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Skylanders Battlecast delivers a simpler, augmented-reality take on Hearthstone

Skylanders, already a multi-billion dollar franchise, sets its sights on the likes of Hearthstone today with the release of its own digital and physical collectible card game.

Skylanders Battlecast seems designed to be a easy entry point into the sometimes complex genre of tactics and deck-building currently ruled by Blizzard's Hearthstone.

The card collection, music and menu screen of Battlecast, a free-to-play Android and iOS title, will feel very familiar to Hearthstone players, though the combat and ability to buy and import physical cards into the game offer a neat twist.

Players start the game with a simple deck that includes three heroes - Jet-Vac, Spitfire and Trigger Happy - and an assortment of spells, relics and gear. Coins can be earned by playing through the game's 64 missions spread across eight elemental islands. The final mission has you taking on Kaos. The game also features daily quests and challenges which can also earn you awards.

Right now the game also includes daily giveaways for signing in and free spins for free coins, cards or packs. You can also purchase cards with coins or cash.

One of the unique aspects of Battlecast is that players can either buy the cards digitally, or purchase physical cards in the store to import into the game. The app scans the cards and makes a digital version of the card appear on screen, along with the live image in front of the camera. If the card is for a hero, the hero appears floating in the real world via augmented reality.

The deck-building looks a lot like the deck screen in Hearthstone (which isn't surprising since they share a parent company), but the process of building your deck has been made a bit simpler.

Where Hearthstone features combat that has an ever-increasing (you hope) phalanx of lesser and greater creatures doing battle against each other and trying to take down a lead hero, Battlecast is a bit less complex. In Battlecast players choose three heroes to enter battle and then use accrued crystals to cast spells and summon relics or gear.

Building a deck under this system means selecting your three heroes and support cards, or simply selecting your three heroes and letting the game auto-build a deck around those heroes attributes.

Each hero has an element they are aligned with, an attack score and a health. Once a hero's health is knocked to zero they are out of the match for the bout. The heroes can also level up temporarily during a match. Once they hit level two they activate their ability, which can be used with crystals. Leveling up also increases their health and power. Abilities seem to offer a variety of skills. For instance, the dragon Spitfire gets a Nitro Blast, which damages the enemy for 40 points, while the eagle Jet-Vac's ability swaps in a random sideline enemy.

The key difference between Hearthstone and Battlecast (beyond the franchises they pull from) is the use of a frontline and sideline in Battlecast. In the Skylanders game you always only have one hero in the front line attacking and taking direct damage. You can swap out heroes each turn. Once one is taken out you can't use them anymore, but they do heal 10 points each turn.

Heroes that are swapped lose any ability card they obtained until re-earned and there are some spells, gear and relics that can also be impacted by swapping. Sidelined heroes aren't always safe either because plenty of spells can target them.

The game's gear is tied to a single hero and offers them different sorts of abilities like a stronger attack or more health. You can also force an enemy to use bad gear. My favorite so far are the hot pants, which are flaming pants that do damage every round. Gear can be destroyed with some spells. Relics are cards that offer a buff of some sort, but typically impact the entire team. A relic actually has its own health and can be destroyed by an attacking player.

Crystals, the currency used to cast spells and summon cards in the game, are earned between rounds randomly. A player has the chance to earn zero to two each time. Unused crystals aren't held over, players simply get their current count replenished each round.

The game's refocus on just three attacking or defending heroes, spells, gear and relics, makes the process of battle a bit simpler and much faster. That isn't to say it isn't fun, just that it is different.

Instead of the battles playing out on a flat table with cards shaking or bumping into one another, Battlecast turns everything 3D and has the characters fighting it out in front of you. Spells, too, are animated, making the entire game look like an action title.

Currently there are 300 cards to collect, including foil variants. Skylanders Battlecast Battle packs with 22 cards will sell for $9.99 and the Skylanders Booster pack, which will include a random selection of eight cards, will sell for $4.99.

Watch the video below to see what the augmented reality looks like, deck-building and an edited match.

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