A New Generation of Deck Building Games in Early Access

A New Generation of Deck Building Games in Early Access

A new generation of deck building games have arrived in Early Access, bringing innovation to the modern genre. Deck building games are of a style that focus primarily on strategically building a deck of powerful cards. Games like Magic: the Gathering and Dominion have been longstanding examples of deck building games.

Recently, deck building has bean creeping more and more in the spotlight. This saw deck building elements become increasingly incorporated in video games and has proven to be highly successful. An obvious example is how Magic: the Gathering has become completely incorporated into a virtual setting, with Magic the Gathering: Arena. Beyond that, we have seen games, like the award winning The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, introduce deck building games into larger games. Gwent has been so successful and renowned, it earned its own standalone game.

Additionally, we have seen independent (also known as indie) game developers flourish in this genre. One of the most notable is Slay the Spire, by Mega Crit Games. Mega Crit Games is a small game developer based in Seattle, WA.

With a new generation of deck building Games coming to Steam in Early Access, we’ve listed a few what we’re looking forward to.

Hadean Tactics, Infernal Cards and Strategic Combat

Hadean Tactics is a roguelike deck building game fused with autobattler elements to create a unique strategy experience.

Steam Store Page Description

Developed and published by the two-person, Brazilian team, Emberfish

In Hadean Tactics, you must escape the various levels of Hell by building your deck with powerful cards. Your goal is to travel to each of six levels, and battle through increasingly difficult opponents to defeat the Six Wings of Hell. You have many tools at your disposal. The campaign, or run, will allow you to obtain new cards and refine your combatants and deck.

Fresh Faced and Full of Potential

This deck building game is incredibly new to Early Access, having only just come to Steam on January 25, 2021. Its young state means that there is a lot of content in store, and the developers are actively updating the game.

The player can currently select the hero Deucalion, the Inquisitor. He is a vengeful warrior wielding a massive axe. The game promises a new hero coming soon, with the silhouette of a knight wielding a sword and shield. 

New Run, Who ‘Dis?

Runs have many randomized elements to them. This ensures each playthrough is never alike. Each attempt is displayed on the stage map, which consists of branching paths with nodes representing different events. Nodes can be fights, scripted encounters allowing you to choose between several options, shops, and other events. At the end of each stage, all paths converge on the final boss fight. The final stage is a challenging encounter that puts your previous efforts to the test.

An example of one of the levels in Hadean Tactics. Including multiple branching paths that lead to various nodes that represent encounters.

Each stage has multiple branching paths, filled with different kinds of encounters

Strategic Influence and Auto-Battle

Strategic combat is one of the main pillars of the game. It is separated into phases that mix together the different aspects that make this game unique. First, you select your Party from your Bench, there is a long list of potential allies you can obtain. You can recruit undead warriors, spell slinging demons, and self-replicating gargoyles (also a good band name). Each ally has their own strengths and weaknesses. However, you have a limited party, starting off with only three slots, including your Hero. Those not in your party will stay on the Bench until swapped in for another unit.

Once combat has started, you will swap between the paused Tactical and Draw Phase, and the automatic Combat Phase. In the Tactical Phase, you draw a hand of cards from your deck and play them. This allows you to directly influence the next Combat Phase. You give buffs to your combatants, shift the battlefield in your favour, or directly cause damage to enemies or heal allies. You have a limited capacity for using the cards however, a resource called Energy. Each card has an Energy Cost, so you must be selective of which cards you use.

Example of the Draw Phase of Hadean Tactic's combat. A battle board is used to represent units and their locations, and the bottom of the screen contains the drawn hand and current/total Energy Points.

Unlock more powerful units, and the ability to have larger teams, throughout your escape attempt

Seven Seconds in Hell

Following each Tactical Phase, you enter Active Combat, where the fight takes place automatically over 7 seconds. During this time, your units will battle the nearest enemy. They will use their unique abilities when they are available. The game’s strategic element lies in influencing combat from afar. Like a General watching a battlefield, you see how your choices affect the flow of battle.

An Abyssal Arsenal and Choices to Match

The game has a large library of cards for you to find in your runs. Spell Cards, like Dagger Throw, allow you to directly damage or heal units on the battlefield. Enchant Cards, such as Might, grant buffs to your party. Artifice Cards, like Cross Slide, let you influence the field of combat itself; these manipulate units and tips the balance in your favour.  

Fights offer gold and other rewards. More challenging fights result in larger and more valuable rewards. Although harder fights might strain your units’ health, the prizes they offer can greatly affect future encounters.  

One of my favourite aspects of this game is the random encounter nodes on every map. These are represented by a large question mark. Selecting these has a chance of sparking other nodes, such as the Shop or potential upgrades. However, my favourite encounter is a story encounter. In these encounters, you are given a brief snippet of something or someone your Hero encounters in the disparate layers of Hell. These scenarios offer you a choice, where both options have their own merits and risks. Some offer Relics that act as passive boons and banes, like the Parasite Relic.

