Slay the Spire leaves behind most of the extraneous video game disciplines to focus on what matters most for the genre: gameplay. Does it have an elaborate art style? Nope. Story? Absolutely not. Dazzling special effects? Unnecessary. Gameplay is king here, and in that, Slay the Spire excels.
There are five types of cards in Slay the Spire; attacks, skills, power cards, status cards, and curses. And three rarities; common, uncommon, and rare. Attack cards are pretty straightforward, they're the game’s primary way to deal damage to enemies. Skills, the most versatile of the bunch, can do anything from granting the player defense to reducing the enemy’s attack power or even inflicting a status ailment upon them. Power cards also have varying uses. Once they've been played, they’re in play for the remainder of the battle they’re activated in. These cards can do anything from causing damage whenever a status card is drawn to granting the player passive defense every turn. Status cards and Curse cards both bloat the deck, with Curse cards being the more malevolent of the two. Though, if I’m being honest, any wasted card slot can end up killing you (unless you're running a Status deck).
Unfortunately, due to the nature of roguelikes, finding synergy doesn't come with every run. Yes, the player can choose from three cards at the end of each combat or sometimes when they enter a “?” room, but as the difficulty of the game increases—specifically when attempting ascension mode—the player’s luck when it comes to choosing cards significantly decreases.
I discovered that my favorite type of deck was a status deck with the Ironclad character. It works like this: you get a Fire Breathing power card (deals 6 damage (10 if upgraded) whenever a status or curse card is drawn). Combo that with an Evolve card (When you draw a status card, draw another (draw 2 cards when upgraded). Then you fill the deck with cards that add status cards during combat, pick up the Mark of Pain relic if you run into it (adds two wound status cards into your deck and gives you one extra energy), and you’re set. Every time you draw, your hand fills up and you do massive damage to all enemies. The problem is that when on higher difficulties, the game doesn't always give you cards that work well together. I understand the idea of working with what you’ve got, but you literally can't sometimes, and that isn't fun. I hate feeling like I wasted my time because of something I couldn't control (in a game, of course. But also being stuck in traffic is the worst). Going in with the idea that you want a specific type of deck will end your run, so you have to keep an open mind. That being said, the game should always give you an option to build some kind of cohesive deck instead of wasting your time. I had gone fifteen runs in a row without a solid deck at one point and lost them all. Once the game gave me half-decent choices for two runs in a row, I won back-to-back runs (not without challenge, mind you).
One of the toughest challenges in maintaining a long-term interest in a rogue-lite is creating a luck-to-skill balance that continues to scale accordingly. Unfortunately, the late game's ascension mode doesn't quite get this right as the game relies heavily on luck. Other than end-game content, Slay the Spire is a great game to jump into and learn. The characters are all unique and fun. The deck synergy can be a blast. And the challenge is ever present. Any mistake can end your run, so bring your A-game whenever you make a move. If you like strategy, challenge, and the ever-looming fear of death of a roguelike, Slay the Spire is well worth investing in.
Objective Assessment: 8/10
Bonus: +1 for excellent card synergy. +1 for distinct character decks.
Penalties: -1 poor end-game balancing. -1 hard counters against specific decks.
Nerd Coefficient: 8/10
Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.