Enamored with Gloomhaven or Hades? There's one game on Xbox Game Pass that is an absolute must-play, especially if you enjoy classic turn-based JRPG battle systems. Any gamer will relish the feeling of their carefully constructed deck poppin' off in this wickedly addictive video game.
It doesn't really resemble Gloomhaven or Hades in any immediately obvious ways, but the unique mashup of game genres and mechanics will feel sublime to anyone into chaotic deck-building combat and spur-of-the-moment decisions within a sprawling, randomly generated dungeon.
You simply must play Slay the Spire, which is currently available to Xbox Game Pass subscribers.
Developed by MegaCrit and published by Humble Bundle in January 2019, Slay the Spire is a deck-building roguelike in which you climb The Spire to ... slay it. Along the way, you encounter various enemies, bosses, and events as you progress through three procedurally-generated acts.
There's little in terms of story, but everything about Slay the Spire oozes personality. The art style, random events, and overall aesthetics are similar to Gloomhaven, a hardcore and widely loved tabletop RPG, as is the deck-based approach to combat and character classes. But the broader Roguelike game design aspects will scratch the same itch as games like Hades and Curse of the Dead Gods. Each run is left up to the whims of chance, forcing you to make snap decisions that could doom you — or lead you to acquire godly power.
In line-based battles that evoke the visuals of classic Japanese role-playing games, you expend energy to play cards. You make these selections based on your enemies' projected actions, which are teased by visible icons above each enemy. If a monster is going to attack, you'll want to play a Block card to reduce or eliminate that damage outright. But if they're blocking, playing more Attack cards is beneficial. Also in the mix are a wide variety of buffs and debuffs that increase in complexity the higher you get in the tower.
You'll select a new card for your deck at each step of the journey but also acquire various Artifacts, Potions, and other more unique encounters along the way that ensure every run is totally unique. Slay the Spire feels like you're building a house of cards at a breakneck pace because, in a sense, that's literally true. You can play it intuitively, or you can take a more methodical approach to deck-building based on the strength of each character.
The four playable characters each loosely resemble typical fantasy archetypes with delightful and weird nuances. The unique bits of flavor and how each class functions feel novel because of the way combat flows as your discard pile is shuffled back into your draw pile.
The starting character, The Ironclad, is a straightforward warrior/dark knight who "sold his soul to harness demonic energies." He wields a sword and can dole out huge bursts of damage with equally as powerful defensive options. The Silent is the rogue archetype, wielding daggers and poison to nimbly assault enemies by rapidly discarding and drawing cards to craft dazzling combos. Then there's The Defect, a self-aware automaton that harnesses the power of elemental orbs to cast different kinds of magic. The final unlockable class, The Watcher, is a blind monk who shifts between combat stances to capitalize on different passive effects.
Regardless of class, you start out with a fixed number of offensive and defensive cards, but as your deck increases in complexity over time, each class's specific playstyle becomes more pronounced.
There's a fast-paced nature to how things go, and the many randomized elements make for an intense experience. After each battle, you'll choose one of three cards to add to your deck, so if you can stack cards that synergize well together, it'll benefit you in the long run. Normally, Block dissipates at the end of a round, but one Ironclad Power card makes all Block persist from round to round. That's good enough to focus an entire deck on, especially when there's another card that deals damage equal to your current Block.
Slay the Spire may be easy to pick up, but it can feel difficult to master. But for the inquisitive mind, Slay the Spire is a delicious feast that demands experimentation and will offer dozens and perhaps hundreds of hours' worth of entertainment.
Slay the Spire is currently available to play with a paid Xbox Game Pass subscription.