I’ve got to be honest here. I don’t do trading card games. I don’t have the attention span. When I was younger I went through that mad phase of collecting Pokémon cards, but that was more of a hoarders curse than a purposeful act. Having them all, my favourites, and a wide variety was important. Using them for their purpose? Not so much… I enjoyed the trading element as well, particularly when there was a holographic card involved. However, I never actually gave credit to them and learned the game. Maybe it was the battling cards element? Or my inattentive, undeveloped mind, or maybe I was just a lazy kid? All possible…
Recently I have been asked to review Vector Wars by Eli Mamane, an upcoming Kickstarter. My immediate reaction from the outset was that it was a trading card game. You lay cards and battle them. Sounds straight forward right? Wrong. The game has a tonne of more intricacies, a lot more depth and opportunities for big plays. Our collective summary of the game was that it’s a trading card game without the trading, and we have really, really enjoyed it.
How to Play
This game is for 2 players and takes about 30-45 minutes to play. You set up the respective decks – the market and gravity wells – choose a faction and draw a setup card. You then place the respective items onto the board. And voila! The game is ready to play. There are two ways to win in Vector Wars. You can either have all 9 heroes out on the field (so you lock out your opponent). Or, you have to have the most “Zetta Orbs” at the end of the game.
On a player’s turn, they take one main action and as many free actions as they choose – within respect of their ability to do so.
- Deploy – place a card face down
- Attack – attack all adjacent cards, flipping them face up and ignoring abilities
- Fortify – pay for a fortification upgrade for a faction card (these are removed if the specified card moves)
- Pick up – pick up an item from the board where your character resides
- Purchase a market card – pay respective money for a card
- Play a market card – play a market card from your hand
- Pass – only when all faction cards have been played, if both players pass sequentially the game ends
As for free actions:
- Flip – you can flip a card face up and activate its flip ability (you can’t attack with that character though)
- Play a free action card (not the same turn you purchased it)
- Add a shield cube to a card (if you have any)
Faction cards all have four combat values, one on each side of their card. This is their fighting ability respective of where they are situated on the board and what’s around them. Faction cards do have space for an augmentation on them – these are effectively upgrades. You acquire these only through flip abilities and market cards. When you do enter combat, no flip abilities trigger (unless specifically stated). Players total up their augmentation, fortification and attack values, and then roll a D6. The final total is their attack.
How It Feels to Play
This game is perfect for anyone who likes to plan, scheme and think. Each turn you’ll inevitably spend a while thinking, planning and scheming, as is the way of most battling games. And it’s worth while, but it doesn’t cause dead time. While you’re thinking, your opponent is thinking. While your opponent thinks, you’ll be thinking. No plan is perfect, and most take a turn or two, but big plays can be made! This use of time removed the worry of analysis paralysis for us, which is a big thing for some! No end of competitive 2-Player games get killed by overthinking.
The Battle System
The actual basis for the battle system is sound and follows a logical system. No character is overpowered, and their usefulness can be determined by the context they’re used in. Sometimes the simplest abilities are the most useful in a pinch! But there’s asymmetry there, preventing similarities between play.
When a player chooses to attack, they choose a faction card on the board to have attack all adjacent enemy cards. This simple fact alone is something we loved. It removed the monotony of some battle card games. They take on everyone and enhanced the big plays of the system! The attacking player chooses the order they attack in and no flip abilities are triggered (unless specifically stated otherwise). Ongoing abilities can be used, but these are often circumstantial and not always viably helpful.
It’s also worth knowing that the fortifications and augmentations for a character have a big impact on both a character’s combat ability and likelihood of being attacked. You aren’t going to take on someone who’s more than six combat points ahead from the outset! That would be stupid – unless you had a big play in mind… When a card is defeated they either lose their shield, or if they didn’t have one, they go into the victor’s trophy pile and they also gain one credit. The moment the attacker is defeated, the combat ends.
There’s almost an art form in how to execute the perfect attack. You don’t want to take out the biggest guy first, you’ll risk wasting the combat! But you also don’t want to risk flipping any abilities that trigger on a forced flip. That can just as easily ruin a plan. You’ve got to be clever about it, and part of that comes from both logistically knowing what’s probable with a die roll, and knowing the game. The more you play, the better you’ll be. Our scores got closer and closer every time we played!
