Skytear Horde is a cooperative tower defense card game that was on Kickstarter back in January 2022. It promised delivery in October 2022, but was about 5 months late as it just delivered to me in early February 2023.
The game plays 1-3 players, but it’s only cooperative at two players (the third player plays the Horde). As a solo or 2-Player cooperative game, players assume the role of the the good guys (“The Alliance”) , keeping the bad guys (“The Horde“) from destroying our tower.
Let’s take a look!
This is a tower defense game and it’s mostly cards, so the box isn’t really that big: see the Coke Can above.
The Kickstarter version I have has the magnetic sealing box. It also has some pretty great art o the inner cover.
There are some cardboard punchouts (which we won’t need, see below):
And the rulebook, which we’ll discuss more below.
This is mostly a card game: see cards above.
What’s this thing? A really awesome game mat … that only comes with the Kickstarter version (but it looks like you can buy it here).
The Kickstarter version comes with a bunch of plastic tokens; these replace the cardboard versions (it looks like you can also get these here).
The game looks great! It is definitely a card game mostly!
This rulebook was very concise: it’s only 16 pages, but I generally liked it.
It has a nice little Table of Contents. Notice how readable the font and the layout are!
This rulebook does something I haven’t seen before: it puts the “card breakdown” with the Components list. What a nice way to save space in the rulebook! We list all the components as well as the breakdowns! This is just one of many example where the rulebook is the model of concision.
One small issue I have is that set-up without the playmat is different from the set-up with the playmat! I would have strived to make the set-up work the same regardless. Note that the Minion cards are above the play area without the playmat (see above) …
… whereas the minions are off the left and right with the playmat. It’s not a big deal: at least the playmat labels the spaces so you know where everything goes.
The overview is nice (except for one major flaw, which will discuss later below after we understand the game better).
The next pages describe the seven stages of the game (very well I might add). There are pictures, the font is big and readable, the prose is concise and to the point.
It’s not quite a FAQ, but there’s both a “Edge Cases” section and a Glossary, and a Cards and Decks section on the last page of the rulebook. Taken all together, these three sections tends to answer most of my questions as I played the game.
This sounds dumb, but I liked the paper of the rulebook as well (it’s not as nice as Canvas’ linen paper, but it still felt nice).
The fact that the rulebook was only 16 pages made the game seem that much less daunting to play. The font and layout were easy to read: things were easy to find, and elaborations were generally somewhere in the rulebook (the Glossary and Card and Decks section were particularly helpful). Sometimes concision comes at a cost: there weren’t a lot of examples in the rulebook, but I don’t think I needed them.
Oh, and the rulebook fares very well on the Chair Test: A! On the chair next to me, the rulebook is very readable, it has very big fonts and simple layouts, and it fits perfectly on the chair.
And the back cover is used for something useful: Cards and Decks list. Fantastic!
NOTE: the rulebook also did a good job of suggesting cards and decks to play for your first game. It wasn’t a flashy first play guide, but enough to get you going.
Components and Gameplay
This is a Tower Defense Game. There are two sides: the Alliance and the Horde. In the solo and cooperative games, the players play as the Alliance. In the PVP game, one players take on the role of Horde, and the others(s) take the role(s) of the Alliance. Since we are only discussing the solo and cooperative modes here, we will always be playing the Alliance.
The Alliance must choose a Castle to defend (since this is a Tower Defense game): see above. The first playthrough recommends Gaping Maw.
Each Alliance player gets a deck of 40 cards:
There are four very different factions for the solo (or 2 players) player to choose from: see above. They are nicely color coded so you know which deck is which.
Most Alliance cards are Allies (see above); The allies will fight for the alliance! The allies will go into the Lanes on the playmat to fight the Monsters of the Horde. For example, The Shaidrus (above) will do 3 damage when fighting (lower left), has 7 hit points (lower right), and costs 6 Mana (upper left) to buy.
To win, the Alliance must defeat the Outsider! Players choose an Outsider to fight at the beginning of the game. See The Dreaming Matriarch Outsider above: you will have to do 8 damage to him to defeat him!
The Outsiders don’t start in play: you have to destroy a series of Portals to get the Outsider!!! Most Portals are damaged like the Monsters (via Hit points, bottom right). Example: the Portal above has 6 hit points. The portals can be varied for different difficulties and modes: there are many different Portal cards.
Along the way, the Outsiders will be summoning Monsters from the Horde deck: see above. At the start of the game, you typically choose one set of Monsters to fight: the upper right corner has a symbol which indicates the monster set.
Basically, to build the monster deck, you take the Common Monsters (upper right) and a Monster faction of your choice (upper left) and shuffle them together. This is the Horde to fight against!
The purple cards are the bad guys: the Horde.
