Cartography of Slay the Spire

– – – – – Elements – – – – –

Element’s nature

The objectives
Objectives are goals that players must achieve. They are always visibles. In other words, this is victory conditions

The challenges
Challenges consist of the player’s understanding of objectives and ways to achieve them.

The puzzles
Puzzles are obstacles that players will encounter by wanting to achieve their objectives.

The questionings
Questionings are questions that will come up when players will face up to puzzles. They are a direct consequence of puzzles.


Element’s articulation

This first diagram shows the tree view of “normal” game elements. In other words, when the player hasn’t finished the game yet.
Other tree views have to do with “New Game +”, so everything that the game offers new for a person seeking to go further in the game after he has finished it normally. Among those tree views, there are two objectives clearly given by the game : Beat the ascension 20 and finish the fourth floor to have the true ending of each character.

Other tree views correspond with challenges that players can choose to give themselves, but that are suggested by the game thanks to scoreboards, achievements or another game mode. When a puzzle is put again on a tree view, that means that in this game mode, a new element is brought to this puzzle and has to be reconsidered by the player.

Moreover, there is a game mode to one side compared to other game elements. It is a sandbox mode where the player can modify rules of a game. So, he creates his own challenge, and the creation itself becomes a game.

List of questionings for each puzzles :

  • Defeat an enemy
    • How to react when facing this enemy, this attack ?
    • Which card plays ?
    • How to lose as little health points as I can ?
    • How can I protect myself ?
    • How to kill it the fastest way ?
    • What is the pattern of this enemy ?
  • Keep health point
    • Which way should I take ?
    • What risks am I ready to take ?
    • How to resolve the fight without losing health points ?
    • Should I pass by a fire camp to have a rest ?
    • Can I fight an Elite enemy ?
  • Choose a card after a fight / Make an optimized deck
    • How to choose a card ?
    • Which card is better depending on my deck, my situation ?
    • Can I make a combo with some cards in my deck ?
    • Should I not take a card ?
    • What is the optimal number of cards for my deck ?
    • Should I take a risk, choose a card now and hope for a future synergy ?
    • How to choose at the start of the game, at the end of the game ?
    • Which cards can make a synergy with cards the game offers me ?
  • Choose a way
    • Which way is the fastest ?
    • Which way is less dangerous ?
    • What is my current situation ?
    • Which way allows me to make a high score ?
    • Which way allows me to make upgrades ?
    • Which way allows me to make purchases ?
    • Which way allows me to make random events ?
    • Should I take care of random events ?
    • Have I enough health points to take those risks ?
  • Choose a relic after defeating a boss or a elite
    • Which relic is the best depending on my situation ?
    • Is it double-edged ?
    • Is it worth taking one ?
  • Use potions
    • When should I use them ?
    • Which one I take ? Who should I use it on ?
    • Should I wait for a better moment to use it ?
  • Choose to rest or to upgrade at campfires
    • Have I enough health points to not take a rest ?
    • Which card upgrade ?
    • Is there another campfire further ?
  • Make actions that give score
    • What are actions that give points ?
    • What are those that give the most ?
    • Is it worth it ?
  • Choose items to buy at merchant
    • Should I keep my money for later ?
    • What I need ? Potions, Cards, Relics or remove a card ?
    • Is there another merchant further ?
  • Choose answers at random events
    • What does each answer exactly ?
    • What is the best answer in my situation ?
    • Should I take the risk ?
  • Gather three crystals before beating the boss of the third floor
    • When gathering the different crystals ?
    • Can I let that relic and take the crystal instead ?
    • Am I powerful enough to fight an improved Elite enemy ?
    • Should I not take a rest or upgrade a card, and take the crystal instead ?
  • Make actions that will beat the game fast.
    • Which actions allow me to finish the game quickly ?
    • Should I take that risk to go faster ?
  • Make action that give many points
    • Which actions allow me to get many points ?
    • Which strategy is the best to get a high score ?
    • Should I take that risk to increase my score ?
  • Make an achievement
    • How can I make that achievement ?
    • Which character is the best for that achievement ?
    • What can I do to improve my chances to have a situation that allows me to achieve that objective ?
    • Which strategy allows me to finish the game despite the disadvantage of the setup of that achievement ?
  • Take advantage of modifications brought by the daily game
    • What are modifications that give me advantages ?
    • How to face disadvantageous modifications ?
    • How to use advantageous modifications ?

