Review: Five Card Quest

Five Card Quest is the latest game from Rocketcat, who previously made the excellent Wayward Souls. It’s a turn-based FTL-like card game, where you battle through procedurally generated dungeons and kill a boss at the end. I’m quite partial to these sorts of games and Touch Arcade rated it five stars, so I got it, even though the linked review ominously read, “I don’t usually prejudge games before playing them, but…”

First things first: the game is obscenely buggy. Some of the bugs are reproducible and just another thing to learn, but others appear random and act as an unwanted dice roll. It’s pretty bad right now, so if you’re interested in the game, I’d recommend waiting for a patch or two. Anyway, that’s not too interesting to write about. What about the game design?!

The first sticking point is an interesting one. Rocketcat have made their name making excellent real-time games, and those work well with almost no tutorial. Wayward Souls didn’t tell you what monsters did, or the exact damage on your various weapons… and I’d argue it didn’t matter! In a real-time game, it’s *fun* to figure out the basic rules of the system – figuring out exactly what the enemies do, how many hits it takes to kill them, etc. For a real-time game like Wayward Souls, telling you the rules of the game is largely pointless – “this monster fires a fireball 10 pixels wide every 4 seconds that travels 10 pixels per second” is technically lots of actionable info but in practice you’d learn faster just watching the fireballs fly across the screen. As a whole, Wayward Soul’s refusal to tell you many of the rules ultimately doesn’t matter and even helps the accessibility of the game.

Five Card Quest is much worse off, though. Turn-based games, I’d argue, challenge a different part of your brain, and for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, that part of your brain *hates* even slightly ambiguous rules. As an example, one ability reads, “can interrupt some lightly armored foes.” Um, which ones? There’s no “lightly armored” characteristic anywhere, so in practice you have to spam the ability on various monsters to see whether they get stunned or not. This vagueness, combined with the bugginess, makes learning the game a nightmare. It’s one of the most unnecessarily obtuse games I’ve learned in a while.

Lastly, the game is just too damn easy. It has the typical card balance issues that you see in a lot of card games, and people with some experience are going to hone in on those pretty quick. Not surprisingly, a card that can draw 2 cards, do damage, prevent damage, and is FREE ends up being pretty good in this game. Once you start chaining free actions together it gets pretty easy, particularly given the overly forgiving rules regarding death (dead characters just revive next fight with a small amount of health).

So, the game sucks? Not quite! I’ve been ragging on Five Card Quest up until now, but one thing that is genuinely praiseworthy is the card system itself. You have monsters and your characters aligned in three “lanes”, and in general units can only attack the enemy across from them. So there’s some interesting positioning that happens as a result, in addition to the usual RPG tropes. This, combined with the FTL-like mechanics and lack of variance, made it an okay buy for me. After 5 (long-ish) playthroughs, I feel like I’ve seen most of what the game has to offer, but I had an okay time after the initial game 1 annoyances.

It’s about a 6/10.

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