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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.

Slay the Spire: Quick Strategy

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.


Not losing HP anytime soon.

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?


Fist full of Curses, but Block still set me free.

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.


This sort of route is ideal.

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


Exhibit A

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.

Accumulate Advantage

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.

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:

Passive Buff:

  • 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.



I’m not sure if I’m necessarily hooked on Total War: Warhammer, but I do happen to have spent 100% of my gaming time playing it this week. And going to bed much, much later than I have any rational reason to.

Basically, I’m treating the game as a Warhammer Civilization. Civhammer, if you will. Every army clash is resolved via auto-complete, for good or ill. The reason for that is because I still have no idea how these battles are supposed to go. Scratch that, I know how they are supposed to play out, but I am having an incredibly difficult time actually getting my troops to behave that way. Selecting multiple units already in a formation and clicking 100 feet forward causes them to disperse in a huge line. Why? I have no clue.

There is also an incredible amount of cheese I have organically discovered and am exploiting judiciously. By default, there is a “reinforcement” mechanic that allows you to combine one or more armies for a particular battle as long as they are nearby on the campaign map. Makes sense, I guess. The issue is that the reinforcement army might not have had any movement ability left, e.g. not had the ability to actually attack the army themselves, but now they can contribute their military might in 3+ nearby battles. The AI in this game uses this quite often.

That said, there is an ability that your army commanders can learn around level 6 called Lightning Strike. This ability allows you to attack armies without the benefit of reinforcements for either side. As noted before, the AI leans on the Reinforcement mechanic pretty heavily, and so Lightning Strike can (and did) completely change the battle calculus.

Just recently, for example, I was fighting the last strongholds of the Vampire Lords, but was unable to siege anything because of their two full-unit armies kept combining with the garrison to smoke me out. Unfortunately for them, only one army can occupy a city at a time, so I used Lightning Strike on the army left outside the walls and slaughtered them. Then I attacked the survivors again – Lightning Strike has unlimited uses – completely wiping them out.

At this point, I’m in the endgame of my first playthrough of Total War: Warhammer, with all victory conditions engaged aside from stopping the Chaos army advance from the North. While there is a part of me that is interested in starting another round up once this is done – to check out the other races and their armies – the other part of me wants to move on. We’ll see how things go.

P.S. If anyone knows of some good Total War: Warhammer (or prior titles, for that matter) videos showing how exactly to manually control armies to unlikely victories, it would be appreciated.

Total Warhammer

People say that the definition of insanity it doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is precisely me when it comes to strategy games.


I want to want you.

After hearing about all the crazy stories with Crusader Kings 2, I got it on sale and… played all of two hours before uninstalling. Total War: Shogun 2 was a similar situation, which was quite disappointing as I enjoy that setting. Enter Total War: Warhammer.

Verdict? …probably the same.

The first few hours were awful. Then I got hooked after some early victories. Then pissed when the AI started marching armies out of the fog of war and then razing my cities to the ground with zero chance to react. I know, I know, I’m supposed to have expensive hero units roaming about to keep tabs on my borders. But then there’s bullshit like an army moving to a city, killing the defenders and looting the place, moving all the way to a second city, then killing and looting that one, all in one turn. How the shit does that work, temporally? Were they all riding unicorns?



Don’t get me started on Hero units, which have to be the most outrageous bullshit I’ve seen. These are units that can run around with impunity and get a 20-30% chance to assassinate your leader, delay your armies, damage some buildings, and all sorts of similar nonsense. Huge army with 20 divisions? It’s fine, park your hero right next to it and get turn after turn of a chance to murder their high-level leader. The other counter-play appears to be deploying heroes of your own to roam about and try to counter-assassinate. But as we learned in Overwatch, heroes never die, they just go AWOL for 5 turns before getting back to their usual shenanigans.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I were not trying to wipe out the last of the Crooked Moon goblin clan. Razed their capital and another city off the map, but the final city was way, way to the South. Every army I send down there ends up headless, as I had neglected to counter-hero the spider-riding goblin spy, who is now level 14. I am currently sending two full armies and three heroes down there to try and get a handle on things, but now I’m nervous that the Emperor himself is going to get whacked before that leg of the campaign is done.



