Defeat comes often in Blood Card, but with every defeat comes a determination to get just a bit farther on the next run.
A deckbuilding game with roguelike elements, Pixel Cattle’s Blood Card is unforgiving and its grotesque enemies’ combos are often cruel. Its horror theme fits the roguelike mechanics well, with death constantly looming over your decisions (literally—more on that later). Despite a few gameplay hiccups and a challenging difficulty curve, overall I find Blood Card to be a fun experience.
Although I’ve played several deckbuilding games on the dining room table and am even designing one myself, I haven’t played a digital one before. While indie hit Slay the Spire is on my Steam wishlist, Blood Card was my first time seeing firsthand how a digital deckbuilding game can change the way a deckbuilding game plays.
In Blood Card, you’ll start with only three types of cards in your deck as you face off against your enemies. But you’ll gather a wide variety of new cards as you continue—some are obvious upgrades and helpful to any deck, while others might seem useless until you find that perfect, sexy combo. Your growing collection of cards also equates to an increased life pool. The number of cards currently in the player’s deck is also the player’s available HP, and consequently, if the player takes damage they will discard cards from the deck.
Another unique twist to the otherwise standard deckbuilding mechanics is the addition of Death himself. At some point in every battle, an ominous message will appear, and the grim reaper will show up a couple turns later. After an initial scythe swing deals heavy damage to both the player and enemies, Death will continue to chip away at all characters turn by turn, which curbs slow, scaling decks and pushes each battle toward a quicker end.
Whether it’s capital “D” Death or just normal death from a rapier-wielding zombie aristocrat that defeats you, you’ll get the chance to start a new run, with new random enemies and card rewards. As long as you get to the first boss, you can choose from different benefits at the beginning of your run. You also unlock access to new cards as you win battles, but those cards are added to the pool of cards you can find during a run (not to your starting deck).
In my six or so hours playing the game, I beat the first bosses a few times and lost a battle to one of the second bosses once. So I’m unsure how much further the game goes or how much harder the game gets. However, with multiple kinds of bosses and several ways to build a winning deck, I think that the game should provide plenty of content for anyone.
While the roguelike and deckbuilding mechanics are the biggest draws for the game, I think the pixel art graphics add to the experience as well. The visual and aural elements of Blood Card work well together to create a spooky ambiance. The horror theme, to me, is unique for a deckbuilding game but the concept of trying to beat Death feels right. I think the standard enemies could use a little more visual variation as the bosses do. I also think the sound effects and music are fine at creating an ambiance but don’t stand out on their own.
Beyond the unremarkable audio, Blood Card has some other issues. For one, the game has some translation issues. While a recent patch improved the game’s translations, it still has some rough spots. That being said, I think the game text is perfectly readable and won’t keep you from understanding what’s going on. The UI is simple and usually easy to navigate, but occasionally some interface elements felt a little off to me, like scrolling through the card library. I also think there might be some balancing issues, but with only six to seven hours of playtime, I don’t have a perfect grasp of every card and every enemy. It will be interesting to see how the game balance changes when the game exits early access on Steam.
Overall, despite those issues, I’d still recommend Blood Card to anyone who enjoys strategy card games. The game is challenging—at least it was for me—but not in a demoralizing way. It truly earned the word “challenge:” it made me eager to try again and again until I finally beat that damned gargoyle boss and his stupid revive mechanic.