Build your deck and survive long enough to take out your opponents.
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Shards of Infinity is a deck building game from Temple Gates Games. Players take turns playing their five card hands, attempting to strengthen their deck through card acquisition with the ultimate goal of depleting each enemy’s health supply. When only one player remains, the game ends, this usually takes about ten minutes.
Shards of Infinity comes from the designers of the Ascension deck building game. Fans of it will find similarities throughout, but fans of any deck builders will feel familiar in the Shards’ world. The game, like any deck builder, will be heavily expanded. This review will cover the base game only, unless specifically noted.
Shards beings with each player having a deck of ten cards. Most of these provide gems which are the currency used to acquire new cards. The remaining provide power, which is used to attack opponents. Two additional attributes available in the game are mastery and health, both of these are counted throughout the game rather than resetting each turn like gems and power. Mastery is used to unlock advanced card abilities, while earning 30 and playing your Infinity Shard (one of your starting cards) results in infinite power, and an instant victory. Health starts at, and can’t go above, 50. Once it drops to zero, you are out of the game.
A turn consists of playing all five cards from your hand, gaining any attributes and abilities those cards provide. Extra abilities are fairly standard deck building fare, such as drawing extra cards, the ability to trash a card, or extra health/power/mastery/gems. Players may purchase as many cards from the purchase area as they can afford. There is no “default” cheap card to purchase in Shards, but, once per turn, you may use a single gem to use the Focus ability which provides one mastery point. Once you have finished all of your actions, and attacked your opponents, your turn ends. You then discard everything and draw five new cards, your discard pile being shuffled when you need to draw more cards.
Cards in Shards of Infinity belong to one of four factions, each card also has a type. The default type is Ally, but there are also Champions and Mercenaries, which we will discuss later. Playing factions together triggers stronger abilities. The most basic example is a card which provides three power when played, but if you have played (or have in your hand) a card of the same faction, that three power becomes six. Each faction has its own mechanical style, such as the Wraethe which are the trashing/culling faction and also provide strong power.
Champions are cards which remain in play until defeated by an opponent, at which point they go into your discard pile. Most champions offer an ability which can be activated by exhausting the champion once per turn, but others provide different effects or can only be exhausted if certain criteria are met. These are typically less powerful abilities than might be offered by higher powered standard cards, but their ongoing nature provides great value. Champions can usually be attacked by opponents, but must be completely defeated in one attack. Champions don’t act as shields for your primary health as you can still be attacked with champions in play. There are, however, actual shields you can use. Certain cards provide shield abilities which can be revealed from your hand after you are attacked to lessen the damage inflicted.
Mercenaries are unique in that, when purchased, they can either be placed directly into play or placed into the discard pile like all other acquisitions. If you choose to play it directly, you only get to use it for this turn, it is returned to the bottom of the purchase deck after use. Purchasing a mercenary for instant use is a great option to gain extra mastery, health, or attack points, and doing so allows you to take the benefit without clogging your deck with a faction you aren’t collecting. If you have a strong gem-producing deck and the deal is kind, you can pull off some really incredible combos through mercenaries alone, and the cards will never spend a second in your deck.
Shards of Infinity takes the basic attack-based deck builder, picks and chooses some mechanics from existing games, and adds some extra twists. How does it all add up? In my opinion, pretty well. It’s not a revolution of the genre, but it is a fun mix of mechanics.
The biggest positives in my book are mercenaries and mastery. Mercenaries can be extremely powerful one time use weapons, and can certainly turn games. Deck builders are always tactical in nature, but mercenaries really add to that by forcing tough choices between building your core factions and grabbing instant powers. Mastery works really well by giving you an entirely different route to victory, and it’s certainly one of the most satisfying ways to end a game. Beware though, your opponents will see you building and turn their attack towards you to knock you out before you can reach infinite power.
What doesn’t work so well? It’s another attack-based deck builder. If you are coming in fresh or are tired of the standard bearers here, then maybe there is room for Shards of Infinity, but are people going to jump en mass from those old standbys to start playing Shards? Time will tell. The one big mechanical nitpick I had was that each player gets a unique character card to start the game, matching one of the four game factions. These do absolutely nothing in the base game, which is baffling. The first expansion addresses this, but it feels incomplete to have these be meaningless out of the box and there are no expansions available at launch time for the app.
I will continue to play Shards of Infinity, I like what it offers. I wasn’t blown away from the differentiators in the game versus similar attack-based deck builders, but they grew on me. It is a series of small, incremental changes rather than a complete reworking of the genre. I’ll be paying close attention to see if Shards is able to find a significant player base online given the longstanding established competition in the field, and also what directions the expansions take the game.