Oh, and just to annoy you … there are the Minions. They can’t really be killed, but they keep coming back. Every time you defeat them, you essentially reset them back to nothing. You need to keep the Minions under wraps though, because they keep getting stronger and stronger as the game proceeds! And the stronger they are, the more cards you have to discard at the end of the turn! (The Minions “pillage” cards from you if you don’t engage them)
The game follows the standard cooperative tropes: bad guys go, good guys go, some other stuff happens, things fight! There are seven phases to the game: see above, but it’s essentially about the Alliance fighting the Hoarde.
The lanes on the playmat are where combat happens: there are some rules about how the Horde always slides to the left. Battle take place in those lanes: upper card vs lower card. (If there’s no monster to fight, your Ally damages the Portal. If there’s no Ally to battle the monster, your Castle takes damage)
The Alliance gets some Mana at the start of the every turn (as specified on the Portal card). This is how the Alliance buys new cards from their hand!
The only way to draw new Alliance cards is to defeat a Horde or Minion card! So you are constantly fighting as much as possible to keep your hand full.
Basically, the game ends when Alliance’s tower is destroyed:
OR the Outsider is defeated and the Alliance wins!
Like I alluded to earlier, the rulebook was inspiring enough that I felt like I could jump right in! See a solo game all set-up above! I chose the Blue Alliance cards with the Gaping Maw Castle to defend. The suggested Outsider to defeat is The Hatred Bringer (who is mislabelled as such in the rulebook)!
Interestingly, my first play went very quickly … because I played it very wrong. The problem is the Portal rules are poorly specified (see discussion below). My second game went a lot better and it lasted a good hour and a half. I think I still got a few rules wrong, but generally the game seems to flow pretty well. You have to make interesting choices: which Allies do you summon? How much Mana do you use this turn? Do you save Mana up? Do you exhaust characters to get something special? Do you send Allies in to die to keep the Minions under wraps? Do you go after the Portal?
There were a lot of interesting decisions. The game also felt fairly balanced: I felt I could have lost, but I also always felt like I had a chance.
It took me three games to get the solo game right, but I enjoyed the solo game quite a bit.
I couldn’t seem to get my group interested in this game for some reason. Granted, Skytear Horde feels like mostly a solo game anyways, but I was a bit surprised I could never interest my group to try it out. Caveat emptor!
Unfortunately, as much as I like the rulebook, the Portal rules are very poorly specified/inconsistent/wrong! And this is a major part of the game: how many portals do you have to destroy before you can start fighting different phases of the Outsider? The text says “Once the stage 1 portal is destroyed, the stage 1 outside will be summoned.” But the picture shows the Stage 1 Outsider being summoned after Stage 2 or Stage 3 portal!!! What’s going on? Even worse, the text afterwards says “After you defeat the stage 1 Outside, the stage 2 Outsider is summoned”.
This is why my first play went so quickly: I destroyed the first Portal, summoned the Outsider (phase I), killed him, summoned Stage 2 and was done! After playing a few times, I think you must keep destroying Portals to summon the next Phase of the Outsider. I think? The rules are really unclear here, and it really tarnished my view of the first few plays of the game.
I like Skytear Horde: it’s about a 7/10. There’s a lot of interesting decisions, the cards look nice, the rulebook is good and concise, and the game feels like there’s a challenge. There’s always a chance you could lose, but if feels like (if you play smartly), you can pull off a win. It’s also easy to vary the game difficulty by using different Portals or Outsiders. There’s also a lot of variety in the game with all the different Alliance forces and the different Horde forces. Generally, this was fun and it didn’t feel too random.
I’ll wax philosophical for a second and wish Skytear Horde had more story: you just choose decks, Portal cards, Alliance forces, and Horde decks without any background informing you. Sure, it’s cool and easy to just throw some decks together and play, but it’s not particularly compelling. Compare Skytear Horde to a few weeks ago Tower Defense Game called Deck of Many Things which had a real great progressive story! I want the story from Deck of Many Things! But I want the gameplay from Skytear Horde! It’s interesting how we got two cooperative (but mostly solo) Tower Defense games almost back-to-back! I want the best of both worlds: the story of Deck of Many Games but with the smoother and more balanced Skytear Horde mechanisms.
2 thoughts on “A Review of Skytear Horde: A Cooperative Tower Defense Card Game”
Nice review! (I don’t think I’ve ever commented before, but I really enjoy your reviews! We love cooperative games in our house.)
I had a hard time understanding this game from the rulebook, but after watching a playthrough and trying out a solo game or two, I think I mostly figured it out. I agree that the phases are laid out well in the rulebook, but something about the overall picture seemed fuzzy to me until after I watched someone else play.
Anyway, what I wanted to add to your review was a link to the rules clarifications from the publisher: https://www.playskytear.com/horde (link to the pdf on from this page). I think they are going to print a revised rulebook in their next Kickstarter campaign.
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Thank you for the link!