Deck of Ashes isn’t the first deck-building title in recent memory (there have been quite a few), but it is my second foray into the genre. Since Slay the Spire was one of my favorite games of the last couple of years, I was pretty stoked to play another title in the same vein.
I have to commend developer AY Games too. It almost feels like they’ve taken visual cues from Darkest Dungeon, mixed them with mechanics from Slay the Spire, all while giving it their own unique spin on things. The result is a pretty solid title.
As much as I love Slay the Spire, Deck of Ashes really nails the aesthetic. This is a grim world, where four characters have unleashed a curse on the land during a bid for power. These anti-heroes are the main playable characters, seeking redemption for the curse they left upon the world.
The character and enemy models are much more detailed than the aforementioned card game as well, making Deck of Ashes a joy to look at. Bright, saturated colors accent the dark, bleak world, helping give all the character models a good contrast to the environments.
Like most roguelites, though, the story isn’t the main focus here. The real joy comes from pushing boundaries and progressing further and further with each run. There’s plenty of context and reason to push on, but that won’t be your driving force. Luckily, each character has their own unique story, which helps keep things fresh once you inevitably switch to another character to see how they play.
To kick off a new game, players either pick a pre-made deck or draft a new deck. For my first attempt, I started with a pre-made deck to learn about the game, but once I understood a bit more I opted for a draft deck. Drafting lets players pick one card out of a set of three, and then pick another single card out of a set of three, which continues until you have a deck of ten.
You spend a lot of time learning how cards interact with each other, so I probably wouldn’t recommend drafting until you’ve had the chance to learn how this works. This is a deck builder, so building a well-balanced deck is crucial to success, and finding a good synergy between the cards will help you progress further.
Players have a limited amount of mana they can spend each turn to cast cards. Once that is used up, you have to wait until your next turn to spend more. So while it might seem like a good idea to only have really powerful cards in your deck, spending all or most of your mana on one card each turn probably isn’t the best call.
To be fair, with how differently each character plays, it might work decently for some runs, but I doubt you’ll find much consistency. Once you’ve used up all the cards in your deck, you need to spend some health to get back cards you’ve already cast.
There’s an overworld map to explore when not in combat. Discovered areas earn resources that can be spent on permanent upgrades or cards. Keep in mind, that since this is a rogue-lite these upgrades and cards are only good for that playthrough. Resources rewarded after a run can be spent on new cards that can be earned in all future runs, though. So make sure to remember which cards worked well during each run to make sure to keep an eye out for next time.
I just wish the battles were paced a little better, especially in early runs. The battles often drag on and on. Because of this, I found myself dreading booting up Deck of Ashes for the first few days that I owned it.
However, once I got the hang of things, it seemed a little better. Still, everything felt really grindy, even when I was defeating enemies a little more quickly. Most enemies just act as damage sponges that you pump cards into, and I often wasn’t threatened by standard enemies.
I generally liked Deck of Ashes. I wish the overworld was more interesting and the encounters a little less grindy, but the grim art style kept drawing me back in. I think there is a definite place for it alongside other games like Slay the Spire, but a few balancing updates might be due.
The art style is notably more interesting than its competitor, but the glaring balance issues bog it down a bit. I love card games in general and learning how different synergies work is very rewarding in its own right. Despite its shortcoming, I had a good time with Deck of Ashes.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.