Hadean Tactics Focuses on Strategic Planning and Forethought

However, the game is still very early on in development. This means that it lacks in content what many other games have upon official release.

Regardless, despite being in Early Access Hadean Tactics has a lot to offer. It has a strong and durable structure. It uses addictive deck building mixed with strategic combat and surprisingly fun and challenging battles. With the introduction of new heroes, allies, cards, and more, the game has great potential. 

GordianQuest, Classic Yet Refreshing

An epic RPG inspired by old-school classics like Ultima and Wizardry, using modern gaming concepts like deckbuilding and turn-based strategic combat.

Steam Store Page

GordianQuest is a fun and addictive game that beautifully ties together traditional RPG elements and strategic combat with a myriad of cards and playstyles. You will discover and develop your own personal playstyle, and grow your team to show that.

Progression feels well-paced, with an interesting levelling up system and the ability to shape your deck. Levelling up is exciting and manages to use a procedurally generated grid system to excellent effect. GordianQuest combines deck building and roguelike mechanics to make a compelling and aesthetically pleasing game.

In game photo of GordianQuest's Combat. Initiative order in on top, the center screen shows locations of allies and enemies, as well as traps. Each unit and trap takes one space on the board.

Combat in GordianQuest takes place on a board, where each unit and trap takes space on a Node.

Deck Building Synergy at its Finest

The deck based combat feels effective and satisfying. Being able to combo together powerful boons, debuffs, and attacks that obliterate the enemy team feels fantastic. With the variety of interesting cards, the game has a strong basis that can be further refined and improved.

However, combat has a tendency to feel repetitive. Drawing the same handful of cards against the same hoard of zombies and bandits can feel drawn out. The team plans on combating this by periodically adding cards and abilities that allow players to refine their decks as well as giving it some fresh life. New enemy types will also be included, offering more variety to the combat scenarios.

Degrees of Roguelike

GordianQuest also has two game modes. First is a long form, story-based campaign. This mode can take anywhere between 10 to 20 hours in its current state. The team is actively working on the Third Act. This means to bring a close to the main story.

In Campaign Mode, you choose one main character for a story-based adventure. The campaign has two major acts, that take place in the battle-wracked region of Westmire, and the sand-swept Azul Desert. Act Three is the next major patch to come into Early Access in late 2021. The story itself is classic and interesting. However, the weight of the story and the stakes can feel lacklustre when most fights feel too similar.

Additionally, a Realm Mode was introduced that exemplifies the game’s Roguelike aspects. Player feedback was actually the cause of Realm Mode. In this, you pick a group of three Heroes, and battle through stages full of enemies and other encounters. Each Stage culminates in a daunting Boss Encounter.

All your runs, both in Campaign and Realm Mode, tie together. This connecting element is called a “meta game”. Every time you play, you gather a resource called Renown. After you complete your run, whether by choice, completion, or death, you can spend Renown. This unlocks unique Artefacts. With these items, you unlock boons that will help you in future runs. Examples include, the Quickening Charm that raises all Hero’s Dexterity by 1, and the Golden Goblet which increases gold earned. There is a massive amount of unlockable Artefacts, with even more coming in future updates.

Our Heroes and Their Archetypes

Featured Left to Right: Jendaya, Alphonse, and Catherin

The game offers a host of different Heroes. Each hero has unique talents and abilities that are distinct from one another. All are based on traditional fantasy tropes and archetypes, from the sword-wielding Swordhand, to the divine-empowered Cleric, to the awe-inspiring Bard. I would love to see what other heroes the team will introduce in the future. A more diverse roster would be great, as well as seeing other variations of classic fantasy archetypes.

Each character has their own personality. This is one aspect the dev team plans on bringing more to the forefront as the game advances through Early Access. I am especially looking forward to this. Playing through with my first party of Lucius, Bertram, and Alphonse, I grew to deeply care for them and their gatherings around the campfire.

GordianQuest is a Beautiful Love Letter to Fantasy Role Playing Games, With Addictive Deck Building and Endearing Characters

GordianQuest shines with its deck building and character progression. With more content in store for us in the future, the game is genuinely promising.

Griftlands, Sci-Fi Rogues and Their Consequences

… deck-building roguelike where you negotiate, fight, and steal or otherwise persuade others to get your way.

Steam Store Page

Griftlands is a highly entertaining and innovative game. It is developed and published by Klei Entertainment.

Griftlands takes place in a gritty world that doesn’t sacrifice creativity. It blends together bright colours and the desperate, corrupt, and worn down setting of the eponymous Griftlands. The game manages to take the classic deck building mechanics and adds something new and exciting to the emerging genre.

