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Video Game / Spectromancer

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Spectromancer is a competitive 2008 computer Card Game designed by Richard Garfield (of Magic: The Gathering fame). Players assume the roles of dueling mages skilled in five different elements: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and a fifth special element based on their wizard type of their choice.

Unlike many other card games of its ilk, Spectromancer does not allow the player to choose their exact cards for each duel. Instead, four cards from each element are automatically provided by a semi-random algorithm. Instead of building the "perfect deck", players must improvise with the cards they are given.


The game is still updated and patched for balance periodically, and has a decent online multiplayer following. The website is here.

Spectromancer contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: You'll encounter wizards with names like Deomir and Ssjarka alongside the likes of Helga and Melvin.
  • The Artifact: Just about the entire story mode. In older versions, you had an epic plot that consisted of you collecting the 6 pieces of the shattered Prism, putting them together while making allies and taming/training a pet griffin along the way, and eventually harnessing the power of the rebuilt MacGuffin to command all 6 special elements (5 in practice) to trounce the Council once and for all. After updates and the additional of many, many more special elements, the entire second act and much of the third were cut out, the remaining battles scattered around without context or reason (or order) and many of the unique features and enemies toned down or dropped.
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  • Artificial Stupidity: If you get out Phoenix, and your fire power is more than 10, you pretty much win the game. The computer frequently gets Phoenix and even fire power boosting creatures like Priest of Fire, but it can't resist spending those 10 fire power points to summon something else, making it's Phoenixes weak and easily beaten. This is fortunate because you can count the number of cards that can beat this combo on one hand and odds are fairly long that you won't randomly luck into them when the computer has Phoenix.
  • A Winner Is You: The single-player campaign isn't the focus of the game, and it shows. The ending is a Distant Finale that doesn't remotely relate to your accomplishments and mostly talks about how Dorlak built the moon.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth elementals. Equally silly, the game will keep throwing direct-damage spells at phoenixes that will simply revive afterwards.
  • Elemental Powers: Four main elements and 16 wizard types:
    • Kill It with Fire: Nearly all fire cards are either capable of inflicting immediate damage or enhancing future damage, and has rather Glass Cannon like creatures in general.
    • The Medic: Water cards are generally based around supporting other elements, defending, and stalling for time. The most expensive water cards are some of the most fragile, but can single-handedly win games by staying alive for just a few turns.
    • Shock and Awe: Where fire magic is about inflicting indiscriminate damage, air cards tend to target singular creatures or the enemy player for massive damage, although there are a few support-type creatures that heal or stall for time.
    • Stone Wall: Earth cards tend to be defensive in nature, with healing spells, regenerating creatures, and all-around more health than average. And when stalling is no longer necessary, it can launch a game-ending attack directly on the enemy player, or a Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies on all creatures.
    • Light 'em Up: Shared between holy and spirit wizard types, with the former being more defensive, and the latter being more offensive — with some identical or near-identical cards besides.
    • Necromancer: With a splash of Black Magic, death cards are fueled by the deaths of creatures — sometimes not discriminating as to whether those creatures are your own or your opponent's.
    • Magitek: Mechanical cards include a couple dwarves, a very hard-to-kill steel golem, and five cards devoted to shooting some kind of cannon at the enemy creatures for either burst or steady damage.
    • Anti-Magic: Control cards deny the opponent their resources by draining energy or disrupting creatures.
    • Entropy and Chaos Magic: Chaos cards are very powerful, but unreliable. Each card has a random factor, and tend to be at their most powerful when the randomness is irrelevant (such as giving a spell that targets a random opposing creature only one creature to choose from).
    • Master of Illusion: Illusion cards tend to use the opponent's own creatures against them, such as by causing enemy creatures to damage themselves or their own wizard.
    • The Legions of Hell: Demonic cards fall into two categories: dealing massive damage to enemy creatures (sometimes with actual correlation with fire magic), or summoning demon creatures that are replaced by another demon creature when killed. Legions, indeed.
    • Badass Bookworm: Sorcery cards do not contain a single creature to summon, but the spells cover a wide array of offensive, defensive, and supportive needs.