As for the combat system itself, I couldn’t tell you much about its improvement or not from prior titles. All I particularly know is that I suck at macromanaging. Micromanaging individual little units? Sure, it’s fine. Directing the calvary around and flanking with the sword troops and moving generals and getting the archers to turn the fuck around what are you even doing ohmygod… not so much. I’m using auto-complete on most battles and things are mostly going well.

So, we’ll see. Maybe I stick with it, maybe I don’t. The game was $12 in a Humble Monthly bundle, so I’m not out much either way.

Impression: Kingdom Rush

So… anyone got mobile strategy(-ish) game recommendations? I’m on a bit of a kick here.

I am currently playing Kingdom Rush and finding it rather fantastic. Tower Defense is one of those genres that seems sort of shallow on the face of it – and perhaps even is in the scheme of things – but I’m liking how it’s presented here in Kingdom Rush. You have the standard lanes, tower placement, and varied enemies with their rock-paper-scissors attributes. Even the implementation of a somewhat controllable hero and magic powers seems almost standard these days.

The very attractively stylized graphics doesn't hurt either.

I could go AFK for the next two waves, honestly.

The thing that strikes me though is that the lanes in KR are wide. In other words, the enemies marching down the road and the resulting battles feel a bit more organic, as your soldiers might engage near the edge of the lane and allow a few enemies on the far end slip past. There is a granularity there, a sense that slight tweaks to troop or hero placement will result in better outcomes. Tower choice is such a huge change that there are clearly better options given the enemies you face (high magic defense vs high armor defense). Moving your troops just slightly to the left of the corner though? The result might be better just 5% of the time, but that 5% chance gives you the opportunity to demonstrate mastery over the game mechanics.

Of course, just like with most other Tower Defense games I have played, discovering OP combinations of towers usually results in me going through the motions for the rest of the game’s duration. I am definitely at that stage with Kingdom Rush right now, although it has lasted longer than other, similar games like Bloons.

So, yeah. I’m also playing Clash of Clans (near max TH7 base) at the moment. I have enjoyed the aforementioned Bloons TD 5, iBomber Defense, and the Anomaly series. I recently picked up Ironclad Tactics from the latest Humble Bundle but haven’t played it yet. Heard good things about Card Crawl too, and might actually pick it up if I can mentally prepare myself for playing on my tiny iPod Touch screen. Speaking of iPods, that reminds me of Hero Academy… another good one from back in the day. And presently perhaps? It’s been a while.

Give me your best strategy, Tower Defense, and/or card game games. Apps. Whatever.

Regression to the Mean

Tobold and others are fundamentally correct about Hearthstone’s metagame essentially being reduced to a small set of cards. The speed at which the metagame changes in response to pro-player feedback also approaches the speed of light; Argent Squire went from being something I never saw in the last three months to something I now see every game. In fact, if you want to win damn near every game you play, all you need to use are these cards:

  • 2x Novice Engineer
  • 2x Loot Hoarder
  • 2x Gnomish Inventor
  • 2x Shattered Sun Cleric
  • 2x Acidic Swamp Ooze
  • 2x Faerie Dragon
  • 2x Dark Iron Dwarf
  • 2x Chillwind Yeti
  • 2x Defender of Argus
  • 2x Argent Commander

I cannot begin to tell you how many games I have lost due to Defender of Argus. Some of these cards will be nerfed soon, but not all of them (including Defender of Argus), and I’m not even convinced the nerfs will hurt their inclusion in nearly every deck.

The funny thing though, is how simply using these cards does not necessarily mean you win automatically. They are strongest possible cards for their cost, no doubt, but what they do not do is tell you is who’s the beatdown. They do not tell you whether you should play the Faerie Dragon or the Loot Hoarder on turn 2. They do not tell you which class to play, which class cards to choose for the rest of the deck, and whether to spend mana on removal this turn or send everything to your opponent’s face. In short, they don’t tell you what to do in this scenario:

So many possibilities...

So many possibilities…

As I have said before and will undoubtedly say again, sometimes Hearthstone can be played by a monkey. Sometimes you only have one rational move, and sometimes you will win no matter what you play because your opponent got screwed by RNG. And vice versa. But none of this should suggest there is not room for skill, acumen, and calculated risks. It’s not about seeing the same pieces day in and day out, it’s how those pieces interact with one another.

