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Tamarak Trail

Developer: Yarrow Games

Publisher: Versus Evil

  • Price: $14.99
  • Release Date: Feb 29, 2024
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Last on Sale: -
  • Lowest Historic Price: -
  • ESRB Rating: T [Teen]
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    A smart and challenging take on a roguelike deck builder that instead decides to roll the dice for luck

    Among the subgenres that have become quite a big deal in the past few years, I think much to the chagrin of people who aren’t fans, is the roguelike deckbuilder. Brought into the limelight with the success of titles like Slay the Spire and some others, this variation on traditional strategy is well known for being tough as nails. One problem in the space has absolutely been a lack of variety beyond elements like cosmetics, the underlying story, or other more superficial factors, that fundamentally they’ve perhaps too often felt too similar. Tamarak Trail doesn’t deviate too far from the core formula, but making the move from you working with a card-based deck to dice absolutely shakes up how things play out.

    In a typical deck builder, you would start out with a core set of cards that represent various offensive and defensive options, and then as you defeat opponents you’d typically have the opportunity to add new cards, opening up more possibilities on each draw. On the surface changing these cards out for dice may not seem to make a significant difference, but in practice it can make play far more unpredictable. Consider that with cards you’ll shuffle your deck and then play through it, so though you can’t control the order or grouping of the cards you’ll at least be assured to see every card in your deck until it is depleted and then reshuffled. With dice, on the other hand, depending on the luck of the roll you could end up with very different outcomes, perhaps never seeing your best attack or defense, and that makes for a much wilder ride.

    In order to help you have a little more control of your fate, you will get new face options that will allow you to then customize each side of your dice. While at first you can try to make your focus more attack or defense heavy, you’ll also begin to get sides that have an immediate effect but that will also then turn the current dice to another side in the same turn, and that’s where strategic planning can really kick in. Granted, you still will only have only so much power to work with per turn, so you can’t just try to string together a chain of actions and think you’ll be able to pull them off… but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with some aggressive and effective combinations to capitalize on when they hit. This is really where the ingenuity of the game’s design takes center stage, and as you play through and fail over and over you’ll slowly unlock new potential elements you’ll be able to use that can further shake things up.

    The downside to all of this is that you’ll likely have to learn to be pretty patient as the metagame unlock process here feels like it moves quite a bit slower than most. Part of the reason that things will tend to go slowly is that the difficulty often feels pretty brutal. Yes, you’ll get into some runs where you get on a lucky streak and gain more experience than usual, but there are also ones where it feels like you couldn’t even get off the ground. Another part of the challenge is just having to take the time and pay careful attention to every detail of each element you have to work with. It isn’t just about what you roll, dice collisions will modify the nature of the attacks and defenses you’re working with, so you’ll sometimes have to take a moment to review what even the best order of execution is in order to take full advantage of any bonuses you can. While this absolutely adds depth that genre fans should appreciate, it also further raises the bar of challenge so more casual players may be inclined to just tap out early on this one.

    Put this all together and I consider Tamarak Trail to be one of the most difficult, but also exciting, roguelike deck builders I’ve come across. Granted, a lack of familiarity with some of its concepts and deeper strategies help with this, since brand new styles of challenges tend to be the most difficult to contend with. Add to that the fact that the RNG gods seem to take an even bigger role in this than you typically would see, and there’s plenty of room for aggravation. Still, for the right crowd I believe that also makes the experience a bit more exciting and fulfilling when you do get on a hot streak. While Tamarak Trail is absolutely not among the friendliest of its brethren, if you’re ready to push yourself and be patient it’s definitely one of the most rewarding if you can persevere.

    Justin Nation, Score:
    Nindie Choice! [8.3]

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