Arnold Rauer's strategic card game Card Crawl for iOS is Solitaire for those of us with dice in our bones and Bags of Holding in our hearts, albeit on a much, much more simplified scale. The object is to clear the deck of cards the big monster dealer Hoerni lays out for you... your character has 13 hitpoints, two equipment slots, and a backpack to store an item. There are potions that heal you, coins that add to your total wealth, weapons and shields, special abilities, and, of course, monsters. Each round Hoerni deals four random cards from his deck, and you need to remove at least three of them before he deals more. So, even if all the cards available are beneficial, you'll still need to get rid of three of them to proceed... do you discard a spell? Waste a potion? Sell equipment to the shop to earn its value in coin? If you drag a monster directly on top of your hero, she'll slay it, but her hitpoints will decrease by the monster's total remaining life. Dragging an equipped weapon on a monster card damages it by the weapon's point value, while dragging the monster itself onto an equipped shield will subtract the shield's point value from the damage the monster does. There is always a fixed amount of cards and their types in each deck, you just don't know when they'll be dealt, so surviving 'til Hoerni's hand is clear takes planning, thought, and a bit of luck. Win, and you can keep your gold to be spent on unlocking more cards at the shop. Celebrate by attacking the darkness and cracking open a Mountain Dew.
One of the great things about card crawl is that it's easy to learn, but compulsively playable in that "one more game" style thanks to each match typically only taking a couple minutes to play. The beautiful storybook illustrations lend a fantastical bit of morbid charm to the atmosphere, and the whole interface is clean and easy to use. The downside, however, is that even with the unlockable special abilities, Card Crawl still starts to feel repetitive after a while, and you'll yearn for more monsters to spice things up even if they just give you something else to look at. Luck still feels like it plays more of a role than it should of at times, with the order in which cards are dealt potentially meaning you burn through every available potion and piece of equipment and are left of an insurmountable mound of monsters. Unlocking new cards does help, since the variety of abilities forces you to think how and when to play them in order to maximize their effectiveness. Taken purely as a variation on Solitaire, Card Crawl is clever as heck, with a standout style and simple yet rewarding gameplay. Card-based strategy isn't exactly an untapped genre, and this one may not be as expansive as some. With its gorgeous, ghoulish presentation and simple yet addictive mechanics, Card Crawl is still a likable, fun addition to the genre we'd love to see get even bigger.