It has only taken 7 years, but there is finally a worthy gem-matching successor to Puzzle Quest. Kind of. Gems of War soft-launched on the New Zealand App Store yesterday, and it is f’ing amazing. It will be coming to android, steam, and worldwide on iOS in a month or two, (edit: and is developed by Steve Fawkner & Infinity Interactive, makers of Warlords and the original PQ).
First, the bad news: it is free to play. However, I have played a metric ton in the last day and have yet to run into a problem. Also keep in mind that is considering I have gotten my ass handed to me in numerous fights, but have not yet run out of gold (stamina currency, but also used for other things).
the short version is that they have layered a tcg-like mechanic on top of the original Puzzle Quest. You collect and level various units, each of which has a special ability, one or two associated mana colors, attack, armor, and health. You can take 4 into battle at one time. Order of units matters, as skull matches are made by the lead unit against the opposing lead unit. This opens up all kind of strategies and wrinkles to the gameplay. For instance, you might be fighting a Mage with several creatures in front of him. The creatures aren’t especially powerful, but when they collect brown mana, they can use a powerful ability. The Mage has a spell that adds brown mana to the board, which quickly becomes catastrophic. However, find a way to remove the Mage from the battle (or deny the color he needs) and your enemies are far easier to deal with.
There is an overworked map with a number of kingdoms. Access to new kingdoms is unlocked with gold (earned through play). Each kingdom has its own quest line (I’ve only progressed more than a few fights in the first, but it is lengthy). As you proceed through the quest lines you unlock challenge battles in each kingdom. Each of these has 5 levels of difficulty to tackle. There is also PvP, which as far as I can tell is handled like Marvel PQ, where the computer controls the opponents units. Like that game, you can also retaliate when attacked.
The game looks decent, similar to the xbox live version of PQ, probably. The music is fine, but sounds compressed. Battle animations are a little slower than I would like, but nothing tragic.
there are a bunch of different currencies. The main premium currency is gems, which can be used to buy gold. Both gold and gems can be used to buy keys (the latter dubbed magic keys). Keys unlock chests containing new unit cards of various rarities. Presumably the magic keys yield better units. There are also souls, which are used to rank up your units. These are earned through play, and as far as I can tell can not currently be purchased with gems or gold. In other words, you can buy units with money, but not level them up.
happy to try and answer questions.