Malkyrs is an interesting game. Touted as an "interactive card game", it attempts to straddle the line between a physical and digital CCG, with the intention of giving you the best of both worlds. The early access game tries to combine the joys of collecting and trading physical cards with the more complicated rules and RPG elements that can only be achieved on digital platforms, but with pretty mixed results.
In Malkyrs, you buy, collect, and trade physical cards just like Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh. They're the same dimensions as typical trading cards but are thick, feel durable, and have a noticeable weight to them. This is because each card also holds an RFID chip, which you must scan with an NFC reader in order to play the game on your PC, Mac, or Switch. So no, you cannot play the game using just the physical cards. Instead, you build your deck of physical cards, download the game's digital client to your platform of choice, and play the game on-screen by repeatedly scanning your physical cards with an NFC reader in order to use them. The physical cards do not even list their effects on them, so you must scan a card and watch it pop up on screen just to know what it does.
If that sounds clunky it's because it is, causing the simple act of reading a card to be tethered to your phone and computer, and it's a flaw that's further exacerbated by the game's fast pacing. Like most CCGs, the goal of each Malkyrs match is to reduce your opponent's health to 0 by taking turns playing one of your deck's 11 cards. You have only 30 seconds to decide what to play or else you forfeit your turn. Opponents can even pressure you further by playing cards that reduce the amount of time you have to take your turn to as little as 5 seconds. Having to scan a card just to see what it does means that newer players—or even seasoned ones just experimenting with a new deck—will be spending the better part of their turn rushing to scan as many of their cards as possible just to be reminded of what they do, sometimes resulting in a missed turn or bad play simply because they can't physically read all their cards in time. And with effects like "Damage: 2 x Strength + 2 x Resistance" or "Damage: 3 + Strength + X, where X is the number of Infection and Bleed markers on your opponent", a turn of Malkyrs can often feel like scrambling to finish your algebra homework while the teacher is walking towards you to collect it. It's a system that rewards experienced players for knowing their decks well, but also disproportionately punishes newer players that are still learning every card's effect.
This gap in card knowledge can eventually be overcome by new players, but what takes even longer to overcome is the imbalance between new and veteran players' cards. In most CCGs, you can expect longtime players to come in with an advantage due to having a greater quantity of cards to build their decks from, but you still start each match with the same amount of health, cards in your hand, etc. In Malkyrs, however, individual cards can be leveled up RPG style by using "Favors" earned from completing matches, eventually allowing them to be "attributed" to factions in the game. These level-ups are stored on each individual card, meaning when I trade you my Fireball card, I'm not just trading Fireball. I'm trading my master rank Fireball that's been attributed to the Sulka Skovas faction.
Having different combinations of these faction cards in your deck grants you bonuses to things like your starting health pool or intelligence and strength stats (which determine how much damage many cards deal). It's a complex system that rewards players who can put in the time to grind for these boons, but forces newer players into a position in which they must suffer through tons of losses before earning enough in-game currency to even start the match at an even playing field. A power discrepancy between new and old players should be expected in most card games, but Malkyrs takes it to another level with little to mitigate it at the moment.
For those players that are willing to endure the hostile beginnings, however, Malkyrs has a lot to offer. The game is complex, featuring over 20 keyword mechanics, numerous counters to keep track of, the aforementioned attribution and leveling systems, and champion cards that dictate some of your starting health pool and statistics. Malkyrs decks are made up of 10 cards plus a champion card, and instead of drawing cards and having a hand of them players can play any card in their deck at any time, making a deck of Malkyrs cards feel less like a pile of cards you hope to draw in a good order and more like a meticulously organized armory of abilities. If you can learn the game well—like, really well—you can scan your cards and fire off abilities without a second thought, executing powerful combos while your opponent struggles to play within their 30 second time limit. Just don't expect to get to that level without a lot of unfair losses along the way.
All in all, Malkyrs is a game with the potential to be great fun, but until some kind of new-player-only matchmaking pool is introduced, new players should expect to be mercilessly throttled for quite some time.
Malkyrs - The Interactive Card Game is currently in early access with an expected full release around September 2019. You can check out their Kickstarter page to learn more.
TechRaptor was given a Malkyrs champion pack and three booster packs for the purposes of this preview. It was previewed on PC.