Spellsword Cards: Dungeon Top (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was a very trepid warrior indeed. I skulked through the dungeon, throwing myself at the enemy more out of blind terror than bravery, and wondered, as my skull was split by a goblin axe, why the people I commanded kept dying.

And then Jamie realised you could move and attack. Whoops!

This pair of cards is about to make my life rather difficult.

So yes, Spellsword Cards has, as you might imagine, cards. And a mana system. And loot, which just so happens to be cards to add to your starting deck… And enemies, each with their own deck. But these cards are most often minions, with a few spells, weapons and treasures into the mix. And fights aren’t just “Play card, hit guy with card, win if guy dead, lose if you’re dead.” They’re small, turn-based tactics arenas, in which carefully putting minions into play is the difference between life… And death.

Okay, so you do have to kill the other’s leader, and not have yours die, but there’s more to it than that, is what I’m saying.

Of course, you can pretty much expect death, and a fair amount of it. It is a roguelike, after all. Whether that’s from ranged enemies, the occasional wizard (I encountered one whose entire deck was “Fuck you, splash damage.” Beat that one down as quick as you can, he gets stronger the longer the fight goes on), or… The bosses.

He can attack all horizontally or vertically adjacent tiles at once. Plan around this, or you will die.

Let’s take the example of the Ogre. Oh boy, is he tough. He’s not unbeatable, but whenever he attacks, he attacks everyone around him, can do 5 damage to the Hero(ine) unless they have block on every other turn, and, every other turn, gets 4 Block. Add in that he will have slightly less than 3 times the max health you have, and… He’s a bit of a bastard. As to the second boss? Well, currently, level 2 is where the gauntlets not only come off, but make you slap yourself while loudly wondering why you’re still hitting yourself. An example enemy here would be Fire Titans, which cause burn every turn, and can do a chain attack when someone’s burning. Pack yourselves close, get mullered. Spread out, and his lava minions might murder you instead.

It does ease you in, however, and it’s got some interesting synergies going on, in both the main decks currently available as the Warrior, and the Sorceress. The Helm deck is mostly about building up overwhelming damage, while the Karim deck is about sacrificing units to buff or summon other units. As with other deckbuilding roguelikes, decks can become bloated… But apart from spells and potions coming and going before you actually need them (your hand gets discarded at the end of every turn), you can still work with the 3 cards you get each turn in some fashion… Even if it’s not the potbuster you wanted, it can still protect your hero, or do some damage to the enemy hero.

Proof that I even got this far. Because hey, I am good at videogames! Sometimes!

Accessibility wise, right now, my main bitch is that the main menu is too small. I know there’s a lot of items there, and I know folks love to have a good splash screen, but… It could definitely do with being bigger. Maybe fold some of those items like cheevo progress, the card library, and the rulebook into… A “codex” option, as a starting suggestion? Oh, and Tutorial into New Hero (the equivalent of New Game) In any case, if folks are curious as to what’s coming, the library does mention a third class (Rogue, because of course they’re going Warrior, Wizard, Thief), and 3 factions not currently in the game (Although only the names, so… I won’t be able to tell you what they do until the next review, be it early access or release.) Basically, a UI/tooltip/text scale would be nice, thanks. Status symbols are quite small, but there are tooltips, so… waves hand… That one somewhat evens out.

But otherwise, it’s a fairly easy to learn game, it has a good, inked visual style, fairly good music, the enemy decks are enemy specific, and currently, the enemies are easy to learn in each level, with a small selection of what’s in a level, and one boss per level (of the 3 currently in the game. No idea if that’ll be the lot.) Fair amount of replay value, interesting decks, lots of potential things to see in each one, and a good aesthetic make this one… Definitely one worth taking a look at, if you like small unit, turn-based tactics and card based roguelikes.

No, readers, there are no Dungeon Tops in this Dungeon Top game to my knowledge. It’s as disappointing to me as it is to you.

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Destiny or Fate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It:Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

It just doesn’t seem to be my month for games coming out of Early Access. It seems it’s… Fated to be a grim one. Because yes, Destiny or Fate is another one which… Hasn’t really done much to correct the issues I talked about last time.

Oh gee, I love all party attacks on a regular basis! [said through gritted teeth]

When it goes well, it goes well. When it doesn’t, it’s a bloody mess, and a tedious slog. Because there’s not much return on your 3 energy, a lot of the time, special abilities vary wildly in utility, levelling up and buying cards is a grindy affair when you don’t actually have room to grind… And bosses… Ohhhh, bosses…

As defence stacks, some bosses have absolutely ridiculous defence that, sometimes, can’t even be broken through with every special used, and focusing on attack (A dangerous strategy at best.) Some curse the hell out of you, so you have to win the fight quickly, but… Whoop, this particular guy is showing that he’s going to lay down two counter attacks, sod! Enemies do show you what they’re going to do, and this can definitely help in not-boss fights… But bosses are just bastards, and it’s not often at all I reach the second area… Not least because even normal enemies can, if fights go even halfway badly, result in a total party wipe. Because a surprising amount of things have “Attack all” to some degree or another.

