Slay the Spire (StS) is a deck-building roguelike by Mega Crit Games. Players face waves of enemies to progress through several acts, fighting a boss at each act. The art in StS is relatively simple, and card art designs are created by fans. Albeit having a relatively simple story and almost no game progression, StS managed to capture the hearts of its fans via unique deck-building strategies and “ascension” mechanics, garnering Overwhelmingly Positive reviews on Steam.
StS has a relatively simple story: simply climb to the top of the spire. The player uses 1 of 4 characters and climbs up a spire full of enemies. Each enemy requires different forms of strategies to fight, making each fight a unique experience. Player progress through the tower in 3 “acts”, with a boss fight occurring at the end of each act. At the end of Act 3, the player may unlock a hidden Act 4, which contains the true boss of the game: the heart of the spire itself.
StS a fantasy world with unique-looking characters, and a simple User Interface for users to track their cards and enemy actions. 2D graphics are used throughout the game, with only occasional particle effects from animations. The music gives off a serious feel, immersing the player in a dangerous and intense climb up to the top.
StS uses the libGDX Engine. The gist of the game is a single-player card game, where different cards have different effects, such as dealing damage, gaining armour, or dealing buffs/debuffs/other effects. While enemies do not have cards, they perform certain actions, either randomly or in a set pattern, depending on the enemy faced. Backgrounds and sprites simply follow a set animation. As it doesn’t render 3D graphics, lighting/shadows etc, the game runs very smoothly on most systems.
Though the Aesthetics, Technology and Story may be relatively simple compared to other games in the market, StS’s mechanics is where it shines.
Core Gameplay Loop
Players progress through each act by choosing a route towards a boss, either fighting normal opponents or mid-bosses, visiting shops, healing up or encountering random events. Each node has its fair share of risks and rewards, depending on the player’s risk appetite and deck requirements. To unlock the final boss, the player is also required to collect 3 keys scattered across the maps, adding an additional layer of challenge should they want to do so.
As the player completes a run, the player can choose to increase the difficulty, known as Ascensions, up to a maximum of 20 times, each ascension level introducing a new type of challenge. This is the main form of progression the game offers.
Characters, Cards and Relics
Each of the four characters offers widely different strategies for players to scale the spire. For example, The Ironclad focuses on brute force and solid defences, and the Silent focuses on Damage over Time and flurries of attacks. Each battle can reward new cards and relics, which form a strategy over time. Players can also cut/buy cards at shops to better refine their decks.
Over time, if done right, players can possibly create satisfying broken combos which blast through even the hardest of enemies.
The lens of Problem-Solving
Throughout each run, players are given randomly generated maps, relics and cards. As such, players would have to work with what they currently have or may get in the future. They are forced to think about what kind of strategy they want to build, what cards to keep, and what kind of node to travel to next. The randomness of the risks and rewards causes every run to require a different strategy from the previous ones.
Even during each battle, the problem-solving nature of the game is present: As the player’s hand gets redrawn every turn, players would have to work with what they have that turn and think of how best to use their current hand and find a balance between defence and offence.
The lens of Skill vs Chance
Though the randomly generated maps, cards etc may cause StS to seem very dependent on luck and chance, the game has an incredibly high skill ceiling involved. For example, deck sizes and the proportions of cards in the deck can vastly improve your chances of getting good hands every turn. Managing one’s health and gold, as well as strategizing the best path taken to maximise resources is also an instinct that is gradually developed as one plays through the game multiple times.
Given enough skill, players have beaten the game at maximum difficulty (Ascension 20) up to 20 times in a row, as seen below. As a baseline, many are already happy with beating the game at just the base difficulty.
The lens of Simplicity vs Complexity
StS has a fine balance of simplicity and complexity, as each run can be as complex as a player wants it to be. The player can opt to play a simple “ooga booga, me hit enemy” build relatively easily, by just picking the cards that allow them to do so. However, if the player feels up to the challenge, they can instead go for much more complex builds like Silent Grand Finale, Watcher Infinite Mantra, etc…
Both simple and complex decks are capable in clearing the game if built right. Nevertheless, a base level of complexity is still present in the core gameplay; any deck can fail to climb the spire if not built well.
The lens of Pleasure
The game does not make it easy for players to build an optimized deck. Yet, there is an indescribable pleasure when everything finally clicks. Many fans play for the possibility of building up a complete, optimized deck and watching it decimate everything in its path.
Overall, despite not having a story or much game progression, which is usually the core aspect of many roguelikes, Slay the Spire brings deck-building to a whole new level, allowing it to remain the most popular card-based roguelike to date.