Mobile Review: Slice & Dice
Slice & Dice is a F2Try dice-based roguelike. You can play the first 12 “levels” for free, but it costs $7 to unlock the rest of the game.
On the face of it (har har), the game appears relatively simple. By default, you control a party of five traditional archetypes – Rogue, Warrior, Defender, Healer, Mage – who face an assortment of enemies. Each round, enemies will roll their dice and indicate who they will be attacking, assuming they survive.
Then your team will roll one die per class. Each six-sided die has different abilities on it as determined by that die’s class and any modifications due to items. If you like a specific die roll, you can “save” it by tapping and then reroll any remaining dice up to two times. After all dice are locked in, you then can use the dice to attack enemies, shield your team, generate mana for Spells, or a number of other unique effects. Any surviving enemies will then attack back. Then everyone gets to do it again.
After each successful battle, surviving heroes are healed to full, any defeated heroes return to life at half-health, and there are alternating rewards of class promotion or random item selection. For class promotion, two heroes are randomly selected to get promoted to one randomly selected option, and you decide which one does. For example, you might be able to choose between your Rogue and Cleric getting promoted to a Tier 2 version of those classes, but not choose for the Warrior to be upgraded instead, or choose between the 5-6 Rogue options. Similarly, with item selection you can choose between two options or go for a mystery roll if neither one works well for your setup.
If that sounds like a lot of randomness, well… it is a dice-based game.
After I understood the general shtick of the game and saw what sort of boss battles were available, I started losing interest. The game seems a bit simple, right? Plus, winning didn’t really seem to offer much progression. But that was when I discovered the Achievements and other unlocks. Basically, the game has 40+ achievements that all unlock something when, uh, achieved. Most of the time these unlocks are additional items that get added to the pool for future runs, but other times there are additional difficulties and new game modes. For example, with Custom Party you can choose to bring 5 Mages or some other mix of heroes, and Shortcut lets you skip the first 8 levels (although you get random items and promotions). The unlocks themselves are not always worth it per se, but they provide something to work towards and potentially discover some fun along the way.
Notwithstanding the progression element, the game feels very satisfying to play in the moment. I often feel the pull of “just one more turn” given how many micro and macro decisions you end up needing to make. Is 2 damage good enough, or do you gamble on a 16.67% chance of getting a blank in order to hit something better? Should you focus-fire the big monster, or take out the small fry first? Do you blow all your mana on trying to save one hero this turn, or let them die to push more damage?
Overall, I am extremely pleased with my $7 purchase and probably have logged 30-40 hours thus far. One of the achievements to unlock Speed Run leaderboards is to win Standard mode in under 45 minutes, to give an idea of average successful run length. I also highly appreciate the fact that the game is short interval-friendly, e.g. there is no real-time component and you can minimize the app without messing anything up. It is no Slay the Spire, but it’s a game that has come closest to scratching the itch.
White Whale, Caught
About a year ago, I beat the Dalaran Heist adventure on heroic difficulty in Hearthstone.
Yesterday, I caught the white whale I had been chasing daily for the last four months: beating Dalaran Heist on heroic with all nine classes. Across all five Acts.
As I have mentioned before, Dalaran Heist constitutes an absurd amount of ideas and RNG. All nine classes are available and there are two extra sets of Hero Powers for each class. And three starter decks per class. With random starting decks being an option. And 15 or so random “Anomalies” that can be turned on. It truly felt as though Blizzard devs had a brainstorming meeting and just took everything that was on the whiteboard at the end and implemented it simultaneously. It seems almost like more of a waste to do that than to leave some on the cutting room floor for next time.
In this age of quarantine and perpetual baby-wrangling though, I came to appreciate the infinite turn-lengths and the dozens and dozens of options. For the most part. See, when I say “four months of daily attempts” I really just meant Act 5. I had cleared everything previous across all classes already, and was two classes deep in Act 5 (Paladin & Warlock) before I started to “be serious” about the endeavor. I was stuck on Druid for the longest time, thinking it was the worst class to get through.
Oh, no. That award goes to Mage.
