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I have beaten Slay the Spire two times as the Ironclad and three times as the Silent. All of the runs were quite different insofar as specific cards and interactions go, but the overall strategy was basically the same for each one:
Avoid Losing Health
This probably sounds like I’m trolling, but I am quite serious.
As with many games, HP is a resource in Slay the Spire. However, regaining HP comes at a much higher cost in this game. At each Campsite, you can regain 30% of your max HP, or you can upgrade a card. While sometimes necessary, each time you heal at a Campsite instead of Upgrading a card, you are forgoing dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities of using said upgraded card over the rest of the run. Even if you end up grabbing a specific card or Relic that heals you somehow, that is typically at the expense of a different selection that might have helped you in a different way. Much better to simply not need to heal at all.
So here are my tips in avoiding losing health.
Understanding and Loving Block
Blocking often feels bad, especially when it isn’t enough to absorb an entire attack. Instead of being one turn closer to ending the fight, you instead do nothing and take 2 damage, right?
Well, imagine instead that there was a 1-mana card that said “Gain 5 HP.” Would you play it? Yeah, you would probably play it as much as you could. Guess what. That’s what Block does any time it absorbs damage. There will be times when you will save more HP by burning down an enemy than blocking half the damage, but you also have to look beyond the current battle. If you save 10 damage now by burning down the enemy quickly, but lose 30 HP three fights from now, you have ultimately made a poor trade.
Now, there will be times where you have a fist full of Block cards while your opponent is doing nothing but buffing themselves. Those times will suck, and it’s possible you’ll take more damage overall later. However, consider the opposite case where you have a fist full of attack cards and a pile of damage coming back your way. The latter is much more dangerous than the former.
Combat is for the Fortunate
If you do not have a reliable means of avoiding damage via deck/Relic combos, you should not be taking unnecessary risks in combat. Or getting in combat at all. This means picking a route that bypasses as many regular and Elite encounters as possible. Yeah, combat gives you a chance to add cards to your deck, and Elites giving a Relic is cool, but you can also get cards and Relics in those “?” encounters, typically without losing HP. Do those instead.
The biggest exception to the general rule is everything on the 1st floor. Since you are just starting a run, it behooves you to take as many risks as possible now, when failure does not sting as much, rather than later when you could lose hours of progress.
Relics Will Carry You
Your overall run will, in a large part, be dictated by the Relics you acquire. Nab the one that gives you 3 Block every time you discard a card? You should probably start picking everything that lets you discard cards. The beginning of a run is more free-form as a result, but you generally can’t go wrong with a fast cycle deck. Just make sure you pick up some Answer cards along the way.
Answer the Encounter Questions
Slay the Spire is currently in Early Access so this can change, but generally the “questions” that an encounter will pose and the subsequent answers are:
- Single, large attack | Apply Weaken
- Multiple attacks | Apply Weaken or reduce Strength
- Escalating Buffs | Kill faster
- Punishing Attack usage (thorns, etc) | Kill faster, or Passive damage
- Punishing Skill usage | Attacks that also gain Block
- Punishing Power usage | Only use highest impact Powers
Generally, you are going to want to have at least one card that applies Weaken no matter what. Several bosses have one uber-attack that will deal more than 40 damage at a time, so that one Weaken card will end up being the equivalent of “Gain 15+ block.” Would you draft a card that said “Deal 9 damage, gain 15 Block”? Of course you would.
Beyond that… well, it depends on the character you chose and the relics provided. Playing as the Silent means you have specific access to some very nice cycling cards, and can pick up cards that apply Poison. Tons of Block + Poison = eventual win. With Ironclad, you are generally more reliant on attacking, but don’t forgo Block cards on your way to stack Vulnerability (+50% damage). I had the most success with Ironclad when I kept a lean deck and upgraded the 0-cost card that buffed my Strength for the turn.
Some of the cards and relics you pick up during a run have an impact beyond any individual combat. For example, the Feed card gives you an increased max HP when it deals a killing blow, and the Alchemize card grants you a Potion. There are also relics that heal you when you cast a Power, or perhaps grant you a special action when you reach a campsite.
This may seem like another duh moment, but… do those things.
Specifically, engineer scenarios in which you can take advantage of them all the time. If you get a Feed/Alchemize card, start drafting card draw or extra block so that you can stall combat long enough to capitalize on them. If you get a bonus action at campsites, make sure you are not wasting the opportunity by having to heal up. You should avoid having to heal at campsites anyway (so you can upgrade cards instead), but that goes twice as much when one of your precious relic opportunities is consumed by something that is useless otherwise.