Barrier to Entry
Shards of Infinity is taught through a series of five tutorials, along with some handy text overviews, and the full physical rulebook in PDF form. There is a one screen overview of the game which explains the game well enough that people with other deck building experience will be able to jump in. Should you want more, the tutorials guide you through the game basics one at a time. Each tutorial only lasts on the order of a minute and it explains gems, power, mastery, and so on. This is a really simple, effective approach to teaching the game. I’ve not found myself needing to reference the full PDR rulebook at all, which is a good sign.
Starting the tutorial
Early in a game
Look and Feel
If you’ve played Race for the Galaxy, you will be comfortable with Shards. While not a carbon copy, the menus look very familiar and things are laid out in a similar manner. There’s nothing wrong with this as the menus are clear and intuitive. The in-game setup is well done with the purchase row, play area, and hand area taking up the majority of the screen. You and the opponent’s character/champions are mostly hidden offscreen, but can easily be viewed with a click which will expand the view. Opponent’s quick stats (health, mastery, champions in play, and any defense they’ve revealed this turn) are easily viewed across the top of the screen. Shards has a lot of information you need access to, and the app does a great job of presenting all of it.
One cool extra feature is the option to turn on Jumbo text. This, as you might expect, enlarges the size of the card text, covering up some of the card art when necessary, making it easier to read without zooming in. This is a great addition we would love to see other developers mimic in the future.
The controls are well done. The app features two separate control modes. The default for phones and tablets is “drag” mode which uses drag-and-drop to handle most everything. Card details are hidden when they are in your hand, you have the option to double-tap or press-and-hold to zoom in to see the abilities they offer. The other mode (“tap”) allows you to play cards with a simple click/tap rather than drag-and-drop, this works better for larger screens and keyboard/mouse setups, but you can use this mode on mobile if you prefer. It’s great to be given options. Elsewhere, the app proves its polish with convenient shortcuts to play all of your cards and reminders when you might be leaving gems on the table or skipping over the chance to attack a champion. It’s easy to overlook these types of convenience features, but they are very much appreciated and make the playing experience better. The only nitpick here is the lack of an undo button which could be useful when accidentally playing cards in an unoptimal order.
Shards of Infinity offers asynchronous and real-time cross-platform online play. Games are created and joined via a lobby. When creating a game you chose the required number of players, any optional players you might be willing to accept, which expansions to use, and how long the timeout will be. The timeout options are 30 minutes for a real-time experience and one week, one month, or unlimited for an asynchronous game. When creating a game, you can invite a friend directly and you also have the option of adding an AI bot to the mix. The app has system notifications. You can also play local pass-and-play games for an additional multiplayer option.
Two extra things to note here. First, the time it takes to go from clicking a system notification to playing your turn is rivaled, perhaps, only by Race for the Galaxy (also made by Temple Gates Games). It’s impressive how quickly the app loads and connects to your game. It makes almost all of my other apps jealous. Second, Shards sets up really well for async play. Each time you open a game you will get to play your entire turn, there are no micro-turns or response actions, so the async experience is very positive.
Shards contains three AI levels to play against: Easy, medium, and hard. You play against one to three of them in your single player games. The app uses advanced AI training techniques for their AI, so you can be assured they will provide a tough competition. Easy isn’t a pushover at all, which is always nice to see. They will make some clear strategic mistakes from time to time but still put together strong decks which can overpower you. Medium and hard ramp up the difficulty quite a bit.
The game tracks your win/loss record for online and offline games at each player count. You may stop and resume a game in progress.
One page rule overview
Jumbo text in action
Like any respectable deck builder, Shards of Infinity was made to be expanded. Tempe Gates has said that the app will receive the expansions but the first expansion (Relics of the Future) is not available at launch time. I think the expansions are going to be really important for Shards, as they can take the game in interesting new directions. They could, ideally, work as a strong differentiator by taking advantage of and expanding on the base mechanics the game offers.
The Wrap Up
Shards of Infinity is a new entry to the attack deck building genre. It’s not revolutionary in any one aspect, but pulls mechanics from a few different sources and adds some unique twists on top. The app implementation is nearly flawless. The entire app runs incredibly smoothly, the online play is among the quickest to load we’ve experienced, everything looks great, and the various control options are great.
Looking for nitpicks, online play would certainly be a bit more interesting with some type of ranking/rating/leaderboard system. An auto-matchmaking would also be a nice convenience and some expanded single player modes (campaign?) would be welcome, but we’re really digging deep on the wishlist at this point. Maybe the only legitimate gripe is the lack of an undo button, as the order you play cards in can be vital, it’s easy to mess up.
If you already have a favorite attack deck builder, I’m not sure Shards will convince you to jump ship. It’s no fault of Shards, but many players have years invested in Star Realms or Ascension, not to mention all of those expansions. If you are looking to find a game in the genre, Shards might be a great place to start given the extremely slick implementation and great AI.