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Raucous Steam roguelike is Slay the Spire with gnomes, and I love it

New Steam roguelike deckbuilder Union of Gnomes gets a free Steam demo with a new boss and a secret quest to discover, and it’s a delight.

New Steam roguelike deckbuilder Union of Gnomes gets a free demo prologue - A gnome with a red cap and ginger beard sits trapped in a cage.

Gnomes are devious, dastardly creatures. From peering at you out of your neighbour’s garden to the notorious Half-Life 2 companion Gnome Chompski, the tiny troublemakers have always left me a touch unsettled. Thankfully, in the new Steam roguelike Union of Gnomes, those diminutive distributors of disruption are on your side. At least, I think they are. What I am sure of is that you can try this Slay the Spire style deckbuilder out right now thanks to a free demo, and having done so myself I’d say it’s well worth a look.

Your journey through Union of Gnomes begins with you selecting a hero gnome, who leads a stacked caravan of companions through a map that will likely feel familiar to lovers of the best roguelike games such as Slay the Spire or FTL. As you flee from the clutches of a devilish Snow White, you’ll progress through a range of battles, hideouts where you can recruit new squad members and stock up on resources, and special events that require you to make a series of branching choices.

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Each ‘card’ in your deck actually represents one of the gnomes in your caravan, and each has an ability – some that deal damage, some that heal or protect your hero, and some that offer other handy effects such as buffs, debuffs, and mana regeneration. Fights are positional, Darkest Dungeon style, so your melee gnomes will have to target enemies at the front while ranged units can pick off foes standing at the back.

Crucially, every gnome in your squadron also has a wiener requirement. You’ll collect these as you travel, and each movement on the mission map requires you to fulfill the combined wiener wants of your entire army. Should your sausage supply fall short, one random gnome will faint each time you travel, temporarily removing them from action. They’ll only return to the fray once you’ve replenished your food stocks at a tavern or by completing certain quests.

Union of Gnomes - A screenshot of battle in the roguelike deckbuilder, where a 'Gnombo' card is used to deliver an attack.

Events are inspired by well-known fairy tales – early in my adventure, I encounter a long-haired woman atop a tower in search of a rescuing knight. I bid three of my gnomes to stack together to disguise themselves as such and, after climbing up and hearing out her tale, we rescue the princess. In thanks, she bestows upon us three beads from her hair, which I can then use to upgrade three of my unit cards. Wonderful.

Your hero also levels up as you adventure, earning stat points and talents. The former can be pumped into a traditional RPG-style list of stats to boost your damage, hero health, mana, crit chance, dodge chance, and so on, while the talent points can be spent on a tree offering you ways to boost your hero’s particular skills – I opt to enhance the potency of my poison abilities, for example.

Union of Gnomes - An event where the player meets a woman with long hair trapped in a tower, and can 'disguise the gnomes as a knight' or 'yell for her to throw her hair down.'

It’s immediately very charming – right from the disconcerting first load screen, which simply reads, “The gnomes are lying to you. They know where I am.” There’s a huge amount of flavor at play here – along with the traditional stat buffs, there are effects such as ‘drunk’ (50% chance to crit but 50% chance to miss) and ‘throes of love’ (healing effects used by the target instead deal damage). It’s all a lot of fun, and you can give it a go yourself right now thanks to a free Steam demo.

Union of Gnomes Prologue is out now on Steam. It’s a free game that acts as a taste of what you can expect from the full release. The prologue features a unique mission for the demo, with a dangerous new boss fight to tackle and a special secret quest to uncover. If you’re prepared to enter into a pact with the gnomes, head right here to get started. You can also wishlist the full game on Steam to stay up to date with further updates.

If gnomes aren’t quite your wheelhouse, here are plenty more of the best fantasy games filled with all manner of other spectacular species. We’ve also rounded up all the best free Steam games, perfect if you’re in the mood to try out something new without committing to a purchase.

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