Deckbuilding games are a bit of a niche genre and they are very hit or miss, so I was a bit skeptical when I first heard of Deck of Ashes. Slowly my interest grew and after playing it, I have to say, it’s a really good game actually.
The Ash Curse
The background is that a group of adventurers, the Outcasts, destroyed an immensely powerful artifact while fighting among themselves over who should get it. This brought the Ash Curse upon the world, humans went mad, monsters appeared and animals mutated.
One of the adventurers, Lucia the Eternal Flame, is approached by the Ash Master who claims that only they who caused the curse can lift it. There wouldn’t be a lot of point to the game if she said no, so now it’s time to fight the previously mentioned monsters, demons, mutated animals and alike.
When you start the game, you begin in the middle of the map in your camp where the Ash Master and a few vendors are. You are given time to explore and prepare because every level has a boss that slowly creeps up on you. As he gets closer he begins to destroy parts of the map until he finally catches up to you and you must fight him.
Until he actually gets to you, you’re tasked with collecting resources and building your deck to prepare for the fight. The map is littered with enemies, chests and random encounters which can be good or bad, you never know.
The main thing separating Deck of Ashes from other card games is that once you use a card, it’s gone. Once a card is burnt, it becomes ash and you have to spend valuable resources to get it back.
To get your card back, you can either pay the Ash Master to renew them, use the Ash Pact card during a battle or use Rest Points. Ash Pact is a unique card that you receive if you can’t draw a full hand on your turn, it doesn’t cost any mana to play, but it will sacrifice some of your health to give you back six random cards. Rest points are in a way the opposite, you use them after the fight to restore health, but you could also instead use them to return burnt cards.
This balancing act wouldn’t be much of a problem if you could curb stomp the enemies, but what kind of roguelike would allow that? Starting very early, you’ll notice opponents that have some special abilities. Among the things that they can do are the ability to spawn minions, to heal, to lower your armor, to lower your mana, fill your deck with useless cards and so on. Why stop the fun there, there are also monsters that have special abilities that take advantages of those debuffs to deal extra damage.
Probably the worst of them (in my humble opinion) is the Cannibal, his special ability is to spawn another Cannibal whenever he kills something, and he can attack allied monsters. The exact reason for my hate towards him will be clear in a moment.
When you finally do get beaten, you realize how incredibly painful and annoying it is to start over again without the deck you built. The Ash Master can teach you a ritual that will bring you back to life, but with half of your resources and no recipes, which is effectively equal to starting over.
Building your deck
Currently, you can only play one character, the previously mentioned fire mage Lucia, and the cards you use, believe it or not, are fire related. I thought that it would be perfect to build a deck that would let me nuke everything I go against, but it didn’t work out since there are some cards that don’t compliment any other cards or sound great in theory but don’t actually work that well.
Since a nuke deck failed, I decided to go for a slow roast and that works incredibly well. There is a lot of cards that work wonders together, like one that gives you health regeneration for each burn effect currently active.
This brings me back to the Cannibal and why he was such a pain. Very often the enemy turn will begin while they have just a few health points left because of the burn effects and the Cannibal would just finish off someone and spawn a brand new Cannibal. So if you decide to build a damage over time deck, make sure to have a few cards that can quickly finish off enemies in case you go up against the Cannibal.
As one would expect, an early access game has some issues and missing content. There’s nothing horribly wrong with the game, but as mentioned, certain cards feel useless, like there should be another card to go with them or a mechanic that is yet to be implemented.
Animations feel slightly off and rather basic while the cutscenes are a bit rough. Subtitles also don’t always match what is actually being said. I experienced a few random crashes that sent me to my desktop without an error message, but since the recent updates, I haven’t had any.
Deck of Ashes combines Darkest Dungeon and Slay the Spire while telling a story that feels like the epilogue of a DnD game played by a party of murderhobos. It has a lot of potential even though it is currently rough around the edges. If you enjoy deckbuilding games, I would recommend it even now. If you’re not a huge fan of them, but still enjoy micromanaging and roguelikes you might enjoy it too. I’m personally not a fan of card games, but I still liked playing it and look forward to future updates. You can head over to Steam to pick it up.