Hearthstone has its issues – Blizzard can’t pretend that Mage isn’t OP for too much longer – but a metagame revolving around X number of cards isn’t one of them. It would be better if more cards were viable, sure, but there is plenty of meat and marrow on these bones.

Hearthstone Arena Strategies

So, you’re a little hesitant to step into Hearthstone’s Arena mode, or perhaps you already have and the games did not quite go as planned. I’m going to level with you: I’m not some grandmaster Hearthstone Arena player, although I break even (6+ wins) more times than not. What I can offer you is a collated batch of Arena strategies collected from either personal experience, from streams, and/or random tidbits from players better than myself. So read on, absorb what’s useful, and critique the rest in the comments.

Make Peace with the RNG

You will be screwed right out of the gate on occasion. From a poor selection of Heroes at the beginning, to a drafting process that offers you zero removal cards, to being faced against opponents with 2-3 Legendaries and all the right answers. It happens. So make your peace with its inevitability, and endeavor to learn something useful as you struggle uphill both ways.

Understand Card Advantage

Card Advantage is a concept that came out of Magic: the Gathering theory more than a decade ago, and is a key component in virtually all CCGs since then. The Wikipedia page on the topic is pretty robust, and I recommend taking the time to read through it – the concept of card advantage underpins every other strategy that follows.

Know Your Enemy

There are nine classes in Hearthstone, each with very specific Hero abilities and class-specific cards. Just like in any PvP situation in WoW or other games, the more you know about your opponent’s repertoire, the better your chance of predicting his/her moves and playing around them.

My creature placement turned a 2:1 into a 1:1, saving two critical cards.

My creature placement turned a 2:1 into a 1:1, saving two critical creatures.

For example: when facing a Rogue or Mage, the positioning of your creatures matters. Betrayal is a potentially devastating Rogue card whose power is entirely dependent on how you order the creatures on your board – if you have a high-attack power minion inbetween two other creatures, bam, that Rogue just got a 2-for-1 because you got careless. Cone of Cold is more difficult to play around, but you can do funny things by placing your strongest creatures on the outside (forcing the Mage to choose which to become Frozen) or even mucking up the math by playing a Faerie Dragon intelligently. For example, if I had been facing a Mage in the picture above, the Cone of Cold could only ever hit two creatures since the Faerie Dragon couldn’t itself be targeted.

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to look up all the class-specific cards already, go ahead and click My Collection and then Crafting Mode (and make sure All Sets is on at the bottom). This will show you all the non-Basic cards for every class. As far as I can tell, the only way to see all the Basic cards is to earn them by leveling each class up to 10 yourself… which is a good idea anyway.

Assume the Removal

This is a subset of the previous point. Know what kind of removal that your opponent may have access to, assume that they have it in hand, then force them to use it. It’s Turn 7, and the Mage will likely devastate your board with a Flamestrike. Can you do anything about it? Yes, actually: force them to use it. Worst case scenario is that they generate a lot of card advantage by crippling your offense. But they were going to do that anyway. Best case is that you had enough threats on the table to force them to use it when you were expecting them to, and not at their leisure.

If you play conservatively and they don’t use the Flamestrike, all you’ve done is given up damage in exchange for nothing.

Assume the worst, hope for the best.

Assume the worst, hope for the best.

Here is a rough guide:

  • Hunter: Multi-Shot at Turn 4. If it’s a Secret, assume it’s a Fire Trap.
  • Mage: Sheep on Turn 4, Blizzard on Turn 5, Flamestrike on Turn 7. If you are at 11 HP or 7 HP, assume you will die next turn from Pryoblast or Fireball.
  • Paladin: Consecration on Turn 4. Blessing of Kings on Turn 4.
  • Rogue: Betrayal any time you have 3 creatures. Assassinate on Turn 5.
  • Shaman: Bloodlust whenever they have more than 3 creatures out. Lightning Storm at the worst possible moment.
  • Warrior: Assume a 2 or 3-power weapon the next turn, and/or creatures with Charge. Any useful creature that has taken damage will die.
  • Priest: You will likely lose after Turn 8. Win before then.
  • Druid: Swipe starting on Turn 4. Starfall on Turn 5 (it’s a rare card though). Assume 8/8 or 5/10 Taunt creatures after Turn 8.
  • Warlock: Assume Hellfire whenever they don’t have a creature out.