While we’re on the subject of enemies… Two of these look awfully familiar.

There remains, as far as I know, one JRPGish battle tune, which becomes wearing incredibly quickly, as does going through the first area several times. The first area… Of five.

Honestly, the most trouble I’ve had with this review is that, because nearly everything I’ve said in the last one, a year ago, remains true (That it’s humdrum in presentation, poorly balanced, wears quickly, and seemingly doesn’t seem to want me to explore its systems), and… What can I say to add to that? Not a whole lot.

This is, in short, a game I can’t even really recommend to experience procgen, card battler players. The few things you unlock mid game don’t stay unlocked, except for hero(in)es, and it’s not worth the grind to try and keep them both alive and levelled. I don’t often say a game is outright bad, but… This is definitely one of those times.

The Mad Welshman’s lot in life is mostly set. He thinks it was because he stole Fate’s lunch money in school. Look, sorry Fate, can I get a leg-up?

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Siberian Dawn

Source: Review Copy
Price: Free (£2.99 for Mission Pack 1. And yes, it is apparently possible to get F2P review codes.)
Where To Get It: Steam

Siberian Dawn is, sad to say, a frustrating experience. It has a tutorial, it’s true. A long, multifaceted tutorial that takes the steps in isolation. But when it comes to putting it all together? There’s no helping, beyond a brief help screen that… Isn’t actually that helpful. No tooltips. And… Look, let’s talk about the basics, then we can get into problems, and possible solutions.

The, er… Help overlay. It does, to be fair, contain a lot of information.

Siberian Dawn is a turn-based tactical card game set in an alternate universe where a russian empire is being assaulted by… Its own robots, seemingly. It has several missions in the base game, and some more in a DLC pack. The unit art is somewhat interesting, even if the UI is… Well, it shifts in and out of visibility on the menu and some of the screens, and, while I’m sure it’s meant to be reminiscent of technology that doesn’t quite work, all it really does is annoy. Finally in the aesthetic end, the music is an ambient loop, which, on the one hand, is suitably threatening. But, by association, it quickly becomes tiresome. Association with what?

Well, with the frustration of playing. As has already been mentioned, the help screen isn’t terribly useful, and the tutorials remove context, while also setting up ideal conditions that… Just don’t exist in the actual missions. A really basic example: Tactics cost command points. Units cost either command points or money to buy, but they also cost Command Points to deploy. And the hand size is based on your rank, while resources “dropped” do not stay outside of their turn. And, since a unit is put into the resource hand, it’s not actually guaranteed you have the resources to play it even if it’s in the hand.

Since the slot unlocked for your first soldier is set before the first turn… Well, this was effecitvely pre-ordained…

Meanwhile, these robots? No such limitations. They turn up, once a turn, in the first mission, and… Well, the screenshot above says it all, really. Except it doesn’t, because you’d need to correlate the screenshot with the “help” screen to know what the hell is what. There is a mechanic to somewhat help with this, but it’s a painful one: Glory (that’s the G) can be spent to buy command points. But once it goes down to 0, your Command Rank (The R) goes down by 1, which may bar you from getting units. So, generally speaking, robots attack with impunity, while your own units… Not so much. It’s a pretty severe balance issue, and a multifaceted one that doesn’t fully make sense at that. You’ve hired a unit, why… Why do you need extra resources to both deploy the card, and make it attack?

There’s other elements that lack clarity (Well, the majority lacks clarity), so… Honestly, I can’t really recommend this one, even with the base game being free to play, and the Mission DLC being cheap. The mechanics are not taught well, and rely on memorising a long tutorial, the balance is decidedly toward the enemies (You may notice, in this screenshot, Mk 4 robots. They have a defence equal to their rank, as far as I’m aware. So, er, good luck with that!) It just isn’t fun to play from the get go.

The Mad Welshman has excellent bala-WHOOP!

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Nowhere Prophet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49 (£27.79 for all gubbins, £11.39 for soundtrack, artbook, and other gubbins)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO
Other Reviews: Early Access 1, Early Access 2

Nowhere Prophet has, over the course of its Early Access, been a promising, but sometimes frustrating ride. And with release? Well, there’s some improvement, including rejigging what the difficulty settings tell you, introducing and then toning down bosses for each checkpoint along the way to The Crypt, supposedly the salvation of this post-apocalyptic, Indian themed landscape, and rejigging items to create a more manageable version of the Leader decks, along with special abilities that can be used once a battle.

Aaaaaa, I got here, I got here! (and then never since. Oh Boo.)

In short, Nowhere Prophet has changed quite a bit from when I last reviewed it, and, on reflection, these changes are good, especially after some of the bosses have been toned down.

