Developer: Kyy Games
Release Date: 30 November, 2011
Platform: Windows, OSX, iOS, Android
Genre: Collectible Card Game
By Chris Picone, 26 April 2018
Cabals is a free-to-play digital collectible card game by Kyy Games. Like most CCGs, Cabals appears to be heavily influenced by Magic: The Gathering. However, Cabals is no M:TG clone. Its key difference is the inclusion of a tile-based strategic board, which also incorporates board- rather than card-based resource gathering, card-tile interactions, and domination points. There are also other key changes such as permanent damage, faction loyalty, and hero abilities. Although you can spend real-world money to buy in-game currency which can be used to purchase additional decks and booster packs, paying players’ only advantage is that they don’t have to wait until they save up enough in-game currency to make those purchases. There are no unfair advantages and non-paying players can eventually earn all the same rewards – that is to say, Cabals is legitimately free to play. Cabals offers cross-platform online gaming but you can also play practice games against the AI.
Cabals takes place in an alternate Earth setting between the two world wars. Secret societies, based on a variety of real-world cult mythologies, harness forbidden powers to summon ancient creatures and use weird science to create new ones, in a vicious and secretive power struggle.
There are six cabals in the game:
· Bearclaw Brotherhood - Shamans, led by Rasputin and Baba Yaga, based on Slavic mythology.
· Danann Covenant – Witches and fairy folk, led by Morgana le Fay and Queen Mab, based on Gaelic mythology.
· Dragon Enclave –Monks and dragons, led by Elder Zhang Guo, based on Taoist mythology.
· Order of Zahir – Transmuters, led by Fulcanelli and Franz Tausend, based on esoteric alchemy.
· Sons of Osiris – Necromancers, led by Alistair Crowley, based on Egyptian mythology.
· Vril Society – A pseudo-scientific faction, led by Karl Maria Viligut, based on Nazi Occultism.
There is no story. You play as the leader of a cabal and must defeat other cabals either by conquering their stronghold or through domination of the surrounding territory. You can practice against an AI, but the game is really about player versus player. Winning games pushes you up the ladder so you compete against more difficult players. Completing achievements earns you in-game currency which can be used to purchase additional decks or boosters, but there are no other developments.
Cabals features very high quality stylised artwork, giving the game a unique look and feel. The board is very plain and simple, acting as an effective backdrop but having no real charm of its own. However, the card art is gorgeous. It’s very inspired and engaging, mysterious and dangerous, and is what pulled me into the game in the first place.
It does the job – that is to say, it sounds mysterious and dangerous and sets the mood – but gets repetitive fairly quickly and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of variety. It’s enjoyable enough when I just want to get on for a few quick games but if I’m after a longer session I normally have my own music playing in the background. The sound effects are effective, the normal sort of arcade-esque sounds you would expect to accompany your actions every time you click somewhere, defeat something, or end turn.
Cabals is, first and foremost, a collectible card game. Cards are purchased in the form of pre-made decks and booster packs using in-game currency, which can be earned by winning online matches or completing challenges, or by purchasing using real-world money. You are then free to build your own decks using your collection of cards. Some cards are rarer than others, and only cards belonging to a faction or that faction’s ally can be placed in any given deck, leading to greater variety. And being able to regularly update or experiment with your deck as you collect new cards keeps the game feeling fresh. Decks can contain any number of cards, but no less than thirty, must be led by a hero from the chosen faction, and a maximum of three of any given card can be placed in any deck. There are plenty of considerations to weigh up here – playing with the minimum amount of cards means you are more likely to draw the cards you want, but also means you are more likely to run out of cards, leaving you vulnerable. Similarly, playing with multiples gives you more chance of drawing those cards, but at the expense of diversity. More expensive cards are generally more powerful than less expensive cards, but you run the risk of not being able to afford them in the early stages of each match, or if you are unable to generate enough resources each turn.
Games are played in two-player matches. Every match is played on a randomised game board, and this has a huge impact on the strategies utilised and the way matches play out. Each player has a stronghold, which generates resources each turn and allows you to deploy your troops. If you conquer your opponent’s stronghold, you win the game. Additional resource points may be plentiful or scarce, and close or far away. Each of these points generate additional resources per turn for as long as you maintain control of the point. It is obviously desirable to try to control resource points – the more resources you control, the bigger the spells you can cast and the bigger the creatures you can summon. However, resources are usually in the peripherals of the board, so gaining those resources comes at the cost of speed and aggression. The shape of the board serves to funnel or spread troops, and may lead to more aggressive or defensive games as bottle necks or multiple fronts are created. The board may also include additional deployment zones which allow you to deploy troops much closer to the action, and create an additional layer of threat. Finally, you earn a domination point for every tile you are in control of, each turn. If either player reaches 60 domination points, they win the game, which serves two purposes. First, it provides an additional element to the game – it gives you an additional win condition, and gives you good reason to try to spread your troops out and defend areas of territory, whilst simultaneously trying to prevent your opponent from doing the same. Second, it acts as a clock, adding an additional layer of pressure to the game and ensuring that evenly-matched games still come to a swift end. A quick game’s a good game, as they say.
You can play as many cards each turn as you like, as long as you can afford them. Each card is played on either your stronghold, or a deployment zone if you control one. The cards themselves offer plenty of variety. All your standard CCG abilities are featured, including resource gain, drawing and discarding cards, buffing and de-buffing creatures, fast attack, pinging for damage, and sacrificing for damage or resources. However, Cabals cards also take advantage of the board interactions, leading to some less familiar card abilities such as mobile deployment zones, tough but cheap creatures that can’t conquer tiles, grenade effects, and so on. Finally, you play as the hero commanding his minions, so the hero card is never placed on the game board. However, each hero does come with either a passive dual loyalty bonus or a powerful special ability that may be activated once per game.
Fun Factor / Replayability
Cabals is a really intense game to play on your phone while in transit or when you’re sneaking in a couple of matches on your lunch break, but it’s also a nice relaxing game to play at home when you can have a few drinks and chill out for a few hours and play it on your tv or computer. Unfortunately, the AI in the practice games is a bit too easy, preventing Cabals from being an effective solo game. The online version is fantastic. The matchmaker is quite effective so you’re always going to get a tough, challenging game every time you play. However, the player base isn’t enormous, so there can sometimes be long delays between matches at certain times of day. Also missing is the ability to play invitation games against your mates.
As for re-playability, the game offers six decks, all of which are very different to each other in terms of playstyle, so there’s plenty of variety for your buck straight away. And as I mentioned before, although the card base isn’t enormous, the constantly-changing meta created by the process of both you and your opponents earning and acquiring cards means the game always feels fresh.
I absolutely love Cabals. I started playing it on Android years ago and I’m still playing it on Steam today. I backed the unfortunately unsuccessful board game version on Kickstarter, and I eagerly await the release of that version through Kyy’s new publisher. Cabals is much cheaper (free) to get into than most CCGs, which is another huge plus, and although the game keeps changing it doesn’t cost you money to keep playing, unlike certain other CCGs. Cabals is genuinely free-to-play so there’s no reason to not at least give it a go. I enjoyed it enough that I bought the starter bundle just to give the developers something back for all the hours of fun they gave me.