Slay the Spire is basically a deck-building roguelike in the vein of Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run with a splash of Dominion. While still in Early Access, damn near everything about the game was compelling enough to grab my attention for 20+ hours immediately after purchasing.
The basic gameplay cadence is to pick one of two classes, and then complete encounters on your way up the Spire. At the start, you have 10 cards in your deck, and three energy to spend each turn. After each turn, cards you played (and any you didn’t) go to the discard pile and you draw 5 more cards. When you run out of cards, the discard pile is shuffled into a new draw pile, repeat ad infinitum.
Your beginning deck is basically filled with 1-energy Attack (deal 6 damage) and Defend (gain 5 block) cards. As you defeat enemies, you get a choice of one of three cards to add to your deck. Some of these are strict upgrades to your basic cards (Deal 5 damage AND gain 5 block), but many of them are completely different mechanically (discard your entire hand, draw that many cards). Adding these new cards to your deck makes it more powerful, but just as with Dominion, a deck with 30+ cards is not as powerful as a deck with 15 cards – you are simply less likely to get the combo pieces you need when you need them.
This is where the brilliance of Slay the Spire comes in. For one thing, it allows you to forgo getting new cards if you wish. Additionally, in shops and certain non-combat encounters, you can choose to remove cards from your deck. This is good both for thinning the lower-impact cards from your deck, and also removing Curse cards (usually just a dead draw) you might have inadvertently picked up. In addition to cards, you can also get one-use potions, and gain Relics, which are typically passive abilities that augment your run in some way.
All of this is on top of a robust buff/debuff system, a dozen or so different enemy types with their own behaviors, a bunch of bosses/elite encounters, some non-combat events, Shops that let you purchase new cards, one-use potions with nice effects, and so on and so forth.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the two available classes have different card pools?
Since purchasing the game last week, I have beaten the final encounter a couple of times with both classes, using (by necessity) several different methods based on which relics I managed to pick up. For example, one relic gives you 3 Block each time you discard a card. Suddenly, Calculated Gamble (Discard your hand, draw that many cards, costs zero) becomes the best defense card in the game, while simultaneously moving you closer to a your win condition cards. Other games required playing and fetching the same two cards as many times as possible. Still other games saw me die to the first elite encounter I faced, three moves into a run.
Roguelikes sometimes dislike rogues, know what I’m sayin’?
In any case, if you were looking for something less RNG than Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run, or enjoy deckbuilding in general, I highly recommend Slay the Spire. It is in Early Access, so technically it could get better or worse, but they would have to essentially gut the entire game at this point to make it not worth the $13 (on sale) I already paid. Buy it, or keep it on your radar once it releases for real.
Remember when I said I wouldn’t buy Battlefield 5 because it would consume all my free time but not “accomplish” anything? Well, I did resist the purchase…
…and promptly put like a dozen or so “empty” hours into Slay the Spire instead.
I think my total hours /played in Slay the Spire at this point is north of 50 hours. Those are rookie numbers compared to Zubon at Kill Ten Rats, who probably put more hours into writing Slay the Spire posts last year than I have playing the game. Which it entirely deserves, by the way – it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s just not a novel experience (to me) anymore, and yet I feel compelled to boot it up any time I spend more than thirty seconds looking at my Steam library.
That’s probably a sign of good game design.
Last year, the devs at MegaCrit tweeted that they were looking at a Switch and mobile version of the game after coming out of Early Access. It’s 2019 and the game is still in Early Access, although there has been a third class added and, more recently, Steam mod support. If and when Slay the Spire ever receives a mobile port, is likely the day that I earn a Corrective Action Report at work.
I can’t wait. Because then I might be able to get home sated, and ready to play something else.
Monster Slayers is basically a worse Slay the Spire.
The premise of this deck-building roguelite is that you are part of a guild of people trying to take down the Big Bad Guy. Your deck and cards are reset on death to the default ones associated with the class you pick (of which there are several), but you maintain any gear you have accumulated, and any Fame unlocks. Considering that gear increases the damage of your attacks, can give you “temporary” cards in your deck (that will persist as long as that gear is equipped), and boosts your HP, these are essentially permanent advantages that you maintain as soon as you collect them.
The issue is twofold.
