5Crests looks really cool. The art is stylish and eye catching and fits the alternate reality 1960's Detroit theme perfectly. The game's play doesn't quite live up to the looks though, borrowing heavily from trading card games that have come before it, including the tried and tired mechanic of cards that are are almost entirely tied to resource production. That's not to say that 5Crests isn't a fun game, but other games have come out that do resource production so much better that it's a shame that 5Crests uses a method that is starting to feel almost antiquated.
5Crests places each player in control of one of the game's 5 unique Guilds—Bruiser, Skiver, Trigger, Duster and Faceless—in a knock-down drag-out street brawl for control of the Villiam trade in a twisted version of 1960's era Detroit. Players each choose a guild and a Capo, who represents the leader of their faction for the duration of the game. The first player to reduce the enemy Capo's Moxie to 0 wins the game.[caption id="attachment_55076" align="aligncenter" width="587"] Each guild has a Capo that lists their Moxie as well as a few abilities that the controlling player has at their disposal.[/caption]
The disparate Guilds of 5Crests each focus on a different archetype, incorporating various mechanics of that archetype into a cohesive, functional deck. The Bruisers focus on tough units that hit hard. The Skivers focus on strength in numbers to poke their opponent to death. The Triggers focus on using guns and equipment to get the job done. The Dusters fit in the more standard "control" archetype and the Faceless are built around "milling" their opponent, causing them to discard cards directly from their deck into their discard pile and then using those discarded cards against their owner.
The different focus of each Guild means that there are interesting match-ups that can be put together between Guilds, and it also means that the decks aren't necessarily balanced perfectly against each other as certain mechanics are consistently more, or less, effective against others. There are enough cards, and enough variation, in each deck that allows for smart play to overcome even a bad match-up though, so there aren't any outcomes truly set in stone, at least as far as I've noticed, when matching the various Guilds against one another.[caption id="attachment_55077" align="aligncenter" width="587"] 5Crests' art is stylish and cool. The unique theme and feel of the game are some of its strongest assets.[/caption]
5Crests' biggest strength lies in the way that it handles combat. Combat is always a 1 on 1 affair in 5Crests, meaning that choosing when to attack and when to block become far more interesting than in many other similar card games. Especially interesting is the defending player's choice between simply blocking the attacker or allowing his blocker to retaliate and deal damage back to the attacker. If the defending player chooses to have his blocker retaliate, then that blocker is stuck in The Fray, better known as the no man's land in the center of the table between the players, until the beginning of the opponent's next turn. This choice adds a great layer of strategy to 5Crests.[caption id="attachment_55078" align="aligncenter" width="587"] 5Crests slips a bit in the use of cards that exist almost entirely to produce resources. The art on the cards is great, the mechanic, less so.[/caption]
5Crests' biggest weakness lies in its resource production mechanic. Cards in 5Crests are played using Villium, and Villium is generated via Front Cards. This system is very similar to the way that Land cards in Magic: The Gathering work and come with the same drawbacks. While each Guild deck has a good ratio of Front cards, there is always the possibility that a player just won't draw into as many as they need, or, conversely, that a player may draw Front card after Front card and have nothing to play with their vast Villium reserves. There are a few Front cards that have abilities in addition to simply producing resources, but they are the vast minority, meaning that most of them are simply there because they have to be.[caption id="attachment_55079" align="aligncenter" width="587"] Each Guild comes with a deck box that neatly holds the cards, as well as some plastic crystals that represent Villium, and some small dice.[/caption]
The decision to use Front cards as resource production doesn't ruin 5Crests, but this mechanic isn't my favorite, and is one of the main reasons that I moved from being primarily a Magic: The Gathering player to board games in the first place. For players that really enjoy M:TG, are tired of its traidiontal fantasy theme, and want something that plays similar but feels very different, or who don't take issue with this like I do, there is a lot of fun to be had with 5Crests, especially players who are fans of pre-built decks that simply need to be shuffled to begin playing.
A note on player count: 5Crests is primarily designed as a 2 player, head to head, battle card game, although the game can easily accommodate classic multiplayer modes, such as Two Headed Giant, Emperor, or Attack Left/Attack Right.
A note on “chrome”: The art and theme in 5Crests is stylish and unique. The Villium crystals are a fun gimmick, and the dice are decent, if small. The cards themselves aren't great though. The card stock is thin and the cards have squared corners, which may not seem like a big deal until you play with the cards and realize just how much it matters to have a good tactile experience and how that one small detail can negatively effect the entire experience.
The bottom line:
5Crests is an interesting take on the trading card game with fun combat mechanics and a unique art style and theme. As a former Magic: The Gathering addict, I see many influences in the game mechanics that aren't always borrowed from successfully, namely the resource production mechanic being tied to resource specific cards, which leaves the door open to potential, fun-killing "mana-screw." If battle card games interest you, then you will probably enjoy your time spent with 5Crests, especially if shuffling up a deck and playing are more important to you than chasing rare cards or building your own decks.
Get this game if:
You want a stylish take on a card game similar to Magic: The Gathering.
You prefer battle card games that come in pre-built decks.
You really like the 1960's Detroit theme.
Avoid this game if:
Opening packs of cards and building your own deck is your favorite part of trading/battle card games.
You hate the possibility of losing due to "mana-screw."
Rules for 5Crests can be found here.
5Crests can be purchased directly from Toi Creative here.
One copy of each of 5Crests' 5 initiation decks were provided by Toi Creative for this review.
5Crests is a good card battle game for players who like like to battle it out with pre-built decks.