While Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering – arguably two of the biggest names in digital CCGs (collectable card games) – continue to pass Nintendo Switch by, the genre's growth in the mobile market has seen plenty of other alternatives see the potential of making the jump to Ninty's hybrid hardware. British studio PlayFusion has already brought Lightseekers to the platform – complete with the functionality to scan physical cards into the game – and now it's doing the same with its latest project, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Champions.
With Games Workshop pumping out licensed tie-ins to its Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000 universes at an alarmingly fast rate (there are two coming to Switch next month alone), the consistency in quality running through them has dipped as often as it's peaked. However, Champions can confidently place itself among the better uses of Warhammer's revitalised fantasy world, presenting a distinctly different CCG that attempts to set itself apart from those bigger names with some alternative ideas.
Rather than choosing a single hero and building a deck around their key qualities, Champions takes cues from the unit-focused battles of the tabletop game and splits each side of the battlefield into four channels. You assign a champion to each channel and it's through these characters that you'll play certain cards. For instance, only wizards can cast spells so having at least one in play is vital if you want a magical edge in effect. Each champion also has a certain lane in which they're most effective, and you'll find certain ones match up better or worse against others.
To add more of an RPG approach, each champion goes into battle with their own unique set of objectives. Think of these as mini-quests that need to be completed in order to make their card shift and activate the next challenge (and eventually unleash a powerful blessing). It might be activating a certain buff or playing a particular unit. With only two moves per turn (there’s no mana here, so every game has a more level playing field from the start) you’ll need to balance champions being engaged with another unit in play, planning for upcoming objectives, countering your opponent’s champion and more. As a result, games can be a little slower, but they can often be considerably more satisfying for those who’re tired of the classic rules of Magic and the like.
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is currently one of the biggest trading card games out there today, and the versions on iOS and Android have proved just as popular with mobile and PC players. So much so that we now have this Nintendo Switch version, which features full cross-play compatibility with those smartphone editions. It’s an important feature as it means Switch adopters have a full and competitive community of players to battle, rather than relying purely on servers designed for a single platform.
Of course, the downside of moving away from smartphones and PC is the lack of consistent data coverage. If you are planning to take the battle online – and this is where Champions is at its best, including the new Arena of Echoes mode which adds in extra stipulations and greater rewards – then you will need access to a decent Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, you’ll need to have consistent access to Wi-Fi to access any other mode – even deck building and solo play. The addition of new modes such as the increased challenge of the Realm Trials give players plenty to enjoy, you just need a constant connection if you want to enjoy them.
This is a free-to-play the game in the age of Fortnite so there has to be something in play to make money for its developers. You can play through the solo content and unlock cards, and level up to earn even more, but with the premium Champions Pass you’ll get a ‘free’ card every day, enjoy increased XP and more. We found it easy to build a competitive deck by earning them through play, so those paying for the Pass simply have access to a little more variety at a faster pace. You can also scan physical cards into the game to access them digitally, but you’ll need to do this via the smartphone or web versions. Thankfully, all accounts across mobile, PC and Switch are unified so you’ll be able to import cards from other versions to use on your Switch.
In the highly competitive world of CCGs, PlayFusion has taken one of the biggest fantasy licences and seamlessly melded it with a card battling system that's both easy to grasp and different enough to set itself apart from its contemporaries. With the addition of extra modes, including the Arena of Echoes and Realm Trials, and the option to scan in cards from your physical deck, there's a deep and customisable experience that's ideal for genre veterans. Joy-Con controls work well enough – enabling you to play in docked mode – but it's at its best when played intimately in handheld mode with the touchscreen. The need for a constant internet connection will irk some, but for those that are willing to be tethered to Wi-Fi, PlayFusion has served up a fine rival to the likes of Hearthstone.