settings: This is a game full of decisions. Do you build or save? Purchase three lesser cards or a single powerful card? Attack now, or wait?
The first decision you have to make in campaign mode is how difficult to make the game. There are two factors here. First, you must determine whether to play the easy game, medium game, or hard game. The level of difficulty determines how powerful your opponents will be. In the easy game, your opponents will tend to be evenly matched with you as you progress through the game. In the more difficult settings, you will find that your opponents quickly outmatch you, forcing you to find a way to obtain and play more powerful cards much earlier in the game.
Additionally, you must also determine the map size. Obviously, a larger map will have more Orions and, therefore, more enemies to defeat in order to win the game. On the other hand, a larger map can also mean more opportunities for you to build and expand your resources. In the screen shots above, the maps in the lower right hand corners show the difference between a small map and a large map. It would be nice if there was also an option for a custom map, in which you could create your own world and determine the number and affiliation of the Orions within the world of Antavia.
Selecting A Character: The second decision you must make before you can begin the game is which character will represent you. The characters are divided into six elements (air, fire, water, earth, life, and death) and each element is either good (water, earth, and life) or evil (air, fire, and death).
I was disappointed to find that your allegiance to a particular element really had little effect on the gameplay. While you are assigned a rank within your element, which increases as you progress, this rank has little effect on the game. In fact, the only difference it makes is that your "home" element will generally start slightly higher in battle.
I would have preferred additional benefits for each element. For example, your default deck could be skewed heavily toward that element, meaning you could start with more powerful cards in your "home" element. Additionally, the game could offer "extra" cards which could only be purchased if they belonged to your "home" element; or a significant discount on building structures within your "home" element.
As it is, however, while it does present a significant challenge to complete the game representing each of the six elements; the character you choose has little effect on gameplay, battles, or the outcome of the game.
Orions: The world of Antavia is made up of a group of connected islands known as Orions. Each Orion is associated with one of the six elements in the game. Each element has seven unique structures associated with it. By building on an Orion, you can unlock additional cards which can then be added to your deck. In a compelling twist, however, you can only purchase a card from the same Orion on which you built the corresponding structure. This means you might find yourself building the same structure on multiple Orions in order to facilitate quickly adding certain cards to your deck from multiple locations.
Additionally, on any Orion, you can build one of four mineral economy stations (shown on the right hand side of the build screen), which will increase the number of minerals available to purchase cards. The more Orions you conquer, the greater opportunity you will have to grow your economy and create additional structures– all of these increases the cards available to you for each battle.
During the course of your turn, you may move to as many different Orions under your control as you want. You can also build structures, control your economy, or purchase cards to add to your deck on one or more of the Orions under your control during each turn.
Building: As I mentioned, you can build on each Orion you control. Each structure you can build is listed across the top of the screen. Select the one you want to build, and the price (in minerals) will be displayed, along with the attributes of the structure. If you have enough minerals available then you can place the building on the Orion. Each structure has at least one battle card associated with it. Once you have built the structure, if you have enough minerals left, then you can add the appropriate card(s) to your battle deck. One nice feature is that the building is available immediately, which means you can add any cards associated with it to your deck before your next battle.
During each turn, you are limited to placing a combination of only three buildings or mineral gardens/converters on each Orion. Again, therefore, the more Orions you have will significantly increase your economic options for each turn. If you have only conquered two Orions, then you will be limited to building a limited number of structures. If you have conquered nine Orions, however, then the number of buildings you can place in each turn increases dramatically.
I did notice, however, that when you capture an Orion by defeating its Lord, the Orion is completely empty. There are no minerals being processed and no structures on the Orion (except the main castle which has no bearing on the game). An interesting twist would be to populate the Orions, so that when you defeat the Lord of an Orion, there could be various structures on that Orion, which would also become your possessions. Like trading default cards after a battle, this would allow you to obtain cards and abilities which you might otherwise not have been able to afford.
Economy: In order to build on an Orion or purchase new cards for your battle deck, you must have the right supply of minerals available. There are four minerals which make up the economy of Antavia:
- Crysols are the basic unit of the economy. They are blue, and are created by converting sunlight in a Crysols Garden. Each garden produces five Crysols per day.
- Sulmours are made in a Sulmour Converter, and are colored green. Each converter will turn two Crysols into one Sulmour.
- Goldius are made in a Goldius Converter and are colored gold/brown. Each turn, they will convert five Crysols and two Sulmours into one Goldius.
- Eractus are the most rare minerals in Antavia. Colored red, you can make them in an Eractus Converter, by converting ten Crysols, five Sulmours, and two Goldius for a single Eractus.
