Small Units And a Sense of Success

Slay the Spire and Monster Slayers do well in giving the player a sense of progress and accomplishment within a run, even if you are objectively not any closer to victory than you would be under large units of progress.

Both games take place across three stages. Slay the Spire has a more fixed length, since you will traverse the exact same number of levels each game. Monster Slayers gives a bit more control there, letting you skip some encounters per level and still reach the level cap. Both give minor rewards after each fight.

Monster Slayers fares better on small rewards, in that you skip half the rewards in Slay the Spire but almost always want at least one of the options in Monster Slayers. Monster Slayers offers fewer card rewards, but it offers more rewards that are not cards, which is often what you want. One of the relics I always like in Slay the Spire lets you gain permanent hit points when you skip a card reward.

Contrast with Hearthstone’s dungeon run, with at most eight wins and eleven awards. The first two are free, barring outrageous fortune, so you cannot exactly feel proud of killing a Giant Rat. You also get only so much pride out of a lucky combo that leads to a big win by turn four; you do not have much time to bask in it, and you know very well that it depended on a lucky draw. One way or the other, there are not a lot of games that feel close enough for your skill to make a difference.

Slay the Spire and Monster hunters have lots of little wins. You get to see the results of your deckbuilding repeatedly as you cycle through your deck and see the effects of upgrades. You get to counter enemy attacks and have better or worse turns based on your play (and what gets dealt to you). You can choose to seek or avoid fights, to pursue risk and/or reward. The peaks are smaller, but the troughs are certainly milder, and you still have “win condition” cards that feel like really big rewards even if they are not Hearthstone’s artifacts that can be instant wins.

Losing halfway through the Spire means you beat a boss and a few elites, along with proving your deck against a dozen smaller opponents. Losing halfway through Hearthstone’s dungeon run means you beat two trash mobs, had an easy fight and a fair-ish one, then ran into a bad draw and/or a hard counter to your deck. Hearthstone’s dungeon run feels a lot more epic if you think of it as All Boss Fights!, but after the first few times, it is hard to think of those first few fights as “bosses.” Meanwhile, Monster Slayers starts using what would be boss monsters from its first two maps as regular enemies on the third.

: Zubon