Prismata review

Prismata website (old)

Prismata is a competitive strategy game that you might have heard me praise for being one of the best games known to humanity. Well, I'm not kidding when I say that. It's deep, there's *basically* no randomness (only who goes first, which isn't even a strict advantage since player 2 gets an extra Drone), and there's no pay to win at all - all players are always on equal footing in ranked play.

Depth in games

A little bit of randomness is not okay

I like to describe Prismata as a fusion of chess (deep, turn-based deterministic strategy with no hidden information), Starcraft (sci-fi wargame flavor with many common ideas like economy versus attack), and Dominion (creating variance through a randomly-generated but symmetric set of purchasable units). Each player starts with a handful of economic units and wins by destroying all enemy units. You do this by buying units that produce attack. Attackers don't work the way they do in RTS games though. Instead of being loose units that head to the enemy base and tangle with enemy attackers until one of them dies, attackers stay on your side of the board, safely attacking without ever risking themselves. To avoid losing vulnerable units, the enemy must devote some of their economy to buying blockers to take the hits. So an attacker can be thought of as negative economy for your opponent. And because of this, attackers and economic units are *directly comparable*. That might sound like it breaks the game because either economy is more efficient and so the game never ends, or attackers are more efficient and so there's no reason to ever grow your economy. But Prismata has a brilliant solution to that dilemma: it's the absorb mechanic.

Basically, because of the way assigning damage works, the first couple attackers you make do next to nothing, while the ones you make for the rest of the game are highly efficient compared to economy. But the number of attackers that can be absorbed is a flat integer, and doesn't depend on how big anyone's economy is. The result is that if you go straight for attack when the game starts, getting just a couple of attackers out costs you several turns of production, and so this "absorb barrier" is a huge obstacle. But if you wait until you have a big economy to start making attackers, you can pump out several per turn, making the absorb barrier less significant. So the optimal strategy is to grow your economy at first, until you have the amount where the increased efficiency of attackers starts to just barely outweigh the drawback of being absorbed. If you wait until it far outweighs it then your opponent will go just a little bit sooner than you and have the advantage. It's beautifully elegant.

The game is also very well-balanced, and has really good unit design. Let's just look at Drake for an example:

Drake unit card

This unit is pretty straightforward: it costs 12 gold, 2 blue, attacks for 2 every turn, and has the option to consume a Blastforge (the building that produces the blue resource) for 2 additional damage. Despite how simple this unit is, its optional ability creates such nuanced decisions that even top players aren't always sure whether to use it or whether to play around it.

Finally, the game has more quality of life features than any other game I've ever seen. Undoing actions during your turn (I can't imagine playing a strategy game without this anymore), hotkeys for clicking all your Drones or buying a unit or doing just about anything in bulk, a clearly displayed number that shows your opponent's attack and your total defense so you don't have to count it out, shareable replays and analysis mode where you can play both sides, a half-decent preference system for ranked matchmaking...

Queue settings

I would say what the game's biggest issue is, but honestly, there aren't any big ones left. They recently improved their new-user experience with the addition of the Quickfire Tutorial, which doesn't hold your hand nearly as badly as the Campaign; Combat Training is really good, and the "unlocking units" thing isn't what it sounds like. You always have the same units available to buy as your opponent in a ranked game. Unlocking units is only required to include them in custom games (and that's still stupid but whatever). Also, the campaign's story is surprisingly good, and the single-player content is also very good gameplay-wise once you get past the tutorial. Expert versions of the campaign missions and DLC puzzle packs can challenge even the best players, while there's a casual difficulty setting for new players to experience the story without having to be good at the game.

I also have written a ton of strategy guides and stuff on this here website (I was a borderline top player back when I spent that much time on video games).

My Prismata guides

Update: my opinion on Prismata has changed.

Not about the game itself, but about whether you should play it. First of all, Prismata is dead. Not only does no one play it anymore, but the devs have given up on it. Secondly, I don't want to encourage anyone to support Lunarch Studios because they went back on their word. There were supporter tiers for purchase in-game, and for $25 you were supposed to receive all 5 chapters of the campaign when it came out. I and many others paid for this promise. However, they only ever made 3 chapters and said that they have no intention of finishing it and they never gave a refund.


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