Real-time strategy games have never had much trouble breaking into the online arena. From StarCraft to Company of Heroes, this genre has given the competitive scene some of its fiercest competition. However, the same cannot be said for its turn-based counterparts. Games such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions may have multiplayer modes, but they've never garnered the same sort of rabid dedication. Keith Lee and the team at Counterplay Games think they know the reason why, and are hoping to put that knowledge to work making their squad-based strategy game Duelyst a hit with competitive players.
As long-time strategy fans themselves, the team at Counterplay Games designed Duelyst to be their solution to a lingering problem in the turn-based strategy genre. "We’ve always loved tactics-style games and squad-based combat," Lee explained, "but have noticed nearly every game out there focuses solely on the single-player aspect. A lot of these games are missing a [comprehensive], competitive multiplayer mode. So the vision for us became, 'Let’s marry squad-based tactical combat with a focus on ranked, competitive play. Let’s build the very best in that field.'"
In Duelyst, you and your opponent each control a small army. These two armies take turns waging war on each other with the ultimate goal of defeating the other player’s general, a of similar importance to the king in chess. Unlike in chess, however, the troops on this board must be drawn from a deck of cards first. This is where the game’s card game inspirations come into play. In addition to commanding an army, you also have a hand of cards. Some of these cards let you summon new units to the field, while others are magical spells that can further augment your fighting strength.
Of course, all this unit summoning and spell casting doesn’t happen for free. Almost everything you do in Duelyst--from moving a unit to attacking to casting a spell--costs a little mana, and all your mana comes from a single source. This means if you have four mana points and spend them all on some flashy spell, you can't move or attack with any of your troops that turn. Thankfully, your mana refills completely at the start of your next turn, and the maximum amount you have to play with increases as well. This means at the start of a game you can only issues orders to some of your units, but by the end you will be ordering units and casting spells all across the board.
As Lee described it, this shared mana pool is to help prevent Duelyst from becoming a war of attrition. Since the game was designed with ranked, competitive play in mind, the team wants matches to proceed at a brisk pace and hopefully not take more than 30 minutes to complete. Having a 90 second time limit per turn during ranked play also helps keep things moving along. The game has two ranked modes in the works: a custom mode where you battle using your pre-made deck, and a draft mode where you and your opponent take turns building a deck from a shared collection of randomly-selected cards. For those who would rather not have to worry about a time limit, there will also be unranked match types as well.
Regardless of which mode you play online, the team at Counterplay wants to keep you engaged in the battle even when it’s not your turn. To do this they’re taking a page from Hearthstone’s book by letting you see what the other player’s cursor is doing during his or her turn. This could give you some insight into what your opponent is thinking--whether they’re confident, flustered, or otherwise. Duelyst is scheduled for release sometime later this year on PC and Mac, and is currently seeking additional funding through Kickstarter.