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Cards + Games = Happy Place — A Commentary on Slay the Spire

Max Linskey February 1, 2019


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I’d like to start this by saying that I have been playing Slay the Spire in its Beta stages before being fully released for about a year now, so it is about damn time for this review. Since I started playing, after being suggested to try the game by a friend (thank you), I have not shut up about this or other card games (seriously, ask anyone who will still talk to me). Not only has this become one of my favorite games probably ever, as it combines my since-childhood love of video games with my equally as long love of card games (we’re talking TCGs here, as that was my entrance to the medium), but it has encouraged me to continue to love these two things (see my reviews of Keyforge, a new and unique card game, and Anthem, Bioware’s upcoming looter-shooter).

I can remember back in the late 90’s when the Pokemon Trading Card Game was released for the Game Boy Color and blew me away with playing a card game on the go, without having to try and explain the rules to a friend. I had been playing games since I was 4, dusting off and playing the NES and Sega Genesis my father had in the basement, but this was a combination of the cards I collected and the games I loved, so since this point, I have always had an idea in the back of my head to find a game that combined these again. Of course every major card game released its own game version (Yu-Gi-Oh, Duel Masters, even Magic in the later years), but I was looking for a way to have an adventure using cards.

Slay the Spire is that adventure. Starting as one of three characters (The Ironclad, the Silent, and the unlockable character, The Defect), you make your way through floors of a tower rife with danger and treasure, fighting enemies by using a deck of cards, which can be altered by finding new additions and chances to remove others. It is such a fun and essentially one-of-a-kind game, one that has a ridiculous amount of replayability if you take the time to dive into it (which you should, as you could play the game on basically any running computing device).

Starting with your first floor encounter with a multi-eyed whale that gifts you a starting deck (please hold all questions until the end) and a relic, a sort of collectible that modifies the game you jump right into the randomly-generated spire, with multiple starting points that have sometimes-intersecting paths. Want to have a balls-to-the-wall run where you fight tough guy after tough guy? Well then you might want to look for the path with the most mini-boss symbols on the map and tackle that. But schedule some nap/smithing time to heal yourself or upgrade a card, so look for campfires on the path too, or else you might be slain too early.

Rest or Smith?

There are also question mark spots, which are also random, generating either an enemy encounter or some kind of scripted event, where you can gain valuables or get cursed, among several other things. Over the course of the game, as you defeat enemies, you’ll also be collecting coins, so make sure you schedule some time to go to a shop and spend that hard earned coin on some awesome relics or a card you really need.

Shopkeep’s Wares

The run you take will be determined by three factors: the character you have chosen, the early reward you may (or may not) have reaped, and the arrangement of the map you are presented. If you play the Ironclad, arguably the easiest of the three to grasp, you have the most health of the characters and can probably dish out the most damage (overall, and there are so many other factors that this is more opinion than anything). So as you slay your way through the floors and collect cards, you will probably be visiting campfires and stores less, as the basic build is pretty straightforward. But play as the Silent, the poison wielding and skull adorned mistress of mayhem, the approach you take is probably going to be totally different.

Then there is the mode where you put aside everything you knew about the game and instead take on the Daily Climb, a once a day challenge to use a specific character with a specific deck, sometimes with just a lone path to the top. This essentially means, after you’ve played as each of the characters multiple times, there is still a daily obstacle for you to overcome each day, essentially giving the game an endless replay factor.

Herein lies the ultimate beauty of the game. There are so many factors at play that each run up the spire is a new experience. Sometimes you get a super powerful card or relic at the beginning that will dictate what other cards you take and choices you make. Yes, it makes it arguably easier in this situation, but that also means that one pebble thrown into the machine can quickly undo all the work, and sometimes you get dead all to quickly when the strategy falls apart. On the other hand, if you go in slaying by the seat of your pants, you become a jack of all trades, with different combos to use in different scenarios. This too can lead to untimely ends, however, as sometimes the luck of the draw is just not in your favor.

But trial and error are what this game is all about. There really is no story to go with, besides get to the end and kill everything in your way, because the mechanics of the game itself are the reason to play. It fulfills my want of adventure card game not because there is a story but because playing it feels so damn rewarding to do so.

Mega Crit Games knocked it out of the country the park was built in, and that hit continues to soar with the game being fully released. It’s in the same vein as Shovel Knight, with dedicated devs making excellent content and updating players each step of the way with what is coming next and how the team is doing. This is why indie games are the greatest of all time in the gaming world. This level of care for the craft and the ultra-success of their maiden voyage into the game world is incredible and stories like these make me exceedingly happy to hear and support.

Slay the Spire is available on the Mega Crit website as well as on Steam (which I hear is having a sale soon which the game might be part of). If you have money to spare on something you can pick up and play any time and want to support an excellent game and team, I would definitely buy this game. 10/10 and Overwhelmingly Positive Steam reviews (that if you look are always singing praise) are nothing to scoff at, but numbers aside, from your humble wandering hero/indie games junkie, this comes with my utmost recommendation.

Rumor has it the game will also be coming to Nintendo Switch sometime this year, as well as hopefully some kind of Google Play/App Store tablet release, so there is no excuse to not at least have this game on your radar.

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