Slay the Spire

Given my nerdy proclivities, I got into the card game scene later than one would assume. I collected Pokemon cards, of course, but never got into MTG for one reason or another. Hearthstone was my first competitive card game. And I fell for it hard. I probably dropped $500 in that game across the three or so years I played it. It was ugly. I loved the game, but it caused RNG rage. (“RNG rage” here defined as the fury caused by a bad stroke of luck in a game that’s heavily skewed toward random outcomes.) And that, too, was ugly. Finally I shook myself free sometime in 2016.

The biggest lesson I took away from Hearthstone is why these games work. Card games are fun! And so came the the dawn after the dark Hearthstone night. A deckbuilding roguelike with tight balance, Slay the Spire shines bright.

I’m not exactly sure how to talk about the game without endless gushing or honing in on small, unfortunate details that don’t detract from the whole. So I’ll say this: the game is great, and the issues I could unearth aren’t worth the time spent reading about. Instead I’ll focus on a few aspects that surprised and delighted me about the game.

I love the fact that the game seems to undermine planning at every step: it’s inadvisable to start a run thinking, “this’ll be a poison deck!” Much better to come across a few attack spam cards then decide to go with a multi-attack deck. The RNG effects of the card gifts at the end of battles mean that planning a deck is always an active, ongoing affair. It also requires one to think about their deck’s synchronicities and potential at the end of every battle. Some guy (Sid Meier?) said that games are a series of interesting decisions, and Slay the Spire captures that beautifully. It’s like layers of decisions on top of each other. Fight started, play your cards: how do I want to battle this monster? Battle won, choose your free card: now how do I want to battle the next monster? The map pops up, choose a direction: when do I want do battle the next monster?

I also love the balance. The game is in early stages of release–most glaringly, only 2 of the 3 characters are available and there’s no clear indication of where the 3rd is–but the balance is on point. Both characters have multiple decks that do wonders, though the warrior/Ironclad seems to be more versatile and less cohesion-dependent of the two. I enjoy that I can play two back-to-back runs as the same character and get entirely different experiences and set entirely different goals. That said, there are evergreen strategies. It seems like ditching cards tends to be the way to go almost always–I’ve never had much success with 20+ cards in the deck.

And lastly, a shameful admission: I love the potential for the game. I’m a sucker for the promise of Early Access games. (In a certain sense, Early Access as a marketing term also serves to sell a game’s future and concept–“hype”–even when the game already exists. Small wonder Early Access rules the indies.) Slay the Spire has a lot of potential. Card games have a huge well of ideas to draw from, and so far the game designers have kept a tight control on balance. What can I say except that I’m excited for the future of this game, damn it! I’m weak, I have hope!

Slay the Spire is fun. I can’t endorse it enough, and I might go play it as soon as I finish writing this post.