What do you get when you combine
games like Chess, Stratego, or Risk, with Magic: the Gathering?
If combined poorly, you get a huge mess on the table in front
of you, causing excruciating pain and demanding a massive cleanup
effort. However, if done in a more organized manner, you might
end up with something much like Spirit Wars, a strategic one-on-one
Similarly to MtG, in Spirit Wars there are various colors to control,
each linked to a certain terrain. There are six in all: yellow
(drylands), blue (wetlands), brown (highlands), black (darklands),
green (woodlands), and white (flatlands). Also similarly to MtG,
summoning spirits of a specific color requires energy of the same
color. To summon Woodland Bears, for example, you need four green
energy. Energy spirits are your source of this energy in Spirit
Wars. For instance, to get that green energy, a Sawmill is most
The MtG similarities pretty much end there. SW (Spirit Wars, not
Star Wars) takes place on a map, instead of in the abstract world
of MtG. Your mission is to protect your castle and destroy the
castle of your opponent. The map is randomly chosen, and the castles
are placed for you. You could end up about four hexes from your
opponent's castle (likely to be a quick game), or you could have
much more room to move. Surrounding the castles is your battlefield,
composed of the six terrain types corresponding to the six colors.
There is a significant bonus given to spirits resting in their
homeland (Woodland Bears in a woodland hex). This goes for energy
spirits as well, who produce a bonus point of energy if built
in their homeland. Due to the random maps, there may be only a
couple hexes of a given terrain on a map, so a two-color dungeon
Aside from energy spirits, there are combat spirits, defender
spirits, and spells. Since combat spirits are the most complex,
I will get to them last. Spells are pretty straightforward. For
instance, pay seven yellow energy to cast Emancipation, and any
"slave" spirits that happen to be around will move farther and
hit harder; I have grown quite fond of this spell. My Flatlands/Drylands
dungeon has over six "slave" spirits in it. They are cheap and
worthless when I summon them, but the Emancipation spell (among
others) can make them quite formidable warriors.
The next type of spirit is the defender. An example of the defender
spirit would be the Woodland Maze. You place this spirit on the
map (preferably in a woodland hex) and it can defend any spirit
(or your castle) within its blocking range. Say your opponent
is attacking your Galley Slaves with his Spartan Militia. You
haven't used Emancipation on the poor slaves yet, so they are
doomed. Fortunately, you put the Woodland Maze up, so you can
block the attack with the defender. Of course, my Flatlands/Drylands
dungeon has no Woodlands spirits in it, but it was the first defender
to come to mind.
Now it is time for the combat spirits. These are the bread and
butter of any dungeon in Spirit Wars. There is a really huge variety
of spirits available, ranging from the weak and useless (without
help) Galley Slaves, up to the Norse god Thor. Other gods are
around as well, but I happen to have Thor, so I thought I would
mention him (sadly, he is a Wetlands spirit, and I do not have
enough blue energy to maintain him). The various statistics make
combat a very strategic process. Most creatures have a move range
of just one hex, so anything that can move further than that is
very nice, and difficult for the slower opponents to combat. Similarly,
most spirits are melee fighters, and can only attack bordering
hexes. Thus, archers or any other ranged attack units can be significantly
devastating to their opponents. A unit with a move range and
attack range of more than one hex (such as my Roman Horse Archers)
are among the most troublesome combat spirits out there.
There are more variables for the budding strategist to consider
as well. For instance, some spirits are shielded from damage received
from a certain color (Apulian Lancers are impervious to Darklands
spirits). Some units (mostly Darklands spirits like Lowland Skeletons)
can resurrect for a small fee in energy. Some units, such as the
Centurion, can exert their leadership over certain friendly units
(in this case, any Romans), giving them bonuses to various stats.
Other magic using spirits have miscellaneous unpleasant effects
to be sent towards enemy spirits, raising maintenance costs, lowering
movement ranges, lowering attack power, or even damaging them
from across the map (such as Thor and his hammer).
