Culdcept Saga is a magical merging of board games and card games that, like Monopoly, can take several hours to complete a single board. As in Monopoly, your goal is to seize control of the board and conquer all comers. Victory is achieved as you buy up properties on the board and upgrade them so you can collect tolls from the other players (either the game's AI or Friends on Xbox Live). You have a deck of magical cards full of monsters, and you choose a monster to defend each property. When another player lands on your occupied territory, you have a battle, and the stats decide who wins. Other cards have Spells or Items you can use to your advantage.
Culdcept Saga is a careful mixture of lucky dice rolls and strategy. When I first started playing, I thought it was mostly luck, but after I became more familiar with my deck and the game rules, I was able to develop a successful strategy. For example, I only place monsters where they can support one another, and I'm careful to stack my deck with Air-affiliated monsters. I also keep cards that predetermine die rolls so that I can force my opponents to land on my high-toll territories. In this way, I have developed my strengths so that I can usually pull off a victory, and no doubt every player will come to have his or her favorite way to play.
The graphics and sound really are bad for an Xbox 360 game. We are talking REALLY low budget here. It looks like a mediocre Super NES or Playstation game that has been upgraded to HD and been injected with more colors. The animations are stiff, and the voice acting is horrendous. We have a pip-squeak voiced Princess here. Needless to say, I press "Start" to skip through most of the slowly paced cutscenes. I don't mind a bit, though, because for me the real draw here is the strategy that goes into building the perfect deck of 50 cards, and then using those cards in the best possible way when I go into a match. Once I'm in the thick of battle, planning my strategies, I don't even notice how bad the game looks and sounds. The presentation isn't really a devastating failure for the game-- just a missed opportunity.
Even if the board graphics and cutscenes leave a lot to be desired, what does work here are the hand-drawn cards. Apparently, most of the budget went to pay some big-time Japanese artists, and this was well worth the effort. Alternately cute and creepy, these are some gorgeous designs. It's just a shame their 3D in-game bodies don't animate better or contain more detail.
But again, you aren't buying Culdcept Saga for its presentation. This is all about planning and playing, so to those of you who can overlook the bad graphics and sound, I think you'll find yourself quite pleased.