Collectible cards games (CCG) are popping up everywhere lately, and though many are well-made and nice to look at, it's easy to mistake one for another. That's unlikely to happen to Artifact, Valve Corporation's new CCG/MOBA hybrid. Well-made and beautiful as it is, its mix of turn-based card gameplay and real-time battle arena mechanics make it a totally new species of strategy animal. At first glance, it might seem that MOBAs and CCGs go together about as well as peanut butter and sardines, but there's many parallels. Both involve strategic thinking and smart “building” to succeed. The approach differs of course -- card game players build decks full of powerful cards before each game; MOBA players build powerful heroes as the game progresses—but success in either means knowing how to plan your moves carefully and thinking ahead. By bringing the three-lane concept into a card game, Valve has effectively multiplied the need for strategic planning and created a dynamism that doesn't exist in other CCGs. That frantic MOBA energy creeps in early as cards affect other lanes and shift among them, combat blasts past your defenses (attacks happen simultaneously rather than one after the other), and your opponent lands hits on multiple Towers. The MOBA madness also makes for some amazing turn-arounds when your downed hero comes back to life, and you get to slap them down right where your opponent will hate it the most.
Valve's struck a good balance here, not only in terms of gameplay, but difficulty as well. New players might feel there's a lot to absorb when it comes to the game rules, but Artifact does a reasonably good job of teaching newbies how to play. Furthermore, Solo mode offers plenty of opportunity to learn the ins and outs of deck and card types before jumping into competitive play. And though experienced CCG players will get up to speed more quickly, there's plenty of competitive play and card-building intricacy to to keep them occupied. Granted, players with more cards build better decks, and cards cost money. Too soon, your kids could be clamoring to spend money on card packs and event tickets (the latter are required to participate in special online events), and due to the Vegas-like nature of card pack purchases (you never know what you're getting and might have to buy a lot of packs before landing a particular rare card), the demand could become never-ending. In addition to that, the game's player base has dwindled due to controversy over Valve's card purchase model. Still, despite shop-related issues, Artifact is a unique, beautiful, entertaining strategy game that -- if you can keep your card pack purchases under control -- is well worth the download.