With the plethora of card games to choose from these days, thanks to the dramatically popular Slay the Spire (among others), making something to compete in this market requires some real draw power, if you will excuse the sharp card puns. Neurodecks unique selling point, its setting, certainly makes it compelling. But is it enough to see it succeed? Or is the deck stacked against them?
As is tradition now in these ‘build em ups’, you start with a single character unlocked to play through and fight their neuroses while building upon your starting cards. Emotions form the conceit of your deck, and affect the cards you can gain or draw through the course of the game.
This is a nice touch as it makes playthroughs different as they utilise many different styles. Deckbuilding is highly synergistic, and that makes the game feel much more compelling and unique to each emotion. Joy, the starting emotion, can focus on a couple of areas – rest and wrath. Anger, the next unlock, builds on this and has both wrath and a discard style component to its deck builds. And this matters greatly.
While the phobias you face come from the same pool, your decks will always have a preference on which you will want to encounter. Joy may prefer to face an enemy that hits quite hard, like the classic fear of spiders – arachnophobia. With enough rest, the healing provided makes this fight no challenge at all, even in the later game.
But how do you feel?
Later, some phobias may remove those useful stacks of rest. If your build focuses around having that, it’s worth trying to avoid having to face an enemy that is a direct counter to what you are trying to do. Deck choices matter, as do enemy encounters. Traits, unlocked via surveys, help by giving you a focus for your deck build. You can learn what each one does by experimenting over time, but with some practice having three good traits for your deck will send it into overdrive, letting you deal with those pesky phobias in no time.
The phobias you face off against are interesting and often quite disturbing. You get a choice between two each encounter, and one will always be better for your deck build to beat. Knowing what the phobias are capable of will dictate which you choose, so at the start, it is a bit of a guessing game, and you can find yourself fighting against something you are not equipped to beat. They do have a small tagline – Haptophobia, for example (the fear of being touched) “locks your card and put its filthy hand on you”, but it won’t be until you face it at least once that you actually know what the attacks are. Thankfully you have an index, so once seen, you can check out each opponent before a fight to remind yourself what they are capable of.
The game isn’t without its flaws, sadly. Card removal is broken – I was unable to select my card of choice to remove; instead, the game always removed the top card from my deck. In games like this where trying to keep your deck as clean as possible matters, this really stumbled the deck design, and I frequently passed on the opportunity as it is more of a hindrance than a help. Coupled with that, some of the cards don’t do what they say they do at selection. “A hot bath” claims to be an item card, but once it’s in your deck, it is an action card and does something completely different to its description when choosing. These are glaring flaws but should hopefully be fixed on full release. The harder fix is how stacks work. I spent a lot of time trying to understand how much damage I would deal based on wrath stacks and their interaction with certain cards. It takes a lot of experimentation, but I can glumly report that more often than not, if you think something is very powerful, it likely won’t work how you expect.
Neurodeck is a fascinating card game that explores an often ignored aspect of gaming – our psyche, and in an interesting and fun manner. I would have liked to see more of a storyline as opposed to the raw card game, and phobias would have been more interesting if linked to personal character emotions, but overall the game is fun, well thought out and unique. Deal with that how you like, but cards on the table, the game is aces. (It isn’t; it’s pretty good. But who can resist a good card pun?)