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Impressions: Banners of Ruin

Banners of Ruin is an incredibly slick deckbuilding roguelike that has consumed my life for the past week. While it shares some conventions with other games in the genre, it has a fairly unique mix of them that result in a number surprising interactions. Also, everyone is an anthropomorphized animal.

Before moving on though, let me say this: the visuals and especially the music are phenomenal. The combination sucks you right into the setting, and I found myself humming along with the battle music pretty much the entire time it’s playing. Just like with Tainted Grail before it, I will be tracking down this soundtrack, if it exists.

Just look at how evocative that Pierce card is.

The central premise of the game is that you are a member of a suddenly-deposed House, and you are trying to escape the city with your life. As you navigate the city, you must choose from one of three “path” cards which can lead to combat, shops, or events. These choices are mutually exclusive, and you don’t have a particular notion of what offerings you will get next time. After a specific number of choices, you will encounter the boss fight of the area and then move on, if successful.

Combat is highly tactical. You start with two characters that can be arranged however you like (ahead of time) on a 2×3 grid; enemies are will be placed in their own 2×3 formation facing opposite. While you are free to play cards every turn, your foes will only act one rank at a time, e.g. the front three positions on Turn 1, then the back three positions on Turn 2, etc, unless there are no enemies in a specific rank.

Easy choice.

Positioning matters. Enemies will typically attack a specific horizontal lane. Place one character in front of another, and that front character is likely to eat all of the incoming attacks. However, if three enemies are targeting a character with nobody behind them and then that character moves to a different spot, all three attacks will be negated. And remember when I said that enemies take turns attacking based on which rank they’re in? If they are set to attack you this turn from the front rank and you move them (via a card like Kick) to the back rank… then they don’t attack that turn. Next turn, if you then draw into cards that can move them back to the front, you can skip their turn again.

The tactical nature of the game extends out into deckbuilding and character progression too. Each character has two weapons slots and an armor slot. Equipping a bow will add a Bow card into your deck; equipping two daggers adds two dagger cards instead; a shield will add a shield card, and so on. Armor is more passive insofar as it affects your starting armor only, although there are special armors that have more interesting effects. As characters level up, they can unlock a choice of three Talent cards which are then added to the deck, but only that character can play the card. Same with the weapon cards, actually. Level ups also unlock a choice of passive abilities. Oh, and each race has a racial ability that can be activated any time, as long as you have a secondary resource (Will) available.

I somehow won this early, accidental Elite battle. I mean, I’m amazing, of course.

What all this combines into is an interesting gumbo of choices, tactics, and deckbuilding strategy.

…until you get to the endgame.

There is a final Final Boss that become accessible after performing a series of steps along the campaign. However, the fight itself is so oppressive and ridiculous that it leads to really just a single strategy to overcome it. Once I understood this, and realized the same strategy works for the rest of the game too, every subsequent run started to feel the same. It doesn’t help that while there is a great variety in character races and Talent cards and passives, the number of defined weapons/armors and enemies in general is much more limited. Indeed, I think all of the bosses are the same each time too.

The potentially good news is that the game appears to still be in active development – there was a major release in November 2021, which added new “hallway” scenarios, some optional difficulty modifiers (aka Ascension ranks), mini-bosses and so on. That is not enough to elevate the endgame to a Slay the Spire level, IMO, but A) not everything needs infinite replay value, and B) maybe a future patch or DLC will spice things up.

Overall, I am very satisfied with my (discounted) purchase of Banners of Ruin. As someone who plays a lot of games in this genre, I definitely appreciated the slick presentation and the novel mix of elements. The sort of defined challenges I complained about earlier might be more of a positive to others who dislike a lot of randomness. Or maybe we can just be happy playing a game for ~30 hours and be done.

Impression: Roguebook

Out of all of the deck-building games I have played, Roguebook is the one that has come closest to scratching the Slay the Spire itch. And yet it is also different enough that it’s possible that someone who didn’t like Slay the Spire might enjoy Roguebook.

