When Ironclad Tactics was pitched to me as a ‘fast-paced, card-based tactics game’ set during the American Civil War, I have to admit, I was skeptical. Little did I know that it featured ROBOTS! In Ironclad Tactics from Zachtronics, you play through stages by controlling a variety of upgrade-able automatons, called Ironclads.
The game itself gets off to the same start as the Ironclads from the story; it’s slow and unexciting for the first (and arguably, crucially important) fifteen minutes or so. The tutorials take you through the games basics baby step by baby step, feeding you bite-sized slices of information. Sadly, I could see some gamer’s trying these tutorial levels, thinking the game isn’t for them and turning away.
That would be their loss.
When the game does come to life, it roars into existence with a bang, thrusting you into action so fast-paced and engrossing that you often forget you’re playing a ‘turn based’ game. There are no real pauses between the turns, and the characters on the screen, ranging from various styles of Ironclads to a variety of Infantry units, rarely look idle. Between managing Action Points, the resource needed to interact with the game, picking cards to use and trying to stay a step ahead of your dastardly intelligent opponents at all times, you’ve barely got time to breathe during the missions.
When you’re struggling for breath between missions, the story is delivered in the form of comic-book cut scenes, given a few pages at a time. It follows two life-long friends, Maxwell Prosser and Joseph Ashdown, as they adapt to life at the front of the Civil War. They’re not alone, though. An enigmatic scholar called Zebulon Wright has invented a revolutionary new automaton, called an Ironclad, to change the face of combat forever.
When the civil war breaks out, one side has these new, advanced fighting machines and the other does not. Sounds like a pretty easy war, right? Thankfully not. Somehow, your enemies have acquired their own Ironclads. The AI can do everything you can do, and sometimes more. You need your full wit to conquer some missions.
The art style, both in-game and during the story sections, is quirky and memorable, and every unit and weapon is designed and presented very clearly. It’s easy to take a glance at the screen and say “OK, they have two Heavy Infantry and a Light Chassis coming at me.” The music and sound effects are just as pleasing, adding weight and character to every action and story point without being overwhelmed.
As somebody who plays card games like Magic: The Gathering and Android Netrunner, Ironclad Tactics shattered my expectations of a turn-based card game. There’s a true formula for greatness here that caught me off guard. The game’s tactical depth, breadth of customization and charming presentation more than make up for its slow tutorial levels. Play past the first few missions, and you might be looking at one of the best strategy games of the year.
4 steampunk cards played out of 5