Crayne Fractured Empire (Preview)

Y’know what’s great? Actually physically meeting up with people to play tabletop games. Gotta love 2021 in Melbourne, eh?

And it gets even better when the game you’re playing is a brand new prototype for an upcoming Kickstarter, and the person playing it with you is the designer, and even better again when he doesn’t punch you in the face (long story). But I digress! Let’s have a look at Crayne Fractured Empire.

Crayne is a fantasy-themed deckbuilding game of player elimination from local designer Christopher Fielder with art from a diverse and global team which will hit Kickstarter come February. Players play simultaneously, buying cards from a market, playing them to attack, defend, and perform special actions, trying to whittle away their opponents’ Influence totals down to zero. Multiple factions are available to choose from, and typically focussing on one or two is the way to excel, but you’ll quickly start competing with other players for those cards, or find yourself flummoxed when the market ends up bereft of choices you ideally want to include. Naturally, being a deck-builder, you’ll curse your poor fate, but in the end you’ve only got yourself to blame.

Of course deck-builders and fantasy themes are solid and dependable, but they’re also undeniably over-represented. So is Crayne yet one more game treading familiar territory, or is it breaking new ground?

Image may contain: text that says '3 Servants ofthe Baron Cemetery At the start of each Revenue phase, sacrifice the top card of the Auxiliary Market draw. In addition you may purchase one card from the Pit as ifit was from the Auxiliary Market. Ifit Servants of the Baron card it costs 1 less (minimum cost 1). 2 Artist Credit Steven Ulbricht'

A little of both, to be honest, but I have to admit in creditable ways. The fantasy setting sees the familiar suspects such as elves, dwarves, goblins, undead, demons, and so forth and most games these days have recognised that if you’re going to include them you’ve got to do something crazy and novel with them. But the issue there is that unless you know the property well you can get a bit lost as to what the focus of their concept is.

I didn’t have this issue with Crayne. Dwarves, for instance, are great at earning cash and hunkering down behind defences to hold the line; in other words, they’re dwarves. They play exactly how you think they should. Demons are all about bringing the pain, and when they start rampaging you’re gonna get hurt. Orcs and goblins aren’t much of a threat early on, but they swiftly synergise in devastating combos as their horde grows. Likewise, the undead tinker with cards that have been ditched from play into “the Pit,” wizards offer a flexibility that keeps your options open, and elves are… tricksy. The upshot, of course, is that the factions are intuitive and devoid of confusion or incongruity.

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As for gameplay, two elements stand out. The first has to do with damage, which is not only simultaneous but non-directed; in other words, the damage you do applies to all other players, and you suffer a total of all theirs. This can create some shocking scenes when you’ve decided to forego defences this turn in favour of going shopping to have your heart sink when your opponents blindside you with a crippling onslaught. Likewise, when it’s your turn to lay the smack down, you have the immense pleasure of not having to pick which enemy you’re going to make suffer as you instead get to smugly announce your final offensive total and bask in the collective expression of anguish. So satisfying.

The really big element that stands out has to do with a mechanism I’ll refer to as the “discard discount.” Every faction card in your discard pile makes other cards of their faction in the market cheaper to buy, which might seem like a simple enough rule but it has a dramatic effect on gameplay in a number of ways. Naturally, it makes those big expensive funkier cards much cheaper allowing you to get cool cards into your deck quicker, and it also encourages you to play to your deck’s strengths, but this pointiness can prove your downfall if you don’t diversify when you get to a stage where the market isn’t in your favour.

Image may contain: text that says '7 Free Elves of Springlake Ancient Forest Wyrm This card gains +1 Attack for each other card you played this round. MAX 9 4 Artist Credit Matthew Burger 3'

It also gives the game a certain rhythm. As you get to the bottom of your deck you’ll be wanting to buy, buy, buy, and once it’s reshuffled you’ll be best off taking to the battlefront. But what do you do if you’re near the end of the deck and your opponent is wide open? Do you take the chance and strike now, or do you hold off and go to market while the sales are on? These are the choices that make Crayne different from other deck-builders I’ve played.

I’m not in the habit of reviewing prototypes and Kickstarters as they’re still unfinished and I can’t give a fair verdict on them, but there’s a lot about Crayne that I like and I look forward to playing it in its final form. While the game is being initially launched with five factions, three more have been fully designed as stretch goals and more are being developed as I write.

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Crayne Fractured Empire hits Kickstarter February 3rd and you can find out more on the Facebook page or on the website.

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