HELLCARD First Impressions: Multiplay the Spire



By: Jason Siu


5 min read

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Every now and then, Steam’s Discovery Queue actually works. Recently, a game called HELLCARD popped up in our queue and since we love card games, especially multiplayer ones, we decided to give it a shot. It comes from developer Thing Trunk, and we had honestly never heard anything about HELLCARD before seeing it on Steam. The game is described as being a “unique cooperative deck builder rogue-like game,” and it has a pretty neat art style inspired by paper figurines. Since it offers up to three-player co-op, three of us decided to pick up the game and give it a shot.

HELLCARD is an Early Access game, but it’s surprisingly feature rich and bug free. And while I have only spent about 10 hours playing the game, I already believe its $19.99 price tag is fair. I’ve done a mix of co-op and single player runs and the best way to summarize the game is calling it “multiplayer Slay the Spire.” If you’ve enjoyed games like Slay the Spire, Monster Train, or Across the Obelisk, you’ll more than likely have a good time in HELLCARD.

Unlike the other titles I just mentioned, HELLCARD uses a top-down approach to the battlefield, which can be split into three slices, depending on how many people are playing with you. If you play single player, you can get up to two AI companions to have access to three heroes total. If you play cooperatively online with just one other player however, you will not get an AI companion for the third slot. We found the game to be more challenging when it’s just two players since the game doesn’t let you pick up an AI companion for the third slot if you decide that you don’t want to do any form of matchmaking. It does feel like the game is balanced for three players or playing single player with two AI companions.

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Card variety in HELLCARD is decent so far, but hopefully the developers add more.

With the top-down approach to the battlefield, HELLCARD is unique in that monster placement actually does matter. Certain cards can move monsters around the field, which affects the battle — you can redirect damage to another hero, for example. Your AOE damage cards are also reliant on enemy placement, with a targeting circle you’ll want to carefully place to get maximum coverage. It’s a clever addition to the deck-builder genre, and if you’re looking for something new, it’s enough to justify giving HELLCARD a look.

Currently there are three heroes or classes to choose from: Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. Clearly not a lot of creativity here, but the cards associated with each hero are unique enough to make each class play differently. And if you have any experience playing any video game ever, you can probably guess how each class plays. The Warrior has a heavier focus on melee attacks (enemies that are near) and providing block support, while the Rogue specializes in ranged damage and interesting tricks like dropping a bomb. The Mage is all about magic, both AOE and single target, with a lot of card draw if everything lines up properly.

In our playthroughs, we found that the game was significantly more manageable when all three heroes were present. Each class has their own set of utility cards and when all three are working together, some pretty cool things can happen. Progression through the stages are similar to other games within the genre, where you get to choose a path with certain rewards. At the end of each stage, each player has access to the rewards for all the chosen paths, but you can only choose one award (out of three) from each location. Rewards cost gems, which are earned while you play. There’s nothing groundbreaking with the rewards; they’re mainly add a card, upgrade a card, heal yourself, add max HP, get an artifact, etc.

Interestingly, players can join one another at different stages on the map. For example, if you started a run and want to bring that character to a multiplayer session, you’ll continue exactly where you left off, regardless of what stage your companions are at. Eventually, all players will meet up at the final boss node, and whoever is ahead will keep repeating the second-to-last node.

There are a few frustrating things about the game. There aren’t enough clear indicators for all the different effects that can happen on the battlefield. For example, monsters may do thorns damage, but unless you mouse over them, there’s no obvious indicator. Some units will spawn adds each time they’re attacked and again, no easy way to tell unless you mouse over the unit for the tooltip. Bonuses to card damage aren’t reflected on the card’s text either. You will see the actual damage number that you’ll inflect when mousing over your target, but I really wish the values on the cards updated based on your buffs.

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There is a lot of mousing over enemy units to see what’s happening each turn.

Overall, my biggest complaint with HELLCARD is with some of the card’s descriptions. Some cards just don’t make sense no matter how many times you read over the description. Other cards feel like they’re way more complicated than they have to be. I think a little bit of attention to the game’s UI could vastly improve the game’s UX. For example, the first time we got to the final floor, there was an effect on the map that limited the number of cards we could play each turn. That effect however was indicated with an icon in the top-middle of the screen that was pretty easy to miss. Needless to say, we ended up failing that run because we didn’t realize there was a restriction until it was too late.

But HELLCARD is really fun if you have people to play with. The game’s biggest strength is its three-player co-op mode, although playing solo is a solid experience with the AI companions. You still have the ability to choose which cards to play from their hands, so essentially you’re controlling all three heroes on the board. After our first successful run, we unlocked the Torment feature, which are essentially modifiers to make each run more difficult. We’re looking forward to sinking many more hours into the game and seeing how Thing Trunk continues building on it in Early Access. We’ll continue updating this first impressions post as we play more.

HELLCARD First Impressions Gallery

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With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of Tunerzine.com and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

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