Death Roads: Tournament review – road thrash

Death Roads Tournament review - characters playing cards on car

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you got into your car and found out that each move would take one turn? No? Well, us neither, but that did not stop Death Roads: Tournament for going full-on deckbuilder road warrior. Indeed, if you are thinking Slay the Spire but swapping Roads for Spire, then you are on the right track. Let’s see if this is a worthy concept or one better left in the garage.

Developer The Knights of Unity is not new to the concept of deckbuilding and turn-based strategy, as they’ve also released Card Hunter and Scythe. But in Death Roads, the pudding is all post-apocalyptic and everyone seems to have re-watched Mad Max a bit too much. There is not really much of a story here, as we just select one character and head down into road battles on a single map. Much like Slay the Spire, on the map you will get various events (positive and negative), but mostly battles and – luckily – a few garages where we can restore our car’s hit points.

For a game that is so focused on cars, there isn’t really much customization we can do to our cars. One would expect to be able to even select the color, modify it or at least give it a unique name, but nope. There is indeed a selection of different vehicles, along with characters, that can be unlocked using points once you successfully (or not) complete a run. But, there is no modification involved in the car, once you’re in the driver’s seat, it is all about collecting cards and trying to survive.

Battles take place on the road, with the asphalt constantly changing around us so better pay attention to what is coming up. Attacks usually require a lot of positioning your car around to be able to use your gatling guns or plasma cannons. Each card of course uses up our action points, once they’re finished you’re just waiting for your enemies to make a move. And move they will, since enemies in Death Roads: Tournament have the exact same action points as us, as opposed to other games of its ilk. That means that battles will mostly be fought on the same level, which makes sense, but since you will have to fight three or four consecutive ones without repairing your car, chances are you will explode before the next garage anyway.

To make up for that disadvantage, it will be necessary to collect cards after killing enemies to find out which ones work best with your car. Also, it will be necessary to learn the gears and skid system. The way the gears work is that the higher the level, the more attacks will hurt. But higher gears mean less control on your car, so at the end of your turn, the car will start skidding, going in random directions. While it doesn’t usually terribly affect your health points, it can still be something to keep an eye on since it will fight against you actively. For example, it might make you swerve into the wrong lane, basically ending your run instantly.

But this is also a roguelite, so dying and restarting is part of the whole experience. Still, what’s missing from Death Roads: Tournament is lore. With little to no story, events that just seem about “get some scrap points to buy stuff, or don’t.” There are no characters that you can meet on the road, no banter between you or the enemies – it’s all very dry. If you are a fan of no-frills, direct-to-fighting card battles, then you won’t mind, but for anyone else then the continuous battles taking place on the same road and map over and over will probably end up being a bit too repetitive.

Also, while facing one enemy is fine, fighting three enemies who move as much as you will drag on battles for quite a while. While there is a lot of variety involved in all the different car parts (or cards) that you can pick up and use, it all boils down to the same thing anyway. Kill those nondescript enemies and be on your way. This is an entirely solid battle system which has been honed by the months the game spent in early access, so it definitely doesn’t feel as unbalanced as some of the early reviews point out. But still, it is missing a lot of what makes games such as Meteorfall so endearing.

I thought we would follow the story of Granny or perhaps exchange some vitriolic words with our enemies as we pummel down the road. But Death Roads: Tournament is all business and no frills, so if you are looking for a fresh (and straight) take on a deckbuilding roguelite experience, then this is for you. With solid 2D graphics and an okay audio compartment, plus interesting accessibility options, any lovers of post-apocalyptic deckbuilders will have the ride of their lives.

Our Death Roads: Tournament review was made possible with a key provided by the developers. Death Roads: Tournament is available on Steam.

Death Roads: Tournament: Death Roads: Tournament is a solid deckbuilding road rash style game, with plenty of characters and cars to choose from on runs. Damiano Gerli

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About Damiano Gerli 91 Articles
Damiano Gerli was born with a faithful Commodore 64 by his side. It taught him how to program basic adventure games and introduced him to new genres. Then, he fell in love with Sega -- while the Master System wasn't as powerful as the Genesis, it was where he played Sonic and Outrun. Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple. Damiano is a gaming industry professional and historian, loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs. Basically, Damiano is been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on X at @damgentemp.