This guide has two sections. I recommend new players just read the first, which is a list of tips for exploring the game on your own and figuring out what works for you.
The other part is more self-indulgent, and lists what I think the dominant strategies are for the hardest challenges and gives tips on executing them well. Skip to the second part if you’re really stuck and just want to know what’s good, or if you’re already good and want to argue.
Table of Contents
If you just keep grinding this game, you’ll eventually get good, but brute forcing it can be hard. If you focus your early play on learning, you will pick it up much faster. Focus on the following few things.
- What is your strategy this run?
Always be asking yourself this. How specifically are you going to win this run in particular? Your deck should be focused, and your character choices should work with that focus. Are you trying to get a lot of Charge and multi-hit attacks? Are you trying to win by attrition? Do you have a power card you are just trying to find and win with? Then build your deck to do that.
This game gives you some ways to help you do this, and you should take those opportunities when you can. The Weapons Merchant is an incredibly powerful event, because it lets you hone in on specific options. Swords and Daggers are good for multi-hit and outlast runs, Axes and Hammers are more utility oriented and help you damage shields, give vulnerable, or discard cards, Two-Handers and Polearms include control options, and big-damage options for AOE or weapon damage-based cards, and Ranged weapons vary between the options, while also covering enemies with retaliate. As well, you can look out for deck-thinning events and cards, things that remove cards or help you draw. Every choice that helps focus your deck, from putting in more synergy or taking out cards that don’t help, is a good one.
It can be smart when picking races to have a strategy in mind, but be flexible. Don’t pass a power card just because you thought you were going to do something different, pivoting early can always work, and the races are all flexible.
Finally, after every change, evaluate whether your current positioning and token allocation are ideal. Different builds can call for putting a squishy character behind a tanky one, or having multiple balanced characters either on the same or different ranks in different lanes to avoid enemies focus-firing.
- What haven’t you tried?
The definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results. The Warden can be defeated with any focused deck, so if something looks fun, give it a try! The worst thing that happens is you lose a single run. This goes for interesting cards, new races you unlock, and events you haven’t tried. Just don’t take shortcut events, they reduce the time you have to improve your deck before the next boss, which is never good.
- What’s in your deck?
If you have two monitors, have a word processor open on the other screen and take notes of quantities of powerful cards you have. The card selection screen doesn’t let you see your deck, so if forced to choose between Momentum and Rush in a run that wants both, you don’t want to panic and end up with a 3/1 split instead of a much better 2/2 one. You can also keep notes on what you think is working well for you.
- What are your outs?
There’s a saying in competitive TCGs, “always play to your outs.” What are the things that can happen that would get you out of the situation you’re in? If you have 8 bleed on a 9 vitality character, you need to know whether there’s something that can save them – are they a bear who can use their willpower ability, do you have Field Dressing, do you have vitality recovery, or do you have to win next turn? If you don’t have the means to do this in your hand, how do you set yourself up to be most likely to have that next? Pay attention to doing the things that protect your vitality the most, which can include moving your characters out of the way of attacks, killing or displacing enemies, increasing defence, and so on.
Extend this thinking to the overworld. You are playing to maximize the % chance this run beats the final boss. Making a choice that gets you over the next hurdle but limits your power against the final boss is a poor choice. Taking a risk now that means you will be much more prepared later can be a very strong one. If you can’t beat the elite combat five cards before the boss, how will you be able to face the boss itself? Likewise, when evaluating options, consider what options they will give you down the line. Wealth doesn’t sound great sometimes, but getting another party member at the next tavern might be better than closing a 200 exp gap on your high-level character (or not; having too many characters can ALSO bloat your deck and slow the exp progression of your best character).
- Are you having fun?
If you’re raging at the game or just waiting to finish the run, then what are you doing? This game is fun, and in my experience while the fun ramps up over time, it doesn’t do so that much, and you should not keep playing if you’re not enjoying it right now. Get up, do something else, and if you want, come back. You can always abandon a run free of charge if you think a clean slate will work better.
At the same time, don’t abandon a run you’re enjoying just because something bad happens like a card getting Ruined or a character dying. I’ve cleared a run after my star character died and I pivoted deck archetype entirely. It was very satisfying!
To git gud, keep a small, focused deck, make choices that get you to the final boss as swole as you can without just giving up runs, stay having fun, and stay experimenting.
Best Choices 1: Archetypes
First things first, Beavers are stupid good and I underrated them for a really long time. I no longer think a run without one starting Beaver is ever optimal.
