Slay the Spire: The Board Game, designed by Gary Dworetsky, Anthony Giovannetti, and Casey Yano and published by Contention Games is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. As a fan of the video game it’s based on, I have been eagerly anticipating this game since it was announced nearly a year ago.

To start, here’s my Slay the Spire credentials. I’ve played Slay the Spire for about 71 hours on Steam, and an additional 60 hours on Android. My favourite character to play is The Defect, with which I’ve reached Ascension level 8. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to even just beat the game with The Watcher. After 16 runs I’ve just today finally managed to do. I think I’ve reached the 3rd act boss half a dozen times, but I kept on losing to that final hurdle. While I’d never call myself a Slay the Spire expert, I’d definitely class myself as an enthusiast.

When the Kickstarter campaign finally launched, my heart dropped. $135 CAD for the base game, plus $16 for shipping. $150 is firmly out of the impulse buy category for me. The campaign itself had extremely few details on what the board game did differently from the video game. I knew a straight port wouldn’t be possible, there’s much too much math involved to make it enjoyable or playable. Over the next few days, more details came out, and various creators who got preview copies published their content. While helpful, the lack of information on the actual pledge page is disappointing. What was helpful was the release of the Prototype rulebook, and a playable version of the game on Tabletop Simulator.

I roped in Bigfoot, who, like me, is an avid board gamer and has significant experience playing the Slay the Spire video game. This made teaching a breeze, he already knew the flow of the game, the iconography, and some of the strategy (like how important defence is, and why we should focus on tackling elites). He assumed the role of the ironclad while I took on The Silent.

How to play

Slay the Spire is a deck building dungeon crawl where the goal is to defeat enemies to earn rewards to acquire better cards and relics with special abilities until you finally defeat the boss. When normal combat starts, an enemy is placed into a row, one for each player. Enemy cards may also summon minions into their row.

Players have 3 energy each turn to play cards from their hands, and by default, draw 5 cards. A die is rolled which will affect everything that has a die ability. Some monsters will have different attacks based off the die roll, while others will simply do the same thing every time, while others will work through a series of static effects.

Players play their cards, generating block to shield themselves from damage, and swords, which do damage to the enemies. Players can target any enemy on any row with their attacks, enabling some great collaborative play. After all players have finished playing cards, any unplayed cards are discarded, and the monsters take their turn. Starting from the top left and moving to the bottom right, monsters attack. Any damage is negated by shields, but should those run out, then hp is reduced. If anyone’s hp drops to 0, the team has lost.

Should the players be victorious, they acquire rewards. Coins that can be spent at shops, potions offering clutch 1 time effects, and new cards they can add into their deck. Each character starts with a basic 10 card deck, and has a pool of 60 cards from which they can add from. Each character also have 20 rare cards which are very powerful, but harder to obtain.

First Impressions

A key component of Slay the Spire is upgrading your cards. At a rest site, you can choose to either heal hp, or, upgrade a single card. This can reduce the cost, or increase the ability of the card itself. The board game handles this by utilizing double-sided cards in sleeves. When you upgrade a card, just pull it out of its sleeve, flip it around, and put it back into it’s sleeve for the remainder of the game.

So what’s different from the video game? Well, the math has been reduced. All the strikes and defends generate 1 hit or shield respectively. Weakness now just reduces the number of hits generated by 1, and vulnerable doubles the damage the next time the target takes damage. Stats effects have been turned into cards that either effectively reduce your draw then disappear, or a card that goes into your discard pile that will cause trouble when it appears in your hand. Burns, which do damage if they’re in your hand at the end of your turn, or green spirals, which will sap your energy when drawn. The Silent’s poison is now persistent, it doesn’t tick down at the end of a round. Shivs offer a 1 damage attack, but can be saved from round to round, allowing you to build up for a big combo. The Defects orbs don’t cycle in order any more, you can choose to evoke any orb of your choice. As I mentioned before, a lot of items and monsters are controlled via a single die roll at the start of the round turning a lot of the encounters and relics from deterministic effects that can be planned around, into a more random experience. I suspect this was done to reduce the already significant upkeep this game requires.

Slay the Spire: The Board Game is a very faithful adaption of the video game. Halfway through the first act of the game I put on the Slay the Spire OST, and suddenly everything just felt right in the world. It really feels like Slay the Spire, even with all the difference I mentioned above. The relics seem to be much less useful in the board game. In the video game, the relics are the lynchpin of your engine. Here, they seem to offer minor rewards. I haven’t explored enough to say for sure, but I think a large part of what makes Slay the Spie (and other roguelikes) special and what brings people back again and again, is finding those crazed combos.

Let’s talk about the $15 elephant in the room. Just who is this game really for? I have a hard time imagining board gamers dropping $135 on this crate of cards when so many other deck builders already exist for much less cash. And anyone who wants to play solo can just buy the video game for as low as $10. Some will argue Slay the Spire: The Board Game is cooperative, you can use this a tool to introduce others to the game, but at it’s current price, you can buy 15 copies of the video game to give away as gifts. And for people who are already attuned to the video game, there isn’t much new for them to discover here, other than the ability to play with friends.

I understand the joy of tactile play. I adore board games, but I am not willing to drop that kind of money when I can play the video game on the go. That said, if you’re a board gamer who loves Slay the Spire, and/or loves cooperative games, this is a slam dunk. I do think the video game is the superior version, there’s no upkeep to track, no chance of missed rules, and the gameplay loop of building a deck, racing up the spire, dying, and just restarting from scratch is so fast and so fun. The physical production is super cool, but I shudder at the thought of tearing down after a game. Flipping all the upgraded cards, breaking down the cards back into their appropriate decks, etc. I think Slay the Spire: The Board Game is more of a luxury piece of merchandise for those who really love Slay the Spire. A beautiful and lovingly crafted game that is less meant to be played for hundreds of hours and more of a physical object for fans to own and showcase, much like the dozen steelbook video games I’ve purchased in the past.