Neurodeck – Psychological Roguelike Deck Builder Review

Neurodeck is a roguelike deckbuilding game by developer Tavrox Games and publisher Goblinz Studio, released on the 18th of March, 2021. In Neurodeck, you play through each run, building an understanding of your character while overcoming enemy phobias. This review focuses on the PC version, but the game is still in development and coming soon for players on the Nintendo Switch.

There will be discussions and images of dark themes, including phobias, mental health, and some mature language. Please proceed with this review and game with some caution if you are sensitive to these concepts.

Neurodeck begins with a choice to pick your character and an emotion. You start the game with Lei, and the emotion of joy, until you unlock more after completed runs. The emotion you pick does impact your deck and character boosts. After choosing your character and emotion, a concise, interactive tutorial will work you through the main game mechanics. Each round, you have three actions and a Stamina and Sanity meter to manage. Most actions will consume stamina, and enemies will primarily attack your sanity. Passive effects, ability stacking, and items add a challenging level of strategy to what is a clean gameplay design. After you defeat a phobia, you are presented with four cards, where you choose to add one to your deck.

Neurodeck - choices of cards after victory against a phobia.
Who doesn’t have a little wrath after a bad day?

Rounds are either a battle with a phobia, or a mediation session. Mediation rounds offer a choice of activities to build or manage your deck, to add passive abilities, to unlock cards for future rounds, or to build your max stamina or sanity. During mediation rounds, the chosen character also shares personal stories where they have dealt with complex, confusing, and frustrating situations. Unfortunately there were grammatical errors that made it difficult to read some of the stories shared. The run with Lei included stories where she faced racism which could have been interesting if explored more in depth.

Leaning into dark themes and personal stories of the characters, made this somewhat of a vulnerable gaming experience. I understand Neurodeck may not be for everyone due to the themes as you face phobias like tokophobia (fear of pregnancy), agoraphobia (fear of not being able to escape a situation or place), and concepts like anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia. During runs, there is not much variation in the enemies you face. Not all phobias cover complex mental health topics, but may be confronting if you personally share the phobia. In most cases the psychological elements presented are not explored in depth or with much finesse.

Screenshot of a Neurodeck battle against a phobia.
The abilities of enemy phobias lean in to dark and possibly confronting themes.

The visual elements of Neurodeck are simply designed and elegant. Information is clearly presented, within a distinct art style. As Neurodeck is a deckbuilding game, I would have appreciated more transparency of my whole deck during game rounds when I was facing tricky enemies. The sound design in this game is beautifully unsettling and minimalistic. A simple minor piano lead theme plays during gameplay, with percussion and enemy sound effects adding tension during battles.

One aspect of Neurodeck that I found frustrating was the time it took to unlock new cards, and the random nature of cards available to add to your deck each run. I played the game for around six hours before I completed my first successful run. At around the five hour mark, I sent my editor a message in despair. I couldn’t tell if I was just bad at the game, as a novice in the deckbuilding genre, or if the random elements of the game were working against me. Despite that feeling, I felt compelled to keep playing. As though the Neurodeck Gods heard my desperation, on my next run attempt I unlocked a Snack card. The Snack card allowed me to recover sanity and gain 1 action, for no stamina cost – a complete gamechanger. With Snack in my deck, I made it through the next run with ease.

The playable card Snack from Neurodeck on PC. 
Snack - Action - You regain 20 Stamina and gain 1 action(s). This card Fades after use.
Thank you Snack for saving my real-life sanity.

Once you complete a run, more emotions and increased difficulties will unlock. I have yet to unlock the other available character, Jupiter, but I look forward to reading her stories as I play through her run.

Overall, I found the gameplay challenging with that “one more turn” effect shared by great roguelike games. Post release, the developer of the game has been active in the community, seeking feedback on how to improve the game. I’m optimistic that the game experience will continue to be tuned with improvements and more content added over time. Neurodeck has a lot of potential, and I recommend it for gamers looking for a fresh deckbuilding roguelike experience. Just be forewarned of the heavy nature of some of the themes and topics discussed.

This review utilised a key provided by Future Friends Games. Neurodeck is available now on Steam, GOG, and coming soon to Nintendo Switch.


Written by: @NattyWW

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