Augmentations and Fortifications
Fortifications are easy to overlook, but have a crazy impact on the game. A faction card can have up to 12 fortification dice around them, three on each edge. These have values determined by a die roll when purchased. The fortifications only count for the player whose colour faction they are, and only three count at any one time – dependent on which direction you’re attacking. As powerful as these are, they are removed if a the character moves or is defeated. This forces you to balance hunkering down and making the most of an opportunity. If you can take someone down by using a gravity well you should. It would be pointless to allow your opponent more time just so you can stay fortified a little longer.
Augmentations, as mentioned, can only be acquired through market cards and flip abilities. A character can only have one augmentation but these stick with them when moved. These are determined by a card value. With incredible luck, you could immediately have a combat value of 21, without your base value and combat die roll. Sadly your Incredible Hulk moment is unlikely to happen, as probability is against you here. Plus, one gravity well means your fortifications would be lost! What’s interesting though is that you can augment your opponent’s cards to reduce their overall combat abilities. We found this to be the most amazing element of augmenting characters, as you often get augmentations when you’ve got a poorly situated character (it’s just how it ends up). Rather than waste the augmentation on them, you can augment your opponent to have some sort of chance against them!
Another huge deciding factor in any combat situation is a card’s flip or ongoing ability. Some even trigger when flipped in combat! Knowing which card is which and how it will impact the game can be make or break and is arguably one of the game’s most iconic elements. In example, I was playing and was stuck with limited space to play in. My opponent was using gravity wells left, right and centre to move my characters to a guaranteed death. This meant anytime I played a character somewhere beneficial to me, he’d move them so they were at a disadvantage! I had no opportunity to attack. Luckily, one of the faction’s characters I was using had a simple but contextually awesome ability! He couldn’t be moved. Boom! Immediately I was back in the game and able to make somewhat of a comeback!
Many flip abilities are set within a theme of which faction you’re playing as. As we said, it forces you to have a specific play style within the game and adopt to utilise the faction’s strengths. If you’re trying to go for quick wins with a steadier faction, you’ll likely waste many of your abilities. We can’t overstate how integral these are to making the faction play well. Knowing your cards and which circumstance they work in is just as important as the numbers on the die.
It was crazy how easily an opponent was toppled when they weren’t utilising a specific element. That’s not to say there’s an imbalance in play, the scores gradually came closer and closer together as games went into. This developing ability to win shows the game is always accessible, but the knowledge and tactics within aren’t. By playing, you develop your own knowledge of what’s available and how it’s best utilised. But seriously, don’t neglect the market!
Faction’s generally follow a theme for their flip abilities, and it leads to a handy plays style guide. There’s a beautiful asymmetry to them all, and it prevents any level of imitation. Not only that, it means each faction feels different, giving value to trying them all!
The Divi-Nation faction is the most obvious choice for those who like second chances and defence. Just about every flip ability leads to more shields, fortifications and annoyances. They’re really hard to kill, and even harder to keep on top of! But they’re not impassible. As said, it leads to a play style guide, and that works both ways. How do you stop all these constant shield activations and such? Attack them before they can choose to flip! However, not all factions work like that, that would be too simple! Being able to have powerful defence is all well and good, but it won’t stop vicious flip abilities and negative augmentations! And with the deciding factor being the dice roll in most instances, no victory is guaranteed.
The Crusaders are specialised in dividing and conquering. Many of their abilities are ongoing and allow for actions on the fly! The biggest perk to these are the “rotate the card when attacked” abilities, as it allows you to switch strong sides as necessary. It’s a massive perk, and it’s tactically sound to use necessary as it’s not obligatory. On top of that are the constant use of augmentations and fortifications. These, coupled with their other abilities make them a very aggressive faction to play as. Not recommended if you’re wanting the long game!
The Necro-Techs are the faction I hate the most, and that’s not because they are bad. They are the rogue classic: traps, tricks and deception. They too have many unique flip abilities, but some which trigger when force flipped due to an attack! The most frustrating element is knowing you’ve got a guaranteed win, attacking, and receiving negatives for your troubles! Their abilities focus more on the control of different elements, like the force removal to the hand again. Perfect for anyone with a “master plan”.
The Loyalists are the wild cards here in my opinion. You’ve got your defence, offence and tactics factions. Now these fellows don’t have much focus on that… They focus on money. Gaining money for meeting certain criteria makes for superbly unique play, and allows for full utilisation of the market, something we cannot stress the importance of! Although the Loyalists don’t have as much defensive abilities, their use of items enables them to get theme edge as necessary. Definitely more for experienced players in our opinion!
