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Everyone Was Right About How Good Cobalt Core Is

Another card game to take up all my time, oh no

A screenshot from "Cobalt Core:" on the left, three profiles of animal characters. In the center, two spaceships engaged in combat. Beneath the spaceships is a row of cards
Rocket Rat Games

To add to the current Aftermath trend of playing card games, I just picked up Cobalt Core, an FTL-like space combat roguelike but with a card deck to manage instead of spaceship rooms. I’ve been hearing about the game for months, and all of you were right: it rules. 

Some things I’ve heard since Cobalt Core came out back in November: It’s funny. True. Its soundtrack slaps. True again. The art’s great. It is! It has a lot of familiar pieces–besides FTL, there are Slay the Spire and Into the Breach vibes–but when they’re mixed together they become a wholly new thing, and that thing is very good.

You pilot a little pixel spaceship on jumps across a galaxy, with different stops giving you combat encounters, ship repairs, new powers, or mysteries. Your three-member crew, composed of cute cartoon animals, is trapped in a timeloop that’s wiped their memories. You fight through three sectors to reach the titular cobalt; if you’re successful in that combat, you unlock memories for a character to learn more about the plot. 

Most of what you do is ship-on-ship, turn-based combat. What you can do there is defined by the cards in your deck, which are pegged to the crewmembers you brought along. The starting crew has basic attacks, shields, and evades; just this morning I unlocked a character who lets me deploy attack drones. Which cards and how many you can play is limited by your available energy and the card’s energy costs. Along your journey through the galaxy, you can pick up new cards or upgrade your existing ones. You can also find artifacts, which attach to one of your crew to give their powers a boost. In my last run, I had an artifact for shield specialist Dizzy that gave me a temporary shield whenever I got more standard shield. I also very stupidly picked up one for my weapons character Peri that gave me extra energy at the expense of weakening all non-Peri characters’ attacks, which meant I kept finding myself in fights full of damage cards that didn’t deal any damage. 

I found a lot of fun in–sorry–playing the hand I was dealt, in one turn finding ways to manage a hand full of useless attacks but a lot of shields, in another finding ways to maximize what damage I could do. Early on I picked up a card that deals corrosive damage over time, so I often won fights through attrition as I applied corrode and then dodged and shielded my way through the rest of the encounter. Ships will have parts that take more or less damage, so there’s some strategy to your positioning. Enemy ships can also apply statuses to you or to themselves–I kept finding myself thoroughly baffled by ships that evaded when I attacked them–or fire cards into your deck. In my last run, I kept ending up with oxygen leak cards that sapped my energy, or trash cards that did nothing but cost energy to be rid of. It’s a different kind of strategizing than FTL’s queue of actions and dealing with crises, but you have to think about the synergy between your characters and their cards, and there’s some of FTL’s delightful panic and quick thinking when things go south. 

Cobalt Core has a really lovely, funny personality that keeps all this from feeling too serious. In one jump, I came across a character who would give me, for free, a ton of useless cards: one gave me three energy but cost three energy to use; another involved moving left and right to end up back where I started. I didn’t have to take these cards, but I did, and every time they appeared in my deck I both laughed and groaned. Your crewmembers compliment and support each other in a way that’s noticeable without becoming grating, and I appreciated the positive feedback when I was in the harsher depths of a fight. There’s chill, personable banter between your crew and the bosses, a really delightful contrast to how they would absolutely annihilate me. All of it makes Cobalt Core feel surprisingly relaxed for a game where, at least in my hands, adorable cartoon animals repeatedly get blown to bits. 

Alongside new characters, you can unlock new ships with different strengths and abilities, but I haven’t quite gotten that far. I tend to be a bit shit at card-based games, as I’m apparently constitutionally incapable of reading an entire card before playing it. (This also explains why I suck at Balatro). Still, I’m really glad I picked Cobalt Core up after months of saying “I should really check that out” every time I saw some mention of how good it is. If you now want to check it out because I told you how good it is, you can get it on Steam and Switch.

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