I often find Trading Card Games (TCGs) can leave me feeling rather jaded for one reason or another. For example, many TCGs will release one set every 3 to 4 months meaning the amount of money you will have to spend on them is always quite large if you want to stay relevant. This is a daunting prospect, alienating me from committing to the game. The other side of it is that when a TCG set comes out, it is often ‘solved’ after a few weeks. A select few powerful cards are identified, or the potential of a card can be obvious. (Dialga & Palkia EX anyone?)
Enter Sorcery Contested Realm. This game launched on Kickstarter in April 2022 and quickly rose to be the highest-funded TCG on Kickstarter ever. I would pin this down to a few factors. The first of which I have already touched upon. Where most TCGs have multiple sets a year, Sorcery promised to only have one mega set a year. The first set of Sorcery has just over 400 cards. Secondly, the game comes from one of the minds behind Path of Exile a free-to-play Action RPG you can download on Steam. If you have ever played this game, you will know how well-designed this game is and this design knowledge can be fully found in Sorcery. The other factors will be discussed during this review, but I will say this now, I think you would be making a mistake not trying this game when the Beta is out in October.
Presentation & Art
The first thing that will strike you when you go near either a box of the game or a starter deck is the presentation. Firstly, the art. It is stunning. The Sorcery team clearly wanted this to be a feature of this game. Every single piece of art on every single card is a piece of commissioned hand-painted art. No digital art. All the art is colour rich and sometimes appears oil painted (the artsy people will have to correct me on this). The game due to this has a clear style that invokes this mix of low fantasy and fairy-tale where every card could be from a storybook, but it is not designed for children.
Another thing that will strike you is the design of the cards and the actual packs of cards themselves. When I picked up a pack of Sorcery Alpha, I was frankly quite astounded. My friend thought I was being weird but the feeling of quality of the packaging is leaps and bounds above anything you could find on the shelf of your local game store. The cards themselves also have a great design. They have rounded edges making them a little bit quirky and the text on the cards outside of the ability box is stylised in that kind of low fantasy/fairy-tale style. I’m not quite educated enough to tell you what finish is on the cards but they feel premium.
One of my dislikes with the game is the combination of rarity and flavour text on the cards. I completely accept that some would disagree with me but I think having to use the words of the rarities of the cards hampers the game's ability to provide more diverse flavour text. However, this is a very small gripe with the presentation of an otherwise stunning game.
The gameplay is also a bit of an anomaly in the card game world. The first component of that is you have 2 decks instead of one. The first of those decks is your Spellbook which is your standard TCG affair. It is filled with minions, magical spells with one-time effects and game-changing auras. The other deck is your Atlas. The Atlas is filled with a selection of site cards that through the course of the game you will play on to the game 5x4 grid. That’s right, this is a positional game. Minions occupy these sites and can move to attack enemy sites and the enemy avatar which is the victory condition of the game.
You may start with an empty grid, but the players might build their sites towards each other or build sideways to stall. Even spells can have directional or grid-based properties meaning positioning in this game is everything. This is a refreshing and engaging feature of the game given that most card games are just rows of minions. Here you are thinking of the game closer to something like chess. How can I stop my opponent, and what is the best move for any situation? The Atlas and its sites are still your source of mana like in something like Magic but separating the two and using the cards for what they are fills the fantasy perfectly.
The game does have a generic turn structure, you take your turn and I’ll take mine and in that, it does lose some tactical depth compared to something like Flesh and Blood but that’s by no means a hit against the game. Honestly, I think the game has just the right amount of depth to not intimidate someone who has never touched a card game but not to make the seasoned gamer bored. The card text is clear most of the time barring some exceptions but that is often cleared up by looking through the rulebook and the turn structure is clear so someone who just wants to ‘do cool things’ can absolutely do that.
The last thing I want to touch on is deck building. Cards come in 4 elements and 4 rarities which allow a max of 4 copies for the most common all the way down to 1 for the rarest. Sites have elements on them which enable the ‘thresholds’ on cards allowing you to play them. This does mean you could build a rainbow deck, but you may find yourself unable to play cards so maybe stick to two elements. The nature of a card game means it is very replayable with all the new cards you will collect. There are effects on nearly every card and site so the possibilities for set one go on and on.
I will let my scores do a lot of the final talking and verdict on this game, but I genuinely do not think you could go wrong with a box of this game for a good bit of card play. It was an absolute pleasure and one of the best card games I have played in a long while. Just wait for the Beta version of the game. The Alpha copy I reviewed is worth an absolute fortune to acquire.