There are only a few strategies that have much hope of success at the heroic level, and all of them rely on strong creatures and cheating them out early. Or, sometimes, creatures creating infinite value. Mage has some decent options in the latter case, but the issue is that Mage “reward buckets” are diluted with spells. In a normal game, spells can swing games. But in the RNG clown fiesta that is Dalaran Heist, you need cards that continue swinging for more than a turn.
Adding the insult to injury, I discovered that a recent patch actually broke Ethereal Conjurer, a very decent Mage minion. And by “broke” I mean the game basically stalls out and you can do nothing other than concede. Which happened to me twice before I realized it was that specific card that caused it. Then, on the game-winning run, the second-to-last boss played it. Twice. Lucky for me, if you close Hearthstone and reopen it, the bug can be bypassed as long as it was the AI that played it.
In any case,
purgatory quest complete, I remain melancholy. There is less than zero desire to “mix it up” and do something insane like beat every Act with every class and every different hero power. I had fun, for given amounts of fun, but it really came down to passing time on a project. I could purchase some more single-player content and unlock some cards via another Hearthstone DLC (Galakrond’s Awakening), but the $20 (!!) price tag seems rather insane. Especially since it is just an Adventure and not the roguelike, Dungeon Run experience I have come to so desire. Surely there is something else on the app market that would offer something similar?
Slay the Spire mobile, when?
Opaque RNG is Indistinguishable from Rigging
My patience with enforced 50% win rates is paper graphene-thin.
“A fair game is one in which you win half the time.” It’s hard to argue against such a notion. What is more fair than a coin flip? The problem is that players aren’t equal sides of a coin, nor are the thousands of potential actions reducible to two, easily predictive binary outcomes. Some approximation is required. Or a developer thumb on the scale.
I am still playing Clash Royale despite the disastrous pivot towards blood stone squeezing, and the conceptual breakdown of all progression for long-term players. But some of their shit is driving me up a wall, and will eventually drive me from the game entirely. Specifically, Clan Wars, and even more specifically, a particular game mode with preconstructed decks.
To be sure, there are learning curves involved. Supercell basically took some “top decks” and added them to a pool, from which you are randomly assigned one for a single game. The problem is that some of these decks are just objectively terrible with no redeeming qualities, and still others are straight-up countered by some of the other matchups. For example, these two Classic Decks Battles:
In the first match (at the bottom), my Royal Hogs are immediately countered by Valkyrie, Mega Knight is immediately countered by Inferno Tower. Amusingly, Royal Hogs are also countered by Inferno Tower and Mega Knight by Valkyrie, assuming my opponent times it right. Meanwhile, while I can counter his Goblin Barrel with Arrows, they both cost 3 Elixir and thus end in a wash… with the slightest error on my part resulting in easily >30% tower damage. Meanwhile, my Zappies are basically useless, my Inferno Dragon even more useless, and I can’t use Arrows to counter his Princess or Goblin Gang because then I become vulnerable to Goblin Barrel. I also can’t hope to Fireball him out because he also has Rocket, which deals way more damage than Fireball. The ONLY way anyone could possibly win with the deck I was given was if the opponent was AFK. 1
For a WoW analogy, think Warrior (me) vs Frost Mage (opponent).
The second matchup wasn’t technically as lopsided, but still awful. Bandit is straight-up countered by pretty much every card in the opponent’s deck. Rascals + Zap took care of Minion Horde every time I threw one down, and Hog Rider/Mortar/Goblin Gang meant I could be punished immediately for dropping Elixir Collector or Three Musketeers. Which is what happened, pretty consistently. If I played better, I might have been able to distract a Mortar with my Valkyrie or Bandit in the other lane, and then split a Three Musketeers or something in the middle, followed by a split Minion Horde. Even then, if he played defensive for 20 seconds, my shit would have been countered.
Were these match-ups truly random? Or “enforced” 50% win rates? There is no direct economic incentive for Supercell to “rig” the Classic Decks Battle mode, but the RNG is opaque and it would certainly be a method to ensure that winrates do not get too lopsided.
The third clan war battle I played was Draft. In this game mode, you are given a choice of one of two cards, four times total; whatever you don’t pick goes to your opponent. I’m not sure if the card pairings are 100% random, but you can absolutely get stuck with some extremely shitty decks and/or matchups. And yet I’m fine with that. You as the player have some agency, even with imperfect information, e.g. choosing Minion Horde when opponent might have chosen Arrows. Indeed, Minion Horde in particular is a classical risky pick because of how many cards can counter it… but if your opponent doesn’t have any of those counters, it can be an overwhelming advantage.
