Survival Rations 01 – Decked Out

Hello and welcome to Survival Rations 01! Today we’ll be exploring a relatively new kid on the block: Deckbuilding Roguelikes. Our focus will be on a few specific games, but you’ll also get a brief overview of the genre itself. Keep reading to the end, and drop by our Facebook community afterwards to join in this week’s poll!

What is a Deckbuilding Roguelike?

A Deckbuilding Roguelike is a game which combines two other distinct genres into one cohesive title. Players face combat and puzzles while collecting cards into their deck, all while trying to reach the specific end goal. Each attempt is littered with randomised enemies, power-ups, and cards meaning that no two runs are ever the same.

There are some basic strategies that work well, but the late game requires players to specialise their approach. If early-game choices don’t lay the foundations for this, then the difficulty will punish this mercilessly.

The genre appears to have started in 2014, with the game Dream Quest, created by Peter Whelan. The graphics of the game don’t exactly inspire awe, but it clearly demonstrates the genre’s potential. Other games following in its footsteps continue to innovate and refine with each new release.

A Modern Example – Slay The Spire

Slay The Spire was recommended to me late last year. Since then I’ve spent well over 150 hours playing it on Steam and the Nintendo Switch. It’s fair to say that it lives on my console alongside The Binding of Isaac for good reason.

With a snappy, clean-cut art style and witty humor throughout, I enjoy every run at climbing the eponymous spire. Choosing from several characters, each with unique card pools and strategies, and duking it out just doesn’t get old. With no timers or turn limits, you’re free to rush through at breakneck speed or consider and optimise each move.

Slay the Spire takes every facet of Dream Quest and turns it up to 11. Originally released in 2019, it is a clear passion project by developers MegaCrit. The different playstyles offer ample replayability and the navigation through different nodes creates a need for strategy outside of battle. When fighting against the game’s enemies, you may find yourself low on health and 4 spots away from a campfire. The game gets tense here, and an elite enemy or several mystery spots are blocking you…what would you do? Fight through the hordes in hope of healing? Or risk the mystery nodes and unknown dangers?

With great audio andrefined controls for both PC and Switch, Slay the Spire is a pleasure to sink time into. Combos are frequent, and often hilariously damaging to the level bosses. My runs take 45-60 minutes to complete, fitting perfectly into evenings or when my children are at school. If a run is longer or time is short, a quick-save feature between events makes for absolute convenience.

From Trading Card Games to…Roguebook?

I wasn’t looking anything to play when I found Roguebook, but I noticed that Richard Garfield was credited. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Garfield created Magic: The Gathering – the first major Trading Card Game and a major inspiration behind Dream Quest. I spent years collecting and playing MtG, so I jumped at the chance to explore this.

It wasn’t surprising to find that Garfield actually played Dream Quest and became enamoured with the concept as a whole. He joined Developers Abrakam, who had already created the world of Faeria, and thus Roguebook was born. Set within Faeria‘s book of lore, it’s your job to paint pathways, fight enemies, and vanquish bosses. Rather than a single hero, as in Slay the Spire, you control two with a single intertwined deck.

Whether teaming up Sharra’s vicious knife with Sorocco’s hefty shields or with Seifer’s rage every run leaves me wanting more. There are never enough ink pickups to collect everything on the map. The beauty of Roguebook‘s more open design is in choosing which ones are more important. There’s a stronger emphasis on choices here, and it contrasts very nicely with Slay the Spire‘s more random feel.

Boasting 200 cards, 80 relics and 30 gems, Roguebook offers millions of combinations and all but guarantees that the same run will never be repeated. My runs last between 20 minutes and 2 hours on average. Given there’s a quick-save feature again, I can also put it down whenever I need to.

Serving Suggestions – How do these games fit in?

Both Slay the Spire and Roguebook have a well-refined gameplay loop, which is easily picked back up after a quicksave. These are not story-heavy epics, so don’t worry if you finish a run and can’t play again right away. Roguebook attempts more of a story than its counterpart, but remains simple and lends itself well to opportunistic play.

It’s incredibly easy to sink time into either game despite the lack of story. HLTB.com lists them as being 208 and 194 hours respectively, for completionists. At the moment, the Nintendo eShop listings have both games for less than $20 each, offering incredible value for money.

In short, either game would be a sound purchase for frugal gamers, both in terms of cost and sheer replayability. They would also fit for time-challenged players, giving quick access to a rich and rewarding gameplay loop within any gaming session.

Written by
Hello Spoony Bards! I’m Chris. I’ve been gaming ever since I was able to hold a controller, from blockbuster AAA experiences, to Indie one-person efforts. My favoured genres tend to be Survival-Horror and JRPGs, but I'll play anything once! Happy trails!

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3 Comments

  1. Great article and I think you’ve covered the essential titles to get. My only gripe with Deckbuilders is the random deals added to a roguelike system. Random dice roll mechanics in an RPG for example,are far more forgiving and accepted because of the ability to save at points. If you think the battle is unfair then you just reload from the last save. Roguelike permadeath with a random deal of cards is far more annoying and frustrating. With Slay The Spire you can get a deal of just attack cards and with no defence to apply, you’re either severely damaged or wiped out altogether and having to go from a “end of the second map” scenario and restarting the whole thing from the beginning. Similar to my gripes with the balance issues with games like Hades. Developers promote the fact that you will die and die often but it’s often feeling unfair or unlucky each time

    To add, Monster Slayers is a great deckbuilder with underwhelming graphics compared to the others but has a great difficulty curve and feels better on balance. Neoverse operates on the exact same systems as the others but excels on big arcade graphics full of colour and finesse.
    Deep Space Derelicts and Nowhere Prophet are good games that carry the deckbuilder into other genres with resource management elements added on top.

    Reply
    • * Deep Sky Derelicts

      Reply
    • Thanks Steve! Some great points there, and I’ve definitely felt the burn at times. For me Hades was an example of one of the greater games in the genre – I felt as if it was punishing and unfair too, but that this was intentional and in line with how Zagreus himself feels under his father. Hopefully I’ll get the change to try Monster Slayers in the near future too.

      As for ‘Slay the Spire’, I’ve found myself playing on the backfoot with too many defensive cards, and then having to choose between delivering MASSIVE damage at the cost of my own health, or holding back again to weather the storm. It’s a pretty good game in my books!

      Reply

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