Title: Trials of Fire
Genre: Card-Based RPG
Modes: Single player
Developer: Whatboy Games
Publisher: Whatboy Games
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Release: May 7, 2019
Up until recently, I've never been one to get into the "deck-building" genre. This equates to both my real life and my digital life. Never played Magic: The Gathering. Within the last few years, I got into the Pokémon Trading Card Game (but still get my ass kicked by my kid). And only recently did I download Warhammer Ages of Sigmar on my Switch. So, needless to say, I'm a bit green when it comes to this . I know there's a bit of a learning curve with these types of games, and only the truly dedicated can reap the benefits. Perhaps that's why I haven't jumped in; maybe I just don't have the patience.
Knowing that, I was a little apprehensive when Trials of Fire dropped on my desk. Here we have another deck-building game, with more of the same, wizards and warriors fighting goblins and ghouls gameplay, with random cards acting as your attacks. As someone with almost no experience in the genre, would I enjoy this game?
The answer was a surprising "yes."
Trials of Fire is, as stated earlier, an RPG deck builder. You are placed in the roles of three heroes, looking to save their civilization and people by wandering a vast wasteland, looking for resources. Of course, along the way you battle monsters, make ethical decisions, and advance through a pretty deep and engaging story. The entire game is played out on a large book, and as each page turns, the battlefield rises, as a beautifully-drawn pop-up book. It really looks like you're sitting in a dimly-lit medieval pub, reading from an ancient tome.
As you play through the main story, you trek across a map, searching for supplies. You have to contend with the elements and hunger in order to keep your troupe alive, so finding the best place to go is tantamount to success. If your characters get hurt or start to go hungry, cards are added to your deck that work against you in battle, so it's important to stay healthy. You also meet characters in need of your services, and as the story is laid out, have to make moral choices on whom to help. And, as always, you come across baddies to battle.
Each battle takes place on a hexagon-based grid, with your three characters represented by coins. At the beginning of each turn, you are granted three cards for each member of your party. The cards, like many other games of this ilk, will provide your characters with attacks, defensive maneuvers, magical spells, and ability buffs. The catch, though, is that each card has a cost - known as willpower - that is required before you can activate it. You gain willpower by sacrificing cards in your hand; so for example if an attack requires three points and you don't have any, you need to move the required number of cards to the discard pile in order to use that attack.
The same goes for movement around the board. You can use a card to advance your character towards an enemy, but again, it will cost you. Plus, you have to use all your willpower points by the end of the round, or they're gone. This adds a fun twist on the genre, as it forces you to be very strategic in your approach. Will you save your cards up to launch a devastating spell, or will you give them up to attack first? And if you're low on health, which cards will you sacrifice in order to retreat to safety? The options are endless, and it makes Trials of Fire stand out from the many games of this style.
Once you move your characters and cards around, your turn ends, and the enemy gets to go next. And so it goes, until one side defeats the other and is declared the victor. As you win rounds, you level up in the game, and as a benefit, earn new, more powerful cards. This adds another layer of strategy, as now you can add certain types of cards to shape how you want your characters to act on the battlefield. You can also earn weapons and armor that adds more cards to the deck. At the same time though, strong cards can have negative effects, so it's important to balance that deck to your character's preferred play style.
The Tip and the Top
One of the things I enjoyed most about Trials of Fire was how relaxed it was. Yes, it's a game that requires a lot of cranial capacity, but I was able to play it with my feet up. There was no urgency in making the right decisions. I was able to plan my attack, and take back cards that I mistakenly dropped into the discard pile. The game doesn't penalize you for taking your time, and as someone new to the genre, I appreciated that.
The graphics, while not taxing on your system resources, have a certain simplistic charm to them. The charcoal-pencil art on each page of the book look detailed and fit the game's universe, and the character art on your coins and the cards look nice enough that they could pass for actual, physical items.
The Flip and the Flop
I must note that the game is in Early Access, so there is a lot that is subject to change.
As stated earlier, these types of games have a pretty steep learning curve. You have to be invested in the genre, and learn all the subtle nuances of Trials of Fire in order to get the biggest benefit from it. This can be a turn-off for some, but if you put in the time, you will enjoy it.
Additionally, the random aspect of battles being based on, quite literally, the luck of the draw, can get frustrating. Add that to these lengthy battles, and you have a game that even the most patient of gamers will get upset with. But anyone jumping into this type of game should have already known that going in.
Final Grade: B
There are a lot of games out there that tread the same ground. Honestly, how many first-person modern war shooters do we need? That's why, as a gamer, it's always good to step outside of your comfort zone. To try something new. Don't just limit yourself. If it turns out you don't enjoy it, hey - at least you tried. And, like me, you may find enjoyment in a game like Trials of Fire. It's a slow burn, but if you're willing to put in the time, you'll find a deep, enjoyable, and challenging title that's fun and engaging to play in spurts.
A review code of Trials of Fire was provided by Whatboy Games