Deckbuilder fans owe themselves some time with the brilliant Cobalt Core

What might be the year’s best deckbuilding game launched last month, to little fanfare, with the release of Cobalt Core. It’s a mechanically rich and well-developed little game that brings out the best of the roguelike deckbuilding genre by combining its own twist: Tactical positioning that means every attack comes from somewhere and goes somewhere, allowing you to dodge enemy attacks—or have the enemy dodge your own.

The cutesy art style belies the style of game here, a fairly in-depth premise that uses the basic concepts of the roguelike deckbuilder laid on top of an axis of movement letting you slide your spaceship to the left or right. You can use that movement to dodge attacks, line up your weapons with enemy weak points, and even put debris between yourself and the enemy as cover. 

On a given turn you might play a card to gain some dodges, use one to slip left, play another card to shoot down an enemy missile, then another dodge to slip right and bring yourself out of the enemy cannon’s line of fire, before burning your last energy on a card to raise shields for the next turn. A variety of rule-changing artifacts let you tweak how you play, as do a number of different crewmates for your ship that add different cards to your possible pool.

The only thing some might consider a fault in Cobalt Core is that it’s a concise game. The game design space is thoroughly explored without overcomplicating itself, but that means you get a pretty exact game experience of 30-some hours before you’ve seen everything and beaten it. I think that’s a very welcome decision. Cobalt Core knows what it is and doesn’t try to overstay its welcome or spiral into some infinitely complex game by introducing new design space.

I’d really recommend deckbuilding enthusiasts check out Cobalt Core, even if the style of art makes you want to write it off at first. There’s a lot of interesting deckbuilding design going on here—don’t skip it.

Cobalt Core is made by developer Rocket Rat Games, who previously made Sunshine Heavy Industries, and is published by Brace Yourself Games.

You can find Cobalt Core on Steam for $20.