Recently my love of card-based roguelikes caused me to check out these two games.
First, Loop Hero.
Loop Hero is a unique Tier 2 (Worth It) game that came out recently.
If you’re up for a unique retro-graphical semi-auto-battling rogue-like, stop reading here and go play it, as the game benefits from the highest possible degree of blindness.
At its core, you go around a loop auto-battling, as your battles give you loot in the form of better equipment and drawing cards from your deck. The cards in your deck give you more enemies to face to get more better loot, they give you bonuses, and they give you resources to take back after your foray is over. Each loop, your enemies get harder. Once you’ve played enough cards, the boss appears. When you’re done with the level, you take your resources back and improve your camp, which makes you stronger, and you go out for another meta-loop on the loop, until you win.
Loop Hero has a lot of new ideas in it, it’s easy to learn and get into, and its atmosphere and vibe are unique and cool. You make a bunch of interesting decisions, there’s a bunch to try and learn, and you can tune the challenge in various ways to keep it balanced if you’d like. The mission of ‘figure things out and win in the minimum number of expeditions’ was how I approached it, and that seemed good. A hardcore player might start from scratch to try and win as fast as possible, and that’s its own thing.
There are some issues. The graphics are very old school, and while some are done quite well, some (especially your hero icon on the map) are ugly. Half the cards you’ll draw will be terrain cards, and you’ll have to go through the process of playing them every time, which stops being interesting quickly. There’s a lot of ‘forced move’ style stuff that ends up taking up a bunch of time. And finally, once you realize what the ‘right answers’ are, things get less interesting in many sense.
If they ever make Loop Hero 2, there’s a lot of room to expand upon these ideas and make them better.
At some point I’d like to discuss this stuff in spoiler-included detail, since I find the choices interesting, but for now that’s about all you need to know.
Second, Monster Slayers and Dream Quest.
Back in 2014 there was this game called Dream Quest. Dream Quest was an awesome game, much more subtle and well balanced than it appeared. You progressed through three levels building up a deck and facing enemies that give you experience to level up and gold to spend on items, new cards and card removals when given the chance. You’d die a lot while both unlocking helpful things and learning the ropes, and when you knew what you were doing, and eventually win. Unfortunately, half of Dream Quest’s art looks like the game creator’s young child drew stick figures, because that’s exactly what did happen. It’s a great game, with only its presentation issues and the amount of essentially required dying keeping it in Tier 2. I can’t say it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like the genre and don’t mind the rough parts, it’s elite.
Then in 2017 there was a game called Monster Slayers. Monster Slayers is a Dream Quest variant, and I put it in Tier 3 (Good).
There are some new twists, some of which are clear improvements, but the core elements are all there. Three levels to navigate, need to beat a bunch of enemies with various decks at various levels to get the XP to level up to face the boss, various things that boost you, standard issue rogue deckbuilding with a lot of the same elements and so on.
Monster Slayers makes the formula more user-friendly, easier on the eyes and easier to get into. Also easier period, if you at all know what you are doing, and that’s the problem. What felt like interesting tension in Dream Quest, making sure you could plan for the long term without dying now, and navigating your way through, feels like busywork in Monster Slayers, because you’re not under threat unless you mess up and face one of the few dangerous enemies at the wrong time.
And those fights can take quite a while, especially if you’re playing a defensive class. You’ll be clicking on your cards a lot. The reason things take so long is largely that the clearly correct strategy for every class seems to involve a lot of card draw and cycling through your deck, for reasons that any veteran of the genre should find very obvious. There’s essentially a ‘correct’ way to navigate things, and it’s not that hard to do it. Sure, occasionally you mess up, either you get restless or you don’t understand things, or you run into one of the few dangerous enemies without being equipped for it, so I only ‘won’ 4 of my 8 runs with 5 different base characters – I lost the first 2 while learning the rules, I lost the 3rd to running into something that killed me out of nowhere, and the 4th because I got complacent cause things were so slow and I didn’t have the heart to rewind a bit even though I had that available.
Did I enjoy my time with Monster Slayers? I enjoyed the first maybe two-thirds of it on net. But it definitely kept giving me the ‘go semi-infinite’ and ‘draw your whole deck every turn’ hits past the point where I was actually still enjoying it, and was finding it mostly tedious, so I won’t be exploring the other 7+ classes.
Still, it’s cheap, so check it out. But check out Dream Quest first/instead, cause it’s a better game.