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Friday, May 8, 2020

Review: The Dresden Files: Cooperative Card Game (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S. 

I don't know actually know much about The Dresden Files. In fact, I only discovered that it was such a popular series of novels when I typed the game's name into Google to see where it came from. I do, however, know and love both card and board games, so when I saw this pop up in the eShop, I was always going to give it a go. Having now played it I can only hope that this game isn't representative of the quality of the novels, because if it is, that novel series is terrible and I'm disappointed in humanity that it has become as popular as it has. That being said, we do live in a world that has also made the dreary "erotic" thriller 50 Shades huge, and turned the nonsense teen angst of Twilight and weak pastiche of Battle Royale, Hunger Games, into household names. I would really not be surprised if The Dresden Files is equally as terrible as this game.


But I digress. Dresden Files is a cooperative card game - it's right there in the subtitle. What this means is that you play a solitaire-like game with up to three players, in which each of you have a deck of cards, and you need to use those cards to slowly remove a range of "enemy" cards that are arrayed on the table at the start of the game. More on how that works shortly, but what's important to note upfront is that while the game claims to be a "cooperative card game", you can just play by yourself, in which case you control the hands of all three "players" and it suddenly becomes much easier to win. This is a game where you need to combine your cards with what are in other player's hands to succeed, and since it's easier to strategise when you know precisely what resources the combined "team" has access to, it's also so much easier to play the game successfully flying solo. So, right upfront, this is a big problem. Any game that claims to be cooperative in nature but rewards playing individually instead has a set of mechanics that fail on the very foundational level.

What you actually do while playing isn't very interesting. There are three types of "enemy" cards - there are monsters, which need to be defeated with attack cards from your hand, mysteries, which are dealt with via "clue" cards, and traps, which are overcome with... a yellow card. I can't even remember what those are called. The point is, though, that each of these enemy cards are colour-coded, and overcome using cards of the equivalent colour in your hand - red beats red, and so on.


Now there are a couple of other mechanics in play that aim to keep things varied. Each of the players has a powerful special ability that can only be activated once, so it needs to be used at just the right time. They also have minor secondary abilities that you need to keep in mind as you play for the small boosts they provide. There are "helper" cards on the table which offer a big boost if you can clear them (using yet another different colour card from your hand). There is also a cost to use each card from the hand, which is drained from a pool of "coins" that all players share. You can sacrifice a card to add coins back into the pool, but obviously if you do that you can no longer use the card's benefit. So the core loop in Dresden Files is figuring out how to use limited resources very effectively, without wasting anything. Then, if you end up with more cases solved than enemies on the play field, once you've used up all your cards, then your team wins.

There's nothing inherently wrong with matching card games - I am a big-time fan of both Mahjong and Hanafuda, and both of those classic games are simple matching games. But there are some real limitations that let Dresden Files down. Firstly, there isn't that many things to match. There are four different "types" of cards, and no matter how hard the developers have tried to dress that up, this game feels shallow within just a few rounds. Secondly, its all presented in the most uninteresting, lazy manner I think I've ever seen in a video game. The art on the cards is adequate, given that it's pulled from the physical game, but its implemented in such a way that it loses all of its moody and hardboiled/horror tone. Furthermore, this is a video game. The dearth of animation or energy across the entire experience is inadequate. Even the music, which I think is trying to be atmospheric and ambient, is so badly compressed that it sounds like you're listening to it through a tin can, and as such it's difficult to enjoy on any level.

If it was just visually unappealing it would be one thing, but the interface actively makes Dresden Files difficult to play, too. There are times where you need to "roll dice" to modify a card's power or cost, but the game only shows the result of those rolls, and for the first couple of games that can be difficult to read to understand just what's going on at a glance. Likewise it's hard to see what card you've got highlighted at times, because the indicator is tiny and indistinct, and more than a few times I accidentally selected something that I did not mean to. This is a static card game. It shouldn't be this difficult to give players a basic, accessible UX.


There are some excellent digital board and card games on the Nintendo Switch. You could play - and love - Armello, Billion Road, The Lord of the Rings card game, Super Mario Party, Yu-Gi-Oh, and even niche stuff like Shephy and Shogi. The Dresden Files: Cooperative Card Game is such a fundamentally flawed concept, and the execution is so lacking, that it offers nothing whatsoever of value.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

The critic purchased a copy of this game for review.



Review: The Dresden Files: Cooperative Card Game (Nintendo Switch)
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