Ironclad Tactics is a fast-paced deck-building adventure in which you construct and maneuver an arsenal of Ironclad units (and their human Infantry aides) from one side of a five-by-five grid to the other. The variety of cards unlocked throughout suggest that there’s a more complex design in store, but because this relatively short game never puts you to the test, it feels more like a lengthy five-hour demo than a balanced and finished product. The deck constructor is easy to sift through and clearly explains the increasingly advanced effects (weapons that do splash damage, units that generate new cards as they come into play, cards that upgrade after fulfilling certain conditions), but you rarely need to use it, as the luck of the draw favors overpowered single-card solutions rather than synergistic combinations that would all but make your units invulnerable, if only you could make the cards align.
With a deeper roster of cards, a wider—and more challenging—variety of missions (there are only 19, three of which are straight tutorials), and a better balance to the existing cards (such that every unit has a separate unit that they’re weak against), Ironclad Tactics might feel like a complete game. As is, it’s more casual than the similarly cartoony Plants vs. Zombies, and as random as other card-based tactics games, like Baten Kaitos. This is especially true of the alternative mission objectives (ranging from maneuvering an innocent cow to safety to winning with a deck consisting only of a specific faction’s set of cards) and so-called Puzzle mode, which usually just requires that you exploit a specific unit’s ability. This is a great way of teaching mechanics that might otherwise be overlooked (like the way in which a Dodge card can be used repeatedly on the Skirmish Chassis, or the how a Barricade card can change a bland Assault Pioneer into a defensive structure), but it’s neither challenging nor particularly interesting.
The same might be said of the Ironclad Tactics storyline, which does little with its alternative Civil War-era setting. There’s no explanation as to why the Native Americans have their own brand of mechanical allies, no real significance to the chase that takes heroes Joseph and Maxwell from the East to West Coast, and nothing invested in the game’s evil villain. The story is conveyed through Penny Arcade-looking comic strips, so it’s at least meant to be light, what with all the jokes about mail fraud being a higher crime than treason, but in actuality, it’s threadbare.
The core conceit is well-executed, if shallow, and there are two expansions in the works that promise to amend the lack of content/balance—particularly in the erratic multiplayer, which feels almost entirely like it’s been left to the luck of the draw. There’s no need to melt Ironclad Tactics down for scrap, but problematically, there’s also no compelling reason to currently play it either.