I know you don’t want to hear it, beavers are doofy little buck-tooth guys who do nothing but turtle. Not true! A Beaver focused on defence can sit on the front line while repeatedly putting up barricades to protect your aggressive character, or place them in unoccupied lanes to draw fire away, or protect an entire rank of backliners. The breathing room one Beaver gives you early on is nuts, and this translates well later on with smaller teams as well-timed barricades eat massive attacks and avoid status conditions.
Beavers also have some serious power talents and passives. Active Recovery is a game-changer, not only giving up to 30 defence to a team, which includes barricades, but also cycling to other power cards very fast. Focus Fire eats through anything but the Warden, Haymaker I’ll get to in a moment, You Shall Not Pass is basically a second set of Superior Medium on everyone without cutting into offence since it banishes itself, and Redirection is good for all the reasons Barricades are. And then there’s the passives, Relentless and Second Skin are absurdly good, and Unshakeable in a discard-heavy deck can also be destructive.
That being said, any combination of races can be powerful, they all have something going for them. With that out of the way, let’s discuss major approaches you can take.
1. Cycling and power cards
There are some serious power cards in this game, and a small deck capable of digging through itself and finding them is often the strongest thing you can do. If you have: Oathkeeper, Never Forget, Reckless Cleave, Dancing Blades, Wild Brawl, a Shortbow or Quarterstaff/Billhook, or some kind of combo, then most of the other cards in your deck will just be keeping the deck worse on average if they’re not finding these cards. Reserves and Refresh are the best cycling cards because they help thin your deck with banish effects, but anything that makes you more likely to get your power card is good. Many of these cards are good enough to defeat the Prince without playing other offensive cards, especially Oathkeeper. Not sure if bugged, but Solemn Vow at time of writing does not banish itself, and can be an infinite source of Reserves to keep re-upping on Vigour and card draw.
Hares and Beavers do well in this archetype, finding a lot of card draw, and Wolves are almost mandatory since they carry Oathkeeper, Solemn Vow, and the Grave passive, plus Strength of Will, one of the best cycle cards. Bears and Mice are also options for bringing power cards.
Again we come to Shortbow, Billhook, and Quarterstaff. These are, no joke, three of the best cards in the entire game. Shortbow is a consistent way to evade attacks entirely, and proc on-movement effects. Billhook and Quarterstaff can do big damage alongside Crippled, but more importantly once there are vacant spots, they can cancel enemy actions for a round. In a focused, small deck, you can do these things every round, leading to a very hard to pin down character if you leave two lanes for a Shortbow carrier, or a virtually invincible team with enough Billhook and Quarterstaff users. The best part? Either take on this concept is easily accessible by just finding a Weapons Merchant and picking Ranged to try for Shortbow, or 2h to try for Billhooks and Quarterstaffs.
Weasels turn out to be the best at this. Yes, Hares get bonuses for doing it. But it’s good without side benefits! Flash and Control are *very* useful talents, Flash playing the role of a second copy of your game-winning weapon, and Control playing double-duty on both aspects of this archetype. Beavers are a close second, helping cover turns you can’t escape a hit otherwise, and packing Haymaker, another enemy moving talent. Mice also have a movement ability, making them a distant third followed even further down, unfortunately, by Hares.
3. Charge Combo
There’s the classic of being a mouse and just doing a lot of hits. This is nice for the Warden as it can chip him down fast despite his defensive ability, but works worse for the Prince as you’re playing a lot of cards and once the mice are out of Will your deck suddenly looks a lot worse. That said it goes hard and fast and even vs the Prince can get you most of the way there quick enough that you’ll last for the rest.
I find Akimbo becomes a power card alongside a Falchion or Club. I actually like a Poignard way more than any other sidearm because it keeps your deck thin, and it’s free damage when it comes up. The same strategy enables Flurry, which is a big damage boost to your team. Just make sure the high damage weapon is on top, and the Poignard or multi-hit weapon on the bottom. Other than that, some Mouse talents do 6 hits between two characters, which is the best use of their Will ability. While Shields count as dual-wielding, this build wants to be very aggressive.
Just generate a tonne of armour. Hidden Plates is actually an absurd amount of armour, but stacking other forms of armour generation per turn is also excellent. Having one backliner with bastion and 2 frontliners with other forms of armour generation is great because you can still do Beaver nonsense.
Poison pairs best with this as it gets around the Warden’s defences, but as long as you have a way to do okay damage and you’re out-armouring the opponent’s damage you will win.
Bears work well to cleanse bleed and poison effects, but Beavers are the lords of defense.
