Review: Duelyst

On March 9th, 2014 a Kickstarter was launched for a new competitive collectible trading card strategy game called Duelyst. In one day it gathered $10k, and within three days, $30k. In just over a week it was funded.

Finishing at over double the required amount, Duelyst has developed a hardcore following and on November 4th 2015 launched an open beta.

Today, Duelyst continues in it’s open development but the following has grown and the competitive scene is very much alive. The game is out there, it’s free to play and you definitely should – because it’s excellent.

The focus for Duelyst is on squad building, board game strategic placement and card playing. Similarities are very strong with Hearthstone but (once I discovered you can’t play it like Hearthstone) it’s a very different beast.

First, the similarities. You have a general (or hero in Hearthstone terms) and you win by killing your opponent’s general. You can summon minions with their own unique health and attack attributes as well as benefit from special powers. These are almost exactly the same as Hearthstone: minion must be attacked first, can survive a first hit with no damage, does something on being played or dying etc.

You can also use artifacts (buffs for your general) or spells. You will build decks consisting of specific cards (which will play a minion, spell or artifact) comprised of ones specific to your faction or neutral that any faction can use. Still with me? It’s basically Hearthstone.

There are challenges to complete, a monthly seasonal ladder where you gain/lose rank by winning/losing, and a gauntlet mode where you build a deck out of randomly generated option. Still very much Hearthstone.


The differences: at the start of each game you’re given a selection of cards from your deck – you can only swap out two. Each turn you get a new card up to maximum of six at any one time and each turn you can replace one (and only one) of any cards you are holding. This is a slight twist on the Hearthstone format but the real game changing is on the game board.

Duelyst is played on a grid of 5×9 spaces. Each general or minion occupies one and (for the most part) each turn each character can move either two spaces vertical/horizontal and one diagonal, and attack once. Board placement is hugely important and this is the main differentiator to Hearthstone. Think less table top card battling and more chess. It’s an obvious comparison to make but it’s the most apt – placement of your general and minions (especially given their powers) is as big a deal as ho much damage you can do. Retreating, advancing but balancing this vs. your opponent’s potential to ruin your plans at any point with a well cast spell or minion with provoke (forcing it to be attacked) becomes a key consideration.

Once I learned not to play it like Hearthstone and reset my mind, battles become a hugely tactical affair. Being able to swap weaker cards to try and enhance your strategy is an important decision and game changing factor, and each game doesn’t tend to go on for too long (the website quotes eight minute games). Deck building is aided by in game currency that you earn for wins and completing challenges although you can put down real world cash if you choose. Going by the prize funds in competitive tournaments a lot of people are going the real world route.

The game looks really nice although there’s a blend of lovely hard drawn character art and backgrounds but the card art and board characters exist in pixel form. They’re nicely animated and they look great although for me the two styles clash slightly. I found it hard at first to distinguish between the different sides (but am used to it now) and overall a bit more polish is required. I’m sure this will come in time but at the moment there’s a few instances of overlapping animation and colour on text – it’s far from a deal breaker and it will surely be addressed in time but given Hearthstone as the obvious comparison it does fall short.

Duelyst is a really good game. It’s free on PC and Mac so there’s no excuse really. Rumours abound of an iOS conversion are great news as it will work brilliantly on tablet. I’m a sucker for card battling games anyway but combining board game strategy with this feature is going to open up a whole new audience I think. I can’t wait to see how this develops.

Reviewed on PC

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