Dale Yu – review of Roguebook – PC Game on Steam

Roguebook 

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So, normally, we play and write about boardgames here on the Opinionated Gamers – but there are certain times (well, like this whole pandemic thing) where I find myself drifting back towards computer games.  Roguebook was offered to me as a review copy from the publisher, and I was very excited to try it out as the game is developed in part by Richard Garfield, the guy who designed Magic: The Gathering.   

I have fooled around with a few other Roguelikes this year (Slay the Spire and Across the Obelisk), and I have enjoyed them well enough – but none of the previous games really captivated me.  Given the obvious deckbuilding heritage of Mr. Garfield, I was really hoping that this game would fit itself in that niche on my desktop.

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As the story goes (taken from the Steam page as there isn’t much of this in the game itself)

“The ancients speak of a Book written since time immemorial containing all the world’s legends. After many fabulous adventures, recounted in Faeria – Chronicles of Gagana, this relic was lost in a well of Faeria. Through contact with this source of magic, the Book developed a wicked free will of its own and became the Roguebook!

You are trapped in the Book of Lore of Faeria, and each page represents a new challenge. Lead your two heroes to victory in this roguelike deckbuilder developed in partnership with Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering™. Put together the best synergies between cards, relics and abilities, and take on the Roguebook.”

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The game starts with your party of two adventurers.   You get two heroes to start with, and you will find two others as you play.  On later runs, you’ll get to choose which two heroes you want to use in your run.   You can see a small sliver of a hex map, and part of the game is to use your paintbrush and ink to illuminate various parts of the map to explore the world, find battles, artifacts and other things. This is one of my favorite parts of the game – getting to explore the world.  

The game takes place over a number of runs. Each time you play the game, you will learn more about the world of Roguebook.  There are a few things which carry forward into future games, but otherwise, you’ll have to rely on your experience to know where certain things are hidden or what certain enemies/bosses have to offer.  Each run is also made different as you will find relics along the way which allow you to gain a special effect, but offer you a choice.  Sometimes it is a choice between a global offensive buff versus a defensive buff.  Sometimes, it is a benefit to hero A or hero B.   Each choice lasts for the whole run, and the decision must be made immediately as you find the relic.

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For me, the central part of the game is the battle. In this, your duo will take on all sorts of various enemies.  On each side, there is a definite order to things – the combatants each stand in a line.  On your side, that means there is always one hero in front and one in back.  This is important because certain card abilities or card costs can vary dependent on the location of the hero.  Other actions are embiggened with each positional switch.  On the baddie side, there is a front enemy (which some cards specifically target) and then others behind it.

As with most deckbuilders, you’ll draw a hand of 5 cards and you’ll have a certain number of mana points to spend.  You only have a single deck, comprised of cards for each of your two heroes.  As you’ll soon discover in the game, there are actually four possible heroes, and at the start of each run, you’ll choose two to play for this particular run.  Each hero has their own deck of cards (about 50 different cards for each).  

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You will have to decide how to best use your mana points, choosing which cards to play at which times.  Some will attack certain enemies, some will give blocking power to your heroes (which is essential for overall survival).  Some cards will cause your heroes to flip position in line.  Other cards will be buffs – they will give you immediate or ongoing improvements to some of your battle abilities.  There are plenty of other types of cards, but I’ll leave you to figure those out if you play the game.  Suffice it to say, there are lots of cards to experiment with and learn how they interact with each other – this is one of my favorite parts of a deckbuilding board game, and I love that aspect here as well.  Battles continue until one side is fully defeated – if you win, you’ll gain some coins and other objects such as inks and paintbrushes that can help you explore the map.  If you lose, the run is over, and you’ll have to start over with a new run!

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Going back to your deck, there isn’t really a lot of deckbuilding in the traditional sense.  As you progress through your run, you’ll add new cards to your deck, and you often will have the choice between multiple cards as to which one to add.  However, there isn’t any chance to thin your deck, so you really just add things.  Like many other roguelikes, there is also the ability to craft cards.  As you play, you will find or buy gems and other artifacts which can be combined with cards in your deck to give them improved powers or maybe lower casting costs.  These changes are permanent, so you must combine things wisely!

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From my initial 20+ hours, the adventure seems to be made up of three levels.  Once you beat the third boss, you will gain the chance to choose an Embellishment – this will make the game somewhat harder for the next run – so, when you get back to the game, you’ll have a harder go of it.  There is, in fact, a whole tech tree of Embellishments, so there is plenty of opportunity to continue playing the game at increasing levels of difficulty.  Also, there are six different combinations of heroes, and if you wanted to, you could try out each possible set and learn how the different cards and abilities interact with that particular duo.

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The graphics are fine.  I’m not a big computer gamer, so I’m maybe not the best to compare – but it looks no better nor worse than other games in the genre that I’ve played.  The info on the cards is fairly easy to pick out, and most things have boxes that pop up when you hover over them to help you figure out what they do.  The soundtrack was fine when I listened in my first game, but honestly, as I do with most computer games, I mute all the sounds and play songs on Spotify instead as I play; so I probably have no official comment on the sounds.

