Review: “Slay the Spire”

(I should start by saying that I’ve never played the most popular deck-building games like Magic: The Gathering, so I don’t know how much of this game is innovation and how much is convention. I am writing another post about the game’s rule system.)

Slay the Spire is a “roguelike” virtual card game with a sword-and-sorcery theme. I would say my favorite aspect of this game is its approachable complexity. It has 4 playable characters (the most recent was added in January 2020). Each character has a different deck, which largely determines their powers and abilities, but some have unique gameplay mechanics which are (normally) unavailable to the others. The play strategies are thus very different for each.

The following is a gameplay trailer. It won’t give you a complete picture of the game, unless you freeze every frame, but it will at least give you a sense of the game’s flavor.

You start with the most basic cards and “level up” by acquiring more powerful cards by defeating enemies in combat, purchasing them from merchants, and simply finding them as you explore the dungeon. You can also collect potions, which are single-use, and relics, which add passive abilities, some of them relatively complex (such as clearing all your negative effects if you play a card of each type during a single turn).

The artwork is not the slickest, but it’s good enough for its flaws to look endearing. (Keep in mind this was developed by a small studio.) They’ve offset this by applying a lot of visual polish. For example, each character and monster have a single set of bitmaps which are animated through deformations (e.g., a writhing, pouncing snake is just a straight snake that’s twisted into the appropriate poses; one character has a sash which blows in the wind). Cards act as though they exist in 3D. And over time, the game has gone from plainer to more detailed images. Occasionally I’ll notice that they’ve added minor details like flickering torches, more elaborate wall carvings, or dust falling from the rafters.

The soundtrack, by classically-trained composer Clark Aboud, is simply beautiful. It’s arranged as though for a small orchestra with synths, and could work as the score for an adventure film. (Contrast this with the music in Gratuitous Space Battles, which sounds like a pastiche of sci-fi movie soundtracks.)

The variety in play styles adds a lot to the game, and it’s interesting to experiment with different strategies. The initial character, the Ironclad, can rely on simple might. Others depend more on passive effects, such as poison (the Silent), and on strategically spending action points in the current turn to gain more in future turns. The Defect has a collection of slots which can hold passive actions, some of which are latent and become stronger over time. The Watcher can assume various “stances”, some of which increase attack strength at the cost of increased vulnerability; this adds risk, since it is not always possible to change stances in a given turn. Adding a new character to the game requires a lot of work because completely new game mechanics are being introduced, and these must be fine-tuned so that they are neither too easy nor too hard to play.

Although the game is different each time, there are still only three levels and about 50 random encounters. These sometimes add surprising new elements, such as turning the character into a vampire — weakened, but with the ability to heal by feeding. Still, I wish there were more of them, considering how many hundreds of times a fan is likely to play through the game. They hint at a strong backstory that could easily be developed further.

Verdict: if you like complex strategy games with rule expansions over time, you should definitely check this out.

Status update

  • Living in the Seattle suburbs with girlfriend and her teenager.
  • Cats: 1. Cats in household: 6. We are super-saturated with cats.
  • Employment: still at Skytap. Just had 8th anniversary (!!).
  • Emotional state: fair. Still need to lose 25 pounds so I can get off some medication, and I’ve scarcely exercised since my iPad broke a couple of years ago (was using with my exercise bike). But I did manage to get a head start on my current project at work, so I am functioning.
  • Hobbies:
    • Comics: effectively nothing (did another page of Baker’s Parallel last year).
    • Writing: none. I’ve started reading Harry Potter at the encouragement of a friend, as well as The Last Detective.
    • Games: fits and starts. I’ve been playing Slay the Spire , and was impressed enough by the rules engine that I prototyped a clone in Ruby (text-only), then ported most of that to C#, with the goal of turning it into a playable game (as a portfolio piece, not sellable as a clone). However, Unity3D is as clumsy as I remember from last time.
  • Covid-19 status: unknown, but I’m getting pretty low exposure. Washington started shutting down sooner than most states, thankfully, so I’ve working from home for about a month, and school closed about a week later. My girlfriend wears a mask when she goes out (just homemade, but better than nothing).
  • Current goals, now that the sun is out again: exercise, writing.

