I imagine that in the big game production line, when they are putting together the different types of games on the conveyor belt, there are a range of jars that hang overhead, each with a different flavour ready to be dispensed and sprinkled onto the box below. Some of the games are sprinkled with cuteness, others with horror. Some are covered in the Sci-Fi and space dust. On others the dust is crunchy and some it’s simply a sweetener to make things go down easily. Sometimes the jar misfires and the dust floats down but doesn’t quite take and other times there’s an abundance with drowns the poor game in just a little bit too much flavour.
With Achroma from Realm Runner Studios, you get the feeling that they made sure that their series of games were stopped right under the Charm jar, because as soon as you start to open the box and gaze on the first couple of cards, you can’t help but smile. There’s a huge amount of Studio Ghibli that resonates from the cards as you got through them. From the simple item cards with their strong line work, to the main character cards with the Spot UV effects. You’d be forgiven if you thought that this was a card game based around one of the much loved IPs from the animation studio.
Achroma is all about the ebb and flow between two powers, the dark energy of the Achrom and life giving Chroma. Both are fighting to control the five realms and secure its future one way or another. You do this by reducing your opponents shard value down to zero or increasing your own to thirty. Unlike most card games I’ve played, where the life force is something that diminishes through direct attacks from your opponents, Achroma works by using your shard value as both your resource and something that you gain or drain from your opponent during the resolve phase. You’re trying to keep your characters on the field to reach the resolve phase as this is when you’ll be making the adjustments to the shards you have. It can be confusing if you are used to playing more direct combat games, as you can have an entire squad of characters on your ‘Canvas’ but not have an ability to make any attacks if your opponent is not fielding any characters at that time.
You have to look on it more that you are trying to keep your force in play past the attack step in order to benefit. You can trade in cards for shards at the beginning and end of your turn, which will boost your shard count and therefore give you more resources. Often you’ll then have to spend those same resources in order to deploy characters, locations and objects onto the field. Deploying too much will deplete your shards and leave you open to you being knocked out more quickly if your opponent manages to drain your shards. Leave nothing on the field and your in danger of having your opponent either gain shards unimpeded or drain your supply without restraint. As I mentioned, it’s unusual to see a card game where the combat itself isn’t the main driving force behind winning the game and it’s very refreshing to see someone take a risk to do something different than the norm.
Achroma comes with an app which can be downloaded to your phone. It serves a number of purposes including tracking the cards you have in your collection, acting as a shard counter and comes with an extremely cute augmented reality part so your can see the cards in your collection moving in real life. The app also serves as a method in which to connect to other players for an online game, though I wasn’t entirely surely how it worked and I didn’t have much success playing with anyone outside of this room and this table. Though I’m interested to see how it would work considering you can effectively log all of the cards in your collection.
Once you get the hang of the main aspects of the game, then it starts to open up in terms of how you can work your strategy to your advantage. Sometimes you’ll play cards that will pay you dividends further down the line in order to increase your drain and gain during the resolve phase. Other times you’ll have no choice but to trade in cards in order to keep your shard value high and make sure you don’t get knocked out. There’s opportunities to play this as more than a one on one game, as some of the cards allow you to add boons to any cards on the Canvas playing area, so I can see there being a real negotiating element to the game as you promise to boost someone in exchange for them attacking a mutual enemy. That offers a potential replay value that I wasn’t expecting.
There’s a few things I found a bit frustrating. While I appreciate the training videos and how to plays within the app. There’s no easy way to find a set up for the game unless you visit the actual website, and none of the core boxes come with a rulebook that you can easily refer to. While the player app does a good job of allowing you to record your own shard values, there is no way to run a two player game without both players having the app installed on their devices and sometimes it end up being easier just to use one of the many apps out there for recording life points for another very popular game. I know I’m being picky, but it would also be nice to have counters in the game to mark when you’ve been given +1 perks on some of the cards. I understand that production costs will limit what can be done. It seems a shame to invest some much time in an app, but not as much in making the physical copy the only thing that you need if you choose to.
I’m very impressed with the styling on each of the individual decks. I was given the chance to sample both The Siege of Draco Temple and The Fall of Flutterby and the art on both the decks is simply delicious. There’s a visual contrast between the Chroma and Achrom decks in terms of their vibrancy, and the clarity and line art of both is like looking at still frames from an anime series. You can argue that is maybe doesn’t reach the depth of artwork that you might find on a Magic deck, but it stamps an indentity on the Achroma range that would make it easy to identify. This in itself is extremely important when you are entering such a tricky market.
The move sets on each of the decks are enough to give you differentiation when you are playing different factions against each other, and I’m reminded of how Ashes Rise of the Phoenixborn pushes you towards a certain play style with each of the decks you’ll be playing with. The chance to mix and build your own deck is also interesting and worth investigating further. There’s a clear difference between Draco and Flutterby that you’ll notice as soon as you start to look through their respective decks.
Achroma biggest issue is that big huge Magic elephant in the room, and the TCG, CCG, LCG and all the other CGs occupying fairly crowded space. I’m a fan of card games and I’ve become a fan of Achroma. There’s a friendly and committed community Discord helping Achroma to grow. Realm Runner Studios are setting out their stall on this one. They are planning to release new decks on a regular basis, with plans to allow card trading and build a tournament scene both off and online. I’m hoping that enough people pick up a deck and give it a go, as it would be a real shame for something which has had this amount of care, work and charm just rumble along before it unfortunately fades like others before it. There’s a lot to like here, trying something different and looking as charming as it is. A pleasant surprise that deserves a lot more eyes on it.
You can find out more about Achroma by visiting https://www.achroma.cards/
This review is based on the final retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.