Review: Card Crawl

By Dave Neumann 12 Mar 2015 0
Fresh meat Fresh meat


Just so we understand where this is going, let's start by listing all the things that Card Crawl is not:

  • Role-playing game

  • Dungeon crawl

  • Deep or heavy

  • Easy


If you're looking for a game that is those things, turn away. While Card Crawl puts on an RPG mask and presents itself as a dungeon-in-a-deck, it's nothing of the sort. You're character is merely a nameless card. You never level up. The challenges you face remain the same from game to game. What Card Crawl is, however, is a simple solitaire card game that is short, addictive, and has become my favorite new time waster.



Card Crawl has a closer connection to classic time wasters like Klondike or Free Cell than it does Baldur's Gate. It is a solitaire card game with a static 54-card custom deck. That's it. Like those classic solitaire games, your job is to get through the whole deck with no cards remaining at the end. Disappointed? You shouldn't be, because it's a fantastic design that fits that "I have 5 minutes to kill" niche that mobile puzzle games seem to fit into so nicely.

The deck of cards consists of 5 different suits: Weapons, Shields, Potions, Gold, and Monsters. The play area has two rows. The top row is the "dungeon" where new cards are dealt. The bottom row contains your character portrait, your "hands", and your pack. Each turn you need to remove 3 of the 4 cards from the top row before the top row is refilled. So, if you're dealt Shield, Sword, Monster, Gold. You might take the sword in one hand, shield in the other and put the gold in your pack. That would leave only the Monster and the top row would be refilled. Continue like this until the deck and top row are empty. Simple.

Too many potions, not enough hands. Too many potions, not enough hands.


Only it's not simple. You see, once you put something in your hands, you cannot remove it without actually using it. So, let's say you are dealt a weaker sword that does 3 damage, a weak shield that can withstand 3 damage, a powerful healing potion that can restore 10 health, and 3 Gold. Sounds great! No monsters and a lot of loot to grab. So, you put the 3-Sword and 3-Shield in your hands and stick the potion in your backpack for later. New cards are dealt and you reveal a powerful blade that does 7 damage, 10 gold, and a shield that protects against 7 damage. Great! No monsters again except, wait, where do I put all this great new stuff? In the garbage, that's where. You cannot exchange it for something in your hand--the only way to remove a sword or shield is by attacking--so you're left with crappy equipment in your hands while you have to throw the good stuff away until you've cleared out 3 of the top row's cards. Luckily, if you throw items away, they are converted to gold which helps your final score. If you throw away the Gold cards, however, the dealer considers it a tip and you'll get nothing. That's really the crux of the game, and it's a brilliant push-pull mechanism. You want to trash items, because you want to collect as much gold as you can, but without those items you probably won't survive through the deck, and if you don't survive through the deck you collect nothing. That's right, thanks for coming, you'll get nothing and like it. So, do you trash that potion that heals for 9 and collect 9 gold, knowing there's a potion that heals 10 still somewhere in the deck, or do you hold onto it in case a really bad creature pops up next hand? Will the deck be unkind and force you to trash goodies? Will you use up your weapons and shields, freeing up both hands only to get dealt 4 monsters that you can no longer defend yourself against?

Yes, randomness abounds in this game and there will definitely be games where you aren't going to make it through the dungeon no matter what you do because of how the deck is shuffled. Many, many games end with an empty deck but one or two Monsters left in the top row and not having a way to handle them other than letting them attack you and take you below 0 hit points. Of course, each run through takes only a few minutes, which is part of the charm. I have yet to play a game of Card Crawl where I came up just short that wasn't immediately followed by starting a new game and playing at least one more time.

I'd really love that 9 Potion that I sold earlier.


I mentioned before that the deck of 54 cards is static. That's not entirely true. 49 of the cards are identical each play through, but 5 of the cards represent your character's special abilities. These are things like Sacrifice, which lets you damage a monster equal to the amount of damage your character has suffered, or Vanish which lets you discard everything from the top row and get dealt new cards. You begin the game with five, and can unlock more special cards by winning games and collecting gold. As you collect more of these, you can choose to play the game in a couple ways. Normal mode will randomly select five of your special powers, so you don't know what you're going to get, whereas Constructed mode allows you to select which five cards you want to take along with you. Both are fun, but I'm leaning toward Normal mode being my favorite. Something about not knowing which powers you have really shakes things up. Oh, and just in case you're wondering, there is no IAP in the game, so the special cards can only be earned through playing.

The special powers seem to get more powerful, but they're so situational that one might be powerful in one game and useless in the next. The special powers seem to get more powerful, but they're so situational that one might be powerful in one game and useless in the next.


Besides gameplay, the app is great to look at as well. The cards all have a hand drawn look to them and there are nice touches, such as your character's portrait turning more and more skeletal as she takes damage. The main draw, however, is the ale swilling minotaur that's dealing out the cards. Nothing will make you want to play another match quicker than his mocking laughter after you lose a match. I hate him and his entire bovine family.

I really hate this guy. I really hate this guy.


If you can't tell, I'm really in love with Card Crawl. This has taken the place of my other fillers like Threes or Rules, and I don't see myself heading back that way anytime soon. There's something about a solitaire card game that really does it for me, and Card Crawl is one of the best I've played. I hope, in time, that new decks and new powers are offered, but even without expanding the game, I can see Card Crawl taking up space on my iDevices.

Card Crawl was played on both an iPad Air and iPhone 5.

Review: Card Crawl

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