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Portabliss: Kard Combat (iOS)

Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in. Three times a week, our new Portabliss column will tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: Kard Combat!

Considering the microtransactional crossover between traditional trading card games and iOS apps, it's astonishing the two haven't blown up into their own, obscenely lucrative industry. Not that I'm complaining -- my wallet can't afford to be gripped by the plaguing addiction of another Magic: The Gathering or Pokémon TCG. Perhaps that's why I enjoy Kard Combat as much as I do; not only is it an excellent, compelling game, but it also won't send you into an inescapable spiral of bankruptcy, which is awfully nice of it.

This mercy is surprising, considering the involvement of Magic creator Richard Garfield, whose influence can be seen in Kard Combat's every mechanic. The game actually plays like a smartly boiled-down version of Wizards of the Coast's TCG: two players summon creatures using mana to attack the opposing team's roster or, with luck, the other player themselves.

Gallery: Kard Combat (iPhone/iPad) | 11 Photos

Creatures of varying elemental types can be summoned to each player's six-slot row, where they'll attack the adjacent card every turn. Or, if no card is in the opposing slot, they'll attack the other player's hit points directly. Not only does this eschew the convoluted system of defending and damage mitigation present in MTG, it makes positioning your summoned creatures an important, and easy-to-understand strategic decision.

There are four decks to choose from, each with its own special elemental pool. The Holy Mage, for instance, focuses on healing cards, while the Machine Mage favors cards which automatically do damage every turn. Each deck has its own single-player campaign which tasks the player with tackling 30-or-so AI opponents, earning new cards and artifacts with each victory. Each of these duels also introduces special Field Cards, nigh-indestructible summons which change the rules of battle, requiring you to adjust your plan of attack between each fight.

It's a smart, smart game with one major misstep: Though you continue to unlock cards while playing through these "Towers," you can only take a randomized portion of your collection into battle. You almost always have the tools you need to win, but a bit of customization really would have gone a long way.

Still, with four campaigns (which run $0.99 a piece, or $2.99 for the whole shebang) and an addictive, asynchronous multiplayer component, Kard Combat is easy to recommend. It's one of the most gripping games I've played on the platform. I just hope Hothead doesn't hear me say that, lest they trick me into spending my rent check on virtual booster packs.

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