I made my toys fight each other when I was a lad. The compulsion to put my Bionicles and Action Men in a fight to the death is a sign of an overactive imagination—the kind that got me into writing about games, no doubt.
Tales & Tactics captures that feeling of smashing your toys together, then throws it into a blender with mechanics borrowed from Slay the Spire—a rougelike deckbuilding hit from 2017—and the auto-battler genre at large. Table 9 is a fresh-faced indie studio that made its start modding Slay the Spire, authoring a popular fan expansion, Downfall, which lets you play as boss monsters.
This influence shines clearly in Tales & Tactics' DNA. As you progress through some colourful biomes to reach the Grand Tournament, you'll pick up new perks, equipment to slap on your troops, and potions to juice them up. Each lost battle chips away at your health, while each won battle restores a smaller chunk. Your goal is to set up enough synergies to death-ball your way to the top.
The concept is simple, but a new player might feel swarmed by the number of options they're saddled with. Traditionally, roguelikes kick off with a basic kit for you to opportunistically stack synergies on. In Tales & Tactics, however, you'll be worried about monster types and classes—both of which provide unique modifiers at certain thresholds—as well as their own unique abilities. Add the ability to merge weapons, amulets and armours together, and it's easy to feel buried before you can get digging.
Combined with the demo's missing mastery, character selection, and "complexity at your own pace" systems promised for the full release, I rarely felt like I had a handle on the wheel. Drafts of monsters are presented to you as a hand of cards where you can buy them—or mulligan the hand entirely—for "star points". At the time of playing, I found no way to influence the pool of cards I drew from.
Bonuses build by stacking different units that share the same type. Alternatively, you can rank up a favourite by buying enough copies of it. Because the stock of beasties is entirely random, I repeatedly found myself up monster creek without a paddle, feeling the sunk-cost fallacy setting in whenever I had an opportunity to switch up my build.
Often I would be faced with the question: do I snag this new, more powerful unit? Doing so would land me with a piece that's far tougher than my current mook, sure, but it would often come at the cost of dropping one of those powerful type or class bonuses. Because the game's network of buffs, items, perks, and abilities all stack atop one another, I found it near-impossible to tell what the right answer was.
There's still a ton of promise here—I genuinely think Tales & Tactics is worth your time if you're into auto-battlers or roguelikes, and especially if you're into both. It mashes two different genres together in a novel way, and it's filled with charming artwork and little beasties to enjoy. Table 9 has promised a host of features which could fix several of my issues with the demo. My issues with the game's dizzying amount of systems could be a draw for the min-maxing geniuses of the gaming world.
Whether it'll succeed in tying its game mechanics together, however, will be determined by the characters and "masteries" absent from the demo build, which should offer you more in the way of agency. As it stands, Tales & Tactics' combination of reliance upon luck of the draw alongside front-loaded systems leaves me and my squad of little freaks far too tied to the whims of fate.
Tales & Tactics will be entering early access on Steam August 3, and is set to be published by Yogscast Games. The demo is set to be released as part of Steam Next fest, running June 19-26.