5. Weasel Discount Card Draw
If you have 4-6 characters and 2+ weasels, they suddenly have the best will ability in the game. For 1 will, you can convert 3 stamina that’s not doing anything into 15 damage, more if the fight drags on. The larger your party gets, the more you should value Weasels, who are like having incredible card draw if you can’t find the cards for it. The idea is to have multiple weasels with 3-4 stamina and as much Will as you can muster, just jamming blades all day long, while the rest play an attrition type game.
I’ve stopped really liking this strategy because normal card draw is better and there are other ways to do attrition. But it’s worth mentioning for completeness.
Best Choices 2: Good Overworld Practices
To beat the Prince for the first time, you’re going to take as many fights as you can to level up, always take elite combats to get equipment unless it’ll kill you, thin and focus your deck, and jam as many equipment events as you can in search of power weapons and the best armours like Hidden Plates, Superior Light/Heavy Armour, and Soldier Heirloom. You can always store armours in the stash to no downside, in case you find Superior Heavy before you have the stamina to support it or you find something that may fit a future party member, but don’t store weapons/shields as it bloats your deck without even being usable. Exquisite Weapon is the exception, it gives bad cards.
Pay very close attention to the counters in the top-right and card counts on top. If your lanes all have the same number of cards left, but an option has more than one counter, *the other options are free!* I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. If it’s a positive option, you can *increase the total number of encounters you get before the next crossroads.* Think of encounters left as a currency, increasing the encounters you have left until the boss increases how prepared you will be, and if a lane is one of your lanes with the most left, the top-right icon on an encounter is how much it costs. Decoy can also help with this: if you stall one lane a little bit, you can clear the decoyed lane once it’s the last one left.
On levelling, the experience event increases depending on which world. Don’t take it on the first world generally, a fight gives more exp, but in worlds 2 and 3 it’s a LOT and can be almost as good as ditching cards.
I’m not entirely clear on what unlocks the City Walls encounters, but it seems to be the different Prince options. At any rate, I think the dominant strategy is to pick Foresight and keep abandoning until you have a power card coming up, or if you don’t want to do that, pick Charity to be as consistent as possible.
Now some drills! What would you pick in the following scenarios:
The three lanes are at 14 events remaining. Your options are to discard Heavy Patrol now, get a hidden gem, or face them head-on. Hidden Gem is a relatively small bonus, but it’s a free bonus here. If you let Heavy Patrol hang out for two more events, it will increase the number of events you get in total! It’s actually a really nice get, and discarding or activating it would be a mistake, even if Hidden Gem is a small bonus. As well, you could get really lucky after a combat in the next round levels you up and you feel prepared to take it on!
Notice that the middle lane has already been delayed by a Large Crowd, and it has a counter of two. Fight or Flight is a really good card because it results in an elite combat, which will either end a bad run early or give you a chance at better equipment. But, if you pick one of the side options, the number of cards you get to pick before the next crossroads increases! High Spirits is very bad, it helps one round of one combat, and Helping Hand is not ideal, it makes your deck thicker, but right now one optional free card is better than literally nothing, so the correct choice is Helping Hand.
Finally, this interesting scenario. Now, Armoury Reserves is a great event. It has two counters which can mean a free other card, and it gives more equipment options than a normal elite combat, crucially giving you the option before you take the fight which can give you the bump needed to get past it! In addition to these great equipment options, it gives you combat experience. So we’re going to plan to do the event in the next two events before it expires, but should we let it tick first? Well, Cultist’s Wares and Knife Merchant aren’t the best events, good if they’re free, but not if they cost an event. And in this case they’re not free! Look at the counts, Armoury Reserves is the shallowest lane, keeping it at 10 while the other tick down doesn’t do anything for us at all. In this case you can ignore the counters at the top right, and just pick the strongest option in case there are good options below the other two and you’re forced to make a hard choice. The correct answer, then, is Armoury Reserves.
Best Choices 3: A Rough Tierlist
You’re not going to get a complete tier list. I wouldn’t do that to you. You have to make your own choices. In fact, I recommend skipping this section, which is here really only for completeness.
But, there are some options so head-and-shoulders above or below the rest, they need to be pointed out.
Tier 0: Pick these almost no matter what
- Quarterstaff/Billhook/Haymaker(beaver): controlling the enemy is free turns, except against the Prince, when it’s free Cripple damage.
- Shortbow: Moving to the front then optionally the back lets you dodge attacks, and this is good damage for the stamina besides. Best used in parties of 1-3 to leave four full squares open for the Shortbow user to dance.
- Oathkeeper(wolf): 2 0 0 D A M A G E
- Taste For Blood(weasel): I haven’t mentioned it yet, but among the virtues of the Weasel is discount Oathkeeper. Bleed is better than damage, and if you get this early enough, you can get the numbers high enough that you don’t ruin your whole deck cycling to find this.
