Scrolls is hard. I didn’t expect to be saying that. I thought I was going to sit down at my PC and have a nice time with Mojang’s collectible card (sorry, scroll) game, but I wasn’t prepared for just how nuanced it can be. With its simple hex map and its turn-based, scroll-playing mechanics, Scrolls is a game that could easily exist outside of your PC and on your living room table, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that makes it simple. Woe betide any fool who goes into the game thinking that it will be.
strategy gaming at its purest and most classical, almost chess-like in
its clockwork considerations, and this is how it begins. Two players
face off across a grid of hexes that is six columns wide, five rows deep
and divided straight down the middle. At both ends of these rows the
players have idols that they must defend, while simultaneously attacking
those opposite them. They do this by summoning units onto their half of
the grid, most of which will charge forward along a single row to
attack the first thing they meet, be it another unit or an undefended
winner is the first to shatter three idols. Both players immediately
find themselves wondering whether to deploy units in defense of their
own threatened idols or instead make a bid for a gap in their opponent’s
defenses. With each half of the grid three hexes deep, there’s plenty
of room for setting up different combinations of, and many of these can
be nudged into an adjacent row if a redeployment is required.
of these units, along with a host of bonus powers and defensive
structures, exist as scrolls in a deck. Players start with five scrolls
in their hand and take turns to draw and play them, adding another
scroll to their hand every turn, but no-one has the luxury of simply
playing a scroll for free. Every scroll has a resource cost, and the
main way to gain resources is to discard other scrolls. The catch is,
each discarded scroll adds just one point to your resource pool, no
matter how powerful it might otherwise be. When they’re sacrificed this
way, a mangy wolf is as useful as a mighty warrior.
so, before you’re even battling, your first brain-scratcher is working
out what to sacrifice now and what to keep for later, knowing that
you’ll have to throw away some scrolls in order to use others. Your
second challenge is keeping a healthy hand of scrolls in front of you,
as discarding one scroll and playing another will quickly whittle down a
hand that only receives one new scroll a turn. Oh, and there’s also the
third third challenge of where you’ll actually place the units you’ve
unit has three stats: their health, the amount of damage they inflict
and a countdown value. That last value determines how many turns you
have to wait before they attack. Hardly any cards act immediately. As a
rule, cheaper, weaker units tend to have lower countdown values, meaning
they’ll often act sooner and more often, while more powerful units take
their time between attacks. Not only does this mean they attack less
often, it also means they spend more time inert and vulnerable, as
opposing units‘ own countdown values click their way towards zero.
Certain scrolls provide buffs that can boost your unit stats or provide a
much-needed cut to their countdown time but, of course, it’s the luck
of the cards (sorry, scrolls) that determines what you’ll draw next.
this means a game of Scrolls has your brain juggling at least a dozen
different stats at any one time, as you thinking about which rows to
attack or defend, how many turns you have until an enemy strikes, which
of your scrolls you really must keep and, inevitably, which units are
never going to be anything more than cannon fodder. What’s more, the
endgame can be pretty punishing. Past a certain point it seems to be
impossible to turn a game around, meaning that, unless you want to
surrender, you have to play through several more turns of punishment.
Like I said, Scrolls is hard.
give yourself an edge you’ll want to tweak your deck of scrolls to suit
your own play style. Each deck must be at least 40 scrolls, with a limit of three of each scroll. As any Magic: The Gathering player would, you can
custom build decks, spending the money you earn in matches against other
players to add more scrolls to the three default collections that you
begin with. Each new scroll is randomly chosen and you’ll never know
what you’re going to get until you’ve put your money down.
the very nature of Scrolls means that there’s a certain amount of
chance involved in each game, since the scrolls you draw dictate the
actions you can perform. On more than a few occasions I’ve found myself
in desperate need of a creature card so that I can summon something, but
turn after turn my deck has failed to give me something helpful.
Building my own deck would help me mitigate this, but that’s something
that will take time.
scrolls themselves could also do with more variety in their design and a
couple of the units are a little too similar in appearance. While
Scrolls obviously isn’t trying to push your graphics card to its limits,
it would benefit from a little more clarity in these areas, as well as a
few interface tweaks. On top of that, the game is also a little too
beige for my liking. This is a very brown experience.
while Scrolls is currently in closed alpha, its fundamental mechanics
are already pretty sound. I have a feeling that the unique challenge it
presents in its marriage of video games, board games and deck-building
will keep many gamers occupied for hours. PCGamesN will be keeping an
eye on this one.