– – – – – Motivations – – – – –

Introduction

Thanks to personality models like OCEAN and HEXACO, it is easy to identify the profile of somebody, nowadays. Those models can be transposed to players, we will then speak of “Preference Map” as Jason VANDENBERGHE describes it in its “The Five Domains of Play” conference at GGC 2012. Those maps help us to know what will motivate players to play a game or another. When we know the player’s profile, it is easier to create a game that he will like.

The Preference Map has 4 faces and each of them consist of 4 aspects :

Novelty
Build, Exploration, Realism, Fantasy

Challenge
Less skilled, Skilled, No work, Work

Stimulation
Few, Many, Calm, Thrill

Harmony
Competition, Cooperation, Mechanics, Context

This method of identification of the motivations of players can be applied to games. So, we can determine if someone will be attracted by a game or not. This is also a great tool we can use when we create a game.

Spectrum distribution follows a normal distribution law. Middle squares will represent to average players (meaning the aspect is present in the game), then the more we move to the extremes, the more they represent a smaller audience (meaning the aspect is well-made in the game, and the aspect is one of the best in his genre)


Justification

Novelty

Fantasy (Tier 1) : All objects of the game, relics and some cards are not based on a realist system. Moreover, the universe is not developed so we don’t go over the first tier of this aspect.

Realism (Tier 1) : The health point system fixes the game in reality, as in the Fantasy aspect we can’t go over the first tier because of the universe not being developed enough.

Build (Tier 2) : The deck building system with cards and the quantity of cards allow many various combos. Moreover, this system is supported by the potions that we can take and relics that build step by step our character. This is a unique mechanic in this genre where the player builds during the game and directly links with the Exploration aspect.

Exploration (Tier 2) : The procedural generation gives unique games every time and this is also reinforced by some random event. However, the Exploration aspect doesn’t go over the second tier because the world is always the same, the number of floors never changes. Players go around quickly and are not surprised anymore. The game doesn’t break the player’s routine.

Challenge

Skilled (Tier 3) : The game is hard, without knowledge, it’s hard to defeat the first boss. The more the player wants to go further, the more the game is exigent and reaches extreme levels of difficulty (Ascension, Act IV…). In the same way, the game offers a custom game creation tool, for players that seek a harder game with more handicaps. The randomness does that players can lose even if they are good at the game because of their lack of chance. Many ways exist to have a difficult experience.
To compare with other games like Slay the Spire, the difficulty curve is well managed, the game becomes harder step by step until reaching some difficulty spikes. Whereas in Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon, some parts of the game can be very hard and some other parts can be very easy. In Hearthstone, difficulty will depend on the meta and the opponents, but without being constant.
This is why Slay the Spire is one of the best of his genre in this aspect.

Less skilled (Tier 0) : The goal can be quickly identified as well as its principle. Climb as far as possible by defeating enemies that are stronger and stronger. But these are the only clues that players have, they have to learn all the possibilities themselves.

Not work (Tier 1) : It is possible to win without knowing the game thanks to randomness. But on a big number of games, a game knowledge will be needed to win easily.

Work (Tier 2) : There are a lot of things to know and to learn in the game. So, players have to “study” the game to learn some things useful for their next games. However, using knowledge in game is simple because we have time to think during a fight. And at a high level of difficulty, a big number of games are needed to win. The game doesn’t go over the second tier because to compare it with Hearthstone where the meta changes, players have to constantly learn cards and deck types. To compare to other rogue-likes like Binding of Isaac, the sum of things to learn is way less important in Slay the Spire because we know exactly what effect a card makes or a relic gives.

Stimulation

Many (Tier 1) : The leaderboard is the only game element that involves other players but its interest is quite limited. We can also notice that there is a system for Twitch streamers to link their game with their viewers.

Few (Tier 2) : This is a solo game, it offers enough content to players to not suffer from a lack of any kind of multiplayer experience. The game lives through the player and always gives new choices. During a game, the player is immersed inside it. However, it doesn’t involve the player emotionally.

