A roguelite can incorporate its roguelike elements in any number of ways.
Other than sticking to its permadeath-run principle, roguelites allow for an amount of flexibility that lends itself to experimentation with several genres.
Thus, there are mix-and-match combinations of a roguelite with almost any other video game genre in existence — action, strategy, or even story-driven adventure narratives.
Largely, though, the two types of broad combat designs that dominate the current roguelite landscape are action and deck-building. While the former focuses on reflexes and game-related mechanical skills, the deck-building bunch is more leisurely and managerial.
Five roguelites with the most fun deck-building experience
1) Slay The Spire (2017)
Developer/Publisher: MegaCrit Games/Humble Bundle
Platforms: PC, PS4, iOS, Android
Slay The Spire's success is what set the hype for deck-building roguelites back into motion in 2018, to the extent that several knockoffs try to branch off of its formula. Said formula is simple in principle: Slay The Spire keeps it tight and short.
The game is extremely easy to jump in and out of, and the combat mechanics can be learned intuitively in the first playthrough itself.
However, despite this apparent simplicity, Slay The Spire presents an unparalleled depth of deck-building combinations that is hard to match even half a decade after its release. The in-built balance and strategic opportunities provide enough player agency that those at the highest level of mastery can get over 50% win-rate in their runs, as consistent as a balanced deck-building roguelite gets.
2) Griftlands (2021)
Developer/Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Griftland's unique selling point is its intriguing narrative, at least in comparison to the other entries on this list. It is much more story-focused than you would expect from a roguelite deck-builder, with clever dialogue, a memorable cast of characters, and superb worldbuilding.
On the flip side, its actual deck-building leaves something to be desired. For Griftlands, the replay value doesn't come from the variety in its turn-based combat, as much as it does from exploring the many branching plot threads, twists, and turns.
With three selectable characters (classes), all with remarkably different entanglements, this provides the game enough replayability to compare to an average 40-hour roguelite playtime.
3) Monster Train (2020)
Developer/Publisher: Shiny Shoe/Good Shepherd Entertainment
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Switch
Monster train is one of the few games to run with the exact simplistic formula of Slay the Spire and yet manage to become a completely different milestone of its own. It has a few interesting things going on the conceptual board itself: the game pans out on a branching train track, each with multi-floor levels with the ultimate goal to prevent the spawning mobs from getting to the top floor.
To defend against them, players can draw from one main monster clan and one allied clan that will largely decide their deck and champion cards. With such a vast range for switching up playstyles and making on-the-fly adjustments with discard piles, Monster Train hits a sweet spot between RNG and player strategy.
4) Inscryption (2021)
Developer/Publisher: Daniel Mullins Games/Devolver Digital
Inscryption revokes a lot of points from the Hand of Fate drawing board. It has a similar across-the-table perspective and a similarly eerie atmosphere.
However, the slim aesthetic similarity ends there, as the game remains a deck-building game through and through. Its grid-based card battling is not what makes it so attractive.
Inscryption is very much style over substance. It plays its cards in the stylization and presentation departments wonderfully, starting from its snappy tutorial to its many surprising twists and turns that demand multiple playthroughs, each as exciting and novel as the last one.
5) Dicey Dungeons (2019)
Developer/Publisher: Terry Cavanagh
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, iOS, Android
Attuned to a groovy, upbeat soundtrack from Chipzel, Dicey Dungeons is a whimsical, funny, and yet surprisingly challenging attempt at the roguelite dungeon-crawling (or circus-crawling in this case) formula. The 'dicey' dungeons of this title are quite the material pun, as not only are all the playable classes are dice themselves, but also dice form the very foundation of its gameplay.
Instead of drawing from a pile of cards to play, this deck-builder instead has the player allocating dice on pre-assigned cards in a round to determine combat output.
Note: This article reflects the author's views.