Some kinds of games I enjoy, some I don’t, and some just make me sad. Not sad because of a tragic ending, plot twist, or circumstance, just sad for the game itself. Destiny made me sad because of its wasted potential (and budget), Hohokum made me sad because its heart of gold was in the right place all along, and Gauntlet made me sad because it was doomed for mediocrity at the most.
A Druid’s Duel makes me sad because it’s a perfect talking point for what belongs on a PC and what doesn’t, and it doesn’t deserve to be.
It’s a simple turn-based tactics game in which two teams of druids face off for map control by walking over tiles and leaving their mark on them – the first team to control every controlled spot on the map wins. The more territory you control, the more mana you generate per turn. Certain tiles, styled as different ‘seasons’, grant more mana and thus are more valuable. Mana allows you to summon druids, turn them into animals with their special abilities, and reshape the terrain to a degree.
The druids are made up of four classes, the Guardian, Wind Rider, Snarlclaw and Waywalker. The Guardian is a basic attack unit, whose animal ability is to turn into a wolf and travel a great distance, marking tiles on the way. The Wind Rider is an archer unit that can turn into an eagle, teleporting anywhere on the map, killing any unit that is stationed there.
The Waywalker is a non-combat mage who can add neutral bridges, add and remove land tiles, and steal land tiles from the opponent. When the Waywalker turns into a turtle, it becomes an indestructable obstacle for the opponent’s turn. The Snarlclaw is essentially the same as a Guardian but can move and attack in one turn. As a bear it can perform essentially the same actions as a Guardian in wolf form, only it has one less bonus move (a wolf can move 4 times, a bear can move 3) and can attack units. It’s a surefire way to fuck up someone’s grand strategy.
I found it fun to execute my tactics in A Druid’s Duel. I was always engaged with my turn and never felt like I was doing any throwaway actions, and every hit being an instant kill really makes the game feel frantic and scrappy. Outside of its well-implemented core mechanics though, A Druid’s Duel really takes a nosedive in a lot of the periphery stuff.
First and foremost: there is no fullscreen option, and the maximum windowed resolution is 1280×920. At first, this makes sense – this isn’t the sort of game you devote fullscreen to. You’re going to want something to do on the side and when it’s your turn, then you can play. But the window doesn’t update when it isn’t selected, so you have no way of knowing when it’s your turn unless you’re going and refocusing it every minute or two. I’m thankful I played all my multiplayer in a Skype call, and we were able to say “it’s your turn” for the other person.
This leads me to my biggest issue with A Druid’s Duel, which is that I don’t want to play it on my PC. I would love to take it around with me on my phone, where I can play a turn, pocket it and do something else for a bit. But having to devote Steam and a monitor to it, and also have to be at my desk to play this simplistic turn-based strategy game feels like overkill. It may have exemplary core gameplay, but it’s the lack of much to do besides online matches and an unexciting campaign that sort of leaves me hanging.
It’s not a $10 game. Well, technically it is, but suffice it to say that I’m glad I got it for free. I’d have felt pretty rotten if I didn’t, but I would gladly pay $2.99 for it on the App Store. That’s the conundrum A Druid’s Duel has placed itself in by placing itself on the wrong platform for the sort of experience it’s willing to offer.
Its multiplayer systems only go as far as having a global leaderboard you can view in a browser. The site does track some nifty stats about you, but there’s no meat to the online play to make me keep playing. There aren’t any divisions or leagues to place into or really any competitive aspect whatsoever besides your place on the global leaderboard.
There is, however, no denying that A Druid’s Duel succeeds visually. The pervasive thick outlines are very striking, and the ground sprites especially give off the feeling of detail where there really is none. There’s something undefinable though about the way the interface feels. It just feels like a mobile game, which never feel very good on PC. Maybe it’s the size of the buttons, but for a good long while I thought this was a mobile port. A Druid’s Duel somehow also manages to capture the sluggish feeling of controlling a mobile port without the complication of actually being one.
Once again, A Druid’s Duel just makes me sad more than anything else. I had fun while I played it, but it wasn’t really the sort of fun that feels like it’ll last. Sure, I had fun in the multiplayer… but only because I could be told in a Skype call when it was my turn and didn’t have to keep an eye on the window. I may have had fun in the single player, but I only played it because I had to review it and I’m not liable to ever play it again, and the same goes for random public multiplayer. If this ever comes to mobile, buy it in a heartbeat, but it’s not worth $10 on PC and it’s not worth the monitor you’ll want to relegate it to.
Ethics disclosure: The reviewer was provided a review code from the developer.
A Druid’s Duel is available for purchase on Steam.