Halfway through playing Cult of the Lamb I found myself engaged in a neat little dice-battling game. It was a mini-game, I guess, but it was so nicely handled, so rich in strategy and the suggestion of depth, that it felt like it could well have been spun off as a game in its own right. Call it the Gwent Impulse: inside this perfectly good game, here's a smaller, also perfectly good game, seemingly included out of sheer generosity.
Since then I have been very lucky with regards to the Gwent Impulse. Is this a trend? I hope so.
When I say very lucky, I mean that I played two games over the weekend and they both turned out to have secondary games tucked within them. The first is Boneraiser Minions, a worryingly compelling auto-battler in the style of Vampire Survivors. (I discovered it thanks to Hit Points.)You move around an arena summoning mobs who fight a horde of enemies for you. It all gets wilder and wilder as you unlock new mobs, new spells and all that jazz. Eventually the screen is filled with action and you can barely keep track of it. Beautiful!
And yet I discovered in a side menu a little game called Clashful Cards. Clashful Cards uses cards that you unlock in the main mode. It's a two-player affair, you against the CPU, and you both take turns dropping a selection of cards onto a playing grid. Each card has a number on it and an attack direction (or multiple directions). If the number is higher than the number on the enemy card lying in the attack direction, you flip it and it's yours. If the enemy's number is higher, they flip your card. The winner is the person with the most cards on the board at the end of a hand.
It's wonderfully elegant stuff, and I love watching the way ownership ripples across the board as a new card is dropped, changing everything. It's all down to having the best cards, sure, but there's the deal to contend with, and since cards are earned in the main mode, it's yet more of an excuse to go and play a standard game of Boneraiser Minions for a few minutes and then return with whatever you earned. Lovely stuff, tactical and generous.
Just as I was beaming with happiness about that, I encountered Tableturf in Splatoon 3. Cor, Splatoon 3 is fascinating. It's the game I already knew, but now it's stuffed with things - new weapons, a new campaign, and this funny little tactical card game.
Tableturf is sort of genius. It works very much like the main game, in that your aim is to cover as much territory with ink as you can, while your rival does the same. The difference is that rather than a 3D arena, you battle it out on a grid, and you lay down ink by selecting cards with certain ink formations. Both you and your rival play simultaneously, and if you both claim the same territory, the card with the lower number wins out. It's a series of blind hands leading to general map domination. I can't get enough of it.
There are clever tweaks to the formula, like special squares you can capture to earn points that allow you to pull off special moves. And yes, you can buy or win new card packs so your options are always expanding - making a new deck in Tableturf is surprisingly fretful stuff.
But what I really love is the way that the simple tactics have so much flair to them. You can only place a card if if connects to a card you already have on the board, so for the first few turns the aim is really to advance up towards your rival as far as you can and cut off as much of their potential territory as possible. At times, it almost reminds me of Go, a game that Nintendo has a decent history with by itself.
What I really, really love, though, is that I did not buy Tableturf. I bought Splatoon 3. Just as I didn't buy Clashful Cards, or that dice game in Cult of the Lamb. It's the Gwent Impulse. Isn't this brilliant? Long may it continue.
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