Imagine a game combining the in-depth thought process of Starcraft with the intense, fast-paced action of Hearthstone, and you won’t fall far from Prismata, Lunarch Studios’ new hybrid strategy game. At first glance, this may sound like a niche mix. But it’s proving to be a popular one, attracting tyrants of the CCG scene like Hearthstone’s Lifecoach and British GWENT pro Freddybabes. Another Hearthstone pro, Stanislav Cifka, even showed us what 92 hours of the game looks like.
But how did Prismata come about? Its origins actually date back to August 2010, when a group of former MIT graduates were experimenting with their own spin on the strategy gaming genre. Combining ideas from CCGs and real-time strategy games, their initial prototype was incredibly simple, perhaps too much. But it was this simplicity that brought with it a bottomless pit of strategic depth. Its creators were so enraptured by the idea that they ended up developing it further for several years. You may have seen its Kickstarter, which attracted attention from across the gaming community and secured almost 4000 supporters. For a game that started out as something the developers played over instant messenger, that’s an impressive trajectory.
On the surface, Prismata could be described as chess with an economy system, but PC Gamer’s “Starcraft meets Hearthstone” analogy feels more appropriate. The game rotates players through three main phases: defence, buying and attacking. The start of each turn will see you choosing whether to exhaust all your Drones for maximum gold or holding some back to increase your defence.
However, a Drone is only good for one point of damage so it falls to anything it blocks. Further Drones can be purchased in the buying phase, where you can also invest in something like Tarsiers, which will give you additional attack strength once constructed two turns later. Prismata’s core strategy stems from not just what offensive units to buy, but also how you use them. Sometimes it will be better to take out the enemy’s Drones to weaken their buying potential, while other occasions might see you destroying their Steelsplitter to weaken their attack. Providing, of course, that you’ve already breached their defences.
For many competitive games, there’s not much skill to be gained from playing against the AI multiple times; it often becomes repetitive and keeps to a few simple patterns. This can be said for both MOBAs and CCGs. But in Prismata, outwitting the AI is a feat similar to defeating one of those notorious JRPG side bosses with a million HP. The “Master Bot” was written by the 2013 Starcraft AI competition winner, and there’s even an achievement locked behind defeating it for the trophy hunters among us. Fortunately, there’s still experience points to be had for playing against the AI, so you can still earn your dailies while battling Prismata’s “final boss”.
What’s more, the developers haven’t shied away from addressing the elephant in the room. There’s no denying that some of the most competitive games to date are free-to-play projects. Just look to the likes of Hearthstone, Smite and League of Legends – easily sharing a combined average Twitch viewership of half a million. However, in reality, we all know the term “free-to-play” needs to be taken with not just a pinch of salt but a full measuring jug’s worth. CCGs, in particular, could be considered the biggest offenders. While you can download the game and play it for free, winning consistently and expanding your collection often requires you to purchase more cards with real money.
With Prismata, Lunarch Studios have pledged to be free-to-play and free-to-play only. Everything – from the core defences like Walls and Forcefields to the advanced attack tokens like Rhinos and Tarsier – are available from the start. Only cosmetic items like avatars and emotes require real cash, and this is how the developers feel it should be for all games of this genre. There’s even a cheeky Easter Egg in the campaign, where the malfunctioning AI you’re battling requests you “speed up the construction process by using your wallet”. Its creator then immediately dismisses this as “nonsense”, and I admit to laughing a little. It’s funny because it’s true.
Prismata is currently in early access and can be purchased on Steam for £19.49. Despite a basic looking UI that the developers have promised to rework with new art and music, the game is holding 100% positive reviews from a pool of over 50. There isn’t much of an Esports scene, but Crash_overlord recently hosted a Swiss, the first of its kind for the game. Could we see this 100% free-to-play, 0% RNG breed of strategy gaming sneak its way up the competitive food chain?