5th Cell, the developer best known for creating the Scribblenauts Series, simultaneously announced and released their next game: Castlehold, a tactical card game now in early access with a distinctly eclectic theme that pits pirates, ninjas, cowboys and more against each other. It’s a smaller-scale version of a familiar (and frankly a little disturbing) genre, but one that brings a lot of new ideas.
Castlehold takes place in a world where a cataclysmic event has mixed different eras of history, bringing all of humanity to floating islands in the Astral Sea. What this practically means is that it all basically happens in terms of theme, with different eras essentially acting as groups of synergistic cards similar to Magic: the gathering Different colors. You can cram pirates alongside cowboys in the same deck, but some might have perks depending on certain types of units you play – or even the type of terrain you choose for turf, like the grass or snow.
The idea of a hybrid tactical card game is far from new, twisting the usual CCG setup by having players build a set of troops which they then summon onto a grid-based board to move around. and fight. The vibrant Faeria developer Abrakam has been around since 2017, while others like Caller’s Bane (originally called Scrolls, which Bethesda continued more than Minecraft developer Mojang and Duelyst of Godfall Developer Counterplay has been missing for years.
But that’s not too much of a comparison, as Castlehold sets itself apart from this not-so-heartwarming endeavor in several ways. It still requires you to summon units on a relatively small hexagonal board, but the pace and strategy is vastly different from something like Faeria or even Fireplace. Instead of using a traditional mana system, Castlehold has more in common with a game like Advance Wars, with five captureable villages on the board that allow you to summon stronger units or activate a special ability when you have enough.
And maybe especially for any fan of card games tired of the usual collection grind, your deck only contains 10 cards in total. This small size has a number of effects, ranging from making strategies more consistent because you’re more likely to draw what you want, to reducing the investment in building a strong deck because you have need fewer cards overall. Additionally, it makes the loss of a unit mid-match more significant and turns Castlehold into something almost chess-like, with both players cautiously holding the line until the appropriate time to trade blows, back down, or make a roll. decisive strike.
Castlehold is initially launching on Steam in Early Access, with 5th Cell using this time to work on balance, add maps (and potentially modes), and listen to community feedback. While there’s certainly plenty of room for it to surpass its initial pool of 150 unique cards, it’s already polished enough compared to some of the Early Access launches I’ve seen, including even the ranked game from early on. departure. How well other things like card collecting work, which forgoes duplicate cards or a crafting system in favor of making a few specific cards available for purchase with spinning in-game currency daily (besides the usual random packs), is something we can’t really tell over time.
It also marks an interesting and somewhat unexpected return for 5th Cell, with Castlehold being the developer’s first self-released major game since he faced off against major layoffs in 2016 after publisher Warner Bros. canceled Scribblenauts: Fighting Words. The studio has not been inactive since then, but development on Castlehold has only been going on for about a year now with an internal team of just 10 people, not including contractors.
Castlehold gameplay screenshots
Whether Castlehold will be a triumphant return for Cell 5 remains to be seen. While I certainly enjoyed the handful of games I played prior to release, the digital card game space is notoriously hard to find these days – and the low survival rate of tactical card games in particular. , many of which were also quite enjoyable on their own, is hardly encouraging for this new scrappy created by a small team.
While I’m not exactly crazy about its historic handbag theme, ultimately feeling more like it lacked specific styling rather than having a mix of them, Castlehold’s more intimate playstyle and the smaller platform sizes have found a niche that certainly sets it apart from others like it. A game doesn’t necessarily have to be a “Hearthstone Killer” to find an audience that appreciates and supports it, and while it can be an uphill battle, Castlehold at least has the potential to do so.
Tom Marks is Associate Editor of IGN Journals and Resident Pie Maker. You can follow it on Twitter.