Calm (Tier 0) : Except in menus, action is everywhere. The player is always facing danger and has to make choices to survive.

Thrill (Tier 2) : The game forces players to make choices at any time and never give him a rest. Moreover, he has to take care of many variables : health, cards, money and so one…
It doesn’t get the third tier of the aspect because it is not required to be fast, players can take their time to think about their moves and their choices. They can also see which actions enemies will do.

Harmony

Cooperation (Tier 0) : The game has only a solo player mode and doesn’t involve neither other players, nor computer players allied with the player.

Competition (Tier 2) : There are fights, opponents, there are varied and everywhere. Combat system is central in the game and many mechanics are based around it. 

Mechanics (Tier 2) : The game could be more abstract, it may still work. Systems are well thought and linked to each other. With time, players see enemies and characters as a bunch of values, statistics. However, this system has some limitations and he is not as deep. In reality, there are not so many varieties of strategies.

Context (Tier 1) : Slay the Spire has a lore but it is secondary and not developed. We don’t know the identity of the main characters and we don’t know why they climb this tower.


– – – – – Satisfaction – – – – –

Introduction

We have seen earlier what motivates players to play. We can now ask what satisfied him and what he keeps after closing the game. To answer these questions, there are theories like the Self Determination Theory that have interest in our trend to satiate our natural psychological needs.

First one, our need to grow, masterise what we do, get skills. This is the Competence part. 
The second one is our need to show our existence through our choices, our impact in the world. This is the Autonomy part.
And finally the last one, our need to find our place in the world and take it on. This is the Relatedness part.

This theory can be applied to game design, we will then speak of P.E.N.S. theory (for Player Experience of Need Satisfaction). So, we can index what players take from the game in each category, shorten “CAR”.  We speak of “takeaways”, these are the origin of the player satisfaction.

A bit of philosophy :
One of its definitions defines happiness as a state of satisfaction. Moreover, one of the conceptions of desire tells us that when we satisfy a desire, we are momentarily satisfied (and then we can experience happiness). As a result, we can say that we are satisfied after we played because we have successfully fulfilled these psychological needs.

Here is the takeaways of Slay the Spire :


Development

Decision Making :
During a game, the player has to bring face to face a series of decisions to make. He has to learn to anticipate what happened next in his journey to consider the best choice, even if there are many random factors.
We find in this skill, for instance, in the choice of the way the player takes between each stage, in the choice of the cards, in the choice of the relics, in the possibility to buy or destroy a card at shop or different choices given by cards in a fight.

Randomness Management :
To achieve his objectives, the player must be able to influence the randomness and manage it correctly. This skill is very complex to master and needs many times to be assimilated due to the lack of understanding of random phenomena.
The random and its management can be found in deck buildings. The player is free to add or not new cards to his deck. Like so, the player can vary the number of cards in his deck, impacting the randomness aspect when the player draws. Some card effects also introduce some random behaviors. These effects can be controlled in some situations.

Progression :
In a game, the player acts on his progression. By choosing a way instead of another, he creates a unique path that shows his advance on different floors. The player accumulates also experience during his games, each playable class has its own experience bar. Thanks to this experience system, the player keeps a track of his previous game.

Unlocking cards :
Gradually, the player unlocks new cards that he will be able to find in his next games. Just like experience, cards are unlocked depending on played class. In this way, for the first game of a player in a class, only 20 cards are available among the 75 in total (for the Ironclad class). This unlocking system is also applied to class. To unlock a class, a player has to play with the previous one at least one time.

Leaderboards :
When a player starts a run, the game starts up a chronometer that will stop when the last boss is defeated. Moreover, each fight gives a specific quantity of points depending on the difficulty. Then, by putting time and scores together, it is possible to rank players on performances. This ranking is available in-game and allows to see who has got a better rank and invites players to be better to get better ranking.

Strategy sharing :
Outside the game, players have organized themselves to create various resources to encourage strategy sharing and some tactics to climb floors easily.
In this way, we can find many information on some wikis dedicated to Slay the Spire and even a database collecting a huge amount of statistics about cards, relics, win rates, popularity and so one.


