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Hologrid: Monster Battle is the game Star Wars fans have waited 40 years to play

When the original Star Wars arrived, it seemed like the whole movie was created with video games in mind. The fledgling video game industry took note, and did the best they could with the technology available in the 70s and 80s. Vector Graphics arcade cabinets and the Atari 2600 allowed players to have dogfights above the Death Star, and experience 2D lightsaber fights. But the most readily gamified part of the film was Dejarik, the Holo Chess game that Chewie and Threepio played on the Millennium Falcon.

Nerds have had to wait until Space Year 2016, but that Holo Chess game is finally coming as Hologrid: Monster Battle. Although it isn’t an official Star Wars game, it is made by Phil Tippet, the designer of the original monsters for Dejarik, and many other movie monsters. We got a hands-on look at the game and its multiplayer experience.

The game uses the camera of a tablet or smartphone to create an augmented reality play area where the game board and creatures are superimposed over any flat surface. The current early access build uses real physical cards that are scanned with the camera to create the board, and to assemble a team of space monsters to fight on the board.

Once both players have a created their team, the monsters appear on the board and moves around like chess pieces. They are fully animated and 3D. Thanks to the augmented reality features, players can move the board around to look at their beast army from all sides, as well as zooming in to get a closer look at them. The monsters will walk around on the playing field and fight using animations strongly reminiscent of the Star Wars Dejarik scene.

The rules and gameplay are equal parts collectible card game and traditional chess. The chess inspirations come from the fact that each piece has a limited number of spaces that it can move each turn, and players must maneuver their army around the board to gain strategic advantage. Monsters will buff and debuff nearby pieces, and the placement of each piece is much more important than with most card games.

At the start of a match, each player chooses a champion character. These are a combination of the King and Queen in chess; this character is the most powerful piece in the army, but players must protect their champion because the game is over when one of the champions is killed. It differs from Hearthstone and most other card games in the way that the champion can be used aggressively in battle, rather than being an armchair General who leads from the rear. One of the champions in the current build buffs nearby enemies, so it is wise to keep this champion in the thick of the battle.

Hologrid still uses many of the typical mechanics from card games. Each player has a deck of virtual cards (and physical ones that are scanned before each match). Every turn, players draw a set of cards from their deck to represent minions that can be deployed on the board, or magical spells. The spells can be used to directly damage enemies, or buff allies, and there’s some unusual ones like a spell that teleports an enemy minion. This is very useful for ruining an a opponent’s carefully organized attack, or breaking a shield wall. There are only a handful of spells at present, and each player can only pick two of them for the match.

Each round, both players have five action points. In the current build, the number of points doesn’t increase with each turn, like in some other card games. It takes one action point to summon a minion, cast a spell, move, or attack. Each piece can only move and attack once per turn before becoming fatigued, although a certain spell can remove the fatigue and let a monster attack multiple times.

Unlike chess, Hologrid is asymmetrical. There are two champion characters in the current build, one buffs nearby allies and the other receives a personal boost when its hit points are low. There are six different kinds of minions each with its own unique powers. Players can only choose three kinds of minion, so the two opposing teams can be composed of entirely different creatures. Although players who want a perfectly balanced game can pick the exact same line up as their opponent.

The selection of spells and monsters will certainly grow before its final release, but the current build of Hologrid is based on using tactics that support the abilities of the monsters in the player’s army, rather than building a vast deck of specialized cards. At present the cards are evenly balanced, and play doesn’t revolve around waiting for a player’s best card to appear.


Hologrid: Monster Battle has significant nostalgia appeal for Star Wars fans, especially those who remember the days when stop-motion animation was the apex of cinematic special effects. The creatures in the game were made by building physical models before scanning them. This allows for a retro look that authentically recreates the visual style of the Dejarik scene from Star Wars. The fighting animations and finishing moves are also very similar to the way the Dejarik monsters behaved in their brief scene.

There’s no single-player campaign at present, although the current build has local and online multiplayer. Our battles with the developers online proved to be challenging. It is essential to understand the unique role of each monster and how its powers affect other creatures on the battlefield. The monsters fit into well defined roles of defense, offense and support, with the champion characters requiring a judicious combination of aggressive and defensive play.

The trouble that Hologrid: Monster Battle faces is how well it will hold up after the nostalgia factor has worn off. Players who are simply looking for a new strategy game will be less interested in watching the animations over and over, and more concerned with how well the game rewards strategic and tactical thinking.

In an era when strategy gamers will ask “Why should I play this game and not Hearthstone?” there are some compelling reasons to give Hologrid: Monster Battle a closer look. will have more as the game approaches release.

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