PAX East 2014: Prodigy is Skylanders for adults and full of potential

Screenshot - Prodigy

Skylanders and Disney Infinity have proven two things -- that the tech behind both games is really cool, and that adults and children alike still love playing with and collecting toys. Prodigy aims to take these concepts in a few new directions, introducing a Near Field Communication board with multiple placement points, developing a turn-based strategy game around that, and designing figurines that adults can feel a bit better about collecting.

The board itself is a 4x3 grid that allows you to place figures in one of twelve different spots. In the version of the game I played, which tabletop game designer and modeler Jean Bey explained was still in the development stages, players can arrange their figures anywhere on the board as they see fit. Placement on the frontline affords that character more offensive skills, whereas the back row is focused on defensive skills.

This one-on-one, turn-based combat game can be played online between two players anywhere in the world. Once players set their positions, they proceed to take turns making their moves. The character whose turn it is is reflected onscreen, allowing you to move that character if needed, or place down action cards on the board to decide that character’s action. Place an Attack card and the player will attack, place a Will card with an Attack card and they may do a piercing shot or area effect attack.

Prodigy

Do something outside of the rules, like repositioning a character when it isn’t their turn, and the game will simply ask you to return them to their position. Movements like this, and other helpful info like area effect spells from your opponent are shown on the board with color-coded lights. This adds another layer of real-life visuals to the game.

As you make your moves on the board, they’re represented with the characters onscreen making some beautifully animated actions. The system is not unlike a JRPG battle or Strategy RPG, where positioning or menu driven gameplay is amped up through visual flair.

Prodigy gameplay

In my time with the game I couldn’t get over how nice the figures looked, as well as their representations in-game. As for the actual gameplay, that is something I’d be interested to see as it develops. Right now, as the demo version of the game I saw stands, it seems a bit too simplistic and rough around the edges. There are strategies to be sure, and there were always smarter moves I could have been making to react to my opponent, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as I like to see in this sort of game.

For the final game, which won’t be out until late 2015, after the successful Kickstarter and the game’s alpha phase runs its course, the team at Hanakai plan to have a full single player campaign alongside the multiplayer combat mode. The campaign will allow players to make choices in much the same way as they would during combat. For example, you may place a Will card to bargain with a character, or an Attack card to kill them.

Prodigy

Along the way through the campaign, you’ll be able to develop your characters, leveling them up and choosing new skills. As with Skyanders, that progress is saved in the figurines themselves. It may work out that the true depth of the combat system is unlocked through character progression, but for now, as cool as the concept is, I have some concerns that Prodigy’s multiplayer may not keep people interested for long. I just can’t imagine making the same moves and putting the same cards down over and over again.

During my demo, I heard another PAX attendee lamenting about how he can’t play board games with his long-distance friends, and how Prodigy solves that problem. In that regard, Prodigy is certainly something new, and it has a ton of promise with plenty of time to make it happen. Let’s just hope the team at Hanakai can put that Kickstarter money to good use and make it happen.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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