Draft Bombs

A Drafting environment is worlds different than Constructed. You might be able to play around one Mind Control, but can you play around three? Ever face a Warlock with four Hellfires before? This is not meant to discourage you from doing Arena, but to recognize that you will encounter all sorts of outlandish situations. The only real thing you can do is draft the strongest possible cards you can, play them intelligently, and hope for the best.

Pictured: an insanely tough first pick.

Pictured: an insanely tough first pick. Went with Knife Juggler.

What are the strongest possible cards? Good question. I suggest starting with Trump’s Arena Card Rankings as a jumping off point, as it covers all Basic/Common cards. The fundamental take-away though, is asking yourself how any given card you play stacks up with other cards for the same cost. Does it trade favorably? While a Kobold Geomancer can turn an Arcane Explosion into a Consecration, it will have its lunch eaten by a vanilla 2/3 River Crocolisk who will still be a hungry 2/1 creature after the trade. Chillwind Yeti is the least interesting creature ever that turns entire games around with his big, dumb 4/5 for 4 self (bonus points for immunity to most Priest removal).

Of course, given the choice, I would take Amani Berserker over the River Crocolisk every day of the week. Point is: don’t discount efficient creatures. Considering it is entirely possible to have no opportunity to draft any removal, you may have to make due with what you have on the board.

Know When to Race, and When to Coast

It’s your turn 4 and you have two 3/2 creatures compared to your opponent’s lone 1/1 creature. What do you do?

If you said “It depends on what class your opponent is,” you win.

The difference between dealing 6 damage this turn and a Paladin casting Blessing of Kings on his 1/1 and taking out one of your creatures (and likely forcing you to trade next turn) is huge. If you manage to keep that Paladin’s board clear each turn, the Blessing of Kings is a dead card until at least Turn 6, and by then you’ll either have this game wrapped up or have something to deal with a 5/5. There have been more than one game where I lost simply because Dark Iron Dwarf was stranded in my hand (unlike the Shattered Sun Cleric, the dwarf has to target a creature if one exists, even your opponent’s).

At the same time, a commitment to killing everything your opponent plays every turn means that every creature they cast gains the text “and gain X life, where X is the HP of this creature.” At the end of the day, you win by reducing your opponent’s HP to zero, not keeping his board empty. Sure, there are many times in which I was trying my best to Jedi Mind Trick my opponent into attacking my face rather than killing creatures I had plans for, but giving a Control deck room to breathe is exactly what they want you to do.

Get Ahead, Stay Ahead… But the Long Game is Good Too

I once lost a match where the only creature that survived more than one turn was my opponent’s Faerie Dragon, which he/she had coined out on Turn 1. Every turn thereafter consisted of us trading cards and creatures. Which might have been okay, if it were not for the fact that trading one-for-one favors the person who played first. In other words, the early game matters. A lot.

At the same time, what you don’t want to do when drafting is neglect your late game. The vast majority of the Arena games I play end long after Turn 10. Having a front-loaded mana curve is great for punishing slower decks, but what are all your 2/2 and 3/3 creatures going to do when faced with a 8/8 or 5/10 meatwall with defender? Or a Flamestrike? There is nothing more frustrating in Hearthstone than running out of steam and watching your shot at victory slowly erode under the tremors of Stormwind Champions.

When I drafted a Paladin Aggro deck (e.g. zerg with cheap creatures) I about conceded on Turn 1 when the Mage I was fighting dropped a Mirror Image. I had a fist full of creatures, but many of them were 2/1s which would have died to a ping by the Mage’s Hero power before they could even attack once. If you mostly stick with the highest-value cards you can, you’re likely to walk out with a mid-range deck that can handle most situations. Specifically trying to shoehorn in a “theme” in an Arena environment is just asking for trouble.

Play Smart… Play S-Mart

While the exact depth of Hearthstone strategy is up for debate, there is absolutely opportunity to miss game-changing plays and/or epically screw yourself over by poor decision-making. For example, I am still facepalming over this scenario:

Don't get greedy.