There are a lot of interesting design decisions going on in Roguebook. The basic premise is that you have been sucked into (presumably) the titular book, and you must battle your way past many foes and bosses on your way out. However the aesthetic is one of “blank pages,” where you use bottles of ink and paintbrushes to uncover blank tiles in order to explore and otherwise navigate towards the exit. By default, there is a very straight path to each level’s boss, but you are unlikely to survive without exploring more of the board and getting stronger. Regular fights give ink bottles to uncover straight-line paths, and elite battles give AoE paintbrushes. Gold can be found on the map, and there are a number of other structures that allow you to purchase new cards, get additional treasures, and there’s always a shop available to do likewise.

Make no mistake: exploration is extremely RNG-driven. While there are sometimes pre-revealed tiles you can head towards, the difference between uncovering an empty tile and one that lets you transform a basic card into a rare one with gems attached can be massive. You do eventually start earning progression currency that will allow you to improve future runs – thereby making exploration and combat easier overall – but things can be swingy in the beginning.

Speaking of gems, cards have gem slots ala Monster Train. Some gems are standard sort of “+3 damage” options, but some of the rarer varieties can do goofy things like giving you a free copy of the card, shuffling it back on top of your library, and similar. Artifacts can also be earned/purchased, which give passive (and sometimes active!) abilities.

Combat is fairly standard Slay the Spire with cards costing resources to play, drawing new cards each turn, etc… except there are two heroes. Playing a Defend card (or a few others) will cause that hero to go to the front, with any incoming damage hitting just that person. Losing one hero is not Game Over – you can recover by casting 5 special cards, but you get saddled with two spoiler cards in your deck until that level’s boss is defeated. Each hero has their own exclusive card pools and there are four heroes total, and you can choose the pair at the beginning of each run.

One twist I appreciated was the introductions of talents based on deck size. Basically every X number of cards you add to your deck, unlocks a randomized selection of three talents based on the heroes you’re running. All too often in this genre, the optimal strategy is to keep your deck size as small as possible, so it was fun to see the designers address it with talents. While some of them can be misses, a few can radically alter your entire gameplan.

For example, one character might get “Gain 1 Power each time a card is Dissolved,” which by itself is whatever. But if you paired that character with another that is frequently offered cards that generate 0-cost Throwing Daggers that, you guessed it, dissolve when played, and then combine that with an attack the original character has that deals 1×8 damage… yeah. Does that get your juices flowing?

Overall, Roguebook is a fun game that nevertheless feels a tad easier than Slay the Spire. I have played over 40 hours thus far, unlocking almost all of the Ascension-esque effects. I would say that about 80% of that time has been with the same pair of characters chasing the same strong synergies each game, only deviating if my luck was terrible. In other words, I don’t feel it has the same depth has Slay the Spire, but none of that matters much if you aren’t looking for something to entertain you for 200+ hours. Roguebook is entertaining enough and possibly more approachable at that.

Slay the Spire: Ascension 20

I have finally “beat” Slay the Spire: meeting my end goal of reaching Ascension 20 (A20) on all four characters. There is technically a higher plane of difficulty whereby you face the secret final boss while also on A20, but I am satisfied with where I am. Specifically because games at the A20 level are already incredibly frustrating and unfun already – no need to delve further into self-flagellation.

For giggles, I’m going to post my thoughts on each of the classes, in the order that I reached A20:

The Watcher

The base mechanics of the Watcher (e.g. double/triple damage) are so powerful that I often found myself progressing despite not having any specific deck or relic combos. It does lend itself to being annoying in how much mental math you have to do lest you miscalculate and end up taking double damage in return. Or in the case of Blasphemy, outright losing the game.

Every Watcher run starts by upgrading Eruption ASAP. After that, my successful decks basically had a hodgepodge of loose synergies with Flurry of Blows (stance dancing), cards with Scrying, and Talk to the Hand. I was always happy to see Tantrum and Fear No Evil. Upgraded Blasphemy is fantastic. Omniscience is an auto-include any time it’s offered, even if I didn’t have Power cards at that point; Omniscience into Wish feels like cheating (it is).

The Defect

The only successful Defect runs I have had revolved around Orbs and Focus-stacking. The Inserter relic is always a welcome boost, and lets you save gold/deck space by ignoring Capacitor and Runic Capacitor. Inserter also allows you to take Consume with no downsides, and possibly ignore Defragment and Biased Cognition altogether. In the absence of Inserter, I focused (har har) on Biased Cognition and trying to get artifact to avoid the downsides.

