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Duelyst: a squad-based strategy game from former Diablo 3 developers

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An independent team of developers who previously worked on games like Diablo 3, Rogue Legacy and Ratchet and Clank launched a Kickstarter campaign today for Duelyst, a squad-based tactical combat game with ranked competitive play.

Designed for Mac, modern web browsers and Windows PC (with cross-platform support), Duelyst is a marriage of the tactical game design found in titles like Hearthstone, Final Fantasy Tactics and Hero Academy with competitive play. Like many collectible card games, players recruit units and spells from a roster of more than 100, build their squad, and bring it into turn-based battles against either the AI or real opponents. There are ranked matches, there are competitive leaderboards and, according to team lead Keith Lee, the developers at Counterplay Games are aiming for constant engagement.

"Unlike a collectible card game where things are automated, you move every unit on the board," Lee told Polygon. "So you have to always be thinking about the position of your units and the dynamics of your squad."

The goal of each match is for players to defeat the general of the other person's squad. The general sits on the game board, much like the King does in a game of Chess. Players bring a squad of 30 units and spells into each match and, of those 30, only six will be randomly displayed at any given time. It costs mana to summon units and spells onto the game board, as well as to move and attack, so players need to be strategic when deciding who or what will be in their squad, and in which order they summon units to the game board. Every unit and spell has different abilities and, like Chess, some have specific movement patterns that players will have to take into account.

"It's all about you protecting your general," Lee said. "But your general is also very strong, so if you bring him up closer to the enemy, you could deploy your units in an advantageous way, but you might also expose him to more danger. So it's a balance of where you want to place your units and what you want to do with them."

Some units have long-range abilities while others can only attack in close-range. Some units cost very little mana to deploy, but are likely to be weaker than those that cost more mana. Every map also has different environments that will encourage players to use different approaches and, according to Lee, players will have the opportunity to dive into the game's meta strategy.

"We want to keep people constantly engaged and thinking..."

Duelyst also draws inspiration from Hearthstone's synchronous play, which allows players to see what their opponents are doing in real time, which comes back to Counterplay's goal of constant engagement.

"So say I start to click on your general a lot, so now you're thinking that maybe I'm going for your guy, or maybe I'm just bluffing and I plan to do a totally different move," Lee said. "We want to keep people constantly engaged and thinking and not feel like they have to wait for the opponent to finish their move.

"At the same time, it's really about board control and thinking about how you can anticipate what units they have. You don't know what units they have in their squad, so you have to plan a lot of scenarios of what they might do and how you might counter it."

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The game has four modes to support different styles of play. There's a single-player mode where players battle the AI and unlock new units and spells (which can then be brought into ranked matches). Ranked Normal is a competitive mode where players use what they have unlocked in single-player mode against real opponents. Matches in Ranked Normal have a 90-second limit on turns. Ranked Draft plays much like Ranked Normal, but gives players access to the game's entire collection of units and spells. Practice Casual is a non-ranked, no time limit, asynchronous mode.

Lee told Polygon that the game will be full-priced, so instead of hiding units and spells behind pay walls, players can either unlock them through play or jump straight into Ranked Draft mode. "This is very, very skill-based," he said. "It's less about paying to win. There's a randomness in how you're given six specific things to begin with, but we tried to keep it very deterministic as well, so when you move your guy, you get to see where he's going to move."

Duelyst has a Kickstarter funding goal of $68,000, with the funds raised going toward additional sound, code, art and other associated costs. If the funding goal is met, Counterplay plans to launch the game later this year.