A Duality in Deck Building

Griftlands‘ most interesting aspect is the twist on combat and decks. You have two different decks. One is dedicated to traditional combat which includes cards you might find in many other games. The second kind is devoted to social interactions.

The effect: you shift between the two game styles. Each has their own merits and consequences. While the two decks have similar goals – get your way by playing your cards – the game mechanics differ significantly. This makes switching between the different kinds of encounters exciting and refreshing.

Accordingly, your character has two different health resources. First is the classic Health Total. This number is affected by taking damage in combat. The second is Resolve. This number represents your character’s mental fortitude and is reduced during social interactions.

Yet neither Health nor Resolve recover between encounters. This means you have to carefully manage these slowly (or in my case, rapidly) dwindling numbers to stay afloat. You might get lucky and find limited time encounters to restore these. Alternatively, Health is restored by eating food bought at bars or inns, while Resolve is restored through drinking spirits. However, both come with risks. Eating food puts a Bloated card in your deck, because eating a reasonable amount is for chumps. While drinking naturally puts Tipsy and Slurred Speech cards into both your negotiation and combat decks – don’t drink, kids.

The social encounters are one of the more innovative aspects of this game. I felt genuinely excited when I was trying it out, as I’ve never actually seen negotiations done in this way in any other video game. This side of the game is as complex and compelling as the action-packed combat with blaster pistols and energy knives.

Why Must My Actions Have Consequences?

Griftlands is all about player choice. When you perform your jobs, you are usually given the choice of how to deal with your foes: either with a blade or a silver tongue. Within those options lie even more choices.

In combat, you have the option of striking the final blow or letting the enemy flee. Both have repercussions, as killing someone outright actually bears weight in this world. Both enemies and allies have a Panic Threshold. When the individual loses a specified number of Health Points, it triggers the Panic Threshold. When reduced to their Panic Threshold, they will either surrender or attempt to flee. This is where you can choose to spare them, or end it.

On the other hand, social interactions also provide their own options. Unlike combat, these are not life or death, but are still impactful to the rest of the game. These choices boil down to which cards you play. Do you go for the Negotiation Cards for the smooth talking, silver tongued rogue? Or do you back your arguments with thinly veiled threats and an imposing presence? Going one route does not negate the cards of the other. However, as you play through the various social encounters, you’ll see that some tactics work better in different situations and with different people.

Shows an in-game photo of the main character, Sal Farron, in a debate with a yellow, slug-like alien named Pazlock. In the center of the photo are the two characters as well as game information. The bottom of the screen shows what cards are available to play.

A Massive World in a Little Box

The World of Griftlands is massive and incredibly in depth, especially for a game in Early Access. The development team manages to do a lot with very little. You might hop around from location to location, but every place feels unique and authentic. Everyone you meet has a little narrative quote, giving a little more insight into that individual. The game has a surprisingly deep yet uncomplicated relationship system.

As you explore the world, you have many chances to spend time (and usually a few coins for a drink or two) with the people you meet. In the world of Griftlands, friends come in many shapes and sizes, and offer more than just polite conversation. Some will help you in encounters, both social and combat. Others will help by getting rid of potential threats that could cause a problem down the line. Furthermore, friends often offer discounts at their shops, making it easier to upgrade your decks or restore valuable resources.

These interactions are short and sweet, and makes the game world feel full and alive. Your relationships with the non-player characters (NPCs) are fluid. This means that doing something that person doesn’t like might earn their ire, while helping them will increase the benefits of the relationship. Every time I enter a new place for a job, I make a point to talk to everyone before my mark. This is both for the mechanical benefits, yes, but also because the amusing narration and interactions.

In-game photo of main character Sal Fallon and Nadan, an NPC (non-player character) leader of the Spree, a league of bandits and rogues.

Clever and Campy Writing

Griftlands‘ writing is also phenomenal. The characters feel authentic and distinct, especially the main ones. The game uses an alien language that makes the game feel bigger while keeping the price tag low.

In addition to the witty writing, the art and character designs are both simple and highly effective. The game expertly uses heavy lines, strong angles, and sharp colour palettes. The end product is a rustic but nonetheless rich and vibrant futuristic world.

Griftlands is Simple and Highly Innovative

Griftlands is a witty and well-written game. With its unique mechanics that blend together both combat and social encounters, your choices feel meaningful. It is a small game that truly feels massive. With the official launch scheduled for Summer 2021, this is one deck builder that I am certainly going to keep an eye on.

A New Generation To Come

Deck Building in video games is a relatively new development. Despite that, game developers are still able to bring a new and brilliant idea into the community. With Early Access, the gaming community has a real opportunity to help and allow indie developers to flourish even more. The ability to give direct and constructive feedback on games in development help us as a whole to reach new and ingenious heights in gaming.

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Are there new deck building games that you’re excited about? Let us know in the comments below!

Looking for more content and reviews? Check out our article about The Organic Joy of World Events in Assassin’s Creed.

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