Conjure is a Trading Card Game for two players, created by an Australian independent developer. Initially, it’s a little confronting – resembling a strange combination of Magic: the Gathering, Yugioh, and Chess. Despite appearances, it is easy to learn, and quick to play. With popular mechanics borrowed from a video game base, it only takes the initial few rounds of your first game of Conjure to start having fun.
In Conjure, you control an army of magical Spirits, hell-bent on destroying your opponent’s Spirit forces. Play consists of summoning Spirits through Conjure Portals, manoeuvring them across the tiled game board, promoting them to higher ranks, and then moving in to destroy your opponent’s Spirits or Conjure Portals. The multiple paths to victory – by reducing the other player’s Health to zero by attacking either Spirits or Conjure Portals, or by capturing a Conjure Portal for 3 turns – means that any one strategy is never perfect, and there are no Optimum Strategies. Whilst skill certainly plays a large role, you can’t just build an unstoppable deck and win by default.
Play begins with each player drawing five cards. An additional card is drawn at the beginning of each turn, and there is no maximum hand size. Each turn, you are able to Conjure a single Novice Spirit (the first of 5 Spirit levels). Spirits may then be moved across the tiled board according to their movement number, where they may then attack enemy Spirits, or directly attack or capture enemy Conjure Portals. You may also Promote a single Spirit by playing the next tier along the Promotion path (Novice > Apprentice > Master > Titan > Legendary), which increases Attack and Defence values. It is important to note that every Spirit of each level can be Promoted to any other Spirit of the next level – unlike Pokémon TCG, where you have to have the next Pokémon of that exact species in order to advance. You cannot promote a Spirit that was just summoned, however, so you need to think carefully and plan ahead.
As a nice change from other TCGs, Spirits don’t counterattack, which means that your heavy-hitter with terrible defence is still actually useful! Additionally, Spirits gain experience points by killing other Spirits, and they use these to promote further, climbing the ranks.
Finally, if you don’t happen to have any Apprentices in your hand, but a board full of Novices, you can sacrifice three Novices to turn them into a powerful Master, and likewise two Masters to create a Legendary. This is an incredibly powerful mechanic, allowing players to deploy very powerful Spirits quickly with the right cards.
In all, Conjure feels more like a tactical turn-based video game than a traditional board or card game, bringing it close to an insanely tactical combination of Heroes of Might and Magic III and DotA 2. Conjure is a great card game for lovers of more traditional TCGs. It has enough depth to keep seasoned gamers engaged, but enough familiarity and simplicity to allow new players to pick it up with ease and to actually stand a chance against those veterans. Once new players have learned the ropes, and have figured out all the different aspects of the game, the real metagame can begin, allowing for some good ol’ fashioned TCG deck building.
As a TCG, Conjure has no standard boxed set that comes with everything. Instead, it comes in themed Starter Decks of 50 cards each at $20 AUD (a deck must have between 40-80 cards). Of these decks, I sampled the Demon, Knight, and Dragon-themed decks, and they were each well balanced against the others, whilst holding strong cards that would carry over into proper competitive play – a huge bonus when compared to the starting decks provided with many other popular TCGs.
Perhaps Conjure’s best feature is how quick and easy it is to learn. The rules for Conjure can be explained in around 15 minutes, after which the game essentially runs itself, thanks to the familiar and easy-to-comprehend video game mechanics. This, in my opinion, is a huge selling point, as this is a claim to which no other TCG I have played can make.
The lighter price tag does, unfortunately, come with some setbacks. The cards are of a lower cardstock and trim quality than larger games like Magic: the Gathering, and whilst lots of the art is superb, some of it suffers as well. This is hardly something that can be blamed on an independent TCG, however, so it’s not much of an issue.
One further issue is that the Promotion mechanic often relies on odd numbers adding to the Attack and Defence scores of your Spirits, as opposed to the more traditional round numbers found in similar card games. Whilst this isn’t a problem in itself, the added complexity does have a habit of stalling play. This mechanic is one remnant from Conjure’s video game origins that I personally feel would work better in electronic format, as opposed to at the table.
Conjure is a must buy for TCG enthusiasts who don’t have the patience for longer and more complex games like Magic: the Gathering, or for players new to TCGs who want a relaxed and fun introduction to the complexities of the genre. Whilst it has some quirks that set it back, it has far more redeeming qualities to make it a worthwhile purchase for any gamer, regardless of TCG experience.