There’s something to be said for a nice, simple deck-building card game that you can knock out in 15-20 minutes (maybe 30 if you’re unlucky).
These games are perfect for a couple of games at lunch with co-workers, or maybe as a way to begin or end a game day.
Ascension and Dominion are the grandfathers of the genre, but they require a bit of setup before you can get down to business. Then you have to sort all the cards when the game’s over!
In those games, you are basically trying to outrace your opponent, either by collecting more honour tokens than your opponents or making sure the stack of points cards runs out and you have more than the other players in your deck.
More recently there have been games where you are actually attacking your opponents and trying to make them lose “health” (however that is defined in the game). This is a Magic: the Gathering concept so it’s surprising it took so long to become popular, with games like Star Realms and its ilk.
How about a game that takes the best parts of Ascension and Star Realms and puts them together into a juicy package?
That will get you Shards of Infinity, published in 2018 by Stoneblade Entertainment and Ultra-PRO. The game is designed by Gary Arant and Justin Gary, with artwork by Aaron Nakahara.
It plays 2-4 players but I’ve only played it with 2 (and I think most deckbuilders of this type really work best with 2 anyway).
How does this relatively simple deckbuilder work?
Let’s take a look.
(Wow, it’s great to be saying that more often again).
In Shards of Infinity, each player takes one of the Character Cards that denotes who you are.
Players will use this to track their Health and their Mastery.
Wait, what’s that?
What the heck is Mastery?
We’ll get to that.
Each player starts with a deck of 10 starter cards.
These cards are pretty weak, but they will be the building blocks to creating a better deck that will vaporize your opponent!
They have your typical resources like many deckbuilders: Gems (the money to buy cards, basically) and Power (to attack your opponents).
But wait a minute.
What’s that other symbol that’s on a couple of those cards?
That’s where Shards of Infinity gets really interesting.
If you play the Shard Reactor card, you would normally get 2 Gems. However, if you have at least 5 Mastery, you will get 3 Gems. And if you have 15 Mastery, you will get 4 Gems!
And it’s just crazy enough to work.
The cards you can buy are in a Market Row of 6 cards.
The cost of each card in Gems is in the top right corner of the card.
On your turn, you play your hand of 5 cards, drawing more cards if you’ve played ones that tell you to do so. Then you buy your new card(s) and attack your opponent or their champion(s) with any Power you’ve played.
Some cards are Champions. When you play them, they go in front of you and stay there until they are destroyed by your opponent, where they then get discarded. You can “exhaust” them (you can’t say “tap!” Oh shit, I think I just got a letter from Wizards of the Coast) to use their ability.
Some cards in the Market are mercenaries, identified by the red circles around their cost.
These cards, when you buy them, can either be used immediately and removed from the game or you can buy them as usual and put them in your discard pile.
Finally, discard all of the cards you played and draw 5 new cards, shuffling your discard pile if you don’t have enough to draw.
Play continues like that until your opponent(s) are down to zero Health, in which case you win!
See? Pretty simple.
So, is Shards of Infinity a beautiful-looking tree? Or is it a vile, evil-looking demon who would snatch the baby out of your hand before you could eat it? (ummm…I mean who would eat you rather than look at you…yeah, that’s it)
I’ve been playing the app version of Shards of Infinity for quite a while now (Editor – “Hey, maybe you should have done a review by now?”), but I only played it on the table for the first time at Dice Tower West last February.
I really love the heck out of this game.
It’s no secret that Ascension is my favourite deckbuilder. I’m almost at 8000 plays of it now on the app. I also love Star Realms though I’ve never played it on the table.
There’s just something about Shards of Infinity that really attracts me and scratches that itch as well.
I think what really gets me with this game is the Mastery aspect of it.
I love that there’s a third resource that you’re tracking and that it will improve the cards that you have in your deck, either making them more powerful or just making them give you more stuff.
It can also end the game.
How is that?
Let me load the picture of the Starter cards here again so you don’t have to scroll up.
See that Infinity Shard?
Yes, if you have 30 Mastery, when you play the Infinity Shard, it will give you infinite Power (hmmm…should Marvel sue? I jest, of course).
Thus, increasing your Mastery quickly is actually a valid strategy in this game. If you can hold your opponent off until you achieve it, you will win the game.
Make sure you don’t accidentally banish the Infinity Shard, like I did one time. Oops.
Of course, you could just go for raw Power. That can also win you the game.
The cards have factions that match your Character, but that actually doesn’t mean anything in the base game. However, it’s good to concentrate on cards of one or two factions because they can become more powerful themselves if you play more than one of that faction.
The “Unite” effect makes a card even better if you’ve done that.
The Wraethe actually use “Echo”, which makes them more powerful if you have other Wraethe cards in your discard pile. I guess they don’t really like to join together.
The factions present two of the main problems with Shards of Infinity, at least the base game.
First, as I mentioned before, which faction your character is has no effect on the game. Thankfully, the expansion does add cards that use it, but this is a review of the base game, so it definitely is a problem.
Secondly, as a fan of Ascension, I really wish they had chosen different colours for the factions.
The factions are Undergrowth (green), Wraethe (purple), Homodeus (brown) and Order (blue). However, I am so used to Ascension that I habitually just call them by their Ascension faction names because they’re the same freaking colours! If they were different colours, I probably wouldn’t have that issue.
Maybe it’s a marketing/branding thing?
I don’t know.
Since I’m talking about problems, let me just mention the only other problem I have with this game.
The Character Cards are ok, but the wheels to track your Health and Mastery are just too loose. All you have to do is bump them and suddenly you’re not sure whether the numbers are right.
This could just be my copy, but all four of them are like this so I’m guessing not.
Plus, the Character Cards being big like this prevents you from just ditching the box and putting the cards in a card box for easy transport.
It’s actually really irritating to try to store and transport this game, at least compared to how easy it should be.
Those are material issues, though.
The game itself is very good. It’s quick to play, easily done in half an hour (at least with 2 players). You can get two games in on lunch!
In addition to the Mastery resource, I really like the Mercenary cards. The idea that you can get rid of a card from the Market and get a one-time boost just really appeals to me. If it’s a powerful card, I’ll probably just buy it, but maybe I need that quick hit right now.
That’s a wonderful addition to the game.
Shards of Infinity is a deckbuilder, so if you don’t like this type of game, it won’t change your mind. It is as random as any card game. You are a bit at the mercy of what comes out in the Market.
Thankfully, you can always spend one Gem to increase your Mastery by one, so you always have something to do even if there’s nothing else you want.
The card quality is decent, so the only component issue is the Character Cards mentioned above. I haven’t even sleeved mine yet, though I may end up doing that.
The artwork is really good, though occasionally it’s a bit too dark. Overall, I really enjoy the art on the cards.
As a huge fan of Ascension, I have to say that Stoneblade Entertainment and Ultra-PRO have really done a great job of creating a game that will draw my eye away from the former game.
At least for a little while.
You know I have to get to 8000 plays!
Shards of Infinity is a brilliant entry into the deckbuilding universe and I’d be happy to play it any time.
(Edit 10/13/21) – Check out the review of the Relics of the Future expansion as well!
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