Beyond that, it really came down to getting Glacier and Creative AI, even against the Awakened One. Upgraded Seek is amazing. My success with All for One decks is probably 20%; it feels more like a trap.

The Silent

The only consistently successful strategy for A15+ runs for me has been Shiv decks. Two Accuracy cards (upgraded or not) plus as many Cloak and Dagger and Blade Dances as I can draft. Always draft a Corpse Explosion if offered. Things get infinitely easier if you can snag one of the scaling attack relics (Kunai or Shuriken), or Oriental Fan or After Image. A Thousand Cuts and Envenom are generally overkill. Poison isn’t bad, but hallway fights are worse.

The Ironclad

Yuck. In pretty much every run, you are entirely dependent on which relics you pick up. Corruption + Dead Branch runs make everything worth it, but they are frustratingly rare. Upgraded True Grit is almost always good. Immolate is an amazing hallway card that is still good in boss fights. Fiend Fire can also end many hallway fights by itself with no setup (vulnerability helps).

Again though, your ultimate strategy will vary based on what relics you pick up.

Final Tips

Artifact is insanely powerful. While negating a random enemy debuff is whatever, Artifact also removes the downside of some self-buffs. For example, Biased Cognition and Wrath Form are powerful cards that have scaling downsides… unless you have Artifact. Additionally, it can also be used to make the lowly Flex Potion just straight-up give you +5 Strength for the rest of the fight. For this reason, the shop relic Clockwork Souvenir is crazy powerful.

When in doubt, upgrade your cards. In a recent Defect run, I got a Sunder and Shovel early in Act 1. Instead of upgrading the Sunder, I chose to fish at Rest sites all the way to the boss. I died. Relics can be amazing, but remember you will be playing cards in every fight inbetween, and saving a few extra HP times however many fights will generally make more of a difference than you think.

Hallway fights matter. When you look at cards like Hyperbeam or Blasphemy, you might think “These are useless against bosses.” Maybe. But if you die before making it to the boss, or end up needing to Rest instead of upgrading cards, none of it matters anyway. So if you have the chance to snag a card or two that helps in hallway fights, grab them.

Impressions: Tainted Grail: Conquest

I have been looking for the next Slay the Spire fix for going on a year now. Played closed to a dozen different deck-building games in that time. After spending about 20 hours with Tainted Grail: Conquest (TGC), I am prepared to mark the journey as complete.

Tainted Grail: Conquest is a deck-building rogue-lite game based on a Lovecraftian take on the King Arthur mythos. You have been thrown into the Wyrdness of Avalon, surrounded by a corrupting mist and body-horror creatures of nightmare, whom you need to defeat to escape. Defeating a Guardian (boss) will allow you to return the ruins of a village you are helping build up to house the lost souls you save along the way. Defeat all the Guardians and you will face the a final challenge… and get looped back to repeat it all at a slightly higher difficulty.

Deck-building rogue-lite game, remember?

What I really enjoyed about the game is the variety of classes. There are nine in total, with groups of three under a common faction. This means they largely share the same base cards, but their mechanics often make them entirely different. For example, there are three summoner-style classes. The classic Summoner conjures minions and can boost their levels endlessly, but will take a corresponding amount of damage when they are attacked. The Blood Mage conjures minions by sacrificing HP right away, and focuses on boosting their minions’ self-destructive nature to defeat foes. Finally, the Necromancer, you guessed it, summons minions… but also generates spectral versions of said minions after they die, all while boosting themselves into a powerful Lich form to deal massive damage.

Instead of strict floors and encounters like in Slay the Spire, TGC has you wandering around in the fog towards discrete encounter areas on the map. Each step you take decreases the Wyrdcandle you use to push back the corrupting mist, so there is some constraint on how many encounters and in what order you wish to pursue them. The Wyrdcandle itself is a mechanic wherein a temporary card is periodically added to your hand that does something if you cast it, and does another thing if you don’t. If your Wyrdcandle is fresh and bright, the card is cheap and very useful. If your Wyrdcandle is sputtering or gone altogether, the card is expensive and punishing if you don’t play it.

