The last survivors in a town that has been ravaged by the emergence of a giant subterranean ice cream cone.
Punch our way through a maze of rats and anthropomorphic mushrooms.
Your day starts with a concussion and a letter from your uncle. “I’m a coward,” it basically says, “I ran away when things got dicey. I'm off to die of shame now, but you should hang back and save the world." It's a confusing opening act for a game, because the instructions clearly state that you are playing seven seemingly unrelated characters. How can this coward be everyone's uncle? Maybe he was just such a close friend of your parents, all seven of you called him uncle, which makes this betrayal even worse.
Regardless, the first thing that will raise your eyebrow about Spire’s End is that it is a 1-2 player game. That’s not something I see every day, but I love it. It reminds me of all the times I set up a whole game night, and only 1-2 people came over, including me. In Spire's End, you play two of the seven characters at a time, and you can either control both characters or share the adventure with the one person who showed up for your game night.
The characters, instructions, and game itself are all wrapped up in a generous deck of oversized cards, illustrated only in black, white, and red. I’m not sure if that color palette was an artistic or financial decision, but it jibes with the comic book fantasy-horror vibe that Spire’s End has going.
The cards present bits of story, challenges, and binary choices that allow you to jump forwards in the deck, and the goal is to keep your characters alive long enough to get to the bottom. These cards are supplemented by dice, which determine the success of your choices, and colorful translucent cubes, which are used to measure health and armor scores. Like many role-playing games, the story serves primarily as window dressing, a vessel to hold a series of exciting altercations with a variety of grotesque creatures.
Every enemy has its quirks, so the fights themselves are always fresh and fun, but the basic combat mechanism is simple. On each turn, you choose from one of 5 or so attacks that are unique to your character, some weak, and some deadly. You have to spend hit points to execute these attacks, and the cost is proportional to both the odds of a successful attack and the magnitude of damage done. Thus, the fundamental decision analysis in Spire’s End comes down to how much are you willing to hurt yourself to do more damage to your enemy.
The game lets you make a number of choices that impact the narrative, but if you fail (and you will), you have no choice but to go back to the very beginning and claw your way through a lot of the same enemies before you get to experience a new part of the story.. And if you are lucky enough to play all the way through and have a happy ending, the incentive to do it all again in hopes of finding a different happy ending is diminished by this forced redundancy. Thus, replayability is not a strong point of this game. I recommend Spire’s End as weekend diversion. Then you can put it back on your shelf for 6-12 months until you’ve forgotten enough to try it again with 0-1 of your closest friends.
Spires End is mostly cards with a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style. Your entire city has been taken by some excessively creepy monsters from the core of your world! Quick! Gather up your suicide squad of allies and use your special powers to find the people of your city who are imprisoned deep within the spire!
As you work way through a deck of scenarios and enemies, the seven characters you control die off one at a time, and often faster than expected. But the game will sometimes kill you all off instantly as the result of a bad choice, even when some of your characters are still healthy. This is frustrating, but overall the game is full of fun surprises and engaging storytelling that keeps attention for an hour or two.