Death Roads: Tournament – Dealing out the death on the road

I’m nearing forty years old now with a full-time job and a family. It pains me to admit it, but my gaming desires have yearned for a more casual tone. This is a reality that is becoming more and more noticeable, and one that I’m finally getting to grips with – the young kids have got it, and I haven’t.

One game that taught me this valuable lesson is Crossout, a free-to-play car combat game. While it may be free to play, it doesn’t keep you waiting too long before it demands the contents of your wallet. Before it got to that stage, it became apparent that the skills that I had gotten through my many hours on Vigilante 8 and Interstate ’76 back in circa 1996 seemed to have become lost in the passage of time.

Noticing this shift, I got into turn-based strategies. Eventually I found card games, and then the roguelike deckbuilders. To name a few of my favorites, Slay the Spire, Tainted Grail: Conquest, and Banners of Ruin. If you’ve played them, you’ll know that these games are utterly replayable and very difficult to put down.

Death Roads: Tournament takes the beautiful art of car combat and smashes it gracefully into a turn-based strategy card game format. Developed and published by The Knights of Unity, it is a race across a post-apocalyptic America (of course it is) against other characters heading for the same goal. Along the way you will fight a variety of other combatants, including laser shooting flying drones and buggies armed with flamethrowers. The fights get bigger and tougher, but so do the weapons.

Death Roads Tournament takes the beautiful art of car combat and smashes it gracefully into a turn based strategy card game format

Characters, cars, and cards

It’s not a difficult game to learn – the five-minute tutorial will teach you everything you need to know about how to play You start with one character and one car to choose from. As you progress through the game, you will unlock more – each character has their own set of “driver cards” based on their personality, while each car will start with its own set of starter cards.

The game categorizes cards into red, blue, and yellow. Red cards are your weapons, blue cards deal with handling and turning, while yellow are engine cards – mostly dealing with forward and backward movement. Each card has either one or a series of actions you can take when you play them. A card costs ‘handling points’ to play – the better the card, the more expensive it is. What makes it more expensive is either number of actions you can take, or the value of each action.

Looking shifty

A crucial element to the game is shifting gears. Certain actions on blue, yellow, and driver cards allow you to shift up or down a gear or two. The higher the gear you are in, the more powerful a particular card will be. Be warned though – if you run out of handling points, you go into a “skid”, a series of random cards from the driver’s “skid” deck which could produce some unwelcome outcomes. Used wisely, skids could work out well for you. If used carelessly, you could end up crashing into a wall and losing valuable health points (HP).

Red cards aren’t your only method of inflicting damage to opponents – bashing is also a great way of dealing out the pain. Each car will have its own level of health and handling damage they inflict upon driving into another car. As you progress through the stages, you get access to improved equipment that increases your bashing stats.

Talking of which, you can kit your car out with collected or purchased components. Each component has its own set of cards. The card synergy starts here – if you’re looking to be a basher, you’re going to want a kit that increases your bash damage stats and weapons that are close range but high damage. Or perhaps you want to be a lightweight hatchback which will perform much better when keeping distances but using high-powered long-range weapons? You’re the driver, and it’s your car – it’s your choice.

Gameplay is solid, and there is never a dull moment during a playthrough. Pace is excellent during combat – the speed of the cards being drawn, the road constantly moving, and car tires squealing as they move from lane to lane. On the campaign map, the anticipation of picking up new components to outmaneuver and blow up your opponents is ever-present. The creative team at The Knights of Unity should be proud of what they achieved – the game looks and sounds great.

It’s hard

Death Roads: Tournament is hard. After a few runs, you’ll be wanting to know exactly how can you keep repairing, especially in the later stages. The final run up to the boss is especially difficult – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve repaired as much as I can before the final few fights, only to be eliminated right at the end. That is of course if you make it that far. While in the earlier stages, you can take a few risks to get kills pretty quickly, the later stages require a lot more strategy. If your deck isn’t built to get you out of difficult situations quickly, it’s game over for you.

Which leads me to the one issue I have with Death Roads: Tournament. Some equipment will raise your max HP. Rarely have I ever healed my vehicle to the total amount of HP I started off with, never mind the increase in my max HP. Maybe once I’ve sunk a few more playthroughs and unlocked some new cards, this design choice might make sense. If that is the case, then I feel there is a wasted opportunity for other bonuses, such as an increase in armor.

Since the media preview release, I have yet to come across any of the bugs I encountered during playtesting. There were one or two game breaking bugs that required you to come out, go back in, and continue from where you left, but nothing that ruined my experience.

It’s unique

While Death Roads: Tournament isn’t reinventing the genre, it does an incredible job of turning car combat into an exciting turn-based strategy. The closest that has happened in recent years is Auroch Digital’s Dark Future: Blood Red States. It was time-based rather than turn-based, and it didn’t have cards. However, both games are car combat strategies, and both are the digital versions of their respective board game versions. Death Roads: All Stars, albeit a separate project but set in the same universe, enjoyed a successful Kickstarter campaign and accompanies the release of Death Roads: Tournament.

Car combat, while it rarely gets to enjoy mainstream attention, constantly sits nicely in the background of the gaming industry. While there are some absolute atrocities, now and again it throws out a gem or two. Death Roads: Tournaments is one of those gems – easy to learn, hard to master, instantly replayable, and above all exciting. And the best part? You’ll never be too old to play it.

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March 29, 2023 8:36 AM

I love the review and the font style.
Can you please name the font you are using.
Also how is the game replayibility and hours of game/story?
Thank you

March 29, 2023 6:13 PM
Reply to  Gonme

Thanks for the comment Gonme. The font used for the post is monospace.

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