After encounters, you gain XP and can level up. Each level allows you to choose 1 of 3 cards to add to your deck, and every 2 levels you can add 1 of 3 passive abilities to your character. You can also get one-use items from encounters, along with Runestones. These Runestones are basically swappable passive abilities that have two different functions depending on whether they are put in your weapon or armor slot. An example would be the Gar Runestone, which either increases your damage by 2 (weapon slot), or deals 5 damage at the end of turn to all enemies (armor slot). Getting three of the same Runestone allows you to combine them into a slightly stronger version.

None of the details really matters though, right? Is the game fun? Yes. For the most part.

I already mentioned it, but I really enjoy how different each of the classes feels. The Summoner/Blood Mage/Necromancer line seems like they would play similarly, but they really do not. Well… kinda. All three rely on a Golem minion to absorb damage so you can buff/summon other things without being ran over. But the Summoner has no nature healing abilities, so you are laser-focused on giving yourself Barrier (a type of shield). Meanwhile, as a Blood Mage you use your HP as a resource like any other, especially because you can get a huge burst of self-healing if you play your cards right. Meanwhile, the Necromancer has minions like the others, but the bulk of your damage comes from Lich-form and sacrificing minions to fuel it.

There can be some encounters that are especially punishing to some types of classes though. The default class is a glass cannon that relies on Block (negates 1 attack) to save themselves. Block is decidedly less useful when one of the enemies does some weak, 1×3 attack right before the boss’s 70-damage swing. But that also encourages one to blow up those smaller enemies first, I suppose.

[Fake Edit] I wrote the bulk of this Impression riding off the high of the Summoner/Blood Mage/Necromancer sequence. I have since gone back an played every other class, and… they are weak-sauce. Or the Summoner branch is overpowered, which is entirely possible. The “gotcha!” encounters that give Summoners issues are easily negated, but the other class families can be blown up entirely. I didn’t play them long enough to see if some Passive ability makes up for things, but some of them just aren’t as fun. At least two of the classes, for example, basically rely on doing nothing on their turns but turtle up and buff themselves for an explosive future turn. Which is fine in theory, but they also have no self-healing like the Summoners, so each fight ends up being a Pyrrhic Victory at best, and your last one when you face foes that need to be killed immediately.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention one area that absolutely, as the kids say, slaps: the music. As it turns out, the devs licensed music from a band named Danheim who focuses on Viking/Norse-esque songs. I enjoyed myself listening to the boss fights so much that I ended up acquiring the Danheim discography. If I was still hosting D&D sessions, I would absolutely be incorporating these songs into the battle music rotation.

Is Tainted Grail: Conquest the kind of game I will play for 300+ hours like Slay the Spire? Ultimately… probably not. For one thing, I can’t play TGC on my phone, where I play Slay the Spire now. But of all the deck-building roguelikes I have plowed through, this game is the closest one I have found. And if you have Game Pass, you can try it out for free and see yourself.

Happens Every Time

I have tried to have three vacations this year – honestly, just staycations with the kiddo still going to daycare – and yet we are 3 for fucking 3 on him getting sick/having a fever exactly on the week that I am off. Not the week beforehand, not the week after. The exact week I had taken off. Supposedly this is “good” because, hey, I don’t have to use sick time! But, you know… I could use sick time AND not have to entertain a sick two-year old for 12-14 hours when I had plans to do stuff.

If you’re wondering, yes, I accrue a lot of vacation and sick leave each year. Join a union, folks.

Anyway. What have I been up to lately?

Fallout 76

This has been my default, “I don’t know what I want to do… let me load this game until I figure it out” game for a long time now. The fact that I still play is actually beyond all objective reason. But… it’s a survival-esque game not in Early Access (even if it sometimes feels that way) and the moment-to-moment gameplay is spot-on. There is also a Season reward track that awards some special items and store currency for completing some daily/weekly quests. That said, my character can only really progress further with precise, legendary item god-rolls all to tackle content that in no way needs said god-rolls to run.

