System Crash | Principal Platforms: PC (Version Tested), iOS | Developer: Rogue Moon Studios | Publisher: Rogue Moon Studios | Genre: Card Game | Year: 2016
In this new digital card game for Steam and mobile devices, players deploy assassins to the streets, they employ hackers to siphon data from secure servers, and they install virus programs to further undermine their opponent’s conflicting operations. And despite all of this, System Crash is a card game that feels a lot more like Richard Garfield’s Magic: The Gathering than his cyberpunk-themed hit called Netrunner.
Its backstory is peppered with evil corporations and heroic “runners” vying for dominance in a futuristic city with its in-game cards representing everything from informants to turret systems, and street-level coppers to military-grade assault mechs. And yet the gameplay itself is still quite familiar as you assign ‘Agents’ to the lanes in front of you and watch them do battle with opposing troops backed by equipment or supporting tactics.
Like Magic, each Agent has an attack and defence value as well as a keyword, special ability, and (usually) a flavour snippet. Anyone familiar with card games of this style will have absolutely no trouble diving into their first session and overall things are quite easy to get to grips with.
The applaudable living card game model that developer Rogue Moon Studios has adopted here is an unfortunate rarity in digital card games at the moment. You’re given complete freedom in the main campaign module to do whatever quests you want in order to earn credits and aside from a basic ‘four of a kind’ rule, there are very few policies that you need to follow when constructing decks.
Assuming that you can afford it (and you’re crazy enough) System Crash has absolutely no problem with you filling your deck with as many rare or “Elite” cards as you want, so if the idea of a grip full of rampaging Patriot Mechs appeals to you, then go for it!
There are many gameplay hours in the default campaign, even to the point where it gets a little tedious, honestly, but the enticing theme and attractive artwork will maintain your interest even when your main deck looks complete. There’s not a huge amount of troubleshooting needed between missions either, so if you’re the sort of player who likes to create one strategy and tweak one particular kind of deck to the moon, then you won’t be hugely penalised for it.
The potential strategies in the core card pool are all fairly straightforward though (with the aggro/hacking rush being extremely strong right now) and it won’t be long before you’ve seen everything that the AI enemies have to offer in terms of approach.
The campaign storyline attempts to keep things fresh by weaving a typical conspiracy yarn and aside from some occasionally ropey dialogue, it does a decently entertaining job of it. I just wish I could understand why some cards don’t have flavour text. It’s a simple inclusion that can do wonders for world building and in a digital card game; where you have the space needed to display such snippets, there is simply no excuse for cards looking empty like this.
Some players might further lament the lack of multiplayer mode, but the biggest potential gripe with System Crash has to do with the originality of its premise because let’s face it; the game doesn’t really do anything that Magic: The Gathering hasn’t already done many times before it.
System Crash can’t compete with Magic’s fluid card play either. It does successfully meld in pieces of Netrunner whilst also borrowing some nice bits from Hearthstone, and yet System Crash feels more rigid because of its strict adherence to phases. There are no moments when cards can be played out of turn, units are limited to four slots on the board at once, and if players don’t keep up with the in-game cost/power ratio then they’ll quickly find themselves falling behind.
Nevertheless, Rogue Moon Studios has clearly created a very generous package with the budget it had available and it’s one that marks a promising departure from the commerce-obsessed trappings of the wider genre. System Crash is still an eclectic mix, to be sure, but its entertaining jumble of ideas isn’t likely to leave card junkies feeling disappointed.