When I first began this review, I was advised to practice a bit
in the free version before trying out the member version, and
I would advise anyone starting out to do the same. In the free
version, everyone has the same spirits to choose from (although
many of the better ones are missing), and losing a game has no
effect. Therefore, it makes a good practice arena for one considering
the member version. In the member version, when an account is
first created, it is filled with 200 random spirits. It is up
to you to create a playable dungeon out of these spirits, and
in some cases that can be a little bit rough. When I first started
my game, I had not a single unit with an attack range greater
than one, in ANY color (unless you count Thor's hammer spell,
but that's not a natural attack, and I could never afford to use
it anyway). That, coupled with a few other factors, led me to
a 3-7 record after ten matches. Competition is very rough, but
after some adjustment I'm a bit more confident.
Speaking of tough competition: should you want to truly challenge
yourself, two or three tournaments are held every week. There
is a whole array of Tournament Rule Sets that are used during
the tourneys that define certain colors, spirits, or even exact
dungeons that must be used during the tournament. This can provide
for some interesting strategies. The Thieves Den rule set is full
of all the spirits that allow you to bring an opponent's spirit
under your control. I played (and got immediately eliminated)
in a Black and White rule set tournament. I felt a little better
when I found out that I lost to the future winner of the tournament.
Now that I have given you an idea of how Spirit Wars works, the
time has finally come for me to share my opinion on the game.
I would definitely say this game is not for everyone. FPS or Street
Fighter-clone fans will probably not find this game very riveting.
Thinkers who enjoy stomping people like me in games of Chess or
Stratego will probably enjoy SW immensely, as I would think MtG
fans would. If you happen to like both Magic: the Gathering and
strategic board games, there is no reason you should not give
the free version a try. I shall elaborate on my opinions a bit,
The gameplay is immensely strategic, no matter how you slice it.
Sometimes you win or lose just because you have a horrible draw.
Even in a two-color dungeon, I've had white energy coupled with
yellow spirits as my only available resources. The map can have
an adverse effect as well; in a recent game, my castle was right
in the middle, and I had my opponent's castle pretty much stuck
between my army and the right edge of the map. That practically
guaranteed victory for me (though I almost fouled it anyway).
Sometimes your opponent will have a much more powerful dungeon
than you will. However, through "migrations" and a player rating
system, your dungeon can gain new spirits and you can fight only
players around your difficulty. Or, you can be like me, and play
against whoever happens to be available at any given time. Even
with the odds stacked against you most of the time, through strategic
thinking, you can at least put up a decent fight. If not, there
is always the "Concede" button.
Something that astounded me regarding this game is the Spirit
Wars community. I have played many games online, and the Spirit
Wars community is one of the friendliest communities I have come
across. I don't recall running into a single jerk the entire time.
After getting beat senseless, my opponent did not say, "hA Ha
I OwN JoO." Rather, the SW opponents gave me pointers after my
first couple matches, or would laugh about interesting instances
of luck in the recent match. As far as I have seen, they are the
kind of people you want to play games with on a regular basis.
Let's talk graphics and sound. If you are looking for flashy graphics
and heart-stopping sound, this genre probably isn't for you. On
the battlefield, all combat spirits take one of three forms: a
bow and arrow (range attack units), a horse head (for units with
a move range greater than one), or a shield (any other combat
spirit). You also have a windmill for energy spirits, a tower
for defenders, and, of course, a castle. There is no animation
at all. There is some pretty fine artwork for the spirits, but
that's about it. Of course, this makes the download nice and small,
which is a plus. As far as sound goes, there really isn't any.
At the start of the activation and movement phases, it makes a
little sound to let you know your turn is up -- there are no other
sounds. The other phases really could have used alerts, too. While
the weak graphics do not necessarily detract from gameplay, a
little more sound wouldn't have hurt.
Technically, the game is fairly strong. There is a bug that shows
someone as available to play when they are actually already playing
a game. Unfortunately, if you challenge a player who isn't really
available, you have to close SW in order to make yourself available
once again. Aside from that, I have heard talk of an exploitable
bug that allows you to use a unit's special ability more than
the game restriction of once per round. I have not personally
experienced this one, though. Either way, bugs have only been
a mild annoyance thus far.
Overall, Spirit Wars is a challenging and enjoyable game. It's
definitely not for everybody out there, but strategic-minded individuals
owe it to themselves to head on over to at least give the free
version a try. A wise man once said, "If it's free, it's for me",
BACK TO TOP | BACK