I suppose I did play WoW for a decade despite hitting similar progression walls. And yet I do not have the same confidence that Fallout 76 will continue having new content developed that necessitates new gear. Or new challenging content at all, really.

Hearthstone

While I have watched more matches than participated in them, I do still complete the accumulated dailies every 3 days or so. As someone who has played since the beta, I do have to say that this meta is perhaps the strangest it has ever been. Not just the Quest combo decks that finish on Turn 5, or how any game going past Turn 7 is surprising. There just isn’t a whole lot of AoE anymore. Swipe from Druid or Fan of Knives from Rogue have been gone (from Standard) since March, I think, so it has been a while. Still, I raise an eyebrow any time I see players committing a half-dozen 1/1 creatures to the board and/or going wide as a strategy for success. At least, until I remember how much AoE is lacking and that they can usually get away with it.

Slay the Spire (mobile)

I have officially surpassed my progression on PC with that of mobile, in the Ascension department. And I keep coming back, as the game is pretty perfect to play in 10-second chunks as you watch a 2-year old. I have played a LOT of deck-building roguelikes over the past few months, and none of them really come close. I sometimes wonder if that is because of the first-mover effect, or if the game is really that good. Every day I lean more to the latter.

Also, all those other deck-builder roguelikes aren’t on mobile.

…And That’s Basically It

I have a huge amount of games that I “should” be playing that I just… don’t. Ones that have been perfectly fun to play, for the few times that I have done so. The problem is: what do you do when you don’t have a consistent play schedule? For example, I was having fun with Solasta, Control, and trying to see if Death Stranding would ever be fun at some point. But once you lose gaming continuity, a lot of things fall apart. It gets harder and harder to to boot that game back up – you forget the controls, the strategy you were going with a character build, you literally lose the plot.

If I only have an hour to play games, I’d rather play ones that I know can generate fun in that hour.

Oh well. This crazy work project will be going on for several more weeks, and there is no guarantee that anything slows down after that (since we pushed back all normal projects to make room for this one). This could be the new normal. Not exactly what I envisioned or hoped for, but it is what it is.

Review: Fate Hunters

Fate Hunters is a deckbuilding roguelike in the same… well, not vein, but same circulatory system as Slay the Spire.

In truth, the game plays more like Dominion meets Darkest Dungeon – there is no energy, so you can play all of the cards in your hand every turn, but unplayable treasure cards can gum up your deck if you get too greedy. Monster attacks are straight-forward: they do the thing as what their card says, from left to right, every turn. After each boss fight, you are given the opportunity to leave with all your treasure cards or continue the climb, with each successive boss adding a multiplier to your treasure. If you die, that’s it, you get nothing.

And that’s the entire review. The end.

…I’m being kinda serious.

Some very evocative art

What I can say is that the game is very addictive in the just-one-more-fight way and feels amazing even though it seems low-budget. The card art is very Darkest Dungeon and consistent throughout the game. There is a fairly decent amount of cards available, including a half-dozen classes which have their own specific cards. There are also meaningful choices as you level and when you defeat bosses. For example, do you want to pick one of three random Fates (passive abilities) out of 20+? Or choose one of three Legendary weapons? Or choose one of three Heroic spells?

There is a fairly high variance in card effect quality which can lead to some swingy runs, but overall you are not likely to be shut out of possibly winning. And besides, as long as you get make it past at least one boss, you can just exit the dungeon with whatever spoils you happened to collect and try again.

As for the downsides? Well, the game is done and will no longer get any updates. Which is a real shame because there are a number of tweaks that could have been made to buff the weaker cards/abilities into usefulness. The nature of the game also lends itself to very specific strategies too – you pretty much have to always build a discard-themed deck given how treasures work. There is also zero story or lore of any kind, if that is important to you. The default price of $15 is extremely ridiculous.

But, honestly? It’s on sale for $3.74 right now and I have put in 18 hours already. If you are someone who enjoys deckbuilding roguelikes, it’s a no-brainer. Just be wary of using it as “filler” or a palate cleanser in-between other games, because every time I try and do that, it’s suddenly 2AM and I never get to the other game. Which is a pretty glowing review, now that I think about it.