- Gambler/Patient/Practiced: cycling good. Free cycling nuts.
- Control(weasel): Who duct taped Billhook to Shortbow? Probably the second best card in the game behind Oathkeeper
- Encourage(mouse): easily missed, Mice have a 1 stamina movement talent, making them better at the solo Hare concept than Hares.
- Weapons Merchant: this event does so much to advance your gameplan with the control you have over it. Ranged for Shortbow or Crossbow, Swords for Falchion/Poignard, or 2h for Billhook/Quarterstaff.
- Over Encumbered: double deck thinning!
Tier 1: Notable outstanding options
- Bastion: free stamina and free armour is nuts. You can put them in the back and still do Beaver stuff up front, or use them as a tank!
- Falchion/Club + Akimbo/Flurry: 11/9 damage on a one-hander turns Akimbo beastly, and each weapon is an amazing 1-cost card. Flurry is nuts as a setup, 50% extra party damage for a round to a priority target! It’s decent even without dual-wield.
- Fenra’s Rapier: looks bad on paper, but if you’re cycling a thin deck multiple times a round this adds up fast.
- Poignard: it’s free damage that thins your deck. The best option for a two-handing character!
- Salter’s Nets: what if an attack gave 30 flexible defence to your party
- Strength of Will(wolf)/Refresh/Reserves/Active Recovery(beaver)/exertion(mouse):
- Reckless Cleave: ruin is rough, but with a strong weapon this is 30 damage to an entire rank. The downside is nothing, just put the character in the back solo, or in rare cases in the front.
- Warcry: keep characters who may want to move in the backline. This is a good damage card and it can be used to dodge attacks! Only here because Shortbow and Control crowd it out of tier 0.
- Deck thinning events: if you can ditch a card, it’s a good call.
- Armory Reserves: lots of free equipment AND experience from a fight!
- Hidden Plates: 35 defence for 1 winded is an amazing trade, and it happens every time you run out of armour!
Tier 2: most things
- No list it’s most things
Tier 3: traps
- Double Team: even if you get two of the same race together I’ve found the enemy moves them too often for this to be good, it also precludes control strategies. Sad I know.
- Experienced Strike: not the discount Oathkeeper you want it to be. You have to play it as a bad card too many times before it’s good in a fight.
- Fight as One(hare)/Practised Maneuver(hare)/other swaps: if you’re putting an ally back in the way of the attack then why spend resources on this?
- Pivot: you’re not getting preparation often to make this a real option. Why does Mouse get SUCH a better version of this when Hare is the movement race?
- Card Merchants: very rarely worth it to lose Florens and thicken your deck
- Back Alley/Crossroads/any other event removal: don’t pick options where you play the game less wtf, you need more events to get stronger!
- Exquisite Weapon: none of the options are good weapons in my experience
- Adventurer’s Gear: if this does anything that’s a bad thing
- any out-of-theme card: if a card isn’t contributing to your gameplan, it’s not good. Pincer is great, but only if that charge is going to go to good enough use, for example.
Best Choices 4: Clearing Each Challenge
Now the above is more than enough to get you through to your first kill on the Prince (I don’t remember, are challenges/oaths available before killing him? If so, there’s no downside to selecting High Flyer, you’ll almost certainly win it while beating him and then unlock a power card). But when you want more of a challenge, there’s, well, challenges!
First things first, I have soft play order recommendations. I recommend clearing High Flyer first, it’s the easiest one, and it unlocks arguably the best challenge card, Refresh. Entrepreneur is a tempting second because it’s also quite straightforward, but Counterweight is not a good card and it’s not an interesting challenge, so I recommend leaving it unfinished. Blood Ceremony and Hard Lessons are transformative challenges, while still being very doable, and both improve the card pool, so they are good follow-ups. I then recommend They Have Tanks as a sort of final boss of the game overall; take other challenges before if you want to warm up to it, and consider not taking Informant tasks on a few runs of it if you want to unlock the card to help you take on the Prince with it. They Have Tanks is the hardest one challenge, and once you’ve beat it, you can consider yourself to have cleared this game’s toughest hurdle.
Anyway, in the order they appear:
1. Band of Brothers
A Weasel and Beaver is probably ideal to start with. Since the oath barely makes this any harder, focus on Florens as much as possible, as you should be able to get by the first two worlds with a weaker deck at this point. Recruit as often as possible, and you’ll find this easy. You don’t need to beat the campaign, but I did on my successful attempt anyway.
2. Blood Ceremony
Unholy trivializes this, make finding it plan A. If you’re really struggling you can reset after level 3 when neither character has Unholy as an option, but it should be doable just trying to sprint to a character who has it or the blood cult event that gives it in armour form.