Don’t get greedy.

My Turn 2, opponent had played a Novice Engineer. Staring at a hand with a Sword of Justice and four cheap creatures, I got greedy by using the Coin to power out the SoJ and passed the turn. And that’s when this happened:

"What's the worst that can happen? Oh."

“What’s the worst that can happen? Oh.”

I pretty much lost the game right there. My opponent’s 3/2 and/or 1/2 would eat any creature I played or eat my face if I delayed long enough to cast the Knife Juggler + Argent Protector. Indeed, it did not really matter what I played, because my opponent got a 2-for-1 just by playing the Ooze, and arguably a 3-for-1 since I had to deal with the creature eventually. That was not a fun game.

There are times when you may need to go all-in to win. If my opponent didn’t have the Ooze, my card advantage would keep ticking higher each turn the Sword survived. A smarter play would have been to cast my own Novice Engineer and then see what kind of creature he played in response. Depending on what he/she played, I could have coined into a Knife Juggler + Argent Protector, or dropped a Dire Wolf Alpha and killed his Novice Engineer, or boosted my Engineer to take out a x/5 creature or whatever. Point being, playing Sword of Justice and passing the turn is the dumbest possible move you can make. Sometimes it’s the only move you can make, but it’s still dumb.

Beyond that scenario, there are all sorts of little things to keep in mind. Knowing how powerful Silence can be, for example, especially against opponents who spent their whole turn casting that 6/5 with Taunt creature only to see your full board go right for their face. Faerie Dragon placement, as mentioned earlier. Knowing that mass removal like Consecration and Hellfire will not trigger Cult Master’s card-drawing power as long as it dies at the same time as other creatures. Facing the tough choices like this one, and realizing that the obvious plays are not always the best ones:

Coining into a Flamestrike seems obvious... but it's not always the best.

Coining into a Flamestrike seems obvious… but it’s not always the best.

I don’t remember what sort of nonsense the Druid played after I killed the Cult Master with my Water Elemental, pinged the imp, and then played Ogre Magi. All I remember is that I was quite happy saving the Flamestrike for the following turn when he dumped his hand and then later using the Coin with Archmage Antonidas to jump-start the Fireball cascade.


Hopefully this guide has been of some use for you. The very bottom line when it comes to improving your Arena match outcomes is simple: learning from your mistakes. Did you really get screwed by the RNG, or was it the RNG + a bad early play on your part? Fix what you can and then try again.

Have fun… and maybe I’ll see you out there.

Reviews: Elven Legacy, QUBE

Game: Elven Legacy
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 71
Completion Time: ~21 hours
Buy If You Like: Hex-based strategy games, old games

The strategy bits weren't bad at all.

The strategy bits weren’t bad at all.

Elven Legacy is a somewhat more traditional hex-based strategy game featuring PS1 graphics, a somewhat abbreviated plot, and an incredibly brutal single-player campaign.

What I recognized early on was that I had not actually played many “strategy” games before, as opposed to more tactical affairs. The underlying mechanics were fairly simple: units can move and attack each turn, all units have 10 HP, sometimes there are special abilities or perks that can come into play, units gain XP and levels, and you can move your entire team each turn. When all the moving pieces come together however, you begin to realize how much the odds are against you on each and every map.

Allow me to present an example. During your turn, you move your spearman up to attack an enemy unit. Before committing to the attack, you see that you will deal 5 damage and take 2 damage in return. During the attack, the damage numbers were actually 4 and 3 – the projected numbers are simply the average range. The damage a unit takes is counted as either wounded or dead, with the spread being determined by perks and… well, I’m not actually sure how its counted. I noticed higher level units take more wounds than deaths, so I’m sure stats are somehow involved. Regardless, your now-7 HP unit will deal less damage than that same unit at full health. On your next turn, you can choose to order that unit to Camp, which will heal all wounded (not dead) units, at the cost losing both its attack and move phase.

Another wrinkle is morale. Units attacked below a certain baseline will Break, reducing their attack and defense scores by 4 until they Camp, while also retreating a hex away. Even units that do not Break will retreat a hex back when low on HP. This can wreck havoc with your plans should you attempt to attack with two units, only to have the first attack send the enemy out of range of your follow-up. This can lead to some odd behavior, like attacking with your weakest units first, probing for the breaking point, before sending in the big guns to hopefully annihilate the unit.

