Nova Island came out of nowhere last week and really blew me away. How such a fantastic and creative card game could fly under the radar and offer up its unique battling without asking for anything in return still baffles me, but I'm here for it.
Because of its atypical mechanics and structure, though, it does take awhile to internalize strategies that make you feel like you can take control of matches and win consistently. With that in mind, here are a few tips for people coming to Nova Island on how to gain an edge over the competition.
Don't worry about unlocking cards
The only possibly negative thing I could say about Nova Island is that it locks cards and modes away behind a currency you have to grind for. I don't hold this against the game because--after spending more time with it--I can see how this gating acts a way to keep new players focused on core concepts and fundamentals without overwhelming them with too many cards with nice purposes or rule variations.
This is to say that the core set of cards available to new players is more than enough to create winning combinations in multiple ways, and any time you opt to buy one or two new cards it opens up huge doors for further variation. Having all the cards unlocked is by no means a pre-requisite for doing well in the game, so there's no need to worry too much about not having all of them (or even many of them) available to you.
Wait for it
Nova Island departs from many standard collectible card game conventions, but the strangest way it does so is probably its turn system. You see, players alternate their turns in a way that feels very standard, but turns are also grouped into energize phases, and energize phases are the only point where scoring happens. This means that you want to be in the best scoring position possible before an energize happens, but you don't always need to do something every turn to make that happen.
In fact, it might sometimes be better to skip a turn entirely to see what your enemy decides to do so you can better react or counter their strategy for board control ahead of the energize phase. For example, you might be sitting on some strong direct damage cards and want to make sure they hit on units that are key for scoring your opponent points. The best way to figure this out would be to skip turns while your opponent has cards in hand and energy to play so you can just watch and wait for them to overplay before making the best possible counter on the most valuable unit.
Skipping turns is also valuable in that it helps you retain a healthy hand of options to play on the board throughout the game, as there's nothing worse than running out of cards to play at the end of a match, especially if your opponent doesn't have that problem, allowing them to take multiple turns in a row with no ability to counter before scoring.
The only time you might not want to employ skips is if your opponent already has established firm board control ahead of your turn, since you can activate scoring if both players pass their turn without taking any action. In this case, most smart players will go ahead and pass too to take the free points while they can.
Play mind games
Each deck in Nova Island is just 12 cards, so it doesn't take a super long time in a match to get a good sense of your opponents tools and overall strategy. You can definitely use this to your advantage by timing which cards you play and how to feint a fake strategy or bait your opponent into using their most powerful weapons at inopportune times.
Again, the game's turn structure is key to making this work. Between each energize phase, players have a limited amount of "energy" they can use to play cards. At the beginning of a round, players have the most flexibility of what they can play, but if you withhold your powerful cards and instead play weaker ones, you can maintain an energy advantage while potentially tricking your opponent into thinking you don't have anything particularly strong in hand. As a result, they might be overly aggressive in countering a weak unit or overplay to try and press an advantage, which frees you up to then use your remaining energy countering their counter with whatever you've saved up your sleeve.
General deckbuilding advice and suggested basic build
For deck-building itself, I wouldn't say I am a master at it, but there are some general things I've observed about decks I've made that are successful and the decks of my opponents that beat me. The first and most important thing to internalize is that damage-dealing powers and units are vital for winning. You can have all the unit growth synergies in your deck that you want, but if you can't remove tiny units from crowding the board you have no chance at winning.
Secondly, it's good to have a roughly even split of powers and units in a deck. Units are obviously key as they are the only thing that can score points for you, but powers to empower your own units and damage enemy ones is basically equally as important. Many powers also help you maintain card draw, which helps you maintain a healthy hand and cycling back through your best cards.
On deck cost, I'm not sure there's a magic number you want to dial into. Expensive cards are more powerful and provide more utility generally, but you can play a lot of cheap cards back-to-back before any scoring happens, so they feel pretty even. I have found the most success with relatively cheap costing decks, mostly because that's what's available to me from the current pool and because I feel they offer more flexibility across a match, but I've also seen the value in more expensive cards when playing the game's draft mode.
The last ingredient you need to consider is the right professional for your deck. I personally like having really strong removal options available all the time, and have found a lot of success with Dr. Boom. With the strength of damage-dealing cards, I also feel like she provides the most flexibility in deck builds as she will always have some of the strongest removal powers available for you, even if you don't put any damage-dealing cards into your deck. If you want an alternative as a beginner, maybe pick up Jack. He has a lot of all-around utility that also provides flexibility. The other two professionals available seem good, but they require a little more fine-tuning on the deck-building front to find success, in my opinion.
Ok, so now my suggested deck build. My current favorite deck consists of the following:
- Professional: Dr. Boom
- Spear Attack
- Low Voltage
This deck is mostly 1- and 2-cost cards, with only one card costing 3 energy. It also has a ton of damage built into it. So long as I can trick opponents to overplay using some of the strategies above, I have a pretty good win rate.