This article is part of our new experimental series, Backlog Club, where we (Nintendo Life!) pick a game that’s likely to be on our list of “games we should get around to playing”, and then we (NL + you!) spend the next month playing that game. This is the halfway point, the Part One of two, where we stop for a minute to check in with the game, and how much we’re enjoying it.
For the month of April 2022, we’re playing Slay The Spire! Not to completion, necessarily, but we’ll try to give it a fair whack all the same.
I don’t believe in “slow and steady wins the race”. I think it’s a stupid sentiment, even if there is a nugget of truth in it: Take time, and be careful, and you’ll get better results. I just don’t think it wins a race. The fable of the tortoise and the hare only works because the hare takes a nap! The hare deserved to win by virtue of being much, much faster, and the nap had nothing to do with whether or not the tortoise was good at racing.
All of this preamble is to say that I’ve had to re-examine my need for speed in the face of roguelike deckbuilders, a genre that I’m very much enamoured with. Slay The Spire — the choice for Backlog Club this week — is one of those, and a damn fine one it is. (Oh, and if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out the Backlog Club introduction I wrote a couple of weeks ago. It’ll make sense in a bit.)
In roguelikes and deckbuilders, slow and steady might not win the race (i.e., a speedrunning tournament) but it certainly wins the game.
My usual tactic is just trying to get things over with as quickly as possible
In most strategy games, my usual tactic is just trying to get things over with as quickly as possible, filling up my list of attacks with whatever does the most damage, and hoping that I’ll only have to make a few moves to kill my opponent dead. In RPGs, I’ll usually take a rogue or DPS build, because those allow me to hammer on the “attack” button until my enemies keel over in defeat. I am no strategist, most of the time; I am merely a spiky tank, content with swapping damage for damage as long as I come out victorious.
And that just does not work in turn-based deckbuilder games like Slay The Spire. So I’m having to try something new, even though it’s not new to most people, and that tactic is something I like to call “actually caring about defence”. It’s this genius thing where I actually try to nullify the attacks before they’re even made, instead of tanking the damage like usual.
Slay The Spire is not about taking hits — with only 80HP to your name, you can’t really afford to. Instead, you’ll have to use multiple strategies to survive, because survival is key to making it to the next fight, and the next, and the next. You are the underdog.
Other video games, especially RPGs, tend to position you as the World’s Most Strongest Punch Man, but Slay The Spire instead gives you The Ironclad as your starting fighter, a mid-range character whose deck is fairly balanced between attacking and blocking without any majorly off-the-wall strategies (the other unlockable characters vary this up, but since we’re only a couple of weeks into Slay The Spire, I’ll just focus on the beginner character). His tactic leans toward the tit-for-tat combat style: Strike, block, strike, block, and so on. The challenge is to survive long enough to strike down the enemies with 80+ HP, since your attacks usually only do 6-15 damage in one go.
And surviving means taking things slow. Where I would normally hit hard and take just as much damage in return, I’m instead having to spend a large part of my turns mitigating the damage instead. I have just three “energy” per turn, and I can use that to hit, defend, or use various other unique cards that increase stats, decrease enemy stats, and so on. It’s tempting to use all three energy points to use my cool damagey cards, but slow and steady wins the race, so instead I use two of the energy points to defend, and the remaining one to attack, slowly whittling down the enemy HP. Key word: slowly.
Sometimes all you can do is do your best to block damage, so you can make it to the next room, or the next day
The thing about Slay The Spire so far is that it’s not a race at all. You don’t get bonus points for being fast or efficient. All you get is the reward of making it to the next room. But sometimes, that’s all you need — the next room could heal you, buff you, make you stronger or more resilient in some way. You just need to survive.
And yes, I am going to make a clumsy analogy here, buckle up: I feel like Slay The Spire’s gentle insistence that you should probably take care of yourself before you try to slay monsters is a pretty useful lesson in general. It’s that whole “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others” thing, sort of. When you’re in a pickle — whether that pickle is that you’re having a bad day, or that you’re fighting a bunch of weird little goblins who keep cursing you to take more damage — sometimes all you can do is do your best to block it, so you can make it to the next room, or the next day.
Defending, protecting, and surviving feel a little boring and passive, but they can be the difference between defeat and success — even if that success is by the very skin of your teeth.
So, that’s how I’m feeling about Slay The Spire after a couple of weeks! I’m excited to try out the other characters — I just unlocked The Silent, and though I enjoy The Ironclad’s no-nonsense strategies, I’m interested in The Silent’s passive poison attacks. With The Ironclad, I managed to get to the boss of the second area, and he absolutely pummelled me. Tips and tricks welcome!
And, of course, this is just the halfway point: come back at the end of the month for our full thoughts on Slay The Spire, and for the discussion portion of the
Book Club Backlog Club!