Local Maximum?

“What got you here won’t get you there.”

I am getting better at Slay the Spire. I can now consistently get to the final boss. But I am pretty consistently losing there, and I am wondering whether my approach is at a local maximum. To borrow a metaphor, ladders only go so far up, and if you want to climb higher, you need to climb down and start over on a new ladder.

It may be that I am genuinely getting better and just need a bit more optimization to cross that line to consistently winning. It is also possible that I am consistently getting to the end by avoiding both good and bad risks, and therefore consistently arriving at the end underpowered. That approach will consistently get you to the end, and then you lose.

The goal is to take the good risks and avoid the bad ones. You need some good risks, assuming there are commensurate rewards. This is part of playing efficiently, learning which trade-offs look scary but are ultimately to your benefit. You need to push hard to find what the real limits are.

That is the goal for winning consistently. If you just want to win at all, dive after any risk you like. If a conservative strategy consistently gets close but does not win, a reckless strategy will occasionally win (and probably lose quickly so you can try again). What I was saying about inconsistent strategies amounts to a local maximum: you can probably win more often than I am by committing early to a strategy that depends on a few cards that may not come up, but you cannot build up a win streak that way. There are people winning consistently with long win streaks; the top of a foothill is not the peak of the mountain.

I just need to figure out how high this ladder goes. I think I have most of the deckbuilding aspect (lots of experience there) and just need to work on the roguelike aspect of picking my path (less experience there). But I could be wrong and heading down a dead end.

: Zubon

Learning

I am enjoying Slay the Spire (obsessively) and getting better at it, but I am not yet good. I have only 5 victories, whereas I understand better players can consistently get 5 in a row. So I have some distance to catch up. The basic lessons seem to be “focus on defense,” “keep your deck small,” and “no really, keep your deck small, skip like half your rewards.”

Any recommendations for folks to watch or listen to for tips? I see some suggestions that are extended versions of the above, but at least half the suggestions I have seen would be good for improving your odds if the combo comes together but not consistently. For example, suggested cards to pick with several essential pieces. You cannot reliably get essential pieces in Slay the Spire.

A disappointing thing is that there seem to be few viable approaches for long term success. There are a few “win condition” cards or combos, and you plan around whichever approach becomes viable. Both classes need massive defense, and offense is usually one of two big strength boosters in red and poison or shivs in green. The path is narrower than I had hoped.

: Zubon

Smaller Units of Randomness

Slay the Spire gives the player many small decisions where Hearthstone’s dungeon run uses a few larger decisions. The big swings are more exciting but ultimately lead to more frustration, as losing one big roll ends your run while you can easily recover from a few bad small rolls.

For deckbuilding in either game, the decision you are making at any given time is about the same: pick one of three. The total amount you are deciding is roughly comparable, a couple dozen cards. Hearthstone groups those into big chunks, where Slay the Spire lets you pick cards individually, or skip if you don’t like those options, or collect gold to shop from larger selection pools, or remove or upgrade cards. You get more options and you feel more in control. I cannot tell you how many times I picked a Hearthstone artifact or card pool and then got almost nothing to go with it.

High stakes are exciting! Talent trees that give you 1% bonuses each level are boring! But small decisions are more impactful when the big decisions are mutable. Adding Arthas to my deck is more exciting than upgrading a card in Slay the Spire, but the choice of whether to pick Arthas is usually overdetermined. Maybe his card pool is clearly the best, or I already have a Cloak of Invisibility so picking a taunt pool is clearly bad… What I am getting at is that there is not much deciding going on, so much as recognizing what works well or badly given what was available/decided previously. You make exactly 11 deckbuilding decisions in a Hearthstone dungeon run, of which maybe 2 or 3 have any tension.

The stack of the deck is another source of randomness. In Hearthstone, you get 1 card per round, and you do not expect to see all your cards in a typical game. If you get your dungeon run artifacts in the first few turns, you win. if they are on the bottom of your deck, they don’t matter at all. You lose to A. F. Kay if you draw the wrong cards. In Slay the Spire, you go through your deck several times per fight. There are lower stakes to the randomization, and you can lower it even further by keeping your deck size small. That shifts importance back towards your decisions, not the luck of the draw.

These two build on each other. That small decision to upgrade a Spire card matters a lot when you play that card several times per fight, versus a few times at all in a Hearthstone dungeon run. Picking your Hearthstone artifacts is the big, exciting decision on getting powerful toys, but the second one happens so late in the dungeon that you use it at most twice and often never, due to the stack of the deck. I upgraded a Spire card just before walking into the final boss fight, and then I played it six times.

High variability with high stakes pushes towards “go big or go home.” But the randomness determines which of those happens.

: Zubon

Higher in the Spire

After many dungeon runs in Hearthstone, I decided that I liked this idea of roguelike deckbuilder games and picked up Slay the Spire. It was exactly what I wanted, and I immediately enjoyed a four-hour binge.

A great virtue of Slay the Spire is that it is designed to be what it is. The Hearthstone dungeon run is grafting the idea onto an existing game, which has been done quite well in Blizzard games (tower defense, DOTA) but ultimately bears its full flower in a dedicated game. Hearthstone’s dungeon run starts with much greater resources in terms of art, already developed cards and mechanics, and a minion-based combat mechanic. Hearthstone’s dungeon run is bigger and bolder, flashier, and more random and frustrating. Bringing along the infrastructure of Hearthstone brings along the baggage of Hearthstone.

Slay the Spire almost certainly must have configurations that are impossible. It is a roguelike still in early release. It seems to have less opportunity to stack perverse randomness on top of more perverse randomness. With practice, I have become rather good at the Hearthstone dungeon run, but I would be surprised if I could sustainably win more than a third of the time. I get the sense that Slay the Spire takes the same idea and gives it a much higher skill cap, along with more manageable randomness.

: Zubon

Roguelike Deckbuilding Dungeon Crawls

Does Slay the Spire look like the sort of thing Hearthstone’s dungeon run is trying to do? Both are basically what the title says. Monster Slayers is another that came out last year, which I had not noticed. Guild of Dungeoneering does something similar, although there is limited deckbuilding scope within each dungeon run, and the dungeon opponents are less randomized than is common in roguelikes. (Hand of Fate from that post uses constructed decks, rather than deckbuilding within the dungeon, with a lot of roguelike randomness.)

This could be a new sub-genre.

: Zubon