Growing up playing Magic: The Gathering with my friends, the only thing more exciting than pulling off some epic combo victory was the feeling of opening up a booster pack and spotting some mythic rare or legendary I desperately wanted to improve my decks. Yet once I take off my nostalgia goggles, I can't help but wonder just how much money I spent gambling on packs that never paid off, trying to keep up with the latest editions and expansions.
Our latest Game of the Week, Slay the Spire on Android, threads the needle between my younger and older selves. It allows me to relive the days of building combo-filled decks of cards and taking on tough opponents. At the same time, it's not a game where you need to spend hours and tons of cash building a deck before you have a hope of winning — you're meant to dive straight into the gameplay and adjust your deck as you go.
A roguelite game with procedurally generated baddies, Slay the Spire is different from many deck-building games in that the gameplay revolves entirely around your playable character. Cards or relics can buff your PC's attack or defense stats, weaken opponents' stats, or deal direct damage — all using finite energy that regenerates after every turn. There are no creature cards, counterspells, or other mechanics that would make the gameplay more complex.
You'll slowly build up a more powerful deck as you defeat enemies, but it'll become bloated and diluted unless you remove older cards as you go.
Instead, Slay the Spire is essentially an turn-based RPG where you can only level up your attack, defense, and spells by building a better deck of abilities. With each battle victory, you win gold and the choice of one new card out of three options. Then you'll go to the overworld map and choose between taking on another baddie for more loot, recovering health or upgrading cards' abilities at a campfire, or paying a merchant to buy new cards — or to remove bad cards. You'll be tempted to just keep buying cool new cards, but if you don't use resources to erase the weak, basic cards you started with, you're bound to be stuck with them right when a tough boss is leveling a major attack against you.
At the beginning of each game, you choose one of four main characters, each of whom has their own starting cards and specific abilities. Aside from the random encounters, most of the gameplay variety comes from different deck types. You can focus on standard attacks and defense, dodging and poisoning enemies, channeling elemental orbs that strengthen attacks, or deck manipulation to find useful cards.
The small touchscreen caused some inevitable issues at first, but once you get used to the controls, you'll find them faster and more intuitive than a controller.
Assuming you've played Slay the Spire in the past, you may wonder how well this port fares on a narrow phone screen. The most obvious issue with Slay the Spire on Android is that my thumb isn't a mouse cursor, and my Pixel 3a display is too small considering how much information the game's UI needs to convey. The game defaults to Bigger Text mode, but I definitely started to feel some eye strain after squinting to read different card effects for an hour. Tapping the tiny icons for relics, potions, or status effects to figure out what they do may take a few tries to work. And if your fingers touch the edge of the phone display while you're selecting a card, you may accidentally play it when you were just trying to read it.
Despite these inevitable touchscreen issues, I still preferred it to scrolling one-by-one through my cards in the Xbox version with the joystick. The tactile feeling of switching between cards with my thumbs and swiping them at an enemy feels more natural and dynamic. And while the PC version is more accurate and less painful on the eyes, I much prefer having the option to continue my latest dungeon crawl from bed or the couch.
Of course, my colleagues at iMore named Slay the Spire one of the best iPad games for a reason. If you have a larger Android phone, or preferably an Android or Chrome OS tablet like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet to play this on, you'll benefit from the touchscreen controls while actually being able to see and read things a little better!
It may be called Slay the Spire, but it's challenging enough that most players never actually manage to "win". But the gradual difficulty spike doesn't mean the game is unfair. You just start from square one after every round, so you have to rely on your own deck-building strategies rather than XP level ups to succeed. One of the best card games for Android, Slay the Spire will call to other former deck-builders that want a strategy card game with no DLC, digital booster packs, or reliance on online multiplayer for replayability.
Game of the Week
Slay the Spire
No more booster pack FOMO
Undoubtedly one of the best new Android games in 2021, Slay the Spire gives you a map and lets you travel in any direction you choose, finding different cards, treasures, and monsters as a result. The challenging enemies, varied deck options, and excellent soundtrack all justify the price and make this fun to play and replay over and over.