The prototype came with two expansions; light the grid and capture the flag.
Light The Grid
This game still requires the death match outcome of having the most Zetta Orbs, but this felt different. During setup, each player gets a grid card. It’ll match the grid you play on but will have some of the spaces highlighted, these are your targets. When you’ve covered all, or as many as possible, with face up characters you can reveal your grid card for free. You then receive two Zetta Orbs for each character.
What makes this massively different is how you play it. It’s going to straight off the bat feel weird knowing you can’t risk characters. Nor can you risk allowing your opponent to get ahead… A true balancing act! On top of that there’s a need for a more delicate approach. This mode will be a struggle for those who are a little more gung-ho, you can’t blindly go in and attack. It won’t work! The game immediately becomes more of a game of patience than brute strength. We use fortifications far, far more in light the grid, always to our advantage. Nothing felt worthless and every move needed purpose. A wasted move allowed our opponent an edge.
In terms of a what it adds to the game… Well, it’s a different play style entirely. One of us wasn’t a fan of the straight death match, it didn’t gel with them. But when we kicked into the next gear with light the grid, they couldn’t get enough of it! Having a reason to choose specific spots, time attacks and acquire cards gave them more structure in their tactics. This game mode also forced you to use the faction abilities a little differently. You can’t spring a trap wildly, as you’ll probably be playing more defensively to hold a position.
Capture the Flag
Capture the Flag is a very deceptive name for a game variant. You aren’t trying to capture the flag. You’re trying to maintain possession of it. But don’t let my play down of its name put you off, this makes for far more interesting play! If you could hand it in, it wouldn’t be a problem anymore. Knowing you’ve got to maintain its possession until the end of the game makes for more tensions and forces new tactics. Unlike Light the Grid, you wont have that relief of handing a card in. Oh no! You’ve got to properly hunker down to manage this bad boy!
The flag has perks and downsides. It can be picked up for an action, gives a +1 augmentation, but also takes the space of a shield. That’s right, holding the flag prevents you from having a shield! And we believe this is spot on development. A faction like the Divi-Nation with their shields galore would easily manage to hold the flag. Remove those shields and they’ve got to manage the field instead!
Like Light the Grid, holding position and achieving the variant’s new mechanic doesn’t mean a guaranteed win. The flag does count for 10 Zetta Orbs at the end of the game, but it doesn’t guarantee the win. You’ve still got eight characters who won’t hold the flag to maintain, and ensuring they’re fighting fit is essential. Once the card holding the flag is defeated, it’s dropped and is once again up for grabs!
The Game Itself
Vector wars is incredibly eye catching. It holds a real cyber-punk meets Tron look without much effort, and the background lore gives it more edge too. Adds a purpose even. On top of that, each faction’s cards follow a specific theme styling throughout all cards. It’s hard to explain, but it matches their flip ability focus.
For example, the Divi-nation is a faction comprised of extremism religious beliefs. So it makes sense that every card is named after an angel from biblical stories. Combine that with their stylings on the card and you’ve got a hardcore cybernetic paladin warrior on your hands. And with their abilities oriented around protection, there’s a whole feel of divinity to them. Not to forget the dice! Although the version we played was a prototype, there was some true thought put into their colouring… And we’ve had a peek at the concept dice for the final product, and they fit the theme superbly!
The board itself looks excellent too, with there being clear markings for guidance without ruining the aesthetics. The heavy blue is running theme throughout most non-player elements and it emphasises energy and motion. No doubt symbolic of the powerful Zetta orbs the nations war over for literal power!
In a Nutshell
Vector Wars is a game I will remember. And that’s a massive claim. I’ve never played anything like it, and can’t explain it’s true genre to others without showing it them in detail. There’s something special about it, and no amount of hyping it up can quite demonstrate its intricate excellence and well thought out mechanics. To call it a card battle system is wrong, and to label is as purely area control or victory point collection discredits many massive elements.
The game is superb. It’s by no means for everyone, and won’t appeal to those who don’t enjoy head to head, tactical combat. However, our non-combatants did enjoy the game and could easily pick out the elements that worked excellently, with their only qualms being that it’s just not their style of game. Vector Wars is an excellent example of how a game can be many genres, and none at all, and still be thoroughly enjoyable and replay-able. If I recommend you check out one 2 player game on Kickstarter, it’s this one.