When I began this game, I did not like the economic aspect. I thought it overcomplicated things. Of course, I think this initial opinion was due to trying to figure out so many different elements of this extremely complicated game at once (battles, cards, buildings). Once I had figured out some of the other aspects of the game, I returned to the economics of the world of Antavia. I found that far from overcomplicating the game, this aspect actually adds a whole new element, which dramatically changes much of the decision making process. It requires you to balance your resources, simulating a real world economy, and measure the opportunity cost of each action you make. Is building this structure instead of purchasing several cards the best use of your limited mineral resources?
Nonetheless, because there is so much to learn with this game, it would be nice if there was an option to turn off the economics and simply earn a predetermined amount of each element at the beginning of each turn. This would allow beginners to focus on other, more important, aspects of the game without becoming frustrated by trying to figure out the economy of Antavia as well. Once they become adept at battling and understanding the interaction of the other elements of the game, then the economy could be turned back on as an advanced feature.
Battles: Each time you land on an Orion which you do not already control, you must battle the Lord of that Orion. If you win the battle, then you will gain control of the Orion and add it to your territories. If you lose, then you will be sent back to your home Orion. You can only conduct one battle per turn. Whether you win or lose, after a battle, you will be too tired to move to any other Orion until you end your turn and rest.
The battle board is displayed with your character and attributes across the top and your opponents’ across the bottom. In the middle, is a board on which you can each play up to six cards.
During each battle turn you may play one card. You can add a character to the board, or cast a spell. Some characters have additional abilities which may be utilized at any time during your turn. At the beginning of the battle, each element is assigned a number between one and your intelligence level in your attributes. This number determines which cards can be cast from that element. Each card in your deck contains a number in the upper right hand corner. This is the level of the card. If you do not have at least enough points associated with that element to cover the level of the card, then the card cannot be cast. Additionally, casting the card will reduce your total number of points for that element accordingly. You will receive one point on each of the six elements at the beginning of every turn during a battle.
To cast a card, just tap the element categories, and all of the cards you possess in each category will be displayed. Simply scroll through until you find the card you want to case, select the card, and then double tap the space on the board where the card will be cast (if it is a spell card then just tap cast). To learn more about any card’s attributes, just double tap it. Once you cast a card onto the board, it will battle the card in the opposing space. Learning the strategy associated with which cards are strongest against which opponents takes time, but can be rewarding as the game progresses.
After casting a card, you will notice two numbers on the bottom corners of the card. The number on the right is the number of hit points associated with the card. When this number reaches zero, the card will be destroyed. The number on the left is the number of attack points associated with that card. By default this is the amount of damage which will be inflicted when the card attacks the opposing card. Additionally, the developers of this game have devised a nice handicap called Summoning Sickness. What this means is that most monsters and characters cannot attack in the same turn in which they were cast.
Some cards also have special abilities or spells which can be cast as long as that card is in play. To employ these abilities, just tap the cast button on the card. Sometimes this ability might cost you, so be careful when utilizing them. When you are done casting a new card and employing all of the abilities of your cards in play, you will end your turn. When you do so, all of the cards you currently have in play will attack the card in the opposite space. If there is no card in the opposing space, then your card will inflict damage directly on your opponent’s character, reducing your opponent’s health. When your opponent’s health reaches zero, then you win the battle. Obviously, if your health reaches zero, then you will be defeated.
Battle Deck: When you begin a new game, you will be equipped with the default deck of battle cards. This deck is functional, but will be of little value when you face more difficult opponents. In order to obtain new cards, you must build on the Orions under your control in order to unlock additional, higher valued cards; and develop your economy so you will have sufficient minerals to purchase the cards.
The deck you start with is called the Default Deck, and the cards the comprise this deck are Default Cards. Throughout the game, you will always have an unlimited quantity of default cards, so there is never a need to purchase them at a later time. This Default Deck, however, does not vary based upon which character or element you choose to represent. It would be nice if the default deck were different, based upon which element your character represents. Another advanced option I would like to see would be the ability to create a customized default deck. This way, you could choose whether to populate your default deck with a number of lower cards or fewer, but more powerful cards. This option would be particularly useful for duel mode.
There are numerous additional cards, however, which may be purchased throughout the game from the various Orions under your control. Even though you have unlocked a card by building the appropriate structure, you must still purchase the card in order to play it. Each time you purchase a card, you can play that card in battle only once. So, be judicious in your use of these cards. When they run out, you will have to wait for your next turn to purchase more (you cannot purchase cards in the middle of a battle).
Additionally, since you are limited in the number of different cards you can hold at a time, it would be nice to be able to discard. In other words, if you have reached your limit of cards, but want to purchase a new card, you should be able to purge your deck (at some reasonable penalty) of a particular card to make room.
Experience Points: Each time you conquer an Orion, you will earn experience points. If you earn enough experience points to boost your character to the next level, you will be given three attributes points to disburse. These points may be assigned to any of the three attributes in the game:
- Strength determines the number of hit points assigned to your character. The higher your strength, the more powerful you will be in battle.
