The Infinity Engine–a doomsday device–has been destroyed, and with it most of the world. But somehow you’ve survived, and you’re on your way to master the shards of the engine that have exploded into the world. Can you use your mastery (and a little combat know-how) to defeat your rivals and harness infinite power for yourself?
How It Works
Shards of Infinity is a deck-building game for two to four players. Players are superhumans trying to unlock the power of the shards of infinity. The last player to be eliminated wins.
To begin, each player receives a starting deck of cards and a character dial that tracks health and mastery. The central deck of cards is shuffled and six cards are laid out as the starting row. Play begins.
On a turn, players will play cards from their hand to generate crystals (currency to buy new cards) and combat and for their special abilities. Players may purchase as many cards as they want, and new cards purchased enter their discard pile. Alternatively, some cards are mercenaries, and instead of adding the cards to the player’s discard pile, they may be played immediately for a one-time effect (after which they are placed on the bottom of the central deck). Players may also, once per turn, spend 1 crystal to increase their mastery by 1.
After the player is done playing cards, they may spend combat attacking the other players–either their champions (cards that remain in play from round to round) or the other players directly. The health tracker on the player’s dial indicates a player’s current health.
Cards come in one of four factions, and some cards give the player an ally bonus if another card of that type has been played or is revealed this turn. Some cards also show a “mastery” level, and if the player is at that mastery level or higher, a new ability on the card unlocks. One of the players’ starting cards is the infinity shard, which, if the player reaches 30 mastery, unlocks infinite combat.
The game ends when all players but one have been eliminated. The last player standing wins.
To Infinity and Beyond
I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a deck-building snob. While I’ve dabbled with other deck builders in the past, for me, it has always been Dominion. Even Star Realms, which I gave a very favorable review when it was released, after over 60 face-to-face games and countless online matches, has fallen out of favor with me.
But Shards of Infinity could be the game that gets me to change my tune.
Beyond the fantasy cyberpunk trappings and fairly generic story–neither of which entices me–Shards of Infinity takes what is enjoyable about the Ascension-style deck-building formula and elevates it and perfects it, making a game that, while still not as good as Dominion, is pretty fun in its own right.
The main criticism I came to have against Star Realms is that, once players are of equal skill, the game often comes down to luck. That is, if players are equally matched, it often comes down to who draws their allied cards together, or who has a better card available to them in the center row, or who is able to afford that better card first. I’m not saying that the game is all luck, but once I reached a certain point in the game, it felt like a skill plateau, and I could usually accurately guess within a few turns who would win the game. (I’m sure top Star Realms players will disabuse me of these notions.)
And, really, I recognize that there’s that danger in many competitive card games. But what I appreciate about Shards of Infinity is the wealth of choices that seem to mitigate this luck factor.
For one thing, if you want to avoid having to wait for for a card to cycle through your deck, you can purchase a mercenary for a one-time hit right when you need it. In my first game, this seemed like a waste–why take a one-time hit when you can have a card hit over and over again if it cycles? But this is one of the new and exciting decision points of Shards of Infinity: sometimes a single card at just the right time can tip the momentum in your favor. I like this option, and it is one way to mitigate, or at least hide, luck. With more options for the cards that come out, it’s harder to see a direct one-to-one correlation between a lucky draw and a win.
But perhaps my favorite novelty in Shards of Infinity is the “mastery” system of leveling up. While Dominion is my favorite deck-building game, its system of card leveling up (introduced in Adventures) is, to put it charitably, clunky. You trade a card in for another card, which you trade in for another card, and so on. If you remember. Shards of Infinity’s mastery dial tracks your experience over the course of the game, and each card’s “levels” are recorded on the card itself. Rather than having to exchange cards (and possibly forgetting to do so), you check your mastery dial, which tells at a glance how powerful your cards are. This is an elegant solution and opens up possibilities for dynamic cards. I love this idea, and I love its presence in Shards of Infinity. (My only wish is that it were more prevalent: currently, the number of mastery-checking cards is lower than I’d want.)
I also like the mastery dial because it will eventually force an end game. While I haven’t played a game yet that ended with one player earning infinite damage with their Infinity Shard, the threat has been present in each game. If one player presses mastery, the other player is forced to play defense and hope for a quicker elimination than might come otherwise. Even without causing infinite damage, the Infinity Shard can cause a good deal of damage over the course of the game just through increasing mastery. I don’t know how often games end with one player using their Infinity Shard to overtake all comers, but like the science and military end-game conditions in 7 Wonders Duel, if a player hammers mastery, it changes the course of the game just for fear that that strategy will prove effective. Again, I think the mastery system is very cool.
While mastery and mercenaries are the stars of the show in Shards of Infinity, the game that surrounds these core concepts is a good one. The four factions are distinct, each featuring a different way to interact with the game’s currencies of cards, combat, health, mastery, and crystals. The card powers are interesting, although the powers in Shards of Infinity feel like a step up in complexity from Star Realms and base Dominion. There are also persistent cards (Champions), similar to bases in Star Realms and Constructs in Ascension, which stay out until destroyed by opponents.
Shards of Infinity lacks a consistent “easy” card to buy as in some other deck builders, although it doesn’t seem like a limitation here. At least in my games, I haven’t been deadlocked out of the market much, and again, mercenaries help to keep the flow of the game moving even if you have to wait to buy a card. I also like that there are defense cards that players can reveal to block damage to themselves, and I like the “ally” system here, where playing cards of matching factions is usually a boon to your strategy. (Unlike Star Realms, cards can be revealed from hand to satisfy ally abilities, meaning each card is fully activated when played, which is nice for upkeep.)
Shards of Infinity is my favorite of the Ascension-style center-row deck builders, but it might not do enough to mitigate luck for some players. There still are moments of frustration when the center row seems more kind to another player than to you, or when you can’t draw your same-faction cards together, or occasionally when you can’t afford as much as you want from the center row. These are more features of the center-row deck builder than bugs. Shards of Infinity is quick to set up and variable in what cards will come out when, and because of that it is more on the situational/tactical decision-making end of the strategy spectrum. I think this is fine, especially for the short, dueling card game this is.
The components in Shards of Infinity are nice. The artwork doesn’t do much for me, but it’s good for the style it’s going for. The cards are on decent stock, and the dials work incredibly well for tracking health and mastery. (I’ve heard of some dials being too loose; mine hold in place fine. I think my copy might be from the second printing.) Each of the four dials show a different avatar from a different faction, and it does seem like a missed opportunity that these are, essentially, all the same; however, in the first expansion for Shards of Infinity, there will be more differentiation between the main characters. All told, Shards of Infinity is an incredible value for its $20 asking price, and even if it needs expansions to stay fresh, you will likely have gotten your money’s worth before that time comes.
Shards of Infinity has benefited from years of Ascension iteration, and it has launched with a compelling pool of cards and a few novel concepts that set it apart. If you like two-player dueling CCGs or quick-playing deck builders, you will love Shards of Infinity.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank StoneBlade Entertainment for providing us with a copy of Shards of Infinity for review.
Hones and perfects the Ascension-style center-row deck builder
Mercenaries and mastery are novelties that open the decision space and reduce the luck inherent in center-row deck builders
Incredible price point for what you get
Probably best with two players
Luck can still be an issue if you're a stickler for strategy
Will probably need expansions to keep it fresh for the long haul