Tabletop Gods – Early Access review

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Title: Tabletop Gods
Developer: Ghost Fish Games
Publisher: Other Ocean Group
Website: https://tabletopgods.com/
Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC (reviewed)/ PS4
Release Date: 07/01/19 (Steam Early Access, Full Release Q1 2019)
Price: £15.49 (Steam) – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.

What the Developers say

‘For desktop PC (also playable in VR). Lead your troops in explosive arcade action battles that rage across tabletop battlefields. Command your troops, set fiendish traps, bolster your defenses and wield powerful magic to destroy your opponent as you compete for power in the heavens!.’

Introduction

What we have is an accessible strategy game mimicking the setup of a tabletop board game. While still in early access, there’s little stopping Tabletop Gods presenting itself as a full package at this point with all the basics and solid mechanics locked down.

Whether allied with humans (yuk), the undead or demons (yeah!), you’re tasked with taking out as many of your enemy’s strongholds as possible within timed rounds. The premise is nothing new but what the developers appear to be aiming for is a broader audience within a notoriously tricky genre. All matches are short and straightforward with helpful tips displayed to quickly get you up to speed.

Tabletop Gods also has a nifty looking VR mode but this scrub reviewer doesn’t have the hardware so, for this review, I’ll be strictly looking at the standard mode (though it’s worth noting both use the same core gameplay systems and modes).

Audio and Visuals

The game does what it says on the tin in that you feel like a floating entity above a tabletop game. The mouse camera control really shows the VR intentions in the way your vision is angled towards the action on the table. It gives you the feeling that you could reach in, slam your arm on the desk and sweep those suckers off with your sleeve, then stand up and start stomping down their feeble constructions, shouting “I AM YOUR GOD, NOW, MUHAHAHA…”. Naturally, you could reasonably expect VR to multiply this mood.

There are three boards to play on, each thematically aligned with their respective faction. My personal favourite, the undead level, has an expectedly bleak landscape with poison bogs, moody forested sections, a creepy tower with a resident Slimer-like ghost floating around.

Anti-aliasing is deployed to decent results at the 8x setting, but lighting effects are rudimentary and, while small bodies of water and weather effects add variety, there’s nothing to push the envelope graphically. Equally, there’s not a lot available in terms of graphical setting options. However, there’s more strength found in Tabletop God’s artistic direction.

The pastel shades and blocky surroundings give off a high-res PS1-era artistic vibe with games like Crash Bandicoot and Medieval springing to mind. A tongue-in-cheek approach to the whole environment makes for a fun setting.

This comedic approach to design extends to the troops, too, with the undead taking the lead on the insanity; Flesh Lobbers, a mid-range unit which can attack troops and towers alike, by chucking chunks of its brains at oncoming humans or demons. It’s great stuff, and it’s complemented by a visual style that’s reminiscent of Spyro the Dragon in architecture. Additions like the human ‘Champion’ unit mincing around with his giant Thor-style hammer or the demon army’s Reaver units with their massive structure mashing dual blades add a heap of character.

The musical score carries a generic air of fantasy battle, but it’s decent enough for setting the scene. The booming announcer voice in the old Quake/Unreal Tournament style is a classy touch.

Gameplay and Replayability

Besides the expected skirmish options, with choices of team; unit types and stages, for both local and online play (Arena mode), Tabletop Gods comes with a lengthy single-player campaign of sorts, called Trials. The name is apt for what is effectively a series of challenges; usually, destroy x strongholds or defeat a certain type of unit within a round.

The trials are well paced, with a slow, gradual build-up to its difficulty but the tasks only serve as a reminder of the repetitive cycle of wait for mana to build, pick a unit, wait for mana to build, pick a unit. You have no control over individual units, making Tabletop Gods feel more tower defence then real-time strategy. So, without any story in sight, the focus here is on the clearly on multiplayer.

After choosing a faction, namely the aforementioned Humans, Undead or Demons, you can set a limited number of defensive structures or traps, varying from towers which raise the stats of units spawned nearby, spike traps that deal massive damage to enemy units within range or brilliantly creative weapons such as the coffin cannon which literally fires coffins (‘hurl the dead to make more dead’ as the game’s handy Codex points out).

From there on in it’s a simple case of set your troops down from six different unit types. Hovering over a unit displays their strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to chose what you need based on what hulking monstrosity is hurtling towards your stronghold, on the fly.

There’s a set limit to how many of a particular unit you can deploy at one time, and each has a mana cost attached. Mana is amassed more quickly as the round progresses, making for more tense scenarios towards the tail-end.

Taking an enemy stronghold out brings the benefit of territorial gain, meaning you control an additional segment of the map behind enemy lines, allowing you to deploy fresh troops within the extended boundaries.

Mouse control alone serves perfectly well for those who want to lean back and play the lazy game, but there is a wealth of hotkeys mapped for speedy turnarounds, deployment of troops or spellcasting. Quickly being able to dive in and out of matches or taking on the AI for a short round allows for infectious replayability but after spending more than an hour or so at a time with the game, fatigue sets in too soon to hold your interest. Let’s face it: everything described here from a gameplay perspective has been done before and, although structured in an extremely welcoming manner, fresh ideas are missing beyond the visuals.

Conclusion

It’s great that games like this manage to ease a more casual audience into a broader genre known to be a convolution of multi-level multi-task management. There’s a pick-up-and-play charm that’s enunciated by solid but simplistic gameplay and surrounded by charisma in animation and composition.

Depth is missing though, and it’s felt in the lack of differences in challenges and unit types, exacerbated by the small number of factions, stages and modes.

So we have a case of preference; genre veterans looking for a broad, tactical battlefield would be better viewing this as a drop-in for quick-fire and chilled play sessions. Anyone looking to cut their teeth on the strategy genre should consider giving this their time.

However, for everything Tabletop Gods does right in playful design and solid base mechanics, there’s nothing to elevate this basement dweller beyond an imitation of the divine. With a few extra modes and factions, there’s room in the future for the game to turn into a real treat. As it stands, it’s not quite food of the gods, so much as a palate cleanser.

Rapid Reviews UK Rating

You can purchase Tabletop Gods on Steam at the following link:

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