From the standpoint of a casual computer gamer, this one fits my style well.  I like the fact that the game (at least what I’ve seen so far) only has three levels, and I was able to get through them after about 15 hours or so.  That’s a manageable amount of time and I feel like I have accomplished something.  Then, the game got more difficult, and I had to continue improving my play to defeat it again at the next level…  Each run starts out with the same basic deck, and you can use your knowledge of the cards to try to craft a deck in a later run to do a specific thing.

To my untrained eye, it feels like some of the things are not necessarily balanced – you might find an Epic relic/artifact (such as doubling the damage done by the first attack in each fight) which seriously changes the outcome of the whole run; but hey; that just makes me want to keep playing to see what other wacky things I’ll find on my next run.

I tend to view computer games as a way to pass time; I’m not looking for a month long campaign.  A Roguebook run usually takes me about 60-120 minutes (depending on how far I make it and whether I’m interrupted by who knows what else); and that might be its only downside for me.  If I were king, I’d prefer shorter runs or a way to speed up gameplay – but it’s just as easy to leave Steam running on my computer and just pause a run until I have more free time.  This month, it’s been a good way to chill out for an hour or two; and the metagame has been enough to keep me interesting in coming back over and over again.  

The exploration of the map as well as the card combos has been fun to play around with, and thus far, even though I have already “beaten the game” once, I am still looking forward to playing the game more and further exploring things.  Based on the size of the tech tree, it’s clear that I haven’t seen everything nor achieved more than about 3% – and the game has sucked me in thus far.  I’m wanting to play it for a bit each night, and from my standpoint, that’s what I’m mainly looking for in a computer game.  The cost seems high at first ($24.99 currently), but i’m nearing 25 hours, and I see myself playing this a bit more in the near future, so there is certainly comparable value to a boardgame… and let’s face it, from what I’ve seen, nearly every game on Steam goes on sale at some point, and this would definitely be worth keeping an eye on at a lower price point.

Rating (so far): I love it!

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Matt C: I was given a code to play a preview build, even though I tend to wait around for the finished product. I was a little underwhelmed/frustrated at the preview build, but am glad to say I find the finished product to be much better.  As Dale mentions, there is a meta-game where you explore the map and customize your deck and the actual “fighting” portion where you set your deck up to go against the computer opponents.  In the preview I felt that the map exploration was more frustrating than interesting.  As Dale doesn’t mention the meta-game much, here’s a brief explanation.

The game world consists of a hexagonal map hidden by a fog-of-war effect.  However, one cannot just blindly explore.  Instead, players use “paint” found in the game (mostly from combat, but also a few other sources) to remove the fog of war in order to explore and find things.  Some items are revealed at the start of the level, but you still need to “paint” your way over to the location to access them.  (The straight path to the level boss is always open, of course… :)  Using one’s paint supply (like uncovering a line of 3 to 5 hexes, or a “burst” of radius 2 or 3 hexes) is a definite strategic decision.  You won’t have enough paint to fully explore the board (or often even get to all the “revealed” items) before confronting the level boss.  While that was somewhat annoying in the beta, I have come to terms with it in the full release and can admit that it prevents someone from simply exploring every nook and cranny before moving on.  In this way, it serves as a nice little push to keep players moving to the next level.  (You simply run out of ink and it’s time to move on!)

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As for the card combat, the various characters each have a few special mechanics that can be explored in a single run through the game.  These are great and reward a player for working on getting “combos” up and running.  However, I have had a few runs where I’m presented with really cool “combo” cards early in the game that buff up a particular play style.  Unfortunately, since they were so early, it wasn’t clear if I would be able to acquire the other side of the card combos. For example, one character (with the right cards) can build up big bonuses for attacking several times in a turn, but do I go for the big bonus card before I’ve set my character up for the multiple attacks?  What if I don’t find the requisite multi-attack cards later in the run?  Thankfully, runs aren’t all that long so it just means that particular run might not run as long.

There isn’t much of a chance to cull one’s deck so the focus is on adding and improving one’s starting cards.  Most cards can be slotted with a gem to give it extra power (cheaper cost, more damage, funky effects, etc…) although gems are somewhat rare in the game.

I think rogue-like games are the best if you have a bit of overarching progression and thankfully, one can collect “pages” during a run which can be used in a tech-tree fashion in order to unlock new abilities in future runs.  (Things like more items to find, more cash accrued, some special abilities, etc…)

I’m in agreement with Dale’s “I Love It” assessment.  My one caveat for the game is its speed.  The graphics are nice, but not overwhelming.  However, the game runs far too slow on my laptop.  This is a computer that runs most games of this style of graphics fairly well (League of Legends, Starcraft, even some first person shooters) however Roguebook grinds the computer to a halt.  It isn’t unplayable, but it certainly distracts from the overall enjoyment of the game.

Rating: I love it!

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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