Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
While the deckbuilding roguelite genre has been pretty active over the last couple of years, Roguebook brings enough new to the table to warrant a look. Richard Garfield of Magic: The Gathering fame has his fingerprints all over this, and that’s a good thing as I found myself absolutely sucked in by this game’s mechanics.
Slay the Spire, Monster Train and other similar titles have been huge time sucks for me over the last couple of years. So getting a bit of that MTG DNA in here along with developer Abrakam’s visuals and music as well as characters and worldbuilding all harken back to their prior game Faeria – which I was a huge fan of as well. I am all-in on these developers continuing to flesh out this fantasy world of theirs.
But what about Roguebook itself? Well for one, like Faeria, it feels like a mashup of genres. You start off with a quick bit of story and then proceed to get dumped onto a hexagonal map that looks like something out of a 4x strategy game. However, that map is simply about exploration. You are in the Roguebook, and there are a handful of notable things (generally encounters) and a limited amount of shown real estate right off of the bat in this map, but after that you need to manage a resource called ink to uncover more of the map. There are broad brush strokes that allow you to reveal all around your character, and there are more targeted ink pots that can reveal tiles in a straight line to varying degrees. Early on, there is an urge to just explore everything in front of you, but you quickly learn that ink is a limited resource and you need to be selective in how you use it, making sure you can uncover as many tiles as possible.
Why? Because you can rush right to the boss, but odds are you’ll be underpowered and get crushed, especially after the first chapter. However, there is risk and reward to venturing around the map, as you can unlock new cards, gems to enhance cards, artifacts that boost your party in various ways and more. There are also enemies to battle along the way, which have drops of their own. Characters don’t level up via experience like RPGs, but as your collection of cards grows, you can unlock new abilities for either of your two characters or a shared party unlock as a third option. The more you battle, the more likely you are to be in a weakened state before the end boss, so fighting everything you see along the way makes you question the risk versus the rewards.
These are all somewhat common elements of the growing roguelite deckbuilding genre, but one of the places Roguebook really sets itself apart from the pack is this idea of a party. I’d love to see more characters added in time, but anyone who played Faeria will immediately recognize some of the characters as they get revealed. The party concept is an interesting one, because characters have different types of cards and different abilities and health. Most of the time, the character in the front is going to get hit by the enemies, so the order in which you play certain cards can matter a great deal. If you get too stabby with your glass cannon character, she might be stuck out front getting smacked around at the end of that turn, instead of her beefy companion who has nearly double her life and tends to have abilities that allow him to take more abuse. It’s a fascinating dynamic that only grows more involved as you unlock additional characters who have their own mechanics as you try to work out which combinations suit you best.
However, being a roguelike / roguelite game, the expectation is you’re going to die along the way. On my initial playthrough I made it to the second stage and then died halfway. On my second playthrough I made it to the second stage and died in the boss fight. My next couple I wiped in the first stage. There is a lot of randomness in the encounters, items, and things of that nature. Best laid plans and all that go out the window when your front-line character gets absolutely crushed by an elite attack and you don’t have the same quality of cards or block items as your last run.
That being said, despite the random nature of Roguebook (item drops, procedurally generated maps, opponent types, even bosses at the end of stages) seldom frustrated me, because the gameplay itself is very addicting and pretty brisk. Some of these card battlers become wars of attrition where battles long overstay their welcome, but that doesn’t really happen here very often.
I also enjoyed the sense of progression here, making this more of that ‘lite’ in the roguelite. I am someone who doesn’t like losing progress. Once the run is done, multiple things can be leveled up. Characters level up, adding newer / more powerful cards to their potential decks in future runs. There is also a branching skill table of sorts you can unlock perks between runs. You earn these unlock ‘points’ by exploring the maps and finding them. It’s a slow trickle that encourages you to make dozens – if not hundreds – of runs. It’s sort of a bold assumption that players will stick around and play that much but… in the first two days, I did about two dozen runs. Safe to say I am hooked.
Roguebook is an excellent mashup of collectible card game, with exploration and progression elements that keep the experience fresh for subsequent runs. I was almost immediately hooked, playing with different party combinations and structuring my decks to see if I could make it just a bit further on my next run. And the one after that. And the one after that. I’m going to stop writing now and go back for another run now.Score: 9 / 10