I love card battlers and deckbuilders. I don’t even have to be building a deck to enjoy the strategy some card games employ. I think my love affair started with Magic: The Gathering, and was reignited by Sentinels of the Multiverse. Well, then along game Slay the Spire and I had a bit of an obsession for a while. But any chance I have to try out a new card game, I jump at the opportunity. So when I saw Deck of Ashes with its compelling art style, I absolutely wanted to give it a shot.
Deck of Ashes is a card battling roleplaying game with some Rogue in there somewhere. Unlike recent favorites like Slay the Spire and Monster Train, Deck of Ashes– for better or worse–really takes the card battling genre into its own direction. While games like Slay the Spire and Monster Train give you branching choices, Deck of Ashes reminds me more of something like Deep Sky Derelicts—a roguelike, with card-based combat. But unlike Deep Sky Derelicts, where your items/armors/weapons assign new cards, Deck of Ashes is one hundred percent a deckbuilder.
In Deck of Ashes there are three heroes you can choose to play as, each with a unique playstyle and corresponding decks. The three most common types are represented: the caster, the rogue, and the warrior. The caster is voiced by someone doing an edgy Grey DeLisle impression, and has a whole retinue of fire spells at her disposal. The rogue slashes with lots of small damage attacks, and the occasional poison or other debuff. The warrior deviates most from what you’d expect—he has a pet that can attack and buff, as well as the expected high damage attacks.
Deck of Ashes has higher stakes than a lot of card games I’ve played. Every card you play is a resource that is used, and it’s being balanced against your own health and time. You see, you’re always on a timer. Every location you choose to visit in the overworld map takes some of that time. Most cards you use in battle are literally burnt to ash, instead of being put into a discard pile that shuffles back into your normal hand. In order to get your cards (randomly, until upgraded) given back to you from your ash pile, you have to sacrifice your own health during a battle. After the battle you can choose to rest or renew cards, based on how many recovery points you have.
Exploring the map gets you random events, and chances to learn new card recipes. But the thing is, you don’t get a card for unlocking a chest, or successfully navigating a random event. You get a recipe that you then have to spend currency on to make into a card. Therefore, there’s no joy in getting a new card recipe, like in other games where getting a new chance at cards is like opening a new deck. Deckbuilders are great for the options they give you. Finding a new card can be a joy, especially one that increases synergy with an existing build. One of my favorite parts of deckbuilders is getting an incredibly overpowered deck, and seeing how that handles against what you know will be an almost impossible boss. Deck of Ashes tries to reinvent the wheel to such a degree that it undoes a lot of the more fun parts of deckbuilders.
Deck of Ashes has a great, grim dark art style that goes perfectly with its apocalyptic world. It does take itself a little too seriously, though. The voice acting is good, but the actors really went for it, and the takes sound just one notch too far into “hammy.” Despite the art being compelling, the battles themselves feel a little lackluster. The sound are weak, and the animations are very paper doll, and uninteresting. But that’s something I forgave Slay the Spire for.
This isn’t a final verdict. Deck of Ashes is in Early Access until June 9th, so it’s possible that changes will be made before release But there’s just something fundamentally unfun about the base mechanics and gameplay loop, I fear that there’s not much that can be done. I’ll definitely check out Deck of Ashes for a full review when it releases in a couple of weeks.
Deck of Ashes is in Early Access and available now, with its full release scheduled for June 9th.
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