Runespell: Overture is the latest game to emerge from the trend of infusing an RPG with puzzle DNA. Upon first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking it was simply Puzzle Quest, but with poker substituted for gem matching. Same with the second glance, and the third. There's little point in denying Overture's inspiration, but that doesn't mean that it has nothing new to offer. While it may not capture the same spark as the original puzzle-RPG, it forges its own path enough to warrant a second look.
You play as the Changeling, a mysterious cloaked being who emerges in 11th Century England after apparently winning first prize in a Soul Reaver look-a-like contest. Having lost its memories, the Changeling ventures across frozen mountains searching for meaning, accompanied by a surprisingly deep backstory and colourful, though oddly anachronistic, characters, and engaging in plenty of card combat along the way.
Though I first compared Overture's gameplay to poker, it is more accurate to call it a cross between poker and Klondike Solitaire. Both the Changeling and its opponent have seven stacks of cards and take turns building 5-card hands on their respective stacks. Each turn allows up to three actions, with the option to move not only your own cards, but also the opponent's cards if they have not already become part of a set. Standard poker hands are used, such as full house, straight, flush, and three of a kind, each with its own damage value. Power Cards, Overture's version of magic, can be used to add further damage or a range of effects such as healing, defending, and increasing the number of actions per turn. Actually attacking with a hand also uses one of your turn's three actions, allowing for a fair amount of strategy in terms of when to build and when to strike.
The poker combat is mechanically solid, but grows stagnant before too long. There is little sense of variety regardless of whether you're fighting a Viking warrior, a wolf, or a carnivorous plant. Puzzle Quest avoids this pitfall through spells that augment the actual board, allowing for new strategies to emerge deeper into the game. However, though Overture frequently introduces new Power Cards, they are always kept separate from the poker-matching gameplay. Additional Power Cards that could change a card's suit or rank would have gone a long way toward adding a new strategic wrinkle instead of relying on the inherent randomness of a card game for Overture's variety.
Runespell: Overture is still an enjoyable puzzle-RPG if taken slowly. I found it best to play only two or three matches at a time to prevent gameplay stagnation from setting in. Though ultimately lacking in depth, Overture's gameplay is quite unlike its genre contemporaries. With an ending that promises a sequel, I have hope that the next Runespell will build on and reinforce Overture's foundation. While Runespell: Overture is a solid first attempt from developer Mystic Box, it ultimately feels more like an appetizer than a main course.