Those of you who have played Magic: The Gathering know how potent a collectible card game addiction can be–we spent most of Grades 6 through 9 tuning our decks, haggling over rare cards, and competing in informal tournaments at the local comic book store. Orions: Legend of Wizards recaptures some of that fun for iPhone gamers in an attractive, accessible package, although it’s not as expansive, nor as competitive, as we think it could be.
We say that Orions: Legends of Wizards is an iPhone analogue to MtG, but it shows additional influences too, particularly the castle-building and monster-recruiting mechanics from the Heroes of Might and Magic series. You start the game’s Campaign Mode as a novice wizard in the land of Orions–magical floating islands that each correspond to one of the game’s six elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Life, and Death). You own only a single Orion to start out with, but you can expand to neighboring islands by dueling their wizard overlords. Meanwhile, your nemesis is doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the map. The game’s objective is to island-hop your way over to the enemy’s home Orion and defeat him or her in a final showdown, before they can get to you.
As one would expect, all of these duels are fought using magic spells. Many of these summon creatures to do your bidding, while others heal and protect them, or zap the enemy’s side. You charge up a bit of magical power (called “mana”) in each of the six elemental categories at the beginning of your turn, and every spell costs a certain amount of this mana stock to cast. You are only allowed five slots to cast spells, meaning that you can only have five creatures on the board at a single time–and if you max out on creatures, you’ll have no empty slot to cast anything else, even if it’s not a summon spell. The main way to deal damage to the enemy wizard is to attack him or her with your creatures. They will attempt to block by summoning their own creatures into the opposite slot, causing the two nasties to duke it out. In addition, some creatures have spells and abilities of their own which make them more useful, such as taking over enemy creatures for a turn, striking down undead, or boosting the amount of mana you receive every turn. You win a duel when you reduce the enemy wizard’s life points to zero.
Playing through a duel is quite a bit more complex than that. Orions: Legend of Wizards does a nice job laying down the card-battling framework, so there are a lot of possible strategies and angles of attack. You can get by with defensive creatures and direct-damage spells, slowly charge up to summon enormous, unstoppable monsters, or mount a blitzkrieg to quickly overwhelm the opponent. Plus, there are a number of powerful combos formed between cards of different colors that play off one another, as in any good card battler.
The collection and deck-building aspects of the game look a bit shaky next to the solid battling mechanics. Part of the problem is that your ability to buy more powerful cards for your deck depends on tedious construction and harvesting activities. Working your way up the long structure upgrade tree to unlock higher-level spells and saving up the necessary crystals (the game’s currency) to purchase them is a chore, especially once you control lots of territory and have to waste time switching between and managing all of your estates. Plus, you don’t get to build your deck to order, and there are only 72 cards in total to collect–not enough to really get excited about. The concept of “rare” cards doesn’t mean anything in this game, and there aren’t any multi-colored cards, either.
Orions: Legend of Wizards’ presentation is a strong point. Although the game doesn’t have much in the way of animation, the card art is very high quality, and spellcasting is accompanied by some neat visual effects to supplement your imagination. The music is really good–it’s still stuck in our heads– as are the growling, screeching sound effects.
Overall, we enjoyed ourselves with Orions: Legend of Wizards. Despite its shortcomings, tt scratches that CCG itch pretty effectively, and that’s worth $4.99 to us. Keep in mind, however, that experienced card battlers are likely to find and exploit the winning strategies in short order, which can make the game pretty easy given the relatively soft AI. Although local multiplayer is enabled, a decent online multiplayer and card marketplace–as well as many new cards–are needed to take this game to the next level.