First, it is physically impossible to actually “beat” the game without several cycles of death and gear accumulation. In other words: grinding. It’s not the grinding that’s necessarily bad, but rather how the game is balanced around it. You will essentially be paired up with monsters that you have zero chance of defeating, not because of poor planning or execution or even RNG, but simply because the game is “balanced” that way. Losing in that manner never feels fun. Roguelikes (and -lites) often feature punishing RNG, but that’s not what’s going on here – you are engineered to lose X times in Monster Slayers, guaranteed.
The other, more important issue is that… the gameplay is simply bad. In Slay the Spire, you get a notification of what the enemy is about to do, and so there is a possibility of some interplay or tactical considerations. Should you try Blocking the damage, or are you free to go all-out Attacking?
In Monster Slayers, beyond a description of what the enemy does in general, e.g. “Vampire Bats can drain health,” there is no real indication of anything. So what happens is that you just play your cards until you run out of cards or AP, and then your opponent plays their cards, and you wait to see if you’re dead yet or not. That’s really it.
There are some other “minor” issues like the game looking terrible, the UI being horrendous and mostly useless, not having a understanding of what cards the enemy is playing (not that you can interact with them much), the music being repetitive, and the act of playing cards not feeling good. For example, the Rogue class has several “Deal N+1 damage, draw a card” attacks, and while it’s fun chaining those together, if you click too quick, you’ll accidentally play a different card.
If you are looking for another Slay the Spire fix, look elsewhere. If not… play Slay the Spire instead.
Another end of year, another end of year post.
This has been a rather busy year on the personal front, what with the birth of my son and all. Our little family unit has settled into a reasonable routine that affords me exactly two hours to play videogames each day. And do chores. And any other house projects. So, basically, about 40 minutes of gaming at most. Have I mentioned that I can’t wait for this little guy to grow up into a proper Player 2?
We did this on purpose, for the record. Anyway.
The gaming goals from last year:
- Seriously, dude, play some of those PS3 games [Nope]
- Clear at least one story path from SWTOR [Never got off the first planet]
- Finish up the PoF story content in GW2 [Got distracted doing Season 3 stuff]
- Clean up Steam library by removing titles not likely to play [Yes!]
- Be a (passably) responsible gaming dad [Absolutely]
I talked about Guild Wars 2 last year for a while, and I find it interesting that it remains a topic at the end of this year. Here lately, I have even taken to logging in for two minutes just to click on the calendar rewards and then log off to play something else. Story progress has stopped for me, but I did spend a few weeks (loosely) transitioning my Necromancer into a Reaper, e.g. greatsword elite spec. We’ll see if it remains a topic into 2020 though, or if I abandon it like ArenaNet.
Zero progress on ye olde PS3. It has successfully prevented me from purchasing a PS4 though, so that’s nice. What’s also interesting is that some of best games I played on it back in the day are coming to PC again. For example, Journey. It’s an Epic Store exclusive, but it’s there. I’m sorely tempted to buy it again, actually.
The SWTOR thing was a rather passing fancy. I think I logged in twice. It’s still installed.
Cleaning up my Steam library is actually something I have committed to and have continued to this day. Things are a bit weird with subscription services like the Game Pass, but in 2019 I have played:
- Quantum Break
- 7 Days to Die
- Path of Exile
- Surviving Mars
- Tooth and Tail
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance
- Hyper Light Drifter
- Heat Signature
- Slay the Spire
- Final Fantasy XV
- Oxygen Not Included
- Streets of Rogue
- Graveyard Keeper
- Fallout 76
- Outer Worlds
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- No Man’s Sky
- Warhammer: Vermintide 2
- Cultist Simulator
- Sundered: Eldritch Edition
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Ryse: Son of Rome
- Skulls of the Shogun
- Mini Metro
- Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
- Far Cry Primal
- Hotline Miami 2
- Guild Wars 2
That’s about 40 games I spent at least an hour or two playing through the year. Of those, it’s been 7 Days to Die, Oxygen Not Included, and Slay the Spire that I have played the longest. Which is amusing to me because I typically balk at playing games like Civilization wherein there’s no “point.” Perhaps I just don’t like the Civ series as much as I did way back in the day.
Looking towards 2020… wow… 2020, eh? Who’d have thought we’d make it?
Anyway, I definitely see 2020 as the year of the subscription gaming service. We have gone from having an embarrassing Steam backlog to an embarrassment of riches between the Game Pass, Origin Premier, and Uplay+. Nevermind Humble Choice, which similarly delivers just short of a dozen games each month.
