A Game You Should Play - Slay The Spire

There was a time where Magic the Gathering ruled every aspect of my life. I'd spend hours a day thinking about standard legal off meta combinations, researching older sets for modern play and even assembling fully synergistic EDH decks. It got to the point where it was pretty bad, and I was spending more money then I had any business spending on cards, accessories and trips to game shops. Ultimately, I'm happy to say that I'm a recovered Magicholic, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the lifestyle sometimes, especially drafting. To those of you unfamiliar with card drafting, it's a mechanic used in all sorts of card games where players pick cards from a limited subset to gain advantages/build a final deck (based on the game being played.) Drafting generally takes a very specific understanding of card value, statistics, and raw experience and the mechanic has cropped up in other video games, like Blizzard's popular card game Hearthstone and various other online card games. Enter Slay the Spire, an early access title developed by "Mega Crit Games", utilizing deck building and card drafting mechanics to help create one of the most unique dungeon crawling roguelikes I've ever had the pleasure of being frustrated at. I'm certainly not alone either, it's been doing incredibly well on Twitch. In fact just last night I was ecstatic to see it sitting at number 3!

Slay the Spire is available via Steam Early Access! 

Slay the Spire is primarily a game that aggressively tests your ability to make decisions and set yourself up for success. While it certainly employs typical "roguelike" elements such as permadeath, randomly generated dungeons and a relatively high learning curve, adding the complicated process of deck-building makes for some extremely deep strategy. Slay the Spire starts off with a players selecting one of two very unique characters (Mega Crit Games has formally announced a third is on the way), The Ironclad and The Silent. Each character has a completely different pool of cards to draft from save for a handful of colorless cards and an experience bar that will unlock items/cards for future runs. Once you choose you're plopped into the Spire, armed with your starter deck (both characters have a relatively the same starter deck, minus a few cards), a starting relic based on your character and an early decision from...well from a whale. I don't really get it, but it's fine.

Thanks, Monstro.

Once in the spire players are presented with a map, and they get to choose which direction they'd like to set off in. Each branching path has a multitude of options outside of simply battle, but the majority of the time you'll be facing off against a distinctly grisly bestiary. Enemies include thieves, demon armies, various blobs, bird cultists and even a book..that stabs you! Combat is pretty straight forward, players have X amount of energy at the start of each turn and each card in your deck costs a certain amount of energy to play. Enemies are not restricted to drawing and playing cards and simply perform actions each turn, and you can only respond with the deck that you've built. Early on things are relatively simple and clear cut, but of course as you progress and your deck becomes thicker and enemies become tougher combat can become quite complicated. For example, it one of my late game Silent runs, my average turn involved utilizing a pool of around 7 energy every single turn, and I was essentially cycling through my entire deck multiple times in each turn. After a battle players are rewarded with some gold, sometimes a potion, but most importantly a choice from a handful of cards -

Sometimes the best option is the skip button on the left. 

Players decide on which card they would like to add to their deck and move on, leaving the other cards behind. As you can imagine, over time these choices lead to some really synergistic combinations or in some cases...something that closely resembles cat vomit. This drafting system in addition to the various Relics that add passives (such as "Gain 2 additional energy at the start of a fight following a rest") make up the majority of the synergy you're going to want to be looking for. As you make your way through the Spire you'll also come across other events, traps, shops, etc etc. These variables make for an interesting and relatively different run every single time; one game I found myself making a deal with a vampire to modify my deck with a whole bunch of lifesteal and in another I desperately searched around inside a slime carcass to find an item and ultimately just dug myself in a hole. These variables matched with Relics and Card Drafting kept me incredibly hooked for my first 20 hours and I just wanted to discover more and more of what the Spire had to offer, but overtime I definitely started to look at the Spire in a different way.

"Trigger a Trap" usually ends in getting useless crap in your deck :)

As mentioned above, you can plot your path before you set off.

There are hundreds of cards between both classes, The Silent remains my favorite for now. 

Despite my initial addiction, I think the strongest moments of Slay the Spire come much later when you really start to understand the relative value of every decision you make. It really does feel like the old MTG games, and I'm trying my very best to put together a real and functioning deck, especially when you understand your entire pool of cards. It slowly becomes a little less about discovery and more about flexing all the knowledge you've gained to create synergies that actually work. Naturally, being a roguelike comes with some unexpected variables that can add some serious difficulty, which only get multiplied by the fact that Slay the Spire is essentially a card game. I've frequently started drafting a killer deck, only to pick up a contradictory relic or vice-versa. Sometimes you get presented with a pretty terrible map layout and sometimes you draw an entire hand of defends when you need 1 more damage to end the fight! These happenings are basically part of the game, there's only so much control we have over some of the RNG elements, but Slay the Spire certainly offers a bit more choice thanks to the drafting mechanic. Only drawing defends? Maybe you should have removed some from the deck/drafted more card draw. Quite frequently I'll lose a run and think back and pin point where my own decision in the past led to my own downfall. Something I wish I knew very early on is how easy it is to encumber yourself with a deck that's far too thick, but all lessons come in time I suppose.

Ultimately, Slay the Spire shattered my early expectations for it. Going into the game I kind of expected RNG to reign supreme and find myself more frustrated than anything, but I'm glad to report that's usually not the case. Every run lasts less than an hour, but manages to capture the genuine feel of a dungeon crawling RPG as you battle your way through some seriously terrifying creatures and boss fights, but appeals to those of us who want to play a cerebral card game...at the same time! Like many early access titles on Steam, the game is certainly lacking a little bit of polish and despite the clear replayability of the game I find myself wanting so much more. After roughly 20 hours I have achieved every unlock for both characters, and I feel like I've had the opportunity to play some of the most absurd synergies in the game. On the store page Mega Crit proclaims "We fused card games and roguelikes together to make the best single player deckbuilder we could..." and when I find myself up at night thinking about card values and synergies, I genuinely think they accomplished just that. To anyone that enjoys a good card game, Slay the Spire is right up your alley. A lot of popular Twitch streamers are helping to bring the early access game to the limelight and I sincerely can't wait to see what Mega Crit adds next. Blue mage-esque character, perhaps? Entirely new keywords and mechanics? More floors to the Spire? The beauty of Early Access is there's so much to look forward to, and I can't wait to learn it all.
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