Isle of Swaps Preview: A Critter Card Collect-a-thon!

Steam Next Fest is here and it has so many highlighted games and demos. Today I’m looking at one that caught my attention: Isle of Swaps.

For those who are unaware, I have a long history with card games. I’ve collected Pokémon cards since I was little. I found a Yu-Gi-Oh structure deck in a shed once(Don’t ask me what it was doing there) and play Magic: The Gathering with friends on occasion. I’ve played several digital card games of varying types. So when a new and especially cool looking card game comes along, I become interested. Now if this game sounds familiar, that's because Isle of Swaps was featured before as one of the games Daxel played for the Deckbuilders Fest back in March. It's back for round 2 as one of the games highlighted for Next Fest.

Isle of Swaps is a charmingly adorable deckbuilder roguelike, players start with a starter critter and basic cards. They then progress through several map cards in order to acquire new critters, swap cards and battle. These cards are pretty cute looking and well illustrated. I enjoyed the artwork for them quite a bit.

I tried the tutorial first, which does a good job of giving you a good feel for the game and how it works. I picked my starter critter - in my case, the blaze type Wallablaze and went into a critter battle with the adorable pup Zappen. After defeating Zappen, it was promptly added to my binder. Defeating a critter nets you the critter and a copy of its signature attack, both of which can immediately be added to your battle deck. Your battle deck consists of up to 3 critters and several skill cards, the minimum number of which goes up with each critter you add. Stickers can be activated which provide constant benefits throughout a run. Battles play out with players getting to play up to 3 skill cards a turn. These skills can deal damage, heal, inflict status etc. Some more powerful skill cards require energy which can be generated from other cards. Each critter has its own type, with some having two, that come with their own resistances and weaknesses. This type system also impacts deckbuilding as skill cards can only be used by critters with a matching type. 

Besides battling critters, you can also battle NPCs who have critters of their own. After winning, you can swap cards with the npc to either add to your collection or enhance your deck for the run of choice. Shop cards come in the form of a vending machine which dispenses card packs, or a shopkeep with a binder of individual cards you can purchase. I’ve noticed some other types of map cards, like an NPC who wants to swap with you because you had a card they wanted though I didn’t pick it. Makes me curious as to what other things could happen on these challenge runs.

Speaking of, the demo lets you do a trial challenge run as Dina, a dragon, letting players experience the game outside of the tutorial. Dina came with an ability to increase the swap value of your cards. There are other anthro characters as well, but they weren’t playable yet. I made decent progress into a run until an NPC battle caused me to lose lives and critters. It hurts losing a critter but it does make me more determined not to lose and raises the stakes a bit. I didn’t get to keep any of the cards I found during the demo unfortunately but they’re supposed to become collectible in the full release.


In addition to more characters, cards and critters, other modes for challenge runs will be coming in the full version such a nuzlocke mode which limits the critters you can get as well as cause you to lose a life when a critter is defeated and a randomizer where anything goes. As a long time Pokémon fan who has enjoyed watching challenge runs of those games, I appreciated the nods to that fandom immensely and I definitely would try them in the full release. 

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. It combines elements of TCGs and deckbuilding nicely for an experience of collecting cards and participating in challenging battles. I’m excited for the full release and am crossing my paws for a Switch port in the future. If you liked what you read here, the demo is available on Steam right now


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Nothing too special, just a gamer, reader and music lover from Kansas! I love writing and woodworking!
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