I’m somewhat of a big fan of digital card games even though a major portion of the gaming community looks at it with disdain. Being in Asia, I naturally grew up with Duel Masters and Yu Gi Oh than Magic the Gathering in my childhood. Fast forward to modern-day, and you can still find me raging about RNG on Hearthstone or simply setting higher records in Slay the Spire. During one of my searches for an alternate card game (more specifically a grid-based card game), I came across something a bit…..different. That’s exactly when I took Against The Moon, a turn-based strategy that combines CCG and Roguelike mechanics out for a spin.
Onto Death, if We Must
The game’s set in a catastrophic future where colonization and technological advancement has led to the creation of a race of creatures called Furos, who have gone rogue. They have rampaged the planet, overrunning every habitation except the self-intelligent city of Arx, the last vestige of the human population. You control intelligent superhumans called Ultori, who are all blessed with the power of the goddess of the city of Arx. The main antagonist is the Moon, the one who bestowed the blessing of the Luma (some sort of luminous mineral that powers everything in this fictional world). The story has a lot of pace issues, and players are introduced to facts (and logic) much before they are supposed to. Moreover, the storytelling kind of seems like an info dump (well, sadly this review is one too) about the world and its lore. Force-feeding lore seldom works in games – the interest for seeking it out has to come from within the players.
Playing the Cards Right
Against the Moon is a turn-based strategy game, and people would immediately know what to expect from it. Players are in charge of superhumans called Ultori, and they get to summon special creatures and cast magical spells to dispel the Furos. Doing either of these requires Luma, a special resource mined on the planet. The objective is to protect Arx, the intelligent goddess of the city from being destroyed. Players will be facing several enemies on their path, and they need to defeat them by dealing sufficient damage to their boss (basically the monster that summons the smaller Furos to the field).
The game’s unique and different from other roguelikes because it employs a card-based approach to strategy. While the units and spells aren’t explicitly called “cards” (in fact, they are referred to as “powers” in-game), there’s a striking similarity with games like Duelyst and (to some extent) Faeria. In fact, I referred to Against the Moon as “singleplayer” Duelyst when I was playing it. However, unlike Duelyst, you don’t need to move your units to attack an enemy. At the end of a turn, all units attack enemies in their lane automatically – you don’t need to issue the orders manually. There are three lanes to place units on, with nine grids on either side of the field. (You can only place units on your side of the field). At the end of turn, all units attack enemies in the same lane automatically. The strategy revolving around the placement of units as well as usage of abilities every turn is what makes the game so immensely likable.
Every turn, you have a fixed amount of Luma (the game’s equivalent for “mana”). You can use it to activate any of the powers you have – summoning creatures or casting spells. All creatures, just like most other card games, employ the Hearthstone model – you have an attack and health attached to every one of them. The attack of all creatures (including the Ultori) is added up and dealt to the enemies in the lane. Enemies will also deal damage during this “automatic attack” phase, and your creatures will take damage – taking points off their health. Once their health hits zero, the creature goes *poof*. Creatures can have special abilities which can be activated after every attack phase (called ‘script’), or when they enter the battlefield (called ‘initiation’), which can be used to your advantage. Spells act just like in other card games – you cast the spell, it does something, then it goes straight to the game’s discard pile. When you run out of cards in your deck, the discard pile is shuffled back, and that’s how you keep going (that is, if the wrath of the Moon hasn’t overwhelmed you already).
If the enemies outnumber you vastly and you need to do something to maintain board control, use the ultimate powers of your Ultori. Being specially trained superhumans, your Ultori will have abilities that can help turn the tide of battle. To ensure that you don’t spam the ultimate button every turn, the developers decided to make it so that the ultimate charges one point (of energy) every turn. Some creatures and spells generate additional energy for these abilities so that they can be recharged faster. These powers can be devastating – stopping multiple creatures from attacking, drawing a fresh hand of powers, or attacking and eliminating the strongest enemy. If all fails, mother Arx herself has a special ability herself – dealing damage to every enemy in her path.
At the end of the level, based on the spoils of the battle, you can change your deck of powers. You can upgrade your units or spells or remove some of them from your deck (based on the abilities received at the end of the battle). Some battle even rewards Ultori upgrades, which allow one to improve the Ultori under their command.
The Dark Side of the Moon
Against The Moon shipped with two main modes – Luma Run and Campaign. There isn’t any “mode” called Campaign, rather there is a selection of missions that must be completed for the sake of the story. Every section advances the story a bit, starting from the prologue. Luma Run isn’t unlocked from the start – one can only play it once the prologue is completed. This kind of makes sense since the prologue acts as a tutorial for the game’s mechanics, which is a bit different from standard roguelikes and card games alike.
What really put me off was the lack of a multiplayer mode. The game has tremendous potential for multiplayer – allowing players to choose their Ultori, then deploying creatures on the battlefield and casting magic spells till one side falls. (Deployment phases need not be visible to other players till they are confirmed). I did expect something like Might and Magic Heroes multiplayer, but oh well, there are some things in life which you just can’t get.
Luma Run is where the real fun is. You pick up three Ultori from a choice of many (currently, “many” only means four), and then set out on an epic journey full of obstacles to overcome. There are Furos to fight and overcome at each stage, with the end of the stage having a boss that is a bit more powerful than your regular Moon-tossed Furos. The goal is to keep continuing until you break down and lose to an overwhelming Furos army. That’s the end of the line – or is it? You can keep replaying this mode as much as you like, and that’s where the real fun is. I really want this to come to more platforms in the future, including mobiles (so that I can play the game while I’m in the pooper).
Luma run generates “points”, which can be used in the game’s “research lab”. Each research takes up a progressively bigger number of points and unlocks a random unit or spell that can be added to the deck during a Luma Run. I really liked this concept of rewarding the player for playing the game instead of just forcing them on for getting a better score every time.
Visuals and Performance
The game doesn’t boast of a very high visual fidelity. Some effort could have gone into drawing the units better – the designs look extremely basic. Even the Ultori, which seemed to have received the most attention when it came to designing, doesn’t look particularly well. Considering the fact that the game’s idea itself is unique and builds on something that I really wanted to play, I would have let it slide – but I am going to be fair, and criticize it anyway.
The game does have some performance issues as well. No, I’m not talking about framerate drops here – it’s more about the game’s stability itself. It takes a lot of time to launch for a game that most people would boot up to take a break from work or something, and I doubt they will have the patience to wait. Considering the fact that Against The Moon borrows heavily from Slay the Spire in terms of gameplay mechanics, there’s no reason the experience should be sub-par.
Sound and Music
The game’s music is one of the better parts that help keep people engaged when they decide to play the game. It has a sort of aesthetic charm, and one can feel the suspense all around as the Ultori fight back waves after waves of Furos controlled by an angry Moon. The main menu music is the most prominent here, and you can leave it on hours just like that – it’s that cool. Sadly, the in-game sounds for unit attacks, special abilities, or spells are very sub-par. This stands out in strong contrast with the suspense-inducing theme, which is immensely likable as it is.
Against The Moon is a fun card-based strategy game that is extremely fun to play especially when you are taking a break from work (or are in the bathroom, in case a mobile port comes through). However, there are a few minor issues that the game suffers from – and which need to be corrected in future updates. Despite its flaws, I would definitely recommend people to pick it up if they really like the genre of games like Slay the Spire, One Step From Eden, and others.