My feelings on enforced winrates have changed over the years. Initially, it seemed fine. Necessary, even. But it is rigging, especially in the methods that many game developers go about it: pairing you with terrible teammates, matching you against strong counters, etc. The end result is that I simply cannot trust game developers with (opaque) RNG anymore. They have no incentive to be actually fair – however fairness is defined – and every incentive to produce favorable (to the devs) results. Even if they showed me the specific game code that chooses the matches, I have no reason to believe it operates in that way. This age of monetization and consumer surplus erosion has pushed me past the Cynicism Horizon, from which no trust can escape.
The only thing that game designers can do, and the thing they should be doing, is increasing player agency in the RNG elements. Drafting feels fair, even when the results are not. Maybe it is just another psychological trick to employ, giving someone the “choice” between a rock or a hard place. But it is an important one for not appearing so nakedly rigged in favor of one particular outcome.
1 If you can produce some videos of pros beating non-AFK people with the decks I was given, I’ll concede that I need to L2P. I typically end the season at 4800 trophies and can acknowledge mistakes, but on paper and in practice, those match-ups felt lopsided as hell.
I restarted once or twice since my initial post, but now the colony of Pine View is well on its way to getting off this blasted rock. Or die trying. Maybe the latter.
It’s entirely possible that I am ruining RimWorld for myself in the process, however. I ended up choosing a lower difficulty, and have the ability to reload my Save files. My thought process is that enough of the game systems are obtuse and opaque to a ridiculous degree, so I wanted the ability to take them for a test drive. Trying something and failing though, is often the heart and soul of the repeatability of rougelikes (of which RimWorld is one… sorta). Making it all the way to researching a space ship and reloading my first encounter with death bots – who behave very strangely compared to all the other enemies – will make it significantly easier to plan around in future games.
Having said that, the game is seriously addicting in a Civ-esque “one more turn” kind of way. Usually, I leave the game speed on maximum, as what I want to accomplish takes place over several days. Crops take time to grow and harvest, research is usually slow, and wounds take time to heal.
One thing that I have quickly become inured to is the game’s meme aspect. In other words, I no longer have any idea how interesting a given story can even be anymore.
For example, a common occurrence is having your base attacked by raiders. After the battle, you will very quickly have a dead body problem. If you leave a dead body out, your colonists will get a morale penalty each time they look at it. So, one solution is dig a grave and dump the body inside.
Another solution is to butcher the body into piles of meat and human leather. Aside from cannibals, no one likes human meat, but you can create Kibble for your creatures out of it – much better to use that instead of animal meat, since the latter can be used to create better regular meals. Meanwhile, human leather can be fashioned into clothing and cowboy hats, and is apparently very fashionable.
There are downsides, of course. The entire colony gets a morale debuff that lasts several days when a human body is butchered, and the actual butcher gets another debuff on top of that. In these situations, it’s helpful to have a Psychopath butcher, as they tend to be immune to these sort of penalties. Alternatively, you can simply increase the leisure hours of your colonists, and likely mitigate that sort of thing. Recreational drug use helps too.
Oh, and when you capture raiders alive, you can convert them into joining your colony. Or you can harvest their organs for later use and/or cash. And then turn their bodies into hats.
At some point though, the ridiculousness becomes rote. Sure, part of this is likely because of the difficulty level I chose, and the possibility of save scumming. But even in a complex emergent system, how many truly compelling narratives occur? It’s amusing the first time a colonist dies while trying to tame an Alpaca, but thereafter does angering a turkey hold the same amount of charm? It’s hard to tell anymore. And there can only be so many human hat stories.
In any case, I’m going to start over soon on a higher difficulty and see what happens. I will also try and investigate a few mods too, because there are some elements of the base game that are unfathomably dumb. The Research tab having zero useful information, for example, or the fact that I cannot mass-select my animals and designate them to a different Allowed Zone. There are workarounds the latter issue, as for many others, but it still feels kinda dumb.
After becoming a bit impatient with Oxygen Not Included, I decided to buck my principles and buy the never-on-sale RimWorld. Technically though, I did get a discount through the Humble Store (10% off), so that’s the way I’d recommend going.
