Sometimes a game comes along and builds out an existing formula, scaling up something that had felt like a finished product that couldn’t be improved upon. Sometimes the thing that gets scaled up isn’t even the same kind of media. ORX has taken the board game classic Carcassonne and given it an outstanding RTS twist.
Back when B3 first started out, we didn’t actually have a board gaming section. It didn’t take long though before we started covering them — there are simply so many similarities between video games and strategy games that it just makes sense. ORX is a great example of this, it’s a phenomenal game that takes the Carcassonne experience of tile placement to complete roads, castles and farms, but repurposes it into a wave-defence strategy experience that feels just right from the get-go.
However, it doesn’t just feel right from the get go. It also manages to scale it up, taking it from more of a spin on a classic into a full-scale, They Are Billions/Diplomacy is Not an Option wave-defence title, and one that takes the sub-genre’s formula far to a level much deeper and more complex than most of its contemporaries. To an almost scary depth, in fact. Playing through the Early Access version’s tutorial you’d be easily fooled into thinking that the deck-building aspect of the game is something that resets between levels, a little bonus card here, a tiny statistic tweak there. That’s not the case though. Instead you’ll gain advisors, level-up, purge and replace entire card categories as you refine your deck to match your strategy. You’ll be building castles, of course, but how and where will you build them?
That’s where this Carcasonne, tile-slotting base feels in. It feels like a perfect match for ORX, and it’s a great mechanic that grows with the game: You can only connect tiles to certain other tiles, IE legal ones, and you can only do so if you can afford the cost. That means that you’ll spend a lot of your time begging for things like crossroads, or connecting castle pieces, to open up your expansion options. However, there’s also a time-limit because your gold ticks up slowly over time (boosted by complete roads and various other bonuses) and waves of attacking orcs are inbound.
This creates a fantastic, pauseable-but-high-pressure hand-management element, and ultimately demands that you put a lot of thought into how you evolve your deck. The last thing you want is a hand full of cards you don’t use, and full coffers, as a horde of orcs smashes up your defenses. You can, a certain number of times, redraw your hand, however the limited nature of that means that there’s a constant risk/reward circuit when placing tiles… If you don’t keep your options open then you might completely corner your deck. Completing roads is great, especially when you then tax the roads, but if you’ve no new road connections (and can’t place a new village, or something else with a road starting point on it) then you’re stuffed.
If, however, you do manage to keep everything under control then there are more things you can busy yourself with. Each level has a series of villages out and away from your main base, and there’s often vaults and more out there too. Finding these and bringing them under your control (by getting a tile next to them) can give you boons and opportunities to improve your deck, but losing villages to the orcs can create an extra complication in more enemies attacking in each wave. Aside from this you’ll be gaining new cards, artifacts and other buffs and nerfs through decisions during the campaign, in the form of an events system that pops up between orc encounters. However, it’s not just you that adds cards to your deck, because as you defeat orcs the corruption level grows, and that results in orc spells and curse cards which can really ruin your day if you don’t shuffle them out.
The rigid, square-based tiel placement feels great, and for each narrow fight that I remember, I also fondly remember completing a snaking road, or completing a major, weird-shaped castle just before the orcs hit it. While ORX lacks a lot of the tutorials that it should probably have, there’s a certain joy that comes from realising that you’re no longer creating tiny pocket castles but making sweeping beasts that serve as traps or snares to the approaching waves of your enemies.
Deckbuilding, wave-defence strategy meets Carcassonne? That’s ORX.
ORX is available now through Steam Early Access.