Developer: Omiya Soft
CCG/Board Game - Nintendo DS
Battery Backup - 1 Save
1 player / 2-4p Nintendo WiFi
Although Culdcept isn't a familiar title to most gamers, it has been growing a faithful fanbase since its original release on the Sega Saturn, and subsequent Playstation port. I was first exposed to the series through the Dreamcast sequel and was completely smitten by its brilliance. A small print run of the PS2 port (of Culdcept II) was the first time that English speakers got the chance to play it. More recently, Culdcept Saga became one of the earlier releases for the XBOX360. Where does that bring us? Back to the beginning.
Culdcept can be best described as Monopoly meets Magic the Gathering. You take turns rolling dice and moving your piece around a board. If you find a vacant space, you can occupy it by summoning a creature. If an enemy lands on it, they pay you a toll. Upgrade your property, and the toll goes up. So the overall structure is very similar to Monopoly. What's unlike Monopoly is that games don't take 12 hours to finish. Although you could win by bankrupting other players, the main objective of each board is reaching a certain mana amount and then "pass Go" to end the game.
The Magic the Gathering part comes in the details. There's deck construction, creature summoning, "sorceries", "instants/interrupts", and even a system comparable to obtaining card packs. You begin the game with a starter pack of 50 cards. But you can gain additional cards just by playing. Regardless of whether you win or lose a match, you will gain new cards. This ensures that even when you've spent an hour on a map, but end up in last place, you wouldn't have wasted your time, because you benefit just from playing the game. I believe you do get more / rarer cards when you win though. All in all, there's over 370 cards contained within. It's important to read and understand all the cards you have and see if there are any card combinations that could maximize to your advantage. The enjoyment comes from creating a workable strategy with the cards you have. It has all the elements of any good Collectable Card Game and that's why I love it so.
What makes the game interesting is the back-and-forth transferring of land. Whereas in Monopoly, you own property until you sell it, here you only own a square on the board if one of your summoned creatures is placed there. Summoning costs gold, and may require other conditions as well. If an opponent lands on your square, they don't immediately pay you the value of the square. They can instead choose to fight your creature by summoning their own creature. That brings up the battle phase where you and your opponent can each play up to 1 skill card from your hand to influence the outcome. Each creature has its own Strength/Hit Point rating, special abilities and casting cost. Skill cards can add bonuses to those stats, or provide additional effects, such as giving attack priority to the defender instead of the attacker. If the attacking player wins the battle, they now become the owner of the square. If the attacking player loses, they pay the toll. So there's an added intensity because the fights make the game much more dynamic.
There's a lot of other components to the game in addition to the basics. For instance, both creatures and land can be neutral or have an element. A water creature on water will gain defensive bonuses. These defensive bonuses will grow when you upgrade the land. Upgrades can be costly, but they're necessary to help you keep possession of your land through the defense bonuses and will drive up the cost of the toll, putting you closer to winning the match. A mismatch of creature element and land element will forfeit all the defense bonuses. So another option is the ability to swap out an existing creature of yours on the board with one from your hand, but it requires some conditions, costs additional gold for summoning the new creature and takes up a turn, which may or may not pay off. That's just scratching the surface of some of the strategic depth in the game.
Since this is the ten year anniversary, Omiya Soft went back to basics for the celebration. Culdcept DS is an enhanced port of the original Saturn game, but with rules from the later games, some new cards, and a rebalancing of the old cards. The developers added in a few extras too, such as art galleries and medals that you get when you achieve certain goals. It pretty much plays exactly like the Culdcept II I have for Dreamcast, but that's a good thing. The DS format is better for this type of game though, because the presentation is simple, the online component costs nothing, and you can play it anywhere. There's a story mode where you face off against 2-3 computer opponents. Of course any story for a board game is pretty silly, and this is no different. But it does give a progressive set of challenges. There's also a versus mode, where you can play against computer or against friends in the area or against random people through Nintendo WiFi. Culdcept is a completely satisfying mesh of board game and CCG that somehow just works.