What’s the first thing everyone asks about as soon as a new Turn-Based Strategy game is announced? That’s right: multiplayer! If you’re on the lookout for great multiplayer matches in a fantasy TBS setting and have found the pickings all too slim on iOS, consider yourself dead center in the audience D20 Studios are targeting with Hero Mages. This one’s been running online for a few years counting and is due to land on iOS in the very near future. Auspiciously enough, the iOS edition is also a finalist for Best Mobile Game at indiePub’s Independent Propeller Awards.

While billed as a crossover of tabletop strategy and collectible card game, Hero Mages wraps its influences in all the trappings of a TBS. Presented in overhead perspective and giving the player multiple actions per character turn, it almost feels like a fantasy counterpart to the sci-fi themed Hunters series. Whether you’re sparring with the computer in a single player skirmish mode or playing an eight-way match online, you’ll have three units to work with: one mage and two heavy-hitting guardians. That might sound like quite the skeleton crew at first blush, but here are two things to consider. First, your mage can summon creatures out of the blue for backup. Secondly, each character can do multiple things in one turn — maybe sacrificing a regular attack to move twice and then executing a few character-specific abilities. Good strategy means squeezing everything you can out of your characters here. It’s also worth noting that a variety of classes are folded into the terms “mage” and “guardian.” Check here for a full rundown of Hero Mages’ cast at present.

So where do the tabletop strategy and card game influences come in? Damage results are determined by dice – their roll animation can be adjusted or switched off entirely – and the mage’s available spells come from a deck of cards that flow into the player’s hand each turn. Cards the player doesn’t care for can be manually discarded or, better yet, used to fuel the special attacks of his or her guardians.

What I’m loving most about Hero Mages is its Valor system, which rewards initiative in battle by letting the player tap into his or her mage’s most potent specials. Basically you’re awarded Valor points for landing attacks on a certain number of enemies per turn, so an aggressive playing style has major advantages over a defensive strategy. Just be careful your mage doesn’t go down in that blaze of glory or else you’ll lose any summoned creatures too!

The Valor system is a clever way of encouraging speedy action in a game where matches include up to eight players after all, and Hero Mages doesn’t stop there. Multiplayer matches can be set to one or two-minute turn limits, placing heavy time pressure on everybody to get a move on — it’s sure to result in some delicious mistakes other players can exploit. Naturally Hero Mages is decked out with an internal leaderboard system where scores reflect each player’s history of success and losses. Emerge victorious against players with higher scores and you’ll bump up your own; lose against players with lower scores and yours will fall to reflect the embarrassment.

You can bet we’ll have more on Hero Mages in the coming weeks. In the meantime here’s D20 Studios’ site for the game again, as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account where you can keep an eye on the latest news. Let’s leave you with some preview footage for the online edition: