ROGUE-LIKE DECK BUILDER! Again! But this time with crafting and extremely meticulous turn based tactical gameplay?! I’ve mentioned in previous reviews my board gaming background, but a lot of this game reminded me of Gloomhaven, a sprawling dungeon crawling BIG box RPG where every little action and card you spend matters. This game feels in many ways like a Gloomhaven-lite crossed with that deck buildery goodness we’ve seen in games like Slay the Spire. Specifically, I was reminded of the rogue-like deck builder Griftlands in terms of its upgrade paths for cards and unlockables. This game is much lighter on the story aspect, but nonetheless… Ok, ok I promise enough with the game comparisons, but if you’re a fan of those games oh man, I think you might love what’s presented here.
I’d say the major twist of Zor is how much you have to manage your hunger and water stats just right to maximize your action capabilities and finish the objective before you start starving/dehydrating. The game is broken up into the camping sections, where you unlock new cards, manage your deck (including upgrades), and buy passive abilities and stat increases for the run. There isn’t a branching path to choose your encounters, so you just get dropped into the next map with a little description of what’s coming next to help you prep before you stop camping. A lot of your time in levels will be managing your hunger and hydration levels to maximize your harvest to lead into the next camping phase. You may need that last stick to get a permanent upgrade to your food or water this run. Or access to a handy one-off card that can help you eek out just enough oomph to finish a level.
Your action economy in the game is very tight, as you can only play one card per Slorf. That makes upgrading your cards super important to make every one you play really count. Honestly, when I first played, I found it annoying not being able to reposition AND attack/harvest however it’s really baked in the core of the game, as you spend health as a resource to lure enemies and maximize the effect of your action cards. As you continue upgrading the same card, the power spiking starts to add up fairly quickly, leading to some insane few cards you focus on cycling through. One aspect that I’m torn on is how limiting deck building can feel. Yes, you can craft cards, but those aren’t exactly build-around cards that stick around. And, while you can sometimes acquire new cards on the map under special conditions, it feels like your game plan is pretty strapped between runs. Like sure I can have different costs and abilities across my exploration cards as I upgrade them, but fundamentally I have X harvest cards, Y give me action cards, Z attack cards… In many ways, it feels like there isn’t much room for different build paths. I do think working with what you scavenge between zones is satisfying in its own right, but it’s hard not to feel like I’m pursuing the same build over and over again. It can also be very frustrating when I’m looking to build a specific upgrade, but none of the resources, or not enough anyways, of that type appear on the map. Because runs are relatively short, you don’t have much time to just invest in ALL the things.
But the decisions that you DO have to make during combat encounters are very compelling. There are moments where you really have to take in all of your surroundings, like for example: the enemies are that way, I want to move into range. Oh but also, I need to look out for food or water rations to harvest so I can top myself off and reap the rewards. Not to mention you share your hand between characters, so sometimes you need to pass your turn to the other guy so he can do the finishing blow. But you can never do “nothing” without a price, which is a SUPER fascinating mechanic. So it’s a lot of thinking several steps ahead and mapping out the best route to maximize your resources. And the fact that you can always play a card even if you don’t have enough resources by spending life HOOO man that shit is metal AF. There have been times where I’ll leave a lot of rewards on the table because I’m low on food/water and I just can’t afford dipping that low on health. But when you DO go for it, and it pays off and you feel like a badass and you immediately get to spend all your goodies in the following camp phase, so instant gratification babeee. I was always pleasantly surprised seeing what new elements the game throws at me, such as elevation, new enemy types, new terrain; there’s a lot to chew on.
Ultimately, it looks like Zor is very much so in early access. Even during the course of my review, I found myself needing to play through several ongoing balance patches to feel comfortable giving the game its fair shake. A lot of the fundamental design is really cool, although it may feel alienating for folks who relish going for wombo combo turns where you play a crap ton of cards. I’m excited to see what additions are in store, perhaps new characters or card types? I really liked the onboarding they used with the tutorial and the miniaturized first taste of the full pilgrimage. Overall I really have my eyes on this one, might be better to wait things out for the game to cook a bit more, but if you’re obsessed with robust tactical gameplay, you probably won’t be disappointed as an early adopter. Plus just look at how cute these fuckers are!
A review copy was provided by the Devs.
Hellfirebam thinks you should keep an eye on Zor: Pilgrimage of the Slofs. I’m giving a lot of credit to the ingenuity of the core design and potential of the game on full release. I think currently it’s a bit incomplete, but I’m confident in the ability of Righteous Hammer Games to put out a great product.