Published on July 29th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Gritty Space Opera Gladiators
A review of Ophidian Wars by Small Cave Games
If there is a single game type I enjoy playing, it is small scale, tactical combat games. Tactical games that use free form minis are a dime a dozen, but those that use cards are few and far between. My
drug CCG of choice in the 00’s was Warlord, a formation based war game using cards and a unique turn format. Since then I’ve always wanted to see more iterations of the tactical card game idea. Summoner Wars and Pixel Tactics definitely fill that role, but my experiences with both of those game has been poor so far.
Ophidian Wars is made by Small Cave Games, an indie company that is currently only publishing through Game Crafter. If you’re not familiar with the service, it’s a Print-On-Demand board game publishing company. Instead of printing a bunch of copies and selling them to retailers or getting together a Kickstarter, POD services allow the designers to cut profit margins in order to take on less risk than self publishing usually entails.
First off, the art and the setting for Ophidian Wars left me feeling pretty ambivalent. The box art and the art for the gladiator cards is spot on, with a couple of really nice pieces. The art on the maneuver cards is definitely of a lesser quality than the art on the box, and is not my favorite part of the game. I especially didn’t like that the item art was blank 3D models. The card frame is mid 90’s CCG style design, which feels pretty dated. Ophidian Wars could use some clean up to its iconography and graphic elements, which would (incidentally) speed play.
The premise of Ophidian Wars is that you’re a team of gladiators fighting in an arena on a space-operatic dystopian world. Because you’re a team, you fight in formation and you have a front rank, a back rank and a skirmisher. Any given zone has restrictions on which enemy zone it can target with attacks, making positioning the major key to victory.
Besides your five gladiators there are only two types of cards: maneuvers and items. Your hand of five cards consists of only maneuvers, which cost Adrenaline to play; item cards are always available for purchase and cost Cheer to play. Adrenaline resets and refreshes every time it is your turn to act, but Cheer is acquired more slowly and is persistent between turns. Maneuvers tend to give effects that only last for a turn, but items stay on the board until they are removed by an effect.
The two resources, Adrenaline and Cheer (ie crowd enthusiasm), are generated differently. Cheer is generated whenever you make an attack, regardless of whether it does damage, and from certain card effects. Your Gladiators generate one Adrenaline per turn, plus another one if they are “Raging”. Each Gladiator has a damage threshold at which point they become raging, which effects a decent amount of cards.
This means that you have more options when your gladiators are hurting. In Ophidian Wars, take gladiators completely out before doing damage to a different one. Learn to focus fire and deny your enemy resources they need to play efficiently.
I enjoyed the way that the different cards types functioned- they each used a separate resource, which was gained and stored differently, and each had discreet timing and persistence. Keeping the items always available, but restricting them to the rarer of the resources was a great idea and made the two card types feel very different, even if the bonuses they gave were at times similar in effect.
In Ophidian Wars, where you are on the board matters. If you lack control in the attack zone then your support will be wide open to flanking attacks as well as a head on rush. Getting from place to place can be an issue though- you can’t move between the attack and flanking zones, so it takes more Adrenaline to get there because you have to go through the support zone.
The set up of the battle field really did remind me of playing Arena mode in Smite. Being caught out of position is really bad and if your opponent catches your mistake, you’ll pay for it. It’s easier for players to see mistakes because usually after a decisive action happens, the current player is forced to relinquish their turn. Each maneuver card has either a + or a – on it to signify whether you can continue your turn (+) or if your turn immediately ends (-).
I like this idea in theory, because it reads like it makes actions and turns quicker. Most of the time you won’t have a super fancy combo so it’ll be “play a minus card or attack, pass turn”. In practice, having to reset your adrenaline and then reassess your hand every time just made the game go slower. Honestly, it wasn’t much of an issue and with more card familiarity this would ease up, but it did effect the length of our first games considerably.
Ophidian Wars was an engaging tactical card game with easy to learn rules. I especially enjoyed the movement element, and switching between zones was always fun. Drafting your gladiators was great and lead to tension as we realized early on what the other player’s strategy would be and prepped for it.
You can get Ophidian Wars for $12 through Game Crafter which will give you one deck (there are rules on how to play 2-player with one deck) but presumably you’ll want one deck for each person. Small Cave Games also has a Shapeways store where you can buy print on demand 3D printed minis to go with your card game (which is why the items look like 3D models- you can purchase them).