[PAX SOUTH] Doomtrooper Is A Digital Card Game That Combines My Love For Buff Dudes And Hardcore Strategy
Do you remember the time of classic sci-fi fantasy art? Before everything had to be grounded in reality. When the default size for biceps was two walruses battling over the sunniest rock. People make fun of Chris Redfield for having cantaloupe arms in Resident Evil 5, but that shit wouldn’t have even gotten him into the burly men’s treehouse in the 80s. It was a simpler time, where a space commando could be firing 50 simultaneous shots from his pistols at a space velociraptor without needing to know why he didn’t have to reload. It’s presently kept alive only in Warhammer 40k, possibly as an ironic juxtaposition of just how intensely nerdy and complicated the actual game is. With Doomtrooper, we now have a new warrior to carry the torch of that classic badassery.
Doomtrooper caught my eye at this year’s PAX South specifically because of the banner pictured above. I had no idea what the game was, but I knew it must be badass if it made the skeleton dinosaur thing that angry (or excited? I have no reference for skeleton dinosaurs). I sat down to play, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Doomtrooper is a card game. Card games are my jam, stemming from a very early obsession to be the very best, like no one ever was. I’ve played Magic: The Gathering semi-consistently for 20 years, and still find time to become ludicrously obsessed with a new one every few years. After having played Doomtrooper, I can easily see it becoming my next unjustifiable timesink.
Some of you might have already known that Doomtrooper was a CCG, and not just because of their Kickstarter. Doomtrooper is actually a digitalization of the classic card game of the same name in the Mutant Chronicles universe. Originally launched in 1995, it didn’t see the same success as other TCGs. Still, it maintains a strong cult following due to its unique art and playstyle. Featuring many of the original pieces from artist Paul Bonner, the game is just brimming with that classic grungy sci-fi style.
That being said, Doomtrooper isn’t just a digitalization of the classic game. The game currently only has 400ish (it changes a lot with constant testing) cards, which is shy of the 1100 cards that made up the entirety of the original game. Of course, many will be added with expansions. Others probably won’t. Several alterations to the core combat have been made to balance the game. You can now only attack with one soldier a turn, making the game significantly slower. Keywords have also been changed, which I’m sure is really big news to hardcore fans. Honestly, I’m taking a lot of these changes on faith. I never played the original. If you want to get into the super-details, ask the project lead Justin Reynard from developer Secret Cow Level.
As a complete outsider, I can say that I wish I was around to see the classic. Doomtrooper is shot of adrenaline to a genre that has been badly damaged Hearthstone. I absolutely abhor the precedent that Hearthstone has set for RNG in card games. If I wanted to flip a coin over and over and pat myself on the back when it came up my way 6/10 times, I’d just do that and not waste 4000 hours every expansion grinding for packs.
By contrast, Doomtrooper is a game of actual skill. In a turn of Doomtrooper, you have three actions. Those actions can be spent playing cards, attacking, or storing up resources (I’m just going to call it mana because I’m a simpleton). Most of the game’s creatures cost mana to play, as well as an action. Other cards have no initial cost, but will still take an action to play. These generally either modify one of your creatures or you. You can drop a factory to modify your resource production, some modification that lets you turn actions into cards, or a sword to give your dude +2 attack. You can also use actions to meditate, which converts the action into one extra mana. Mana isn’t lost between turns, meaning you can turtle for big plays.
By limiting the number of actions you can take, the game simultaneously gives you great freedom in how you construct your turn. It’s up to you if you want to save up for a bomb, play a grip of ramp cards, build your squad up for more synergy, or something else. If you want to pass your turn to save up mana for some counterspell type effect, that’s going to cut into your ability to attack. In most CCGs, the optimal play is to take the most amount of actions in a single turn. By restricting those actions and giving you the same set number every turn, the question instead becomes how you use them.
The result is a game that feels more like chess than wizard poker. Doomtrooper is a game all about strong synergies and team style. I played a deck of techno-samurai who buffed each other. My opponent played a deck of flesh monsters that all had some effect on death. While the multiplying murder-spawn across the board initially looked OP, my superior team synergy easily took the day. Your squad in Doomtrooper doesn’t feel like an assortment of filler bodies until you reach your bomb. Building your team and working together is the key to victory.
The team is shooting for Doomtrooper to come out in open beta later this year, which is welcome news for backers. The game has been in development for four years, and the originally planned release date was 2018. The game has taken a lot longer to develop than initially anticipated, but not without good reason. To create Doomtrooper, Secret Cow Level has developed their own engine. Called the Cardinal Engine, this tech allows them to make several changes without having to push updates to the client. Balance changes, adding and removing cards, can all be done without the need to take the servers down and make you download a patch. The only thing that would require an update are new art assets, which would generally come with a larger expansion. This engine would make adding expansions a breeze, meaning there’s potentially lots of content to come after the game releases.
As a closing note, I know a lot of people have been burned by Kickstarter projects. Four years is a long time to wait. Having played Doomtrooper, it’s almost there. It needs a bit of polish in the UI and some bugfixes, but the core mechanics feel great. I can’t wait to dive in and figure out which faction is my favorite, then discard it for whatever the meta said is most busted to stomp noobs.