KNIGHTFALL: RIVALS is the medieval mix of Hearthstone and Tic-Tac-Toe you’ve been waiting for

Yet another free-to-play card-collecting online battle game enters the increasingly crowded arena, and once again, this one has a few tricks up its sleeve to set itself apart from the crowd. This time, it’s how you place the cards that makes all the difference.

Each player, in turn, places a card from their hand onto one square of the 3 x 3 grid that makes up the field of play. Once all the squares are filled, the match ends, and the winner is the player that has the most of their cards on the field. So far, so simple. When each card is played, it performs an attack on one or more of your opponent’s placed cards. Win, and the defeated cards are captured, turning them to your color. Cards have attack stats along each of their four edges that dictate how powerful they are, and also each fits into one of a number of different battlefield roles, such as Sword, Lancer, Flail, and Archer. These dictate how attacks are carried out. So, a Sword will attack cards adjacent to it with the stats that are in direct contact, whereas a Flail will automatically attack an adjacent card’s lowest stat, and a Lancer will attack the stat on the side directly opposite.

The game takes elements from the recent Gwent: The Witcher Card Game and splices it with those old classics Reversi and Tic-Tac-Toe. The resulting system feels pretty complex, and it certainly overwhelms at the start, especially with the brisk turn pace the game employs. After getting the hang of it, though, I found some serious tactical depth to the system here.

Drawbacks? Well, everything feels a little…cheap. It’s ugly as hell compared to practically every other CCG out there, from the low-res textures of the field of play to the utterly nondescript card art, and the just plain poor sound effects (the barks that sound when you play cards onto the field are particularly heinous). Most criminally, everything just feels generic, without even a modicum of its own identity. Plus there’s the usual free-to-play annoyance of in-game purchases. Chests containing cards and other rewards can be won in-game, but it feels underhanded to then ask you to wait a set time to unlock them or pay a price to gain access immediately. Chests can also be bought in the store for real money—pretty standard. What’s more troubling is cards level up with gameplay, and their stats can be upgraded for a real world price, meaning there’s serious potential for the developments of a game-breaking pay-to-win culture.

If you’re a fan of CCGs, Knightfall is definitely worth checking out, if just to experience the novel mechanics it brings to the scene. Just don’t be surprised to find it broken and dominated by super-powered players in a few months time.