Impression: Trials of Fire

Short version: Trials of Fire is a deck-building tactical roguelike in which I can’t tell if I’m having fun. After 10 hours, I’m leaning towards Yes. It’s $14.39 on Steam right now, but will be $19.99 next week.

One of the most immediate comparisons of Trial of Fire that pops up from gamingjournalists” is Slay the Spire. This is unfortunate for many reasons. For one, if you really enjoy Slay the Spire like I do, you will be disappointed to learn that this game is, in fact, nothing like Slay the Spire. For two, the actual best comparison is to Card Hunter, which was a criminally underrated and uncopied game from 2013. Seriously, look at the devs (Richard Garfield!) who worked on it. The Flash version of Card Hunter died, but you can still play it on Steam, and it looks like there may be some people taking over the franchise.

Anyway, Trial of Fire. What do you really do? It’s best explained with a picture:

When combat starts, player and enemy tokens alike drop from the sky with a satisfying clink upon a randomize board that rises from the pages of a book. Your characters draw three cards from their deck each turn and can only carry over one between turns. Your deck consists of 9 cards from your class’s default deck, plus any cards that come attached to equipment your party picks up along the way. Sometimes your deck accumulates cards in other ways, such as if your party is Fatigued or Injured (junk cards), or as the result of random encounters. Some cards are free to cast but most require Willpower, which is a temporary resource that dissipates between turns.

The really clever trick Trials pulls though is turning cards themselves into resources. During your turn, you can discard any cards you want from any of your characters to gain 1 Willpower. Have a ranged character in an advantageous spot with a fist full of attacks? Go ahead and dump your other characters’ cards so that your DPS can go ham. Alternatively, discarding a card can allow that specific character to move 2 spaces on the game board. There are already movement cards in every characters’ deck, but sometimes you need just a little bit more distance. Alternatively alternatively, if you discard a card and don’t use the Willpower on something else or move that character, they get 2 Defense (aka Block).

Typing it out makes it seem complicated, but it is surprisingly intuitive as you play.

I also liked what they did with HP. In short, every character has 10 HP baseline. As you equip better armor, you end up with… er, Armor, which is basically bonus HP in battle. As long as no one drops below 10 HP, no actual long-term damage has occurred. Even if some has, your characters regain +2 HP every time they Camp in a sheltered location, which ends up being quite often.

Outside of combat is not like Slay the Spire either. Instead, you move your party around a map while trying to finish the primary quest, periodically stopping at ?s scattered along the wasteland to get some RNG punishment. This part is Trial’s biggest weakness: naked RNG.

Like, I get it, roguelike. I would probably be more annoyed if they didn’t include the percentage chance right on the tin, but it still feels bad somehow. In particular, you can get really screwed early on in such a way that you may as well abandon the run. For example, one of my characters got the Firelung trait, which was a card that is permanently added to the deck that dealt 1 unblockable damage to them and any allies within 1 hex when drawn. That was fun times.

In any case, the out-of-combat part feels the least developed even though it makes up a large portion of the gametime. You can collect crafting material from events and combat sometimes, but you never end up collecting enough to upgrade more than 1-2 items at best. And “upgrading” an item basically means upgraded the cards that it grants, which frequently is of dubious worth. You’re going to want to save mats to upgrade an Epic or higher item, for example, but Epic upgrades take the same mats (plus an epic version) as normal upgrades, so… yeah. It ends up being an Elixir situation wherein you hoard mats the whole game and never use them but you realize you never needed them anyway.

Also, when exploring the map you end up being constrained by two meters. One is “Determination” which only sustains itself while you are moving towards your next quest objective. The other is Fatigue, which decreases while you walk or fight, and requires you to use supplies to Camp to recover. Both meters have to be kept high or else you end up getting penalty cards added to your deck, which again, is a rather harsh kick in the pants. Not that you want to keep exploring for too long though, as there is often a natural inflection point at which you are destroying every enemy in the first 1-2 turns and realize they couldn’t possibly drop anything to improve what you already got going on.

So, yeah. Trials of Fire.

