Shards of Infinity shares a lot in common with other head-to-head deckbuilding games such as Star Realms and Hero Realms. To the extent that it may be difficult to justify owning both.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
However, Shards of Infinity is, as a whole, a deeper experience and has quite a few mechanisms that not only make it stand out compared to the competition but also managed to tackle a few common issues that deckbuilding games tend to suffer from.
In Shards of Infinity, you possess an Infinity Shard, an artifact of limitless power, but you aren’t the only one. You have to master your own fragment before your rivals do or destroy them first so that it doesn’t matter.
Every turn you play cards that allow you to attack enemies, heal yourself, or purchase new cards for your deck. The higher your mastery, the more potent many cards are. If the battle continues long enough for a player to reach 30 mastery and play their infinity shard, they deal infinite damage, automatically winning the game.
|Gideon’s Bias||Shards of Infinity Information|
|Review copy used: No||Publisher: Stone Blade Entertainment & Ultra Pro|
|Number of Plays: 20+||Designer: Aaron Nakahara|
|Player Counts Played: 2 & 4||Player Count: 2-4|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Deck Building|
|Fan fo Weight: No||Weight: Light|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Enjoy it||Price: $20|
Shards of Infinity consists of a bunch of cards and four obnoxiously large character boards with spinner dials built in. While the artwork on the player boards looks undeniably cool, their size feels unnecessary and awkward. They don’t sit flat on the table, and they are a bit unwieldy to handle given how frequently you need to change both dials. The dials are also a bit flimsy with a tendency to tilt at the slightest bump or nudge, which can be frustrating.
There is no gameplay difference between the characters, making the immense size of the boards seem even more unnecessary. The cards, however, have excellent artwork. The rulebook is well written, and the game is very easy to learn with simple concepts and iconography.
You get 128 cards total, and the gameplay that’s packed within them easily makes the inexpensive $20 price point worthwhile. It’s also very quick to set up and put away by nature of its small box and limited components.
In Shards of Infinity, you play your entire hand every turn, but you have to choose which cards to play first. This can be exceptionally important for setting up certain combo plays or card abilities. For example, maybe you want to banish Blaster from your hand using Umbral Scourge.
If you play Blaster, it’s in play, and not your hand or discard pile, so it couldn’t be banished. Alternatively, you may want to activate the Unify ability of the Le’Shai Knight, but don’t currently have another growth card in your hand. You instead hope to draw one using Data Heretic. If you play the Knight first. You won’t be able to activate the ability.
I felt that was worth mentioning because timing matters far less in some other deck-building games I’ve played. The need to time your card plays to get the most out of them adds some extra agency that helps prevent it from feeling like your deck is playing itself.
Ally cards are discarded at the end of your turn, while champion cards remain in play with their own health and can be targeted by your enemy. I should note unlike similar mechanisms in games like Star Realms. Most champions don’t protect you from attacks.
However, some cards have “guard” that blocks damage simply by revealing that they are in your hand. This makes a defensive strategy less predictable by your opponent at the cost of being slightly more random.
Cards belong to one of four factions, Homodeus, Wraethe, Growth, and Order. Faction cards often have abilities based on playing or revealing other cards of that faction. However, focusing purely on any one faction is rarely a good idea, they all excel in different areas, and combining their strengths is the key to victory.
In addition to your health, you have a second dial dedicated to your Mastery of the Shard. Gems can be spent to buy new cards in the center row, but once per turn, you can also spend one to increase your mastery. Some card effects can also increase it further.
Mastery is an excellent mechanism because it adds another dimension that requires your focus outside of money, damage, or healing. In the short term, mastery makes many cards more potent, including a few in your starting deck. At five mastery, the Shard Reactor grants three gems for example. At 15 mastery, it grants four instead.
However, mastery also adds a racing element to the game. No matter how flawless you or you’re opponents build your decks, the game won’t go on forever, even if you all end up hitting a streak of excessive healing. Once a player reaches 30 mastery, the next time they play Infinity Shard, they can destroy everyone else, and the game ends. Every starter deck has an Infinity Shard.
Mastery adds additional nuance to the game as you have to balance gaining mastery with every other element that you need to win, or survive until you win. One gem might not seem like much, but it can mean the difference between getting a card you really need, getting a card you really don’t want an opponent to have, and not being able to afford one at all.