GoDaddy spam filtering

GoDaddy sent out a notification about a critical upgrade for WordPress, so I’m taking a moment to update a few things — replace the Twitter widget, look sadly at the generic site theme and lack of activity. I’m looking at other hosting providers again.

I do not get a lot of spam. GoDaddy apparently has two different spam filters in place; one is user-configurable, one is not. The configurable one is set to mark suspected junk mail with “SPAM” in the subject line. It likes to mark Twitter notifications and GoDaddy billing statements as junk mail — slightly dense but mostly harmless.

The other spam filter is upstream and is not configurable; it automatically notifies the sender that the email was undeliverable. Although this shields users from an endless deluge of junk mail, it also discards legitimate email without the user’s knowledge. For example, the upstream server decided that Twitter notifications for one of my other accounts were spam, possibly because it goes to the catch-all account instead of the main address.

Unfortunately, the billing statements get through the upstream filter just fine.

Crash Blossom

I published my first comic last year. Crash Blossom: Monorail was released at the Jet City Comic Show on September 22, 2012.

And by “published” I mean a limited run of 40 copies, hand-folded by the author. “Crash Blossom” was supposed to be an anthology, but as it turns out there were only two of us who made the deadline, and I was absolutely determined to get something in print.

The artwork is not beautiful. I redid most of it several times, because every time I thought it was finished, my skill level would double and I’d want to throw the old crap away and replace it with slightly less crappy crap. The writing was generally more well received.

This was my first comics project in my adult life, and despite how amateurish it looks now, it was my absolute best, and I’m proud of it.

Changed jobs

The following had been sitting in my drafts folder since March 2012.

After 19 months at Lockerz, I’ve made the jump to another Seattle startup called Skytap. They provide “cloud automation solutions,” basically a tool that allows you to create weather on the fly. 😉 Ahh, too tired to explain cloud computing.

I was excited about the job for a few reasons:

  1. New technology: Ruby on Rails, backbone.js
  2. Better setup for front-end development … mock services, and using our own tools to create test environments. For example, I can fire up IE6 in a virtual machine in the cloud, connect to the VPN, and view the Rails site on my own desktop. Top that.
  3. Better planning. We typically do one release per month.


Still alive

Yep. Unlike some people, I am still alive as of this writing. Also, I finished the single-player campaign in Portal 2. The game itself felt too short, even at more than double the length of the original; I don’t think they could have made it long enough to do it justice. The ending was suitably weird, even compared to the original. I won’t link to it here due to massive spoilers (you can find it on YouTube).

Some backstory can be found in this comic about Doug Rattmann, the delusional Aperture Science engineer who survived the events surrounding GLaDOS‘ activation.

EDIT: Okay, okay. Since those last two links at Combine OverWiki also contain lots of spoilers, here is the Portal 2 ending video. But it will make absolutely no sense if you haven’t played at least through Chapter 5 of the game.

Fan Week is coming

When I was interviewing at Amazon, my manager-to-be explained that nobody had air conditioners here in Seattle, because it was only hot enough to justify owning one for about one week during the year. Coming from Florida as he had, this was no summer at all.

The weather here did make a difference in my relocation from California. I spent my childhood in the midwest, and while I don’t miss the hot sticky summers, I liked the summer rain. I missed the change in the air, the thunder rolling across the fields, and the way everything smelled after it was over.[1]

My first Fan Week was in 2006. It was taking a long time to unpack my things, so I had the fan but not the cover. The first time I ran it, the cord from the venetian blinds got caught in the blades. Etc.

  1. Smell that? … [The] smell of spring. All green and full of possibility. — Dr. Morgenstern, “Shades Of Gray” (ER, S04E19)