Ever have one of those games that kicks your ass over and over again, but you can’t stop playing it?
Welcome to Poker Quest!
Much like Dicey Dungeons is a roguelight that uses a familiar object to represent probability and allows you to equip items that are powered by die rolls, PQ (no, not that PQ) does the same by representing probability with a deck of 52 playing cards.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room right now. If you don’t like random chance in your games, you should probably skip this one. You don’t have as many ways to directly manipulate results as in Dicey Dungrons. But, otoh, it reminds me of an old-school roguelike. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
PQ has a Slay the Spire-style map with multiple tracks weaving through it. Nodes can have fights, all sorts of vendors, inns, trainers, casinos (win fabulous prizes!), and even castles, with a variety of things to do. Interestingly, your vision range on the map is limited. You can upgrade that distance. There are also items/other ways to reveal more of the map. Fights display what their rewards are.
There are at least 18 classes to unlock, with many more planned (sorry, Tom, it’s in Early Access). Each has their own set of starting equipment and a special skill. Your character has the following resources regardless of class: health, food, energy, gems, and poker chips. Food is used when you move to a new node, like fuel in FTL. Energy powers class abilities. Gems are spent to draw extra cards during combat. Poker chips are the shopping currency, and they are also used to buy character and item upgrades.
One thing I really like about this game is that it uses the mechanics to reinforce the theme very well, much like that other PQ game. So in that game, you might have used a bunch of red mana to cast a fire spell, burning the ground and changing green gems to red. In this PQ, you might play a ninja with three shuriken. Each of those shuriken requires a pair to use, but draws two cards when activated. So one pair of cards might lead into another pair and then another, for a rapid-fire feeling.
Other items might require a straight, or a flush, or simply a number of cards that add up to at least a certain value, or exactly that value. There are even items that trigger only off a specific card, like the 7 of Diamonds. Some items cost gems, health, tokens, or energy in lieu of or in addition to cards.
Combat is turn-based. You draw a certain number of cards each turn (which can be upgraded) from a freshly shuffled deck. You can spend gems to draw more cards if you wish. After using whatever items you can, you end your turn and the AI will take a turn.
Oh yes, the AI. Enemies have all sorts of abilities. You can see what they are before you start a fight or even move to that map node. You only ever fight one creature at a time. They draw cards just like you do. Sometimes, some of those cards are face down, greatly complicating your decision making. What are the chances both of those cards are hearts, or that one of them is the one they need for a 4-card straight? Certain classes and items have the ability to reveal cards that are face down.
If an enemy has more than one ability, they will be ordered with the highest priority ability on the left. Most abilities don’t give the cards back when they are used, so while the screen might show more than one ability Lit up (meaning its conditions have been met), if the first uses cards needed for the second, that might not actually be used.
There’s a wide variety of status effects. Some of these are applied directly to an enemy (e.g. poison). Others are applied to gear. If your sword gets enflamed, you will take damage if you use it. If it is cursed, you will take damage if you DON’T use it. If it gets hexed, using it will give your opponent cards from your hand. If it is frozen, you will have to use other cards to thaw it before it can be used.
I mentioned the game is bloody hard. It took me 11 hours to finally reach the halfway point of a run. I’m pretty happy if I can beat the first boss, but I frequently don’t even get that far.
This is a game of attrition, which is where the roguelike feeling comes in.
The beginning of roguelike wisdom is in recognizing critical moments.
I read that John Harris article years ago, but that particular bit stuck with me.
Earlier, I asked: What are the chances both of those cards are hearts? Now what if the resulting attack would do more damage than I have health, or would leave me desperately low? That’s a critical moment. I have to use resources to mitigate that chance. And if I don’t have those resources, either because I used them already or don’t have a piece of gear to deal with the situation, then I simply have to regret my life choices.
You have to manage all your resources, decide when to take chances and when not to. Is it better to burn resources this fight or save for the next one? Yes there’s a lot of randomness, but the challenge is how to augment your starting gear, which challenges to take on, and how and when to mitigate potential damage with the tools at your disposal.
There are a variety of game modes, all of which give XP toward unlocking new classes:
Upgrade — purchase buffs for each run such as increased health, extra starting food and tokens, etc
Classic — no upgrades here. Gives 2x XP
Daily — fixed seed and class with a special modifier. Gives +150% XP
Custom — haven’t tried this one. XP gain is restricted
As an example of a daily run, there was a Ninja run the other day where your number of gems was set to 2 at the start of every fight, which was pretty fun.
Interesting classes — you always wanted to play a banker in an rpg, right?
Good monster and item variety
Run Length — a full run would easily take me several hours, though I’m not worried about that happening any time soon
Food — the food mechanic sucks. I just don’t see how it adds to the game. Spending money on food instead of cool items or upgrades and dictating which path you choose to take isn’t something that makes the game more fun. The devs seem to realize this is a problem though, because a recent patch increased the number of farms on the map and changed them from spending 5 chips for 5 food to 1 chip for 3 food.
A few pointers to help you suck as much as I do:
Gem draw — increasing your base card draw each turn is great, but don’t overlook gem draw, which is super helpful for most classes
Map vision — another sneaky valuable upgrade. It’s common for one path to put other nodes out of your reach (unless you have a means to jump). It really stinks to move, then see you could have gotten to that shop/temple/smith/doctor/casino you were hoping for
Map navigation — all fights are not created equal. Some are much easier for one class than another. Remember you can see what enemies do before you can engage them (caves are an exception). It is pretty easy to be cruising along than hit an enemy that you can’t deal with and end a run. This is another way that increasing map vision can help.
Consumables — consumables in this game can be incredibly strong. Unless they say they are destroyed on use, their charges can be refilled (e.g. at campsites). Better to use them than end a run with a fully charged item that might have saved you (not that I’d know anything about that).
I want to recommend this game. It’s creative. It’s fun. The daily challenges are really interesting. It also routinely punishes you for thinking luck is on your side. It’s not for everyone. But if you relish a challenge and are willing to look at a promising run that suddenly ended in a smoking ruin and ask what you could have done differently, rather than blame random chance for screwing your over, this might be the game for you.