There are times when you simply have a single gem leftover to spend, but that’s rarer than you would think, thanks to the Mercenary System.
Mercenaries are what really puts Shards of Infinity above and beyond for me. All deck builders have an inherent flaw, some games choose to address it, others don’t. Essentially, building a deck full of combos is fun, and acquiring new cards is fun. Yet the most effective way to play most deck builders is to have a fairly thin deck of cards so that you cycle those combos more often. This is indeed the case in Shards of Infinity.
A byproduct of that design is that in-game currency ends up being worthless in the mid to late-game. Cards that provide it end up being dead draws. However, Shards of Infinity puts a spin on the whole concept. Sure, overstacking your deck in Shards of Infinity is rarely a good idea. But the Mercenary system gives you an outlet for all those extra gems, and with it, additional depth, agency, and fun.
Any card with a red circle is a mercenary card. They can be purchased like any other card. But they can also be fast played instead. When you fast play a card, you still pay the cost, but it comes into play under you immediately and is sent to the bottom of the center row deck, not your deck, at the end of your turn. You don’t keep the card.
This has a profound impact on the entire game. As mercenary cards cycle in and out of the center row, all players have extra options that constantly change. You might give yourself extra card draws in a pinch, more attacks, gems, or any other possible combo effect. At the same time, you have to beware that your opponents can use them against you.
In the mid to late game where you begin to slow down the number of cards you add to your deck, you still have an outlet to spend your gems. This means that even strategies with heavy gem generation are viable, and it makes those cards have more value overall than they would in another deck-building game.
It’s a brilliant way to side-step the deck building flaw without including a mechanic for the sake of side-stepping it. While the mercenary system is a graceful way to address it, that’s not the only reason it exists. It’s a cohesive mechanism that fits perfectly with the rest of the game.
I have two points to criticize. The overall theme is a really awesome science fantasy theme and the artwork really sells it. But the cards don’t relate the mechanisms and theme all that well. Why does a giant earthen elephant heal me? Why does Kiln Drone have the Inspire ability?
You could certainly argue some thematic intentions to a degree. But the thing is when a game does a good job of connecting its theme and mechanisms, there’s no need to argue. Shards of Infinity simply doesn’t deliver there.
Secondly, I find the game most enjoyable with two players. It’s a free for all with more and very much leads to players ganging up on one another. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but there’s very little you can do about it in Shards of Infinity.
The moment it looks like you’re doing pretty good, you’re going to get bum-rushed by everyone else. It’s the card game equivalent of Mario Kart’s blue shell, where you had better stick close to second place until right before the finish line or suffer the consequences. Shards of Infinity truly shines the brightest at two players.
Verdict on Shards of Infinity
I’ve got a box full of Star Realms cards. Each purchase was an attempt to enjoy the game more than I actually did, a common mistake people often make, and I’m not immune to doing it.
That’s because, at its core, I really love the concept of Star Realms and its ilk. But the additions simply didn’t add what I was looking for, and that was depth. The game was just too shallow for my own tastes, full stop.
The interesting thing about Shards of Infinity is that it’s just as light as Star Realms. It’s every bit as quick to learn and easy to play. But the unique mechanisms it employs push it into the realm of a simple game with a lot of depth, rather than just a simple game.
The cards have more interactions and interesting effects. The mastery system pitches it forward, and the mercenary system grand slams it into a sweet spot that I think is pretty rare. A game that works with both, the more casual crowd, and more hardcore folks like myself.
I don’t feel like my deck is piloting itself in Shards of Infinity. I have important choices to make every turn, and in the end, that simply makes me happy to play it.
Interested in the card holders I use in my photos? They are from InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
More Reviews of Deck Building Games
- Easy to learn, fast to set up, and quick to put away
- A refined deck builder that feels like a natural evolution of its competition
- The mastery system serves as a great alternate win condition and strategical factor
- The concept of mercenaries gracefully patches holes that usually plague deck-building games while offering extra depth at the same time
- Great artwork
- Inexpensive price
- A great two player head to head experience
- The cards do not link the theme to the mechanisms they present
- The character boards are obnoxiously large and awkward
- The spinner dials are loose and prone to movement
- At three and four players, it’s very easy to gang up on a player, and almost no way to defend against it.