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by Jared Jackson


(based on 7 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

It's a game within a game within a game. Come see what the cards hold in store for you.

Game Details


42nd Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)


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Number of Reviews: 4
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Deck-building combat RPG in Unity, December 31, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I played this using wine on linux. It seemed to work perfectly fine on my computer. The only issue I had was that I felt the UI and font were a bit small and hard to read. I think there were a few bugs; there was one card which was supposed to allow you to draw any card, but it only showed cards that were already in your hand.

This game felt like kind of an odd or at least atypical fit for ifcomp. It is essentially a Slay the Spire-like, a deck-building RPG. In a comic twist, the player character is a character in an RPG game-within-the-game being told by a pair of siblings, who has been brought into the "real world" which is still a part of the same RPG session. It's a pretty fun story. The gameplay itself consists of battling enemies by drawing cards which represent attacks, defenses, or abilities. Defeating enemies allows you to get new cards, and there are opportunities to gain items which give stat bonuses. Throughout the story, there are choice-based segments where you choose (mostly blindly) where to go next or which monster to fight next. This includes a maze segment.

This game may have been experimental for IFComp, but for me, it shifted in my mind from being in an IF space to more of a general videogame territory, and in that territory, it does not necessarily compare well. The deck-builder had a surprising amount of depth, and the game is pretty well constructed (save the bug mentioned earlier), but nothing on an IFComp development cycle will be able to match commercial production values (Slay the Spire had years of early access and essentially thousands of testers). However, there are advantages of IFComp stuff; it can experiment with new mechanics, tell stories without worrying about commercial appeal, and so on. Plus plain text can be a highly effective medium when used well. I enjoyed this game and the puzzle of deck-building/optimizing battle tactics, but I feel like this game didn't exactly utilize IF's advantages over more mainstream videogames. It imitates Slay the Spire too closely in my opinion, complete with text describing what the card images should look like.

I didn't manage to get to the end; I died a few times to the hydra before I stopped playing.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An enjoyable deckbuilder with a good story and difficulty spikes, December 12, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

This is something new: an IF/roguelite-deckbuilder mashup. In the very unlikely event that that word salad failed to effectively communicate whatís going on here, the author has cleverly hybridized a Slay the Spire/Dream Quest sort of card game Ė where you crawl through a dungeon fighting monsters using a deck of cards that represent your attacks, defenses, and special moves, while occasionally adding to, upgrading, or deleting cards from your deck Ė with a more traditional, choice-based IF structure as part of the interstitial tissue between fights as well as a framing story (well, actually two if you get right down to it). (For sub-genre fans: the ability to see what the enemies are going to do, as well as the need to balance attack and defense, puts this closest to Slay the Spire).

The framing story is actually one of the highlights Ė thereís an option to skip past all the story to focus on the more game-y bits, but that would be a shame. The top-level frame story is sweet, and there are some good jokes (my favorite: (Spoiler - click to show)when the player character is trying to get into the game convention and is asked for his qualifications, he can bellow out ďThere is none more qualified!Ē, which just makes me giggle). There are also lots of choices embedded in the different non-combat encounters the player character runs into. Much of the time these mirror the options that would be presented in a menu in a more typical deck-builder, but it also opens up opportunities for new types of gameplay that I havenít seen before in this sub-genre, like an extended maze sequence or the chance for some more robust interaction with NPCs.

When it comes to the card game itself, my main takeaways are that itís big, hard, and unfortunately still a big buggy. Big is easy Ė there are three different classes to play with distinct decks, three different (large) dungeons to work through, dozens of encounters and artifacts to discoverÖ thereís a lot here, and I know I only saw a portion in my two hours with the game.

Partially, though, thatís because I didnít wind up getting as far with Tragic as Iíd hoped, getting stuck midway through the second dungeon with two different characters. Reader, this oneís tough! And while I am not exactly the Hard Man of American Deckbuilders, this is a sub-genre where Iím fairly well-versed Ė Iíve slain the spire several times now, got all but a handful of the achievements in Dream Quest, tore through Monster Slayer like a comet punching through atmosphere (that oneís easy)Ö Iím guessing Iíve put several hundred more hours into these kinds of games than most Comp players, so if Iím crying uncle, I think the difficulty here doesnít feel well judged for the contest. There are training wheels Ė copious autosaves and a slowly-increasing health bar every time you die and respawn Ė but those donít so much reduce the difficulty as offer the hope that by punching your face repeatedly against a brick wall, your blood might slowly erode it. I canít even imagine what the harder modes are like!

Upon reading the included strategy guide, partially this may be down to choosing the berserker class first go round Ė Iím used to that being the easiest archetype to at least see the late-game, even if theyíre overtaken in power by fiddlier classes later on, but here itís apparently the most challenging? Still, when I started over as a mage, even with an ďeasierĒ class and a better understanding of the mechanics I didnít fare much better. I wonít go into a full disquisition on why I think the balance is a bit too unforgiving, but will mention that I think randomness plays probably too big of a role, unlike most other deckbuilders which tend to be a bit more deterministic. There are enemies that summon other enemies in potentially never-ending waves, but rather than reinforcements coming in on a timer, sometimes this appears to happen at least somewhat at random. Opportunities to upgrade your deck Ė or even more importantly, delete or upgrade old cards Ė feel less reliable than in comparable games. And some of the more IF-y encounters are far harder than others: thereís a maze, for example, that I never managed to get out of despite having probably three combats, in a dungeon that otherwise I think should have around six to eight before the boss.

Finally, there are still some bugs to be worked out (I understand some have in fact been fixed in mid-Comp updates). While the overall interface is quite nice and smoothly transitions between fights and exploration, thereís some occasional wonkiness and I ran into a few game-breakers. When wandering around the aforementioned maze, Iíd often see messages like ďthere in the middle of the cavern floor lays a {0}{1}Ē (these were actually Fiery Boots), and there were occasional typos and places where different pieces of text were smashed together without a space in between, I think from some errors in the randomization code. Worse, I ran into three or four different game-ending bugs, two of which I could recover from using autosaves, but one of which I couldnít: once after dying, I wasnít able to click on any of the respawn/restart options being presented; another time after I won a hard encounter against dragon whelps, I selected a choice that didnít lead to any further options; once after restarting to try again with a new class, when I got to the tutorial fight the combat interface didnít come up; and then the biggest crash was where loading the autosave post-defeat (on the second boss) put me in the middle of the combat, with elements of the interface blacked out.

I liked the story a lot and was eager to see where it went, plus the ideas here are really fun, so Iím very much hoping that thereís a post-comp release to smooth out some bugs, re-tune the difficulty curve, and maybe add some quality of life options (allowing the player to skip the tutorial but not miss out on the rest of the story would be really nice!), since Iíd love to see this one through to the end.

MUCH LATER UPDATE: So I went back and played some more, including winning as a mage (ending up at about 180 health) and then having a pretty good run as a rogue before getting brutally smacked down by the Chapter 2 boss. Updates since I first played have smoothed out some of the bugs I noted, so the experience is a bit cleaner now too. I donít think my take on the game has shifted that much from the additional time, though I will note that I found Chapter 3 substantially easier than 2 with my mage, and I suspect I would have felt the same way if Iíd gotten there with my rogue character. There are some cards that are very powerful and lead to some fun synergies with upgraded equipment, which meant I was able to keep up with the escalating difficulty in Chapter 3. But even with what felt like it should have been a viable build, I felt like progress past the mini-bosses and boss in Chapter 2 generally required getting lucky with one of the ďget a random attack or effectĒ cards to obtain something more powerful than I was able to find through ordinary gameplay, and/or getting a particular right card at the right moment a couple times in a row (like a parry that cancels an attack right before youíre about be targeted for a single big strike). I did enjoy getting to see the ending of the game, which wound up going in an unexpectedly serious direction, and having some effective call-backs to some dialogue choices Iíd made earlier. Iím interested to see some different variations, but not sure I have the gumption to tackle that widowmaker of a Hydra again, sadlyÖ

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Great for its intended audience, October 10, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

Deck building games have never quite been my cup of tea. Generally I get really into them for a brief time, but after a while I tend to get frustrated by the randomness. And while I'm unlikely to return to play due to my own proclivities, Tragic is quite competently built and I enjoyed myself for the two hours I gave it.

There's a larger story outside the deck game itself, as you play an actual marauder who is transported into the 21st century and finds themselves at a live tournament where this deck game is played. The hijinks that follow are expected, but amusing all the same. The heart of adventure is the card game, where you play while a dungeon master of sorts narrates your exploits. Within the card game are also mini-games and oases where you can win/lose/buy weapons/armor/cards, etc.

The presentation is slick and the tutorial did a great job of teaching me the ropes. There are also several modes of play depending on how much story you want and how difficult you want it to be. I do wish there was more than one save slot, but that's a small concern.

Definitely worthy of play by those who enjoy this type of game.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fun, complex card system with occasional bugs, October 8, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Jared Jackson is one of the most innovative IF authors out there, always pushing the boundaries in weird ways to test what you can do with text. His previous games, Instruction Set and Language Arts, explored algorithms and text manipulation in fascinating ways.

This game is a card-based game where your attacks and defenses are represented by a deck of cards. There are 3 dungeons to work through, each with a boss, and there are checkpoints and small encounters like gambling, a maze, and a funny recreation of Leroy Jenkins.

I beta tested this game, and I didnít help much. At the time, I couldnít help but die really early on, so I felt like I was a bad player and didnít try much further (sorry Jared!)

As a player, Iíve taken the game up on its offer to give me unlimited respawns with increased health each time. This made the game far more enjoyable. I ended up making it halfway through the middle dungeon as a berserker when the game stopped responding to my link clicks. Restarting the game and continuing my save, I found that I could not continue, as it took my to a blank screen (this possibility is mentioned in the gameís readme txt). I might give it another run as a wizard later. This is probably something I would have caught as a tester if I had embraced dying, so sorry Jared!

Iím not sure if this game is possible to beat without dying a lot. There are no healing opportunities between encounters (except very rarely), and even maximizing your defense actions still wonít be enough to protect you from attacks, so itís mathematically impossible to keep from dying. Since dying is framed as bad in most games, thatís kind of a bummer at first.

The variety in the game is fun; as a combat system I find it genuinely enjoyable. The complexity though may be its own downfall; balance and bug-hunting become much more difficult with increased complexity.

In any case, I look forward to the next innovative game by this author, and I plan on playing this game again for fun after the comp.

+Polish: The game is complex and interesting. There are bugs, but the art and other systems make up for it for me.
+Descriptiveness: Lots of variety in creatures and objects and cool backstory.
+Interactivity: Once I embraced dying, I really enjoyed the system.
+Emotional impact: It was fun.
+Would I play again? Yest.

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This is version 3 of this page, edited by Zape on 10 October 2020 at 11:47am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page