Checks Out Coin Crypt

I finally got a free moment to make a new video last night, and Coin Crypt was next on the list!

For those who missed this one, Coin Crypt released just about a month ago, and represents Greg Lobanov’s take on mashing up the roguelike-like format with deck-building mechanics. He sent me a build to check out, and I did so. You can see what the start of the game looks like below:

So, what did I think?

Despite how short the video was here, I actually have some pretty extensive thoughts. Lobanov has made genuinely interesting choices with Coin Crypt’s mechanics. The combat feels to me like Magic the Gathering squeezed through a Final Fantasy-shaped strainer: fairly simplistic, seemingly to make room for the frenetic pace of an active-time battle system structure.

When you first run Coin Crypt, it begins with all but a few coins locked away (which I can only assume is to make the game approachable for new players). The game then unlocks new coins with each playthrough, causing the play space to expand incrementally. By the time you’ve sunk in a few hours, your strategic options will have become more varied.

Still, there’s a limit on how varied your strategies can realistically be. Based on what I saw from a handful of runs into the crypt, a lot of the subtleties that I’ve come to expect from CCG-style combat systems are just fundamentally missing. You cannot summon, manage, and augment (or destroy) minions; there is no resource to tend to other than deck size, time units, and health; and the player’s small hand size limits one’s moment-to-moment options pretty drastically.

While I miss the strategic breadth of a more traditional CCG, these simplifications are probably necessary due to Lobanov’s decision to make the battles occur in real-time. Asking the player to manage units or select from a hand size of 7 distinct coins under sharp time pressure would make the game almost entirely unplayable. Ultimately, this adds up to a shallower but more intense combat system. While I find myself missing the strategic breadth of a Magic the Gathering, the thrill of making split-second decisions in Coin Crypt gives the battles their own, equally valid flavor.

Perhaps the most unusual design choice that Lobanov made here is to make every single coin useable only once–which is to say, once you play a coin, it’s gone forever. I’ll be blunt about this: while I think it’s an interesting design choice, I don’t think it was the right one to make.

There are a few reasons for this. First, it sharply limits the viability of many otherwise useable strategies. Anything even remotely approaching a slow-burn strategy is just plain going to get you killed: not only will you burn through more coins per enemy with a slower, more patient approach, but because the enemies will have used up more of their own coins with those extra turns you took to kill them, they will drop fewer coins when killed. This, in turn, prevents you from making up for the extra coins you spent taking them out. Consequently, you are going to run out of coins, and you will die.

Because you die when you run out of coins, you might expect that the game gives you the option of defeating enemies via a millstone strategy. And sure enough, the game clearly allows you to pursue a strategy of destroying enemies by wrecking their coins rather than damaging the enemies themselves. However, pursuing this approach for more than a battle or two is suicidal. If you make the enemy drop all of their coins, the enemy will have no coins left to drop for you at the end of the battle. Consequently, you are going to run out of coins, and you will die.

Starting to see a pattern here? Because of the interaction of one-use coins and player reliance on coins dropped by enemies, you basically have to bum rush as many enemies as possible with health-damaging coins if you want to maintain a viable reserve. This, in turn, means that it’s almost always optimal to select health-damaging coins when approaching a totem, so you can actually pursue that strategy. For a game that is ostensibly about choosing how to build a combat-ready deck, this sort of strategic dominance represents a pretty huge design problem.

Just as significant, however, is that the ephemeral nature of the game’s coins deeply undermines the game’s deck-building appeal. Coin Crypt is marketed as a “roguelite deckbuilding adventure game”–but due to the one-use nature of the coins, it is constantly eroding the foundations of whatever deck you actually try to build. This is kind of cool in that you are constantly having to improvise. At the same time, however, it never really lets you have the satisfaction of creating something enduring, that thing so central to the appeal of RPGs. Coin Crypt does borrow some of the persistent progress innovations of recent roguelikes and roguelike-likes such as Rogue Legacy, Dungeonmans, and Sproggiwood, but these innovations only mark progress between characters. They do not substitute for being able to lastingly shape your individual characters in the moment-to-moment of actually playing: something that those other games do, and Coin Crypt largely does not.

Coin Crypt is worth picking up if you want to try out a unique blend of light strategy, risk management, and split-second decision-making; it’s genuinely pretty fun, and I honestly doubt you’ll find another game quite like it anywhere else. Based on my first impressions, however, I don’t think that this is the right game to scratch one’s strategy card game or deck-building itches.

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  • erdraug says:

    Thank you for yet another enlightening review.

    • Craig Stern says:

      Just a first impressions write-up, not a full review–but I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      • erdraug says:

        On the contrary, i really appreciated the subtlety: you seemed to focus on the positive aspects of the game in your video review. Then, during the written review, for those interested in a more in-depth critique, you explain why it deviates from the elements that tend to make RPGs and cardgames enjoyable.

        So basically the right review for the right place (casual for youtube, then contextualised for the the RPG-specific website). Very prudent approach.

        Thanks again.


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