Version tested: iPhone
Let's clear the back rows first: this is an Assassin's Creed spinoff in the form of a freemium deck-building card game, and you need to sign up to Uplay to use it.
Those that remain, abandon all doubts. Assassin's Creed: Recollection is absolutely superb.
The game's rules share much in common with Magic the Gathering and its ilk, but Recollection has several of its own twists. The key touch is that everything takes place in real-time - one day is one minute, with a constant on-screen indicator telling you how long until the next turnover. The gameplay area is a board split into three regions which you contest with an opponent through agents and sites, and when a day turns over, sites in regions score their points, and each player draws a card and gets a slight but permanent cash boost. It's the simple and elegant fulcrum on which everything else depends, an ever-swinging pendulum that brings home a crushing influence at just the right moment, or the sword of Damocles itself.
This approach to time, impractical in a real-life card game, is wedded to card launching times and cooldowns, which means Recollection' early game echoes turn-based play, but by the latter stages everything can come down to two armies sitting in their HQs ready to spring, waiting for the first move. Scoring is all about the agents and sites - up to two agents can campaign in each region of the board, which takes half a day plus half a day's recovery time, while sites score whatever number their influence is per day.
The agent side of things is a familiar Magic-style combat system, where each has a power and a health stat that are directly matched against the stats on any card that blocks them from campaigning. On top of this, agents can come with all sorts of spiffy powers, like boosting your team, assassinating enemies on the field, or making opponents discard memories (the rather unnecessary noun that replaces 'cards').
What really works well with Recollection' time-based scoring system is how much decks can be built around messing with your opponent's cards. Many card games avoid 'direct' attacks between players, but here they happen every game - and sometimes form an entire encounter. Many online decks are built around a twin strength in high-scoring sites and agent-ruining spells, which will slaughter someone unprepared for such cheesy tricks. There's a huge amount of variety across the different breeds of cards, but the way they can slice into each other is an invigorating constant.
That combative streak has a little touch of Assassin's Creed's character, too. I'm ambiguous about the branding, because the design of this game is so brilliant that it really doesn't need to piggyback, but that said this is polished to a fine shine. The card designs are gorgeous, as is the presentation throughout, with essential tools like the deck-builder intuitive and slick. There's attention to detail in the smallest thing here - like the tactile way a new pack of cards is handled, for example, opened gradually with each 'reveal' left to the player's touch.
Yes, I bought in-game currency and am proud of it - the designers behind this, and Ubisoft, deserve every penny they make from Recollection. That said, it's a more generous game than one might expect, rewarding you with significant chunks of in-game cash for progressing through a great single-player campaign (with an amazing challenge mode at the end, be still my beating heart) and playing online. You earn enough to buy new packs just from having matches.
So, Recollection is brilliant. Even if you're not into this kind of thing, it has a clear tutorial and easy learning curve. If you like a bit of deck-building, then download this now. And if you fall between those stools, forget about classifying things by their genre and just think about this. Assassin's Creed: Recollection is an amazing game, with online multiplayer and serious depth. And it's free. Tomawhat?