- Intelligence determines your maximum starting level for each element which you begin a battle. Each element is assigned a value at the beginning of the battle between one and your intelligence score.
- Power determines the size of your deck. The higher your power value, the greater number of different cards you can add to your deck.
If you win a battle, but do not earn enough points to increase to the next level, you will be afforded the opportunity to exchange one of your default cards for one of your opponent’s. This is a great way to obtain a resource for your next battle, which may otherwise have been out of your reach. Additionally, because this card is being added to your default deck, it will never run out, as it would if you had purchased it from an Orion.
One final note, although the main screen tells you how many experience points you have earned, it does not give you any indication of how many you must earn before you can advance to the next level. This would be useful information, as you enter each battle.
Enemy: Of course, you are not the only one fighting for control of the Orions. There is also an enemy character (depicted with red flags) attempting to conquer the Orions before you. At the end of each turn, the enemy character will take its turn. Fortunately, the enemy character’s battles are not animated. All you will see is the result.
I really did not see the purpose to the enemy character. The point of the game is to take control of all of the Orions. Defeating the enemy character has no impact upon this goal. Additionally, the battle is affected in no way if your enemy controls the Orion you are attacking (or vice versa).
I would certainly understand the purpose of this enemy if you could play campaign mode with two players, each controlling one character, and battle head-to-head for control of the Orions. This is not the case, however. I felt the enemy character, while not detrimental to the game, certainly did not advance the game, or provide you with an alternate means to achieve your goal. As such, it did not seem to belong in the game.
As an aside, one other minor point which did not seem to make a lot of sense was the color scheme. Your enemy plants red flags on the Orions he has conquered and those show up as a red dot on the map. You plant green flags on the Orions you conquer, but these show up as a blue dot on the map. Likewise, your enemy’s ship is blue while yours is red. This is a minor point, but these colors should all remain consistent.
Winning the Game: All you have to do to win the game is conquer all of the Orions in the map. Sounds easy. But if everything I have said so far has not convinced you otherwise…well, maybe it is time to go ahead and play the game.
Once you do win, however, you will be awarded with an item. Items are essentially trophies which you can view before beginning a game. Each element has an item associated with it which is given as an award for completing the game using one of that elements’ characters. Complete the game using a character from each element to win all of the items. Of course, the items do not help you during the course of the game, however, winning various items provides a unique incentive to continue playing the game and attempt to win using each of the different characters.
III. Duel Mode
Duel Mode is exactly what you would expect. Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and a deck of pistols. It is a mano-a-mano (or creature-a-creature) duel. Last one standing wins.
To start a new duel, simply select duel mode. You can then input whether your opponent will be a local player, CPU, or a networked player. In order to use a networked player, you must know the IP address of the server you are using. I found it was a bit complicated to set up this mode. I would love to see an Orions Game Zone, where any players could log in and challenge other players to a duel. Additionally, you can even connect two devices via Bluetooth and play a duel. This is a game which clearly lends itself to playing against another live opponent, and I was glad to see this ability available.
Once in Duel Mode, each player will be assigned 50 hit points, and between one and five points on each of the six elements. One thing I enjoyed about Duel Mode is that you are not limited to the default deck. Instead, you have a good mix of default cards and more powerful cards at your disposal. Unfortunately, however, there is no way to change or personalize your deck in this mode. Duel Mode would be considerably more interesting if, before the battle, you could determine which cards would be added to your deck. This would also enable you to use Duel Mode as a training ground to test the effects of various cards outside the confines of your main campaign.
Finally, I do think Duel Mode could be expanded to allow a Tournament Mode. This would allow numerous players to engage in a series of winners-takes-all duels. Of course, the last one standing wins.
Orions: Legend of Wizards is, without hesitation, the best strategy game I have played on the Pocket PC. It is essentially two games in one. First, it is a turn-based strategy game in which you must build an army and conquer all of the other armies in order to unite the world under your control. Like any turn based strategy game, there is an economic component and a military component to the game. In addition, however, Orions blazes a new trail by adding the battle elements.
I have played a lot of strategy games, and most seem to focus on the economic and conquest aspects, while giving little thought to the battles, or allowing you to control your character in battle. This is what really set Orions: Legend of Wizards apart from other strategy games. I thoroughly enjoyed the customizable card game aspect of the battles. I would have liked to have had more control over the default deck at the start of each game, but this did not significantly detract from the game. Additionally I would love to see additional modes of play, such as Quests and Tournaments added to the existing modes.
So, put away your Blue Books of Monsters (if you have read this far, then I know you still have one as well), you will not need it when you step into battle with Pegasus, Liches, Demons, Fairies, Hydra, and Golom. Oh yes, and you better hope my wife is not hoarding all of the spell cards, or she could just sabotage your game as well as mine.
Name: Orions: Legend of Wizards
Platform: WM 2003 SE
Also Available: WM5
Developer: More Games Entertainment
Available From: More Games