Then you have the hero/monster units, which can heal to full all the time. Then you have magic spells, which have unlimited ranges by only 1-2 charges per spell. Then you have terrain bonuses/penalties. Then you are picking one of three Perks for each level a unit gains. Then you are sending units around the map looking for artifacts that you can equip to give certain units more abilities/stats. Then you realize you often have a time limit to complete the map. And so on.

While the game was surprisingly strategic and all, literally everything else was forgettable. I have not dabbled much in the strategy game genre, but I know enough to know that there are likely better titles out there to buy. I purchased Elven Legacy at some ridiculous discount a year or so ago, and it is probably only worth that much (or less). It was fun while it lasted, but it really only succeeded in me wanting to look at other strategy games.

Note: I purchased the DLC along with the normal game, but was unable to get any of said DLC to actually work. The new campaigns showed up and were selectable, but none of the dialog or win conditions or any text was visible.


Game: QUBE
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 69
Completion Time: ~3 hours
Buy If You Like: Portal-lite, FPS puzzle games

Aesthetically, it was quite nice.

Aesthetically, it was quite nice.

QUBE is a first-person puzzle game in the Portal tradition. In fact, basically all you need to know is that QUBE is Portal-lite. Throughout the game you can manipulate the behavior of a series of colored cubes that have standard behavior: red ones extend out one square at a time to a three-square distance, yellow ones make a step-ladder patterns, blue squares act as spring-boards, etc. Actually, why stop describing them now? Purple cubes rotate a section of the wall/floor, and green create either a block or ball, depending on the puzzle. Oh, and there are magnet walls. There, that is 100% of the set pieces.

While all this sounds simple, QUBE veers into some ridiculously fiendish puzzles before the end of its ~4 hours of gameplay. At one point, you have to solve a puzzle in the dark, with only one element at time being lit up. Another requires the fine manipulation of otherwise inert cubes of differing sizes by using magnetic walls. Yet another requires the navigation of a sort of Wheatley-esque robot that only makes right turns through a maze.

Overall, QUBE provides a lot more depth than I originally thought it could, but it did not provide enough to overcome the otherwise deserved “Portal-lite” title. Just image Portal minus GLaDOS, minus the threat of death, minus the ability to move blocks manually, and minus the ability to put portals almost anywhere. Oh, and minus about ~10 extra hours of gameplay.

Grab QUBE as part of a bundle if you can.

Reviews: Darksiders, Greed Corp, Nimbus

Game: Darksiders
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 83
Completion Time: ~19 hours
Buy If You Like: Devil May Cry/God of War meets Zelda meets comic book

There are zero complaints in the visual department.

Darksiders is a 3rd-person action game with puzzle elements that tries to straddle the line between Devil May Cry/God of War demon-killing and the sort of casual world exploration and puzzles of Zelda games. You control War, one of the four horsemen, who gets framed for starting the apocalypse party early, which results in the death of the entire human race. As you struggle to clear your name and/or figure out who was responsible, you kill a lot of demons and four-story bosses while uncovering new items and re-unlocking your prior abilities.

While it seems the most popular comparison is with Zelda games instead of Devil May Cry, I just felt the puzzle elements in Darksiders were curiously out of place. The visually stunning post-apocalyptic landscape is rife with ready-made puzzle elements, but I never got over the fact that War couldn’t just scale that wall with his big-ass metal hand. Are you telling me I can wield a car like a baseball bat, but I can’t just stack some debris in the corner and use that to reach the 2nd floor? Why aren’t I just punching down every door I encounter, especially when I unlock the Power Glove Gauntlet that lets me punch icebergs? While the puzzles do keep combat from growing too stale, after a while you realize that more than half of your game time is spent in empty rooms moving boxes around (etc). That might be fine thematically for a 14-year old elf-boy, but it never felt right for a horseman of the goddamn apocalypse.