If you have not heard of it before, RimWorld is a sort of colony-management game in the vein of Dwarf Fortress, with the visuals of Prison Architect. In the default scenario, you pick three survivors of a starship crash, and shepherd them through the trials and tribulations of life on a titular RimWorld. There is technically an end-goal of researching technology/production far enough to send at least one person back into space, but it’s a bit more of a sandbox than that.
Much like with Oxygen Not Included, your colonists are basically controlled via a granular priority system, augmented by their own mood and predilections. You can request that trees are cut down and the wood used to build a new room, for example, but it’s possible your colonists will start playing horseshoes or lay down on your solar panels to gaze at the clouds.
They can and will also do things like plop down a stack of turkey leather right in the doorway to your freezer, letting out all the cold air and potentially ruining your entire meat supply. There’s no real way to force a person to do one particular thing (aside from Drafting them for combat) – the best you can do is prioritize one thing to the maximum level, disable everything else, and hope for the best.
If the above examples seem silly… that’s kind of the point. Each colonist has an entire background narrative, with expanding needs and desires that influence their actions at any given point. Romances will form between two people, then a break-up, and suddenly one or both might experience a mild (or major) psychotic break due to the mood penalty said break-up causes.
Well, that social interaction plus seeing the colony pet terrier get killed by a Cobra, the fact that their bedroom is too small, and a number of other interactions over the last few days. Butchering the dead dog for its meat and then turning the leather into a hat probably also didn’t help things.
The emergent narrative formed by these random, interacting systems is the heart of RimWorld.
Speaking of “random,” at the beginning of the game you get to choose the AI Storyteller and difficulty of your game. The default AI will throw increasingly difficult encounters your way (modified by game difficulty), ensuring that you never reach a point at which you become entirely stable. The other two AI choices give longer periods of calm, and completely random ones at random intervals, respectfully. I can appreciate the transparency of the system, even though it makes things… a bit game-y, I suppose.
In any case, I am enjoying my time thus far. There are still a lot of game elements that do not make complete sense – the Research system in particular is difficult to wrap my head around – but the sort of little narratives that emerge are pretty interesting. So, we’ll see.
There is a lot to be said about the RNG inherent to Hearthstone. A lot of the games can be decided by coinflips, outrageous Discovery choices, and all sorts of random nonsense.
You know what’s infinitely worse IMO? Not drawing your cards.
Jesus Christ, I have had some insanely bad luck in the last four games I played. We’re talking getting to the last 7 cards in my deck, which consisted of four mana-ramping cards, the Malfurion DK Hero, Ultimate Infestation, and Jade Idol. As in, I somehow held on and dug through my deck that far, but not far enough for it to matter. If any of those had been closer to the top of the deck, I might have had a fighting chance. Switched decks to Spiteful Priest, then faced the mirror match wherein my opponent hit both his Spiteful Summoners on Turn 6 & 7, but mine were nowhere to be found.
Do I care that his summoned a 7/14 creature that I had no clean way to counter? Nope. RNG is RNG.
What I care about vastly more is how badly my deck(s) have bricked the last half dozen of games. Your opponent top-decking the exact answer they need, or having a God-Hand that kills you on turn 4 is not something you can really do anything about. Your own deck not giving you anything – literally against all odds – is something else entirely. Give me those 50/50 losses over an improbable streak of 10% failures that leave you with no options.
Except, it’s worse than 10%. Seriously though, look at this:
I ended up 14 cards deep into my deck before drawing my first dragon, when there is eight of them in there. According to this Hearthstone calculator, the odds that I should have had at least one in my hand by then is 99.5%. That doesn’t even account for the fact that I mulliganed two cards.
Statistically, 0.5% days happen. But when multiple of them happen in a row, when you only play ~20 games a week… yeah. Let me play against my opponents and lose due to a bad matchup or poor trades. Don’t let me lose to the equivalent of Mana Screw in Magic: the Gathering. That is way worse than losing coin flips, IMO.
Impression: Slay the Spire
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.
