PAX East - First Look: Death Roads: Tournament
Introducing something new to the deckbuilding genre seems like an impossible task. It's a straightforward mechanic, and having played several deckbuilders, the basic mechanics in all the games are the same. But at PAX East, Death Roads: Tournament proved me wrong. At its base, it has the same features as most deckbuilders, but moving your car on the playing field certainly changes things up and adds a whole new element of strategy.
When I met with The Knights of Unity, Hubert (aka Sir Civil) told me that the game actually started as a board game. In fact, they had a copy of the board game with them. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play the physical game. However, I spent quite a bit of time with the video game, both at PAX East and at home.
The game has a Mad Max feel about it. Death Roads: Tournament occurs in the future after the moon crashes into Earth. Most of the world is desolate and barren except for one city, Prime One. Only a few can participate in Death Road: Tournament, and the winner can live in Prime One. But you’re not the only one vying for a new life; you’ll meet other racers on the road. These racers act like bosses.
Unlike many deckbuilders, where the paths start from the bottom and work your way upwards, Death Roads: Tournament moves from left to right as you move from the western US to the east coast, the location of Prime One. You select from five starting points, and your opponents (or bosses) will choose the other four places. At some point, the paths will cross, and when your road intersects with a boss, the boss battle will commence.
There are plenty of battles before that happens. The board has a few unique spaces on the road; a skull that represents enemies, a cash register that identifies the shops, tools that symbolize a repair shop, and question marks that signify a random event.
The cards you play depend on a few elements - the type of car you’re driving, the parts of the vehicle, and the driver. As you progress through the game, you’ll come across new parts that you can swap out, giving you different types of cards. For example, you may have a set of tires that allow you to move up and down or left and right. Some cards are for an attack, and others are for maneuvering around the board; a good mix of both is essential to win.
The battles are unlike any other deckbuilder. You’ll need to move your car around the playing field, and as I mentioned before, you’ll use cards to do that. Each card has different tiers based on your car's gear. You’ll also play cards to change your gears. The higher the gear, though, the higher the risk of losing control of your vehicle. Each card has action points associated with it. However, you’ll want to keep some action points in reserve. When your opponent attacks, it also depletes your action points. Once these reach zero, you’ll go into skid mode. This is a separate deck of cards, and these cards move your vehicle all over the road. You draw more cards from the deck when you are in a higher gear.
There are a few ways you can attack your opponent. The most obvious ways are weapon cards. Depending on the equipment, you attack from the car's front, side, or back. Positioning your vehicle is critical and one of the most challenging aspects of the game. It’s frustrating when you don’t have the correct movement cards to get you where you want to be.
Death Roads: Tournament is tough. There are many skull spaces and fewer garage spaces to repair your vehicle. As a result, you’ll die a lot, but each run earns you experience, unlocking new cars, parts, and drivers. I could play as all the drivers at PAX, as they were all unlocked. It’s wild how different each driver plays. Even though the game is difficult, it’s addicting and fun and I’ve been playing it late into the night.
Death Roads: Tournament is in Early Access on Steam. If you are up for a challenge and enjoy deckbuilding roguelikes, check out this game.