Collectable card games seem to have been around since the dawn of time itself, and while most of them manage to get the card game part of the equation correct, the rest get the entire “collectable” part mixed up with making money by selling ever increasingly power expansion packs. Spectromancer manages to get these two equations right by being a deep and rewarding card game that doesn’t require any additional purchases.
Spectromancer has very simple graphics, almost to a fault. The way that all characters are simply a selection of stills from various character types, to the way that single player game map is almost non-interactive all seem rather glossed over. The portraits of the characters on the card are good they are static, this means that while tastefully done they will forever be a single still image instead of an emotive character, but this seems to go hand in hand with the cookie cutter story that while passable does nothing besides lead to the next entertaining battle.
However, graphics are about the only thing that is glaringly not great about the game, and are seemingly balanced out very well with the amazing depth of the gameplay. What starts as a rather simple play field, with six places for cards for each player, quickly becomes very complicated. The use of only two types of cards, instant cast spells that are used and disappeared, or creature cards that take up one of the characters six spaced, that attack and remain in play until killed. This seems complicated the first couple of times but becomes amazingly easier the more it is played, which is helped because of each card seems to be limited to having only one special effect.
The balancing factor of all the over powered cards in the game, and the complication of some of the balancing, is that the player never makes a deck before going into battle as all cards are randomly assigned beforehand. While this does end up giving the game a kind of uncontrollable feeling, though, as no series of cards ever feels owned and some cards seem to pop up rarely in the shuffle. It also seems odd that after the cards are dealt for that match, they may be reused repeatedly, as long as mana provides, as if they never left the players hand.
The randomness of the cards can make the games balancing feel awkward at times, and in some cases, just plain broken. While the cards only have one special effect while in play, some of them can be used in conjunction with others to make a series of cards that simply feels unbeatable. Normally only happening in the situations when the other player hasn’t been paying enough attention to the series of actions being taken, and can always be avoided by paying attention, but it never feels good being on the receiving line of a series of ever increasingly power creatures. With the brevity of the matches and the depth of the play, Spectromancer manages to be a really good game for killing a couple of minutes, or vast amounts of time, especially at work.
While the gameplay is a strong selling point for the game, the sound design is probably the most forgettable. The music is present and good enough to spend time listening to it, but nothing more beyond that. The sound effects follow suit, being what one would expect from a card game. Although it should be pointed out that none of this takes away from the game, and seeing as how the game runs in a window it almost seems like it was meant for quick Alt-Tab action between turns (for those playing the game at work), so there is a possibility that the game may be played muted a lot.
Spectromancer might not be the best-looking game on PC, and it might not have the best bells and whistles of games that came out in the last 10 years; the one thing that it does have is amazingly fun and deep gameplay. Combined with the pace of the matches and the reasonable, 20 dollar asking price for the game, it seems that anyone who is interested in card games, either casually or seriously should pick this up despite having a few flaws.