    • The Beastmaster: Beast cards are unique in that only one of each type may be on the field at a time. While alive, the beast then has an activated ability, such as a basilisk's gaze or a dragon's firebreath.
    • Our Goblins Are Different: Goblin cards are not incredibly strong by themselves, but have unusual and somewhat unpredictable abilities, such as removing an opponent's card from their repertoire, or jumping between battlefield slots at random.
    • Nature Hero: Forest cards (with creative names like Crazy Squirrel, Vindictive Raccoon, and Angry Angry Bear) are powered by the mad hermit's Magic Rabbit, a creature that gains an attack point each turn and is resummoned if killed.
    • Time Master: Time cards bend the normal turn-based rules of the game, giving the player extra turns or actions, or skipping the opponent's turn.
    • Blood Magic: Vampire Lords drain one health from their own creatures each turn, and use some of their own health to cast vampiric cards, covering an array of very powerful vampires with punishing abilities.
    • Explosive Overclocking: Cult cards tend to be very strong for their cost, but carry some kind of risk or disadvantage. About half of them do damage to themselves, their own creatures, or their own wizard.
    • Empathic Weapon: The Golem Master always has a Golem creature in play, and most of the golem cards are based around bolstering the golem in some way. If the Golem creature is killed, the wizard takes some damage.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Mostly averted as the designers normally act to remove these, but in the web release version the card Natural Fury doesn't do damage the way it says it does, and certain golem boosting cards played by Melvin will sometimes crash the game, which can be infuriating given how long you'll have to spend pounding on him to get past his wall of pre-summoned healers and golems and the massive stockpile of HP he'll have by the time they're gone. The game also always declares that you the loser in the final battle and docks you a pile of Fame, even if you just curbstomped the Final Boss, though at least you get to see the ending afterwards.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: In your fight against Dragonking, the story says you've fashioned a magical device to convert all of his energy into one type, and this will cause a fatal overload within a few minuts. He gains and stockpiles power to all his power types normally and if you're waiting for the overload you're in for a long wait, he has to be beaten the old fashioned way (and has over four times your HP).
  • Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: Pretty much the entire second half of the campaign in Gathering. Melvin is a bit of a Wake-Up Call Boss who shows up with over a hundred life and four monsters pre-summoned, and shortly afterwards you take out the leader of the council. From there you just sort of. . . keep going even though beating the council is ostensibly the point of the quest, and eventually wind up fighting some sort of undead hive mind that's never been referenced before in the game.
  • Golem: In Ice, Steel, and "Golem Master" varieties. None of them can suffer damage from spells or abilities.
  • High-Class Glass: Worn by the Demon Quartermaster. When he "dies", he becomes an Enraged Quartermaster, presumably so because his monocle is now missing.
  • Killer Rabbit: The mad hermit's Magic Rabbit gains one attack each turn, although its severe lack of health usually keeps it from going completely out of control.
  • Luck-Based Mission: In the single player, it's fairly common to simply scum for a playable deck at higher levels. Get a fast Phoenix deck (Phoenix, Fire Priest, and Merfolk Elder) and your victory is nearly guaranteed even against the hugely overpowered final bosses. Get a deck without such synergy and you might as well surrender to save time and try for Phoenix again. To make matters worse, it's possible to be handed, for instance, 4 water spells and no water creatures in a duel where one of the win conditions is "Summon a creature of each element."
  • Magikarp Power: Elementals cost a lot of energy, and their attack power is equal to your stockpiled energy of that element (and you just spent all of it). But while alive, they add +1 to their element's growth, and can quickly snowball into an unstoppable force.
  • Mirror Match: Notably averted in standard duels. It is impossible for two players to be given the same card in a single match, even when the wizard type is identical.
  • No-Sell: Several cards have some variation as their main power. Snow Golem can No-Sell harmful spells and Giant Turtle can No-Sell weaker attacks. If you keep your fire power above 10, Phoenix No Sells almost everything, and most what it can't No-Sell are your own cards which you obviously won't use on it. This is exactly as game breaking as you might imagine, and pretty much the only way to take some of the higher-level final opponents which come with upwards of 3-500 life.
  • Summon Magic: Cards will either summon a creature to the battlefield or cast a once-off spells. Creature summoning is far more represented.
  • Taking You with Me: A few cards make it possible for both wizards to lose all of their health simultaneously. This results in a victory for whoever's turn it was at the moment both wizards lost all their health.
  • Wizard Duel


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