I’ve always wanted to really get into some meaty card games. Swords, sorcery, and high fantasy were always my favorite things. My family knew it well, and I even remember my uncle gifting me a starter set of Magic: The Gathering. I was fascinated with the cards and the artwork to the nth degree. Unfortunately as a nerd-among-nerds in a small town, I never had a chance to play with anyone and ultimately never got into any card games. A sad tale indeed.
I mention it because so many gamers love card games, and usually MTG is held up as the gold standard. Of course, I’ve played it a handful of times in my fully grown life, but missing out on it as a youth means I don’t really have any nostalgia towards card games – neither physically nor digitally. This means I don’t really seek out games like HEROish. Yet I’ve found myself playing cards games more and more. So I was ready to rock when offered the chance to take a look at HEROish up close and personal.
HEROish is a game that released last year on iOS as an Apple Arcade exclusive. However, at the end of the year, the developers over at Sunblink chose to include the true platform and added it to PC by releasing on Steam as well. I played it on Steam, but from the size of the interface and the giant buttons, you can tell it is very clearly still a port from mobile. Despite that, the game plays well, and I enjoyed it. It may be a bit cheeky, but the game really does take your typical dueling card game and blend it well with a side scrolling MOBA.
It really is a card game wrapped in a MOBA with a side of 2-D sidescrolling action
It’s a card-MOBA-roller… a MOBA-car-oller? I don’t know, but it’s something like that.
HEROish, like many card games before it, is all about dueling. That’s the only real gameplay available. There aren’t any team battles or open-world action; it’s just a single duel at a time, just as in MTG or a thousand other games. It’s just you vs. me.
However, rather than simply playing cards from your hand, you actually control one of six different heroes. That’s where the game goes from a simple deckbuilding/dueling game into more of the MOBA territory. During a match, each player has a home crystal that must be protected at all costs. The game ends when the crystal is destroyed. In the PvE mode, some of the battles involve smashing the enemy’s crystal, but a lot of them simply involve surviving a certain number of enemy waves (I’ll talk more about the PvE mode later).
You’ll run back and forth with your summoned units trying to smash the gates and eventually the opponent’s crystal. However, rather than spawning units at a set interval or purchasing them during the fight (although that was available in some fights), you’ll find that most of your units are spawned on top of you by playing their card from your hand, meaning you don’t have to escort your troops from your base to the enemy’s necessarily. Instead you can load up your hand and unleash them right at the gate.
It makes timing your plays all the most crucial. I had a few fights when I played my archer (or whichever unit it is) without any other support, and we got completely stomped. If, however, I played the archer followed by the soldier that provides an armor buff, and followed that with the healer, then they’d all get the boosts and steamroll the enemies. It’s just an example, but what I’m trying to illustrate is that the timing and positioning of your plays can make all the difference in whether you win or lose. In that way, the game gets a big thumbs-up from me. There are some card games where it feels like the card draws are so random and nothing I do would’ve fixed it. Here, you have a lot of agency in making the right call and plays.
Now, back to the deckbuilder side of the game. I mentioned there are six heroes. Each of the heroes has some unique hero specific cards, but they also share some unit cards with another hero, sort of like a faction. So if we put it that way, there are three factions: two cursed, two imperial, and two beast types. I really enjoyed the first default hero you begin with, Flynn. He had some armor/healing boons, a charge good for a small knockback and dashing through the arena, and also a nice stun ability. The faction cards are all different unit types. For the blue faction, we get some archers, knights, and wizards. In the beasts, we see a few different forest types and animals.
I mentioned how you can make some clutch plays by playing the right card at the right moment. My paladin hero had his stunlock, which was really nice and certainly buys you a bit of time to spawn out a few other troops. But most of the units also have a summoning ability. For example, the soldiers can give units around them armor on spawn, and a lancer does knockbacks when he hits, which can be enhanced if the enemies are debuffed. There are all kinds of ways to make sure you play your cards wisely; it’s just a matter of making sure you don’t blow your cooldowns too early. Also, each card can be leveled up, largely in the form of simple stat increases.
Your deck holds just 12 cards, so you will shuffle through them a lot during a match. Of course, all the deck work is handled automatically. During a match, you will slowly gain mana that can be spent on activating cards. Flynn had a max mana pool of 33; I don’t know whether that’s the same across heroes or not. You’ll “draw” a card every few seconds, and the hand limit is four cards, so you can’t necessarily have all the exact skills and units you want ready, but that’s the nature of a card game like this.
The game offers quick and ranked battles with three PvE story lines and a tutorial
With a card dueling game like this, you expect the multiplayer side, but it it’s the PvE campaigns in HEROish that actually surprised me. You don’t see a lot of developers of games in this genre take the time to build some stories and quests for players to enjoy.
I played through only the first story before writing this up, but it’s pretty good! The writing isn’t going to win an Oscar, but it’s light-hearted and even made an old grump like me chuckle a few times. You begin by playing through a short but very natural-feeling tutorial, eventually choosing a hero from the imperial faction. I was really pleased with the way the tutorial laid out game mechanics plainly while going through the beginning of the story. In fact, I played through a few chapters of the story before I even realized that I wasn’t in the tutorial and was actually playing the campaign.
The PvE world includes an actual map too. It’s nothing too weighty as you basically walk towards the next quest marker, but there are some mobs to challenge to a duel and rewards to be had.
Normally I would’ve had a nice little section of this write-up talking about the various monetization schemes, but in another surprise, there’s only one in the whole game – and that’s the box price! It’s not cheap, coming in at about $20 to play. However, for that price, you get the whole game. There are no cosmetics to buy; there’s my battle pass to grind through. There are no shenanigans of any kind that I could see. You’d expect a game like this to be free-to-play, but here’s one where that’s not the case.
So for all of you out there who complain that games should go back to a buy-to-play model without any funny business, here’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. I enjoyed my time and recommend anyone who likes MOBAs and card battlers to give HEROish a draw.