Overall Score 83%
One of the yardsticks that I primarilly use to judge the merit of reviewed games is the balance between accessibility and depth. It is apparent from playing a lot of indies that many developers seem to to fall into the trap of sacrificing one for the other, and generally speaking, some element of the gameplay will suffer as a result. For a game to score well in the playability department for me means that it must strike this balance well. In this respect, Slay hits the sweet spot.
It is a turn based strategy game played on a randomly generated field (or island) of hexes. Each player in turn attempts to carve out larger and larger defensible chunks of the island by attacking adjacent enemy hexes until one player has achieved a position so dominant that the others conceed defeat. Players do this via armies that are produced by and supported in bases, which are dynamically and somewhat randomly placed in every independent region of like coloured hexes that the player controls. There is some skill involved in knowing in which sequence to attempt to join together nearby yet separate territories, in order to form one huge and dominant region that can support an army large enough to destroy all opposition.
The territories produce income per turn based on the area of land controlled, and the basic units cost 1 income point per turn to field. Two of these units can be combined at any time to produce a superior level 2 unit that costs 6 income per turn to support. Level 3 and 4 units also cost exponentially more support per turn. Unused income can be saved up between turns, but if the balance falls below zero, all units supported by that territory are killed instantly at the beginning of the next turn. The decision as to when to upgrade units to leverage an advantage over neighbours is a game breaker. Upgrade too early and you may find yourself living in debt, or worse, run out of credit and lose your entire army. Leave it too late, and your neighbours will surely capitalise on your tardiness.
Units exert an area of control in all hexes around them. Attacks are made simply by moving a unit onto an unguarded enemy hex, or by attacking an enemy unit or guarded hex with a superior unit. As with all good millitary strategy games, success in Slay will come from applying overwhelming force on areas of enemy weakness, and a keen readiness to attempt to cut off large parts of the enemy armies from their supply bases, instantly killing them on the subsequent turn! Equal in power to a level 2 unit is an immovable sentry tower that once bought and placed, costs no maintenance. The strategic options are surprisingly deep and immersive.
Slay can be played over a network in multiplayer mode, or against cunning AI opponents. Of the 4 difficulty levels I can win 90% of my games on the second hardest level, but struggle to beat the most difficult AI level consistently. All maps can be regenerated using the same random seed if desired so that different strategies can be experimented with from the same opening situation. This is the case on the 351 challenge maps that ship with the game.
The look and sound of the game can be customised through the use of theme sets, so that Slay can feel like a Star Wars battleground, a medieval skirmish, or a Mafia turf war. Several come with the download of Slay, and many more are available for free download from the developers' website. Sound effects are simple and repetitive, but a frequent shuffling of theme sets keeps things fresh. Graphics are a throwback to the days of sprites on bitmaps.
Despite my opinion that the $25 pricetag on this game is a bit steep, the customer may choose to buy a collection of 9 of Sean O'Connors games for Windows that also includes the wonderful Firefight, which by itself is worth the $50 asking price.
Slay is a game that is easy to learn and will provide significant replay value. Strategy fans should at the very least give the demo of this game a try, and although it's not going to make the list of my must buy recommendations, Slay is a solid and extremely playable experience for indie gamers of all age and skill level.
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