Because, hot damn, they were frustrating a day or so ago. To recap, Nowhere Prophet is a turn based game in which you balance food and hope versus progress and better gear, and the life of your followers versus your own life, because, in the fights, it’s a Hearthstone style of “Play units, play leader cards, get one more energy than the last turn, and your goal is to kill the leader.” There, a nice executive summary.

What complaints I have essentially still remain: Some decks are damn good, especially in the enemy’s hands, and the AI plays its deck well, grinding you down quite efficiently. Which is why the difficulty setting restatement is welcome: The AI does not play any better or worse on any difficulty, but does have less synergy in their own decks, and less powerful cards. On “Burdened” difficulty (Previously described as “Normal”), some of those decks can be, for want of a better word, bloody evil. But I’ve talked about things like Taunt and Armour boys before, so we’ll instead move on to bosses.

Oh no. Oh no. I am not ready for taunt/armourboi funtimes!

As mentioned, each checkpoint now has a boss fight, against one of 10 bosses (One for each of the factions), and the toning down has been good, because previously, some were intriguing, but many were downright frustrating, like the Union Bulwark essentially being the ultimate Taunt-Armour Boy, or the Blue Devil Tormented’s ability to level up all of his hand if you murder one of his folks. Now, those abilities are toned down, and, in some cases, limited to once a turn, for a limited number of turns, or both. Which means I can actually be excited about King Lizard’s clever trick without looking like a masochist.

King Lizard, on release, essentially straight up wounded/killed whoever attacked him when he didn’t have armour (Your Leader cards don’t count.) But now, it’s only the first unit a turn, and that is still tactical (Who do I sacrifice for the most gain?) without, for example, waiting to buff up some of your units so they really count toward that goal. Each has their own schtick, and it’s relatively easy to understand from the tooltips and what you’ve encountered of a faction.

Okay, so maybe I was. But I wasn’t in shape for what came next, and died.

I will say that, while there’s definitely a lot of replay value (even having beaten the game, there’s more I want to find), the final unlockable ability of convoys is brought about by beating… 25 bosses. And that, honestly, is expecting a bit much, considering there’s nine tribes to unlock this for, and four leaders, some of which you can only unlock through certain circumstances.

Still, overall, it’s visually impressive, its music is good, and even with that brief day one hiccup, it shows promise, with its daily challenges adding a little spice to the game. I would recommend this, because it does have some clever ideas, and playing it on the easier settings is not a guilt trip.

The Mad Welshman says Rusters are People too. This is in no way due to the nanocontrollers in his head.

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Deck of Ashes (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£5.19 each for OST and Print-Ready Posters)
Where To Get It: Steam

At first, I was honestly a little unconvinced by Deck of Ashes. Grimdark world, of grimness and darkness and fire? Hrm. Relatively small deck you have to build up, and if you run out of cards, you lose health to regain some? Hrrrrrm. A limited amount of time in each area before you have to fight the boss? Hrrrrm? Health and cards burned stick with you, and you can only regain a limited amount of them, balancing cards regained versus healing? Aaargh.

Oh dear, out of cards. Time to… Take the pact. Again. The early game is the roughest part.

But then I gave it a serious chance after some unfortunate runs early on, and… While it looks intimidating, only the boss or elite fights take a fair chunk of time, and it’s not nearly as bad as how it seems at first glance (Although yes, the difficulty does ramp up fairly quickly areawise, as you’d somewhat expect from these procgen card fighting titles.) And some of its ideas really play into its idea of a world fighting against you, and that the bosses are powerful, corrupted entities that, given a choice, you’d probably run from.

For example, bosses can, in the later stages of each area, just… Blow up an area, and if it’s somewhere you wanted to go, well… Sorry. The resting is also more reasonable than it sounds, as quick fights rarely req uire more than 5 cards, which leaves you with 20 percent health to recover. Harder fights, obviously, require more than that, and it’s that grind that leaves you worried, but health cards have been pretty good, and a per-turn limit of cards, obviously, helps a little too. Although it would be nice to fry an enemy in a single turn, it honestly works better this way.

I should mention, at this point, that some of the enemies like succubi are nude in some fashion. Just so’s you know.

Aesthetically, well… It’s grim, but not necessarily all that dark, saturated colours really making the enemy designs pop, with at least some impact when cards hit. Status symbols could maybe do with being a bit more clear, though. The maps are fine, the cards are clear, and the controls are all mouse based. Finally, the soundtrack is, as you’d expect, grim horns, violins… You know what you’re in for with grimdark games, I’ll definitely give them that.

While it does need some polish and balance, right now, Deck of Ashes is, as noted, less intimidating than it looks, and isn’t a bad card battler, all told.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t really like pacts. He doesn’t like a devilish deal he can’t wriggle out of villainously, you see.

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