Griftlands is a traditional turn-based deck-building roguelite, with RPG vibes, and Slay the Spire style mechanics at its core. There are three main characters to choose from: Sal Ik-Derrick is a bounty hunter, who’s returned to her hometown to get revenge on an old friend who sold her out. Rook is a spy, playing both sides in a brewing conflict between workers and owners, while pursuing his own goals. Smith is a wastrel son from a noble family, back to reclaim his rightful place after the death of his parents.
The narrative is divided into days: Each features a few encounters, choice-based events, and story advancements, which end in a big boss fight. There’s often more than one way to resolve an encounter. Sometimes there’s also an opportunity to affect its outcome beforehand. Most fights you can completely avoid by negotiating. Those that you can’t, like boss encounters, you can still make less difficult by parleying.
Combat in Griftlands should be very familiar, if you’ve ever played a deck-building roguelite before. Each turn you get a hand of cards. To use a card, you must spend a specific number of action points. They allow you to deal damage, increase your defense, or activate some character mechanic. In addition, enemies have a panic level. If they get below this level, they’ll be stunned for a few turns.
If all enemies are panicking, the game gives you a choice to either kill them all, or to spare them. The latter might make them your allies, depending on the character and the situation. The former will impact your reputation and especially your ability to negotiate.
In contrast with combat, negotiations are unlike anything you’d see in most other deckbuilders. These are always one-on-one and the goal is still to reduce your enemies’ health – called resolve during this phase. There is, however, a new mechanic, with characters able to summon powerful effects that act almost like their companions during the encounter.
Your allies also show up as these, and both your and your foe’s effects can be attacked, just like any other characters. Destroying these can result in benefits, for example by giving you money to pay your party members. The negotiation deck is divided into diplomacy, manipulation and intimidation. Diplomacy and intimidation are often mutually exclusive, so you’ll want to specialize in either one or another. Manipulation makes your deck more effective and provides additional options for defense or character abilities.
In addition to individual characters’ campaigns, there are also daily challenge runs, where you can compete against other players. These are typically pretty short, less than a single day of the main mode, and are fun if you want a competitive bite-sized game of Griftlands.
Weaknesses and Limitations
While Griftlands offers a fair number of ways of building your decks, these still aren’t as expansive as in other games of the genre. Nowhere near the options you’d find in Monster Train or Slay the Spire. Much of this is due to each character having two separate decks: for battle and for negotiation. There’s however almost no crossover between the various builds, which further worsens the problem. This certainly reduces the game’s overall replay value.
Griftland’s other big weakness is the perks, which give passive bonuses to a character. Some of these are not well-balanced and feel completely overpowered, often making the game absolutely trivial. Other times they are mandatory, requiring you to replay the same mission over and over – until you finally unlock them. As a result, the game really begins to feel like a grind.
The battle system works fine, but there’s really nothing special about it. The developers did a good job, making each character unique and fun to play, but it still feels too close to Slay the Spire. As a result, I often preferred to solve every encounter through a negotiation. Why play a variant of a mechanic I’ve seen so many times before, when I could be playing something new and innovative instead?
I really like negotiations. That system feels great, and I found myself leaning heavily on it, throughout my runs. The entire structure with the many effects to manage, with buffs and debuffs, and the dynamic environment, is excellent.
I also really appreciated how they changed the traditional deckbuilder roguelite map structure. They made it way more suited for storytelling and RPGs, while still maintaining the main features of the genre. You are still making a fair number of branching choices, each cutting off paths. Yet you do it in such a way that it fits seamlessly with the setting and the world of the game.
By the way – the setting is great. I love the griminess and the grittiness of it all. As well as the writer’s ability to weave in humor without compromising the overall aesthetic. I’d definitely like to see other games in this universe, which is about the biggest compliment I can give it.
I like Griftlands. It’s fun, and it does introduce new ideas, in the roguelite deckbuilder realm. I wish it did a bit more to make itself feel different from the other games in the genre. Combat is certainly somewhat too close to Slay the Spire and others. However, the setting and the negotiation system are great and really worth checking out. While I don’t intend to replay Griftlands, like I’ve done with other deckbuilders, I very much enjoyed my time with it.