If you’re unfamiliar with the game Culdcept, you’ve probably never set foot in Japan. Culdcept is to Japan as Magic: The Gathering is to North America. The game has been a collectible card game in Japan since 1997, but in all those years, it has never made the journey across the Pacific. There have also been quite a number of video game iterations in Japan, but North America hasn’t seen a single one. Until now.
The Japanese version of Culdcept has received success on nearly every console in the Japanese market, from Sega Saturn and PlayStation to Dreamcast and PlayStation2. Finally, though, NEC has braved the harsh winds and brought Culdcept to North America with hopes that the West embraces the game with as much fervor as the Japanese market.
At first glance, Culdcept looks to be a very intimidating and complex game. In practice, though, it has enough similarities with the classic board game “Monopoly” that the gameplay becomes almost like second nature. The manual also deftly explains nearly every aspect of the game, so after a game or two you and up to three friends will be playing without any problem.
Matches begin by choosing 50 cards to make up your deck, and these cards are divided among three varieties. The first is a Creature card, used to defend territories and challenge opponents who wander into them. The second is an Item card, which gives any summoned creature an advantage in battle. The third and final type is a Spell card, which has a wide array of effects, from forcing an opponent’s move to weakening any summoned creature on the board.
Similar to “Monopoly,” Culdcept is played on a board divided into red, green, yellow and blue spaces, each of which represents land that can be purchased and grouped with other like-colored property. Owning a series of like-colored territories is to your advantage, because for every extra territory you earn an additional 10 hit points for the defending creatures. Summoning creatures of the same color also grants a hit-point bonus, meaning a little strategy can go along way in strengthening the fortitude of your territories.
The actual play unfolds as cards are randomly drawn from the deck. Only six cards can be held at any given time, so your decision must be rather strategic. After rolling the dice, you move that number of spaces and, if the space is not occupied, you can summon one of your Creature cards to defend it from trespassers. If it is owned by another player, though, you must either pay the “rent” or summon one of your Creature cards to attack.
In battle, each creature card has a set amount of strength and hit points. If your creature’s attack is equal to or greater than the defending creature’s hit points, you win the battle and claim the land as yours. If its attack doesn’t finish off the defender, though, the defending creature will attack your avatar. If the attacking creature succeeds, it doesn’t have to pay rent for that territory. If the defender wins, though, the attacking creature dies, and its card is lost for the rest of the match.
The objective of all this is to become the first player to earn a set amount of magic, which acts as the game’s monetary system. Players earn magic by making it around the board or making a stop by the castle, which awards gamers for each territory in their possession. Players also build their coffers by leveling-up their territories (turning houses to hotels, to use the Monopoly analogy), which raises the rent due to you and strengthens the Creature cards defending it. Conversely, attacking, defending and using spell cards all cost magic, so players have to use magic wisely in order to win the ultimate “most resources” competition.
If it sounds as though the game would get tiring after a while, it actually doesn’t. That’s in part because the story Mode does a superb job of slowly introducing new concepts without overwhelming and, in turn, alienating players. The first match consists of a basic board setup, with the player only needing to face one opponent. As you progress, the boards become larger, more complex and offer a larger number of paths to follow after you roll the dice. Players also eventually face multiple opponents simultaneously, which is both challenging and extremely addictive if you have a single competitive bone in your body.
The graphics in Culdcept are nothing to write home about, but they’re good enough to make the game enjoyable. Unfortunately, that’s where they stop. Some of the boards have cutesy scenery and offer a nice backdrop, but a little more in the graphics category would have been appreciated, even if graphics don’t add too much to a strategic “board” game such as this.
The music is also just above average, and a little more work in this category, too, would have added to the overall experience. Longer music clips, especially, would have been a nice addition, since a single battle can last more than an hour, at which point the repetitive, two-minute soundtracks start to make you bite your nails. We always have the mute button, I suppose.
But if you’re used to board games like “Monopoly,” then you’ll do just fine without a stellar soundtrack or fancy graphics. In fact, if you’re a fan of card and board games, Culdcept will probably hook you like a Lower Haight Street junkie. There simply isn’t a more addicting game of this genre. If you’re looking for a game that’ll get the most out of your gaming dollar, Culdcept is that game. This is simply a must-buy for the strategy gamer and a great asset to its new North American home.
- Gameplay: 9
- Graphics: 6
- Sound: 6
- Replay: 10
- Overall: 8
- A must-buy for strategy fans, a rental for everyone else.
— Sylvia Gallardo