So often in digital card games you’ll find your deck full of monsters and weapons to beat down your opponent, and don’t get me wrong I love building the perfect pile of minions as much as the next guy, but there’s a simple beauty in the humble deck of playing cards. In video games you’ll usually find these little cardboard rectangles in casinos for the standard blackjack and poker mini game, but Aces and Adventures has used these familiar cards to create a spectacular deck builder.
Set in a fantasy world, you’re tasked with going off on sprawling adventures that are told entirely through decks of cards. After selecting your hero and adventure, you’ll be told a story that sees your hero travelling the world, making important decisions and slaying monsters. The narrative itself is very simple (reminding me more of choose your own adventure books than fantasy epics) but serves to get you into that sweet card action.
In each turn of battle you’ll start with a full hand of cards, and are tasked with finding the best poker hand possible within it. Once you’ve chosen your poker attack, the enemy will draw cards equal to their defence stat to try and find a better one. Whoever has the stronger hand will deal the damage to the loser, and you’ll take turns whacking each other until someone is out of health (hopefully them). It’s a fantastic battle system, and only gets better when you add in ability cards.
As well as the usual playing cards, each hero in Aces and Adventures has their own deck of ability cards which you draw one of each turn. These cards have all sorts of interesting effects to help you take down the monsters of the land, from dealing a bit of extra damage to manipulating your playing cards to make your standard attacks more powerful. To use abilities you’ll often have to discard cards of a certain suit though, so it’s important to make sure using them won’t make your standard attack weaker and easier to counter.
In the build of Aces and Adventures I played I had access to five heroes, who all functioned very differently to each other. The warrior focuses on blocking hits and disrupting combat to ensure he survives, whereas the mage tries to deal damage with abilities more than the standard poker attacks. My favourite though was the enchantress, who has abilities that allow your cards to go up or down in number to facilitate powerful 2 and 3 of a kind attacks.
As you complete different adventures, that are typically about four fights long, you’ll be granted booster packs (which weirdly look like coconuts). These contain five ability cards, which you can put in your heroes’ starter decks to improve them. Perhaps you don’t find the ability to shuffle your playing cards back into your deck to get a new hand very useful, or you’ve got an ability that’s just too expensive to use. Thanks to these booster packs you can get rid of those and streamline your gameplay.
As well as getting new cards, you also get syringes full of mana as a reward for a successful run. When you aren’t adventuring you can inject these into a tree in the garden hub area to level up each hero. Each level up will grant you something new, from an extra hitpoint to the ability to mulligan a card at the start of each adventure. A few syringes will really beef up your favourite adventurer, so don’t be stingy and pump up that hunter already.
Usually when I think deck building and levelling up I assume I’ll be playing a roguelike, and while each adventure sort of functions this way (which branching paths, mini upgrades, a merchant and permadeath) I never once felt disheartened when I wiped out because they’re so gloriously bite sized. You’re always improving your characters too, so if you’re finding a particular adventure tough you can always replay older ones as another class and use the mana and new cards you collect to improve your chances.
I play a lot of games featuring cards and deck building, but it’s been a long time since one grabbed me quite like Aces and Adventures. The familiarity of the playing cards coupled with the short length of the adventures make the game much more accessible than its peers, while the levelling up and deck building ensures that card game regulars will have plenty to sink their teeth into. I can’t wait to head off on a fantasy poker adventure when Aces and Adventures releases next year, and I strongly recommend you do the same.
Aces and Adventures is due for release on PC in 2023.