A write up after two hours of playing around with it.
I’m going to walk you through the game at the top level, to give you an idea of what this is without getting into too many nitty-gritty details, though I’m happy to answer whatever questions I can, of course.
To start things off, there is a combat tutorial which did a great job explaining how to play, and it can be accessed at any time from the main menu. The menu, the entire game, is actually a huge tome - the pages turn when you click on your character icons to “flip to them” and get to their inventory or stats, you can click on the “map” bookmark to get back to the main game area, stuff like that. The pages explode outward into a 3D space when a battle starts. It’s really brilliant stuff. Very stylish. At the start of a run, you select characters (only 3 are available to start but there are at least a 10 unlockable characters to play as, each with their own cards - oh, I should mention the game is a card battler, but with a tactical space to move and perform actions on - this will all make sense as we come into focus). So right now you pick your characters, starting abilities and equipment you’ve unlocked (meta-game stuff, I don’t have much to select so far but after one run I do have a few things), you pick your difficulty level (easy, normal, hard, and Cataclysm I which works like Ascension in Slay the Spire - you beat the game on 1 and unlock Cataclysm II and etc., which each tier of Cataclysm bringing new and nasty modifiers to the game) and you pick your campaign. There are two main, story-based campaigns currently and I’ve only tried the first one - The Water Gem has you wandering off to the direction of where your village elders believe a Water Gem exists - the game world is very post apocalyptic (or at least this scenario is?), it’ takes place after Elven magic destroyed everything - and you are tasked with finding the Water Gem to save your village.
There is also an “open ended story” campaign mode with no story, just wander and adventure and explore! You can customize the game world settings here, though I haven’t tried it yet. Daily Challenge as well, and you can see your friends’ scores/runs and compare them to your own in any game mode. I want to try and beat one of the story modes though, I have a feeling it will unlock more stuff than playing the sandbox mode (though I could be wrong).
Okay, so here is what the main game map looks like. Note this image is a little different than it currently looks like (and my own game world was a lot more… devastated looking) because I didn’t seem to get any screen grabs of the main gameplay area and this is from the store page, and is missing elements like how tired your party is. I suppose it could also be that different scenarios have different properties, like maybe you don’t need to worry about resting in the other one, but it’s more likely this is an older shot. I suspect camping is a big part of the game, regardless of scenario.
Your party is represented in the middle of the map, and you can click and move in any direction. Doing so advances the (randomly generated) map and pops up locations, events, encounters, all manner of things to do. If a tower comes into view, head to it if you like! If a roaming band of ratkin approach, greet them… or maybe attack them and take their stuff! In the Water Gem (and probably other scenarios with a main objective), there is a yellow arrow pointing you to the next story beat, and if you pick up a quest (say you meet someone that needs an escort to their settlement), that’s represented by a smaller orange arrow. At any given moment you have plenty of things to do, basically. You have to track your level of fatigue - if your characters get tired they have to shuffle a dead card into their decks during a combat encounter, but camping* has several benefits - you eat food to heal, you can use herbs to restore a wounded character (removing a wound card from the deck if they acquired one, for example one of my characters tried to ascend a tower and fell, hurting his arm - they had to shuffle a “fractured wrist” card into their deck, and when drawn it gave them the Weakened status (your next attack deals 3 less damage)). You can craft any item you’ve seen before, and you can also hone your deck by removing a card. You can only pick one of those things to do, but you can potentially* heal +1 health and restore fatigue when you rest. It’s a neat system.
*EDIT: Some additional information from @ShivaX:
Also to correct something Scott mentioned, you don’t always heal, you need a good place to rest. Resting is based on the terrain. Bad terrain is like +15% fatigue. Okay terrain is +20% (25?) fatigue and good terrain (a structure or town) is +25% fatigue and +1 health. Health is a big deal since healing herbs are rare (and you want to keep one around for injuries) so resting outside of a good place isn’t usually a good idea, but something you still might do if you’re Tired or Drained and expect/fear a fight.
And, when you encounter something on the map, it’s always a little choose your own adventure!
I picked this screenshot to show off another cool thing - I had rescued someone earlier and that event gave me a “Follower” named Veilik, the Scavenger. His ability gave my party the ability to craft stuff for free while camping, and then also gave me a free pass on this event so I got to dig up some goodies without any trouble (I’m guessing this would have turned out poorly otherwise). Lots of content in the game. I should mention it looks like they are aiming for a Q1 2020 release out of early access, so it looks like a big chunk of stuff is currently in, with just more awesome to come (a new class, another boss, the final story scenario - I believe all mechanics are in place though).
So eventually you’ll meet something you have to fight, and the game really shines even brighter here. Like Gloomhaven, you can ditch cards to do reliable tasks such as move 2 spaces or gain 1 Willpower to power (play) other cards (will power is a shared resource, so if one player ditches 2 cards another can play a 2-cost card), your enemies have unique cards/decks and they draw from that to give you some really fun flavor on different types of creatures (for instance, I fought Shadows that all of their movement cards allowed them to ignore obstacles and characters so they would walk right up to my ranged/spell caster characters without having to navigate around the area adjacent to my tank, which normally halts movement - yes, that sucked, and the AI seems pretty good at it’s job). In this shot you see my mage is about to cast Spark (which will inflict Burning, a named status effect that will deal 3 damage to this creature next turn).
After every combat, you get to level up one of your characters (of your choice) and that let’s them replace a base (non-equipment) card (equipment gives you cards as well - the spark I played above came from an Inferno Tome I had found earlier in the adventure, for example) with a more powerful card of your choice, of four to choose from. Plus goodies like money to spend at various shops you may encounter, crafting materials, equipment, all sorts of great loot to find in the land.
There is a lot of impressive world-building happening here, as well. Often you’ll see hyperlink styled words you can hover over to get more info! There is also a help system you can dig into for details on mechanics, but I haven’t looked into that too deep yet.
Then you have Legendary Items! And so many other crazy little mechanics and things, like elite encounters and bosses! And traits! One of my characters did something heroic and obtained a “Selfless” trait that gives her a card where she can play for free, take 3 damage, and all other heroes can draw a card. Such a cool touch. Suffice it to say, this game is doing a lot of things and doing them well, from what I’ve seen.
Anyway, And after your run ends, you gain Soul Levels (you get points for all the various progress you made in the run) that make the participating characters more powerful for the next run (near as I can tell, gaining spirit levels gives those heroes more options at level up to pick from), and you will unlock more starting boons to begin a quest with (it looks like, I’m only on my second run, so others might have more info here).
It’s a LOT of fun. I lost two hours playing it already, and I’m super excited to get back into it again. The starting characters (a ranger, warrior, sorcerer though they aren’t actually called that) are great and I love the art and the visual style of the game, as well. It looks great, it plays great, it is great and I can’t recommend it enough!