Slay the Spire’s successful year-plus Early Access run and launch last year helped popularize an exciting new genre. While “card battler” could be used to describe digital adaptations of collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh, it’s increasingly used to describe RPGs, roguelikes, and strategy games that happen to use cards to represent items, buildings, or abilities.
If you’re looking for more excellent card battlers besides Slay the Spire, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites.
Deep Sky Derelicts
Most card battlers use a fantasy theme, but Deep Sky Derelicts provides a gritty series of dungeon crawls aboard gigantic space ships, wrapped in an ultra cool comic book art style. Every shield recharge and shotgun blast is presented in dynamic comic panels. Instead of orcs and skeletons we’re battling haywire robots and mutant aliens.
Party management is similar to RPGs like Darkest Dungeon. Randomly generated characters from different classes like Medic and Technician each have their own unique skill tree that can boost stats and add new cards into their decks. Loot can be salvaged from exploring the ship-dungeons, and each character can equip weapons, tools, and mods that add new cards into their decks.
Our crew has to keep a careful watch on their energy reserves, however, as exploring the grid-based spaceships gradually drains our energy levels – as does every turn in combat when we discover hostile forces. Exploration is rewarding thanks to all the quests to discover, monsters to kill, and loot to salvage.
Available On: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Gordian Quest recently launched on Steam Early Access, combining card-based combat with managing a party of RPG heroes in a fantasy world. Three party members can be recruited from a pool of six, and each includes three different specializations that equate to different kinds of cards and strategies. Loot can be found and equipped, adding new cards into a character’s deck.
On top of the card-based combat, Gordian Quest also requires tactical positioning, as combat takes place on multiple grid lanes. Certain attacks will hit different areas of the battlefield, and both allies and enemies need to use precious action points moving around to re-position.
We also love the D&D-like skill challenges that crop up during events and dungeon crawls, using an actual d20 dice roll. Characters can choose to exhaust one of their cards to gain a high modifier, but then it becomes a blank card until the next safe haven. With huge customizable skill trees, fun characters, and a colorful art style, Gordian Quest has lots of potential as it continues to add more content in the months to come.
Available On: PC (Steam Early Access)
Guild of Dungeoneering
The oldest game on our list, Guild of Dungeoneering uses roguelike deckbuilding within the classic context of a graph paper fantasy dungeon crawl. The twist is that we also use cards to build the dungeons themselves.
Dungeons are built using a random hand of cards that represent both room tiles and monsters, giving us a bit of control over where to go and who to battle. Heroes always start each dungeon at level 1 with a basic deck tuned to their class, such as Ranger, Troubador, and Mime. Defeating monsters raises our level and provides loot, which in turn adds new cards to our deck.
Battles are a simple back and forth of magic and physical attacks and blocks, with a heavy emphasis on building the right deck. Dying is game over for that character and dungeon, but through perseverance we can expand our guild to draw in a variety of heroes and bonuses to tackle even more challenging dungeons and wacky enemies.
Available On: PC (Steam), mobile (Android, iOS)
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
SteamWorld Quest was one of our favorite games of last year, combining Image & Form’s delightful mechanized world-building with the fun gameplay of a deckbuilder. Like Gordian Quest, each of our heroes has their own deck of cards and specific strategies and play styles.
Unlike most deckbuilders, SteamWorld Quest is very strict on hand size. Despite earning and unlocking new cards left and right, I’m always limited to a 24-card deck per character. Lean decks force me to focus on certain strategies during combat. I must also maintain a proper balance between cards that generate steam, and those that use it to unleash big attacks and combos.
We love the combat encounters, but we’re particularly smitten with the world design and characters. From Armilly’s earnest naivete to Orik’s mysterious stoicism, SteamWorld Quest is oozing with charm and personality throughout its well-written campaign.
Available On: PC (Steam), Switch