Although the game still feels that it is lacking a certain something, I can absolutely say that the bones are good. The aesthetics and tactile tactical action is something I could play over and over. And have started to do with Combat Run and Boss Rush modes. There is also the higher difficulties, ala Ascension modes. Huh, just like Slay the Spire…

Slay the Spire, Android Edition

The Android version of Slay the Spire is out. It’s $9.99 on the Google Play store, although you have to scroll down to find it.

And I recommend waiting a while before buying it.

It is indeed Slay the Spire on your phone. If you are not familiar with the game itself, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m sure there were other deck-building roguelikes out there before, but this one is so good that it has basically consumed the entire genre – anything new is basically “Slay the Spire but with X.” Being able to finally play this on my phone without streaming it or other nonsense is something I had been looking forward to for a while. In fact, I had been holding my Google Play credits from surveys for more than a year just to purchase it as soon as it popped up.

The issue is that it is a bad port.

It’s not just the bugs, of which there were many game-crippling ones (stuck on Merchant screen, continuous de-syncing, etc.). The Android port is just poorly designed from a UX perspective. Text is tiny and borderline unreadable, even with the “Big Text” option selected. Cards are shoved far at the bottom of the screen, which means half the time you try playing one, you end up minimizing the app – this behavior can be disabled via Android options, but I haven’t had any issues with Hearthstone like this. Perhaps the most frustrating though are the inconsistencies with selecting things. On the Reward screen, you have to double-tap to collect Gold, but a single-tap will select 2nd option (Potion or Relic), and your card reward requires you to click confirm. That’s three separate behaviors on one screen. Who designed this shit?

I’m also a bit salty when I straight-up lost a run right before the final boss because the wrong card was played. You cannot read the text on a card without lifting it up a bit with your finger, but lift it up too far and it will automatically be played (if it’s not specifically a targeted card). There is a “long press to Confirm” option in the Settings, but inexplicably that’s just for the End Turn button and nothing else. Incidentally, this lost run was the same one in which I accidentally skipped a Relic – the Select button became Skip after highlighting the Relic once – and then accidentally picked a bad choice in one of the “?” rooms because I was hovering my finger over the option so I could see what the Curse did.

Of course, by “accidentally” I really mean “because of dumbass UX designers.”

So, yeah, the thing I had been looking forward to for literal years was immensely disappointing. The lesson here is to don’t look forward to things don’t purchase things Day 1.

Gaming News

As Reddit is largely my source of gaming news these days, periodically I find that several items relevant to my interests have been buried by random nonsense. In no particular order:

Oxygen Not Included’s DLC has entered Early Access

Called Spaced Out!, the DLC seems focused on creating and managing multiple mini-colonies rather than one. Considering how complex and fragile just one colony can be, Klei is either targeting hardcore vets of the original game or will be introducing methods to trivialize some of the fundamental problems players encounter (heat, water usage, leaning on and then running out of algae or coal, etc). Although I have logged 143 hours into the game – making it my 5th most-played game on Steam – I have never actually made it to the rocket launching endgame, so I would be fine with the latter.

ARK 2 has been announced, starring Vin Diesel

No, really, look at the (pointless) trailer. Cue up the Adam Jensen “I didn’t ask for this.” Supposedly there will be more details coming out over the next few days, but the underlying kick in the teeth is that Studio Wildcard is rather pointedly ending the development of its original game in favor of a star-studded sequel. This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, considering Wildcard is rather infamous for releasing a paid DLC while the original game was still in Early Access.

Having said that, if the end result is ARK on more stable game-code… maybe it’s worth the re-admission price. Clocking in at 147.5 hours, ARK is my 4th most-played game on Steam. And all that time was spent in single-player, almost entirely on the original map. The bones were good; it’s the flesh that needs work.

Slay the Spire is (still) coming to Android… Eventually!

Mentioned in passing at the top of the latest patch notes: “While we’re awaiting news from our publishing and porting teams for the Android mobile release, we’re bringing some more of the under-the-hood improvements to PC!” While an Android release of Slay the Spire is not news per se, I’m always happy to be reminded that it might eventually happen someday. After all, it’s been six months since it was released on iOS and I have resorted to a number of questionable phone games (like Hearthstone) to scratch that particular itch.

And just to continue the theme, Slay the Spire is #2 on my Steam list with 166.8 hours played.

State of Play

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.