Beyond that, there are a number of high-profile releases I’m looking forward to playing. Final Fantasy 7 Remake (March). Cyberpunk 2077 (April). Last of Us 2 (May). Then you have the PC release of Death Stranding and Borderlands 3 (cough), general release of Dying Light 2, and the mythical Wastelanders expansion to Fallout 76. I used to worry about getting caught paying full MSRP for games I really want on Day 1, but how many will be covered under some subscription or another? Well, other than the PS4 exclusives. Which probably means I need a PS4…
On the MMO front, the Shadowlands expansion will be coming out for WoW in 2020 sometime. As before, I do have a passing interest in playing WoW with each new expansion, if only to see how many different variants of the wheel they can re-invent. I just wish they would not start with the square one every time.
Speaking of terrible MMO design, there is supposedly a major patch for Final Fantasy XIV coming out that will finally address the chore that constitutes the first 50 hours of “story” in that game. I am not sure whether they will pull a Cataclysm or just give the story-skip potion to everyone for free, but I’m looking forward to it. If for no other reason than to quell all the people exclaiming that it has “the best MMO story” as if the steaming pile of shit you had to slog through to get there doesn’t bring down the average. Could you tell me why I had to sit in a DPS dungeon queue for 50 minutes to get some cheese for a Main Story Quest again? … that’s what I thought.
I suppose I should make some goals here, huh? Let’s go with…
- Play PS3 games so I feel less guilty about buying a PS4 for two games
- Otherwise play the games you want to play when you want to play them
- Stop playing the games you don’t want to play anymore
- Continue being a (passably) responsible gaming dad
Alright, 2020. Let’s roll.
Well, I guess that’s one way to highlight the fact that maybe multiple launchers are necessary.
While Steam being down has obviously happened in the past – maintenance or not – this is the first time I have actually sat down ready to play something and… not being able to. Wife and baby are sleeping, I have probably ~30 minutes of free time, and I wanted to get in some quick Kingdom Come: Deliverance action. “Oh. Maybe I’ll play Slay the Spire… err… Oxygen Not Included… uh… oh.”
Steam came back up before this got posted, but something to think about for the future.
So it’s been a week, eh?
I am not going to go into too many details, but work has been crazy these last few weeks. More specifically, I was reassigned to an interim position after a string of terminations left a critical seat empty. This is not a promotion – in fact, the seat would technically be a demotion if I were taking it over for longer than the six months I am covering. It’s more work, less pay (I’m being paid the same as before), more stress, and I even have to supervise people. I am slowly turning things around, but there was a lot of cleanup to do. Luckily the remaining team is relatively solid.
Regardless, the position drives home the fact that we inhabit an absurdist universe in which “lower” jobs require more work and get paid less than their cushy, “higher” job counterparts for no reason.
In the brief time I have for gaming, I have been focusing on three titles.
Clash Royale is still a thing I play on a daily basis during breaks. I keep thinking I am approaching the end of my patience with the title – and I am certainly approaching the end of reasonable progression – but without it, there is a rather gaping hole in my mobile gamespace.
Slay the Spire has recently reeled me back in with the beta release of a 4th character. The Watcher has a lot of interesting cards and mechanics, although the balance is certainly off. Hard to complain though, given how you have to specifically opt into the beta, and there are almost nightly patches to introduce new cards and change the old ones. My play time here is approaching 150 hours.
A recent addition is Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I will have a lot more to say later, but it is an interesting game so far nonetheless. As you might expect though, I am playing it all wrong.
I was feeling the “play something else” itch the other day, and instead of scratching it with one of the 800 unplayed titles in my Steam library, I wanted to buy something new. In looking around, I found the game I had been subconsciously looking for: Forager.
But then… I paused. Doesn’t this seems like, you know, the sort of game that might end up on the free Epic Store list? Or as a front-runner for Humble Bundle? Or otherwise in one of the dozens of bundles around the internet? Same thing with my #2 choice, Fate Hunters, a Slay the Spire-esque game currently 25% off on Steam. I love Slay the Spire, I have 130+ hours with that game.
But, you know… Slay the Spire is currently a front-runner for the September Humble Bundle.
So, I didn’t buy Forager. Instead, I’m playing a few of the free games from the Epic store, like Moonlighter and Enter the Gungeon. They don’t scratch the itch in exactly the same way, but they also don’t cost $13.59. Or any amount of money, actually. All of which is making me wonder when again exactly that I will be back to purchasing games.
