The problem with collectible card games (CCGs) is that the original design of the game that started the genre, Magic: The Gathering, was just far too good.
Because of this, you'd be hard-pressed to find a CCG out there that doesn't borrow at least some of the rules from that title, with most preferring to pinch everything but the artwork.
Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, much as with Assassin's Creed Recollection before it, is a CCG with a difference.
Naturally there are booster packs to buy and decks to build, but the gameplay on the board bears little resemblance to the mana-tapping mania of Wizards of the Coast's genre-defining title.
Might makes right
If AC:R's real-time gameplay put you off the title, you'll be pleased to know that Duel sees Ubisoft returning to a more traditional turn-based affair.
As with all CCGs, your goal is to hammer your opponent's health to zero before he does the same to you. Unlike in every other CCG, both you and your foe are represented as a card on the board - a hero taken from Might & Magic: Heroes VI on PC - complete with unique powers.
These powers determine the starting stats of your deck, special actions that can be taken during a turn, and go so far as to dictate exactly what race of creature and families of spells you can have.
A Haven spellcasting hero, for instance, may have access to both Light and Nature cards and gain a starting magic power of two, but won't have any Might power in the trunk as a result.
Might, and indeed Magic, are used to cast spells instead of the genre staple land cards. Each player can choose to add one to his tally of the two skills (plus another skill I like to call 'flag') once during his turn - thereby neatly avoiding being driven into a corner by a bad deal.
You and whose army?
Another major difference to the standard formula is how the battles themselves are arranged.
Once again taking its cues from the Heroes series of games, the battlefield is arranged in a series of rows and columns. Melee creatures can only be placed on the front lines, ranged along the back, and flying anywhere they like.
The key is that if a creature attacks down an undefended row the damage is instantly applied to the enemy hero, meaning placement and speed are just as important as power.
For instance, in one match an opponent with a Haven hero quickly filled up all his rows with cheap Marksmen who were then able to pepper my Necromancer down the flanks before I could raise enough troops of my own to plug the gaps.
Another interesting change is that spells, like creatures, can affect not only the whole battlefield, as with Magic, but also individual areas - especially when it comes to the more powerful abilities.
So, later in that same game, when my powerful central units were one hit away from killing his hero, he cast an invulnerability spell on his wounded central backline, thus giving him the one turn needed for Mass Heal to reinforce his troops.
A good tactic, except I'd saved a Dispell card, removed his invulnerability, and smashed through his weak backline, subsequently killing his hero.
Brothers in arms
The PC beta I played was missing a few descriptions and the single-player Campaign mode, but otherwise it felt like a polished and complete product, complete with detailed artwork, developed tactics, and a thriving community of players.
Multiplayer will be cross-platform on release between iPad and PC, while daily tournaments and a match-making system based on your skill level should mean you have plenty of foes to battle against when the game launches.
If you've been waiting for a game that steps out from the shadow of Magic, Duel of Champions could well cast its spell over you when it launches later this year.