One of my goals is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my seventeenth review in this series called “50 games”.

I rarely play games as they come out. I have a massive backlog of games I’d like to play, some from consoles of the past, others from last year, and lists of indie and hobby games I’ll check out “at some point”.

It makes little sense for me to pre-order games as I will likely not play it at release date anyway. Of course, there are exceptions: I played Breath of the Wild when it came out, mainly to avoid spoilers and also because it looked amazing.

Slay the Spire is a game that has not yet been released. It is currently in “early access” on Steam, and I have been playing it a lot over the last weeks.

At the core, it’s a card game where you upgrade and manage your deck while also finding relics and potions that give you other benefits, all while traversing a great Spire in look for the boss at the top.

What I like about it is that there are many different tactical options. There are three characters, each with different cards and a different assumed tactical playstyle. Depending on what relics you find, your tactic might be adapted (or should be adapted), making it a continous process.

You also have some choice in what types of encounters you will experience, from battles to random encounters or challenges or even a chest with a relic!

The random factor does sometimes feel a bit unfair. For example some events are 50% good and 50% bad, and the types of cards you find are randomly decided. Thus sometimes I feel like I really had little chance due to bad luck in a run, which can get frustrating.

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • RNG is OK but beware that it does also give the player “unwinnable” scenarios
  • When a game is balanced well enough to make different tactical options valid, it’s great! (This is super-hard though)
  • The sheer amount of relics and potions and cards makes this game very replayable
    • Even more so, is how these can combine. It enables the player to craft ideas for how to adapt his strategy if he gains a combo in his next run.