Hellcard is a coop roguelike deckbuilder. A friend got me into Hellcard around 2023-03-01 when I griped about not having any games we could play together cooperatively. I normally hate card games, but the main reason - randomness - doesn't matter to me as much in a coop game. It's also my first roguelike.
A little bit of randomness is not okay
Runs last about 90 minutes and consist of 12 floors, inbetween which you can choose from a few options to improve your deck in various ways.
Your deck works like in Dominion: you draw 5 cards every turn and discard the ones you haven't played at the end of the turn. When your deck runs out, you shuffle your discard pile and make it your new draw pile. Your deck normally has 10-15 cards in it, so you cycle through it a few times per battle. I've praised this approach to card game design before because it ensures you draw all your cards a similar number of times, which means less randomness than a game like Magic: The Gathering, where your best cards might have been shuffled to the bottom of your deck and never show up at all.
There are a lot of cases of unnecessary randomness, though, that MtG-style games usually don't have:
- Many card effects have a random target. There are cards like "deal 10 damage to a random monster in far range and 8 damage to a random monster in near range", "lower the cost of a random card in your hand to 0 mana this turn", and enemies with passive abilities like "when any hero kills a monster, they discard a random card". I think most of these things are this way because letting the player choose would require more UI design. For example, there's currently no UI for selecting a card in your hand to resolve an effect, and no UI for picking multiple targets for anything. And the game already feels slightly overwhelming at first, introducing a lot of mechanics very quickly, so more UI complexity would be unwelcome.
- After each floor, you're shown 3 random cards and offered to add 1 of them to your deck, but the cards seem to be of random rarity level. Now, "rarity" in this game really means "power level": cards of a higher rarity are usually blatantly stronger, and you're meant to gradually upgrade your starting deck to higher rarity throughout a run. So in the rare case it offers you a legendary early in the game, you've just been blessed by RNGesus and should take it without thinking.
- The most offensive example to me is an action you can sometimes choose inbetween floors, which costs 1 gemstone (an item used to improve your deck) and does "50% chance to get 3 gemstones". It's net positive, so it seems optimal to choose it, and it's very frustrating when you get punished severely for it despite that. And it is severe: you often only have 1 gemstone, so failing this coinflip means losing any chance to improve your deck at all for the next floor. It's also pervasive: you're likely to encounter this choice at least twice on every run.
- There's a rare passive buff you can find that makes it so instead of starting each turn with 3 mana, you start with a random amount from 1-8.
The first one is defensible, but these last three really should be redesigned.
Grinding for advantages
There's a little bit of this. The game has an account experience system where experience unlocks new cards that you might find during a run, and new passive buffs you can choose to start a run with - but these buffs mean you start with less gemstones, so it's at least not a strict upgrade.
Not great. Lots of dreadfully underpowered cards. A few overpowered ones. Worth saying that the game is in early access, so there's a good chance this will be improved.
This is a huge problem. There are a lot of cards that can be used to construct combos where you can keep drawing and playing the same cards infinitely within a turn. In fact, there are like *seven different* combos like this - the friend who introduced me has a knack for finding them. She winds up with one almost every time we play together, and it trivializes the entire run as soon as she does, since she can singlehandledly defeat all the enemies in one turn.
I've heard the devs are planning to make infinite combos harder to do, and I sure hope so.
Another thing we can blame on early access: I fairly frequently run into surprising outcomes of card interactions that seem like bugs. They're never game-breaking though, just end up costing a few HP (or saving you a few HP). And there's an in-game button to report bugs, and in the short time I've been playing I've seen them fix several that I reported.
I quite like the game. I've been playing it obsessively, both in single- and multiplayer modes, for the last week, and I expect it to stay interesting to me for a while to come. Especially with the unlockable torment modifiers (difficulty upgrades, but more customizable than just difficulty levels) and other challenging achievements to go for, it has lots to keep me playing.
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