– – – – – Critique – – – – –

Does the game succeed at interesting its players ?

Slay the Spire is a game that will mainly be interested in its players thanks to its many random aspects. Players that prefer regularity will seek to manage the randomness and avoid mishaps. So, when a player must choose what path follows, two ways of thinking will exist :
The first one will choose the incertitude and will play with his luck, by going to floors with special events that can bring back big awards, but that can also put him in a hard situation.
The second one will follow floors that don’t have any surprise, like merchants or campfires. Thanks to that, the player keeps a hand on randomness, even if this one can give him great advantages during his journey.
During a fight, randomness is everywhere : draw of cards, effects of cards, damage spreading on all enemies or damages made by enemies. In the same way as the choice of the path, the player has the possibility of using randomness or preventing its impact.
Moreover, each game is unique, so he is constantly facing new problems which he must adapt and be able to anticipate the incoming one.
In addition, the game succeeds in attracting new players simply because it has this reputation to be hard. Due to this, the game is aimed at players seeking difficulty and that is his main default as we will see later. Difficulty levels are varied and get to extreme levels. So everybody can find what they are looking for.
However, the game doesn’t succeed to attract a large public seeing as how it could be hard. A good thing that could have been done, was to smooth the difficulty curve particularly at the beginning, hoping this could attract players and keep them on the game a bit longer. But that was not the only point where the game lost his potential public. Due to the lack of lore and big stories, players may be discouraged from the start. This issue could have been avoided by simply making a small lore that could give to players a different approach of the game.


Does it manage to keep them ?

Even if the random makes a big part of the game, players don’t continue to play only to measure themselves at random. We have spoken of the case of unique runs with their generation and decisions taken by the players, forming a unique experience at each run.
Nevertheless, there is another system in Slay the Spire that invites players to start again a run without redundancy : The addition, ceaselessly, of novelty in the gameplay. Regularly, the player unlocks something that allows to renew the experience just by changing a small thing and lightly changing mechanics. The unblocking of cards and classes are a part of this renewal system.
However, the most interesting thing in this system is the Ascensions because we can easily unlock cards and classes, so the game needs another layer of novelty. When a player ends the Normal mode by defeating the last boss, he unlocks the access to Ascension mode divided in 20 levels of difficulty, that are here to constraint the player in his adventure.

Ascension 1 spawn more Elite enemies
Ascension 2 increase damage of normal enemies (+ effects of lower Ascension levels)
Ascension 3 increase damage of Elite enemies (+ effects of lower Ascension levels)
Ascension 4 increase damage of bosses (+ effect of lower Ascension levels)
And so one, until Ascension 20, the hardest level of difficulty of the game.

In addition to this, when the player ends the game with the three characters, he unlocks the Fourth Act, giving a new series of obstacles to the player.
So, we understand that regarding mechanics, players have the possibilities to push the game very far, but in reality, many of them will never see that because they don’t become attached emotionally to the game. The lack of context of characters, their motivations, in the nutshell, who the players incarnate in this world harm their immersion and they will never really feel themselves as a part of that universe.


Does it manage to satisfy them ?

Thereby, a player of Slay the Spire gain in satisfaction when he finishes a game entirely because that shows his good management of the randomness so that it is favorable to him, his adaptability in front of new difficulties, their understanding, and finally his skills to make good decisions by assessing risks and gains.
In the case where the player fails in his journey, he will be able to extract useful lessons for his next runs. He will learn to use some cards, discover the interest of some relics, understand some enemy attacks… All in all, he extracts patterns that he will use later to master them until a new difficulty pushes him to learn a new pattern and so on.
Moreover, the difficulty of the game gives an important feeling of satisfaction to players. Also, we fell our progression in the game because it became harder and harder bit by bit. But this feeling of progression has its limits. Even if we like to see the level of the Ascension getting higher and being close to 20, the changes between games are not so big and players could be bored. Whereas, the content easily unlockable, by earning experience level on each character, we reach the maximum level very fast. That gives a situation where a player can lose a game, don’t withdraw anything from that and don’t feel progressing. Some players may stop to play Slay the Spire because of that, but the game aim to a hardcore player community that love the difficulty. So, we can consider this is a committed position.