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Hearts of Iron: The Card Game: Paper Strategy

In all likelihood, the words "Browser-Based Game" probably conjure up visions of lost sheep, dusty pioneers or like-colored bricks shattering into pieces. I wouldn't blame you for it either. Until late last year, I was pretty sure the concept wouldn't go much further than the casual market. The idea was a neat one, but it didn't seem like anyone was willing to chase it down beyond puzzle games and other time-wasters.

Since then, my opinion has taken a complete 180. Now I'm more or less convinced browser-based games are the future. I don't think console or PC games are going anywhere, as I can see more potential down the road for bigger, better games.

One of the games key in helping to change my mind is Paradox's Hearts of Iron: The Card Game. Playable in any web browser, Hearts of Iron: TCG takes the strategy game and reinvents it in card form. You play as one of three factions - the Axis, Allies or Comintern (essentially, the Communists) - and build decks from a collection of 140 cards (120 in the core set, plus 20 promo cards). Similar to the strategy franchise, which is steeped in historical accuracy, each card is based on real-life units and features authentic artwork and photographs from the period.

The best indication of a great collectable card game (CCG) is the number of strategies available during play. Some less successful card games misunderstand the concept and offer lots of cards but without much strategic flexibility. Every game plays out the exact same way, just with different cards. Even with a handful of cards available, a couple of really neat strategies and play styles have shown up in games. Much of this has to do with the core rule set. True to most collectable card games, the rules are slightly complicated and take some time to really learn. For starters, sorting through your cards is a bit intimidating at first. You're never sure what does what or what to include. Then there's the process of learning the flow of the gameplay.

Some of the game's base concepts are similar to Magic: The Gathering, but the focus is geared towards strategic play and outmaneuvering your opponents rather than directly attacking them. Your main goal is to collect Seven Victory Points, which you earn by winning battles. At the beginning of each match, you choose a Doctrine card, which lays out your general strategy, including how you can attack and what happens if your attack goes undefended. The latter, called the Effect, is one of the most important parts of your selected Doctrine since it can determine how many Victory Points you'll earn for an undefended attack. Although you can only play one Doctrine at the start of the game, you can put others into play later in the game.

Doctrines also play a huge part in helping you establish what cards to place in your deck. Another parameter on the card states the types of units that must engage in the attack, as well as what units they must use to defend from it. Some will even let you pull in additional, unlisted troops. The concept is similar to laying out attack plans in a real military engagement. You can't just attack; you need a plan, the right conditions, and the proper troops. Oddly enough, the card game structure seems to lend itself to the idea of simulating battles better than some strategy games. It's a much broader snapshot of what is going on, but you can get a better feel for the overall forces driving the battle to its conclusion.

After choosing your Doctrine, you draw a hand of six cards and move through four play phases. In the first one, Arm, you pull any factories from your hand, giving you Resource Points that are used to deploy units from your hand.

The 140 cards are spread across all three factions and represent a handful of unit types like aircraft, infantry and armored artillery. Each card is stored in your main deck and provides various offensive and defensive capabilities over the course of a match. Before you can deploy cards, you first need to build up resources from factory cards, which are similar to Lands in Magic. Also similar to Magic, there are limits to how many cards you can play per turn. Each turn you have three Infrastructure points, and playing or drawing a card costs one Infrastructure point. During your turn, you can drop three factories or other cards, or draw three cards, or some other combination of actions. Deciding how to use your resource points is the first in a number of strategic decisions you'll need to make during your turn.

From here, you move to your Attack phase, which is slightly more complicated. You can only attack if you have the right units, which are determined by your current Doctrine. Provided you have the right units in play, you can select the Doctrine and send units into the battlefield. If the attack goes unopposed, the Effect stated on your Doctrine card goes into effect. Otherwise, all selected units are pulled into a Combat phase.

Here, things get slightly more complicated since units have different attack parameters based on the three combat stages: Artillery, Battle, and Close Combat. Based on when a card attacks, you can have different effects. Pulling an example straight from the manual (which will be your best friend alongside the tutorial videos), the Panzergrenadier cannot attack during the Artillery phase, but can either damage or kill enemy units in the Battle and Close Combat phases, respectively.

Hearts of Iron: TCG costs nothing to try out, which is probably its most enticing feature. Just for creating an account, you'll get three starter decks representing each of the three factions, 3 booster packs for creating your own decks and tickets to enter tournaments. The starter decks are more than enough to get you into the game, while the boosters give you a feel for deck building. If you like what you see, and I'm fairly certain both CCG and strategy game players will, additional booster packs and tickets can be purchased using Ducats, which are available for purchase from Paradox's online shop.

I've only been playing Hearts of Iron: The Card Game for a few weeks, so there's still lots of information and gameplay to pour through, which is another indication of a great CCG. Though it lacks some of the pizzazz found in other games, Hearts of Iron: The Card Game is already shaping up as a really cool way to kill a few hours regardless of where you may be. Strategy and CCG fans should definitely give Hearts of Iron: The Card Game a try.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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