Dungeon Run Strategy
I had a much longer article started on the various strategy considerations one needs to ponder in order to clear Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run game mode with all nine classes. Then I realized that perhaps a TL;DR version might be better. So here it is:
- Captured Flag (+1/+1 to your minions)
- Cloak of Invisibility (permanent Stealth)
- Wax Rager (5/1 Deathrattle: resummon)
- The Candle (4 damage to enemy minions, reshuffle into deck)
You can win without this combination of passives and treasures, and you can absolutely lose even if you get all of them. Dungeon Runs are the typical Hearthstone clown fiesta of RNG cranked to 11. But the short version is that giving all your minions +1/+1 allows you to counter a ton of boss gimmicks, permanent Stealth bypasses targeted removal and bad trades, and Wax Rager can usually win the game on the spot with infinite value.
As far as deck composition, you will want two things: creature-based tempo plays and an emergency value generator. Spells are incredibly discouraged in Dungeon Runs, as Boss health generally makes it impossible to kill them before getting overwhelmed yourself, and several Bosses actively punish spell use. At the same time, it’s possible to run out of gas if you’ve been trading all game, and bosses have more cards than you do. In those cases, having an Antonidas or Lyra can pull you from the brink. Those value cards just can’t be your win condition themselves, as they are much too slow versus the bosses that win on Turn 5.
And… that’s basically it.
If you’re looking for tips regarding specific classes, it can basically be summed up as:
- Shaman/Druid/Rogue: Picks Jades.
- Everyone Else: RNGesus will guide you home
Priest was by far the worst class for me, although Shaman cut it close. In both cases, the starting deck is just bad, so you have to lean hard on getting good Passives/Treasures and strong card picks after each boss. I had perfect picks in half a dozen of my Priest runs, and it still took a total of 15 attempts before I squeaked by. Even then, the winning run was due Lyra giving me a Power Word: Glory, which I was able to leverage into an incredibly unlikely win versus Waxmancer Sturmi as he repeatedly copied the enchanted Sylvanas.
[Hearthstone] Seriously, Blizzard?
The latest round of Hearthstone nerfs have been announced ahead of the set rotation, and they’re great… if it was 2016.
The biggest news in there is the nerf to Patches, a card that was released in December 2016 and has been a meta-defining, chase Legendary ever since. Blizzard has acknowledged his power several times, but their explanation for the timing is… well…
As we move closer to the new Hearthstone Year, we had some concerns about allowing Patches to remain in his current state after moving out of Standard. Patches’ strength has caused almost every class to add some Pirates just to benefit from him, and his early game power forces control decks to include a good answer to him. This change should give Wild players more flexibility when building their decks.
What the literal shit, man? Can that be read any other way than “we are fine with Patches’ current state in Standard”? I mean, obviously they were fine with the card’s broken state up to this point as evidenced by a lack of any nerf for over a year. But to me, this just says that Blizzard genuinely believes that card set rotations should be the arbiter of balance in this game. And that’s fucking nuts.
Granted, Corridor Creeper is also getting
deleted from the game nerfed in this upcoming patch. That does not particularly make me feel any better though, because A) how they nerfed it, and B) what they didn’t nerf. All Corridor Creeper needed was to only count your minions, rather than every minion. Hell, most of the pros that previewed the card felt like it was Epic trash because they read it that way to begin with. Instead, they turned it into literal garbage that you will be very disappointed to open in a pack after February. Meanwhile, no changes to Cubelock or Ultimate Infestation, etc etc.
Why does any of this matter given the clown fiesta that is Hearthstone’s RNG? Well, I still like playing the game occasionally. And really, the RNG does not particularly bother me – sometimes it’s in your favor, sometimes it’s not. The more fundamental problem is Blizzard’s current balance philosophy undermines any faith I have in the game’s long-term direction. Set rotations are not how you balance a goddamn game… unless the entire goal is pump & dump. Sell those packs to people chasing overpowered Legendaries/Epics and then nerf them later so the next set appears just as OP as the last. Otherwise known as the Supercell Gambit (Clash Royale says Hello).
It’s all cynical, unnecessary bullshit. These are supposed to be games, not vehicles for quarterly profits. I mean, they are that too, but I shouldn’t have to open the latest expense report to understand what the designers are smoking and where they are taking the game’s direction.
Posted by Azuriel
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:
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.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Ascenion, Burnout, Difficulty, RNG, Roguelike, Slay the Spire