Game Design Analysis – Slay the Spire


Slay the Spire is a roguelike, turn-based deck-building game developed by MegaCrit. Players choose one of four characters to progress through the eponymous spire and battle increasingly difficult monsters. As players ascend the spire, they have the opportunity to upgrade their deck and gain powerful relics that affect battle.

Though it is a roguelike, where the game resets after each completed or failed run, players are granted points that help unlock new characters, relics and cards for future runs.


Gameplay demo:

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad


  • Simple 2D sprites for characters and enemies
    • Sometimes criticised for being ‘ugly’, but the sprites do their job and do not distract from the core gameplay
  • Well-crafted background music, changes with different levels of the spire
    • Calmer themes for when the character has a non-battle encounter or is resting
    • Intense battle themes during boss battles
  • Recognisable and distinct card art, themed for each character
    • Allows for experienced players to easily play without reading the card names


  • Able to run on low specs, highly accessible
  • Released on many platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, iOS


  • Turn-based combat: players play cards from their hand to perform offensive or defensive actions against enemies
  • Deck-building: players improve their odds of winning battles by upgrading their deck. They can upgrade their deck by adding better cards, pruning bad cards or upgrading existing cards. Players have to adapt their deck-building strategy as they progress depending on the cards and relics they have received, and depending on the upcoming enemies that they have to battle
  • Movement: players ascend the spire through branching paths. Players can choose which paths to follow which result in different chance-based encounters such as battles, shops, rest spots and random events
  • Resource management: players have two main resources to manage – their health, and gold. Certain events allow players to trade health for gold or powerful rewards. Gold is a resource that can be used in shops or in certain events.


  • There is no clear story, but there are hints about the lore as well as each of the characters’ motivations for ascending the spire (e.g. the Defect character was an automaton serving the spire that malfunctioned and turned rogue)

The four elements are not balanced – for instance, aesthetics and story are weaker than the  game mechanics. However, this is not necessarily a flaw, as it serves to highlight the unique and acclaimed mechanics that are Slay the Spire’s selling points.

Lens #39: Meaningful Choices

Slay the Spire forces the player to make meaningful choices at every turn, including but not limited to:

  • Choosing which paths (and by extension, which encounters) to explore
  • Choosing which cards to include and remove from their deck
  • Choosing when to sacrifice resources such as health and gold for possible upgrades
  • And of course, choices during the battles

As the game is considerably well-balanced, there are no dominant strategies that work all the time. The RNG element (not knowing what card, relics and encounters are available) also prevents players from blindly following guides and making easy choices.

Lens #55: Visible Progress

Being a roguelike game, Slay the Spire is somewhat limited in the progression aspect.

One metric of progression for players is the Ascension level, which caps out at 20 and serves as a difficulty modifier for each run. Players have to beat their current Ascension level to unlock the next one, and each of the four characters has their own Ascension level as they have very different playstyles and mastery of one character does not imply mastery of the others.

Perhaps progress could be tied to unlocking lore, which would keep players invested in making progress and also help to amplify the story element of the elemental tetrad.

Lens #41: Skill vs Chance

The chance elements of Slay the Spire are well-balanced. They are significant enough such that each run feels very different and forces the player to adapt, but also not so oppressive as to make the player win or lose on the flip of a coin.

Chance helps to test players’ skill in this game, forcing them to do risk calculations before making decisions. It also serves for some very rewarding moments when RNG blesses the player with the right card or relic at the right time.

Slay the Spire does an excellent job of balancing these two aspects.

Lens #95: Spectation

Slay the Spire has served as an excellent spectator sport, despite its simplistic graphics and lack of competitive elements. It has accrued 1.7m hours worth of watch time on Twitch over the past 30 days.

While traditionally multiplayer games dominate in terms of spectation value, Slay the Spire manages to find a loyal following who want to watch how others make decisions, fight the battles and perhaps learn from others to improve their own gameplay.


Overall, Slay the Spire is an excellent game and its mastery of the lenses has no doubt led to its commercial success. It rarely frustrates, as every failed run leads to some learning value for the player, and its unique, accessible gameplay leads to great fun and enjoyment.

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