That said, I did end up enjoying my time in Darksiders. The game is incredibly stylistic, the visuals are fantastic, and the action is pretty serviceable in a button-mashing way. Although I just pooh-poohed the puzzles, that is mainly because of the tone of the game, rather than the puzzles themselves being annoying. Indeed, while demon locks do appear on some doors arbitrarily, the majority of the puzzles are based on more “realistic” scenarios. You know, assuming that it’s realistic to punch subway cars into place but not use that same power to knock some tree limbs out of the way.

On a final note, if you play on the PC as I did, the port job is not especially keyboard-friendly; in terms of lazy port, it ranks up there with the original Borderlands for PC. I still WASD’d my way through the game anyway, but it was seriously annoying how anyone thought “Tab + number” was a good button combo to select abilities while running around.


Game: Greed Corp
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 76
Completion Time: ~8 hours
Buy If You Like: Symmetrical puzzle/strategy games

Definitely more Checkers than Chess.

Greed Corp is a strategy game that is a lesson in efficient and frugal design. Whereas in an RTS-style game you can have three factions with totally unique units and hundreds of different forms of interaction, Greed Corp is pretty simple; there is one walker unit, one factory that builds walkers, one cannon, one consumable unit that flies walkers to a different hex, one harvesting building, and the resources being harvested is the terrain itself. The goal is to use all of those things to remove your opposition from the map, sometimes quite literally.

Regardless, there is can be a surprising bit of depth to the shenanigans. For example, the harvesters knock its own hex and all surrounding hexes down one level at the beginning of your turn (hexes brought below level 1 crumble apart). There is no way to remove a harvesters other than self-destructing it, which knocks another level off each surrounding hex, along with sinking the main hex down into the abyss. What this can lead to is sending a single unit flying into your enemy’s island territory, plopping down a harvester, and laughing maniacally (or sobbing in frustration, depending) as that whole island eventually breaks apart.

Eventually though, my enjoyment evaporated once the late-game Expert-level AI opponents started demonstrating the weaknesses of perfectly symmetrical maps. Namely that it didn’t matter how clever your own strategy was when all it takes is one of the three random opponents to opportunistically ruin your day. When the outcome of your best-laid plans devolve into “whoever moves last wins,” it is time to move on.


Game: Nimbus
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 80
Completion Time: ~6 hours
Buy If You Like: Twitch-based puzzle “platformers”

Kinda like a flying Super Meat Boy.

In essence, Nimbus is a pretty simple twitch-based puzzle-platformer… sorta. You control a ship that has no means of self-propulsion, and thus must rely entirely on environmental objects and inertia to ensure you do not become stranded on the ground (which kills you). Some of those objects are bumpers that always gives you a set amount of boost when collided with, some are speed squares that can accelerate you to dizzying velocity if you loop into them multiple times, and still others are little cannons which give you some respite along with directional control over your exit. The end goal is to touch the exit checkerboard squares as fast as possible, while also grabbing the secret coins hidden (sometimes diabolically) around the level if you are so inclined – doing so can sometimes unlock bonus levels.

It did not take me long to confirm that the old adage of “quick to learn, difficult to master” is fully applicable to Nimbus. While successful execution is the most important aspect of the game, Nimbus does a phenomenal job at keeping each level feeling fresh and unique like a brand new puzzle. Just when you start feeling comfortable with all the deadly spikes on the walls, you encounter a map that requires you to ram into spheres to trigger gate openings like a physics-based platformer. And just as you are getting used to some of the spheres having spikes on them, you are faced with a level where all the walls are made of deadly lasers. And then there are the ridiculous reverse-gravity levels. In short, Nimbus deftly avoids new puzzle elements feeling like gimmicks and more like natural progression.

I did not end up completing Nimbus though, as the later levels quickly outstripped my twitch abilities, even after ditching the keyboard for an Xbox controller. If you are not a fan of twitch platformers like Super Meat Boy, unfortunately you aren’t likely to enjoy Nimbus at all; there are few things more frustrating than knowing what you have to do, but running into that same goddamn spike wall for the 13th time in a row and redoing the entire level from scratch (there are checkpoint cannons, but sometimes only past certain points).

If you do happen to enjoy those sort of games though, Nimbus will certainly give you a run for your money. Not only are there secret coins to collect, but each level has a Steam leaderboard to compare best times as well.