That said, Beavers also make this really easy. Beaver/Weasel, Beaver/Bear, Beaver/Hare, or Beaver/Beaver are good approaches. Barricades don’t have vitality, so they don’t care about bleed. You stick your characters behind Beaver barricades, maybe with the second character focused on mobility to dodge attacks, and you’ll soon find the challenge doesn’t add much difficulty anyway. Ranged enemies are a bit of a problem, but you can always focus fire these down.
You already want to avoid putting too many cards in your deck, so this is not a tough challenge. Build with the understanding that you’re not going to do much hiring, and take the Wealth option at least once; with only two characters it’s possible to max level without Excellence, so if you want to be extremely safe you can take Wealth every time and never spend Florens, but you’ll end up with like 7000 if you do this (like I did) so it’s quite overkill.
4. Hard Lessons
Contempt is a tough oath, even at tier 1, but Ethereal is actually helping you once you adapt to it. Try to do a power card focused build, and ideally bring a Beaver to help you survive the first round or two where you refuse to play your filler cards, and you will find this challenge may actually be easier than the base game as it makes cycling your deck often much faster.
5. High Flyer
If you have access to challenges, I suspect you’ve already filled the requirements for this one once.
6. Humble Beginnings
The key is to get past the early game, then, like Hard Lessons, they made it easy on you by accelerating the deck thinning, although missing Kick kind of sucks. Since Beavers are kind of just a free pass through world 1 as enemies struggle to get past your barricades, it can be wise to have one with you. I promise I’m not memeing at this point, they’re really just that good.
One way to do this is to try for a big party. 5*6=30, so you’ll have more stamina than a normal party of 3 this way. Take a lot of Wealth since overlevelling characters isn’t that strong, and then to make up for your bloated deck making cycling harder, have a couple Weasels.
The other way is to go, well, lightweight. If you’re moving around a lot and stopping enemy attacks, it won’t matter nearly as much that you can’t get as many licks in on your turn. A Weasel, Hare, or Mouse focused on control is a great choice, all three have things that lend themselves to this playstyle.
Beavers are of course excellent here as well, the Relentless passive gives you a full 3 stamina every round without failing the condition.
8. Sticks and Stones
Starting with Ragged Claws that do 4 damage to you is really rough, but you don’t start with *that* many. You need ways to do damage without them as fast as possible. Weasels and to a lesser extent Mice do this really well, especially with Cultists increasing bleed damage. As well, you could do with some cycling or defence, so a Beaver teammate can be a big help while you try to find your non-claw cards. Once you’re past the start and have ditched all your claws, this one’s hard but not impossible for any strategy.
9. They Have Tanks
This is the true final boss of the game. Drumguard strips away the main way you protect your most important in-combat resource, Vitality, Steelman makes offence unreliable as a best-defence strategy, and Contempt really punishes Attrition strategies.
I think the best ways to do this, possibly the only ways, are to go Power Card focused with Wolf/Beaver, or Control focused with Weasel, Hare, or Mouse and Beaver. The Beaver gives much-needed breathing room eating some truly nasty multi-hit attacks from high-charge enemies, since they don’t move back to your next character once they kill the Barricade. While a control-oriented strategy can be executed solo, it’s just that there’s no downside to occupying one of the lanes with a defensive character who’s adding a lot of utility and breathing room. On the other hand, a Power Card focused strategy needs a race with power cards, and the Wolf is the best one.
I cleared this with Wolf/Beaver restarting with Foresight until I got an Oathkeeper, and it really wasn’t that hard. Starting Oathkeeper and the Beaver’s defence/cycling abilities is truly broken, I was doing 200 damage per use at the end. I found a Mouse who used Exertion to act as an extra Oathkeeper, and I outfitted four total characters with Billhooks/Quarterstaves to delay the enemy while I trained Oathkeeper.
That said, my solo Hare control run with a Shortbow went so well I’m confident this can be cleared that way as well, though as I’ve learned since, Weasels in theory do that better, and being solo isn’t necessary.
10. Waste Not, Want Not
If you have enough stamina, Wasteful isn’t too much of a problem. You’re discouraged from going Charge-focused since Momentum is a bad choice, so you just don’t build discard, and include a sane amount of cycling. This leaves Control as the best option, which is easy enough. Lightweight and Fragile is an odd combination, you’ll rarely go over 100 armour and if you do you were winning anyway. Note that banish effects are nice, as they’re not discards, and they help the deck thinning since excessive cycle is harder.
very clear and good article easy to understand. Thank you