Know what’s downright quaint? This Time-Poor post from back in March.
Two or three weeks sans gaming isn’t too bad in the scheme of things. Or wouldn’t be, if there was some kind of known endpoint. I’m a planner, a schemer, an optimizer. Meanwhile, my baby is an agent of chaos. Sometimes he’ll go three hours between feedings, and other times I’m feeding him every 30 minutes for an hour and a half. And since you can’t really do much else, the TV is on in the background, and when he finally calms down, you might be interested in the rest of the show.
This whole experience thus far has given me some first-person views of the gaming edifice though.
On Sunday, I actually had a solid 1-2 hour chunk of time to do non-baby, non-household chore things at like 11pm. The whole world felt like my oyster! Unfortunately, I hate oysters, and I found myself browsing Reddit – which I do on my phone anyway – and then playing a few games of Slay the Spire. The thought of diving back into Divinity: Original Sin 2 was, well, unthinkable. What would I do? Walk around, get in one combat, then turn the game off?
It got me thinking about uninterrupted time, and how often some games require it. The traditional expectation of it being required is when a game functions on Waypoint Saving. But if you have a narrative experience that you care about at all, then uninterrupted time is required. But even if a game doesn’t have a narrative, you might still need uninterrupted time in order to progress in the “what was I doing?” fashion. Or perhaps even the mundane “what buttons do what again?” sense.
Games with grinding are also right out. It used to be “ain’t nobody got time for that” was because life is full of so many other, better games you could be playing instead. Nowadays, for me, it’s literal.
Having said all that, I find time for mobile games. Clash Royale is still an hourly diversion. I bought You Must Build A Boat and also downloaded Gems of War, both of which can be played in small chunks. I was looking at Terraria, but was scared away by a review stating the last update was in August 2016. Instead, I (re)bought Stardew Valley. While I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m hopeful that it can also scratch the progression itch in a more nutritive way that gacha games cannot.
We’ll see how it goes.
As you may have heard, I continue to play Slay the Spire.
I have beaten the “normal” game dozens of times with all three default characters, and have unlocked all the cards and relics. When you defeat everything with all three characters, you can unlock a fourth stage with a super-secret boss, and you also unlock Ascension Mode. Each character has their own Ascension Mode tracker, and defeating the standard final boss will increment the Ascension Mode up one digit, to a maximum of 20. What happens on each level is the following:
- Elites spawn more often.
- Normal enemies are deadlier.
- Elites are deadlier.
- Bosses are deadlier.
- Heal less after Boss battles (75% of missing health)
- Start each run damaged (-10% health)
- Normal enemies are tougher.
- Elites are tougher.
- Bosses are tougher.
- Ascender’s Bane
- Start each run with 1 less potion slot.
- Upgraded cards appear less often. (50% less)
- Bosses drop less gold. (25% less)
- Lower max HP. (-5 for Ironclad, -4 for Silent and Defect)
- Unfavorable events.
- Shops are more costly. (10% more)
- Normal enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
- Elite enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
- Boss enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
- Fight 2 bosses at the end of Act 3.
I have been focusing on playing the Silent, the 2nd character, and achieved Ascension 15.
Also, I am so done with this game.
This particular Ascension mode design is rather brilliant in a lot of ways. Many games have harder difficulties, including roguelikes, but most of them are not as granular as this. The first “downside” of more Elites, for example, is not technically a downside for someone skilled with the game – each Elite enemy killed will result in a Relic, which can substantially improve the rest of a run. It’s often advised to target as many Elites as possible in the first Stage, to either wash out a weak deck early, or load up on goodies when the risk to your time is low.
Plus, there is the more mundane benefit to the fact that even if you are a super pro player from the start, you still need to play through and beat the game 20 times before you reach the hardest difficulty. Per character! That’s a lot of gameplay. Or grinding, depending.
I lasted way longer than I thought I would at the beginning (Ascension 15, remember), but the fundamental truth is that each time I succeeded, each subsequent game became less fun. By design. Well, presumably I am supposed to become more and more proud of my ability to overcome challenges, but that doesn’t really happen in practice. Especially in Slay the Spire’s case, where after a while things become more and more RNG-based as the margin for success shrinks.
This is probably for the best. I prefer the discrete finality of a rolling credits screen to the ashes of burning out, but an ending is an ending. Now maybe I can move on to something else.