This article is sponsored by Roguebook.
I’m a huge fan of Roguelikes (games with procedurally generated levels where you level up as you progress), and the latest addition to the genre is a good one. Roguebook is a game designed by Richard Garfield, and is a slick new take on a type of game I enjoy. If you like Slay the Spire (which I very much do), you’ll definitely enjoy Roguebook. Let’s get to the first chapter.
When you start a Roguebook run, you choose two characters to play as, and your starting deck of cards is made up of cards of those two characters. You initially have only two characters to choose from, Sharra and Sorocco, but you soon unlock two more, Seifer and Aurora. The two-character system is a great way to make each run feel different, as there are six potential pairings, and each one plays out very differently. Here are some basics about each hero:
Sharra has a ton of offensive capability, and her themes tend to revolve around dealing damage and playing a lot of cards in the same turn. Her unique starting ability is that she gains three power (which dictates how much damage her cards deal) whenever she’s the leading hero.
Sorocco is a tank. He’s capable of dealing a lot of damage if you do the setup, but his defensive capabilities are his main strength. His ability is that he gains two block (defense) if you end the turn with him as the leading hero. As you can see, positioning is important – we’ll talk about that shortly.
Seifer is somewhere in the middle of Sharra and Sorocco. He can definitely deal a ton of damage, but has a solid amount of health and a good ability to tank too. He’s got the ability to become enraged after he takes enough damage, which makes his next card supercharged.
Aurora is in my estimation the hardest hero to play. She starts with a mere 20 hit points (by far the least of the three characters), but once per battle you can full heal her for free. As with all the heroes, she has multiple play patterns to choose from, which include summoning allies and drawing extra cards.
There are a couple different scenes to the game, though combat is the most prominent. As you explore the Roguebook, you have to battle enemies, and ultimately you must defeat each level’s boss to advance and win. The exploration and improvements you make to your deck are all to increase your prowess in combat, so it’s definitely the main focus. The combat system here is really cool. Let’s walk through how it goes.
First of all, notice how good the game looks. It’s got really slick graphics and effects, and that makes it a pleasure to play. They definitely did not skimp on the visuals.
In combat, your goal is to slay all your enemies – probably not a surprise. There are no time limits, as you’re playing against the computer, so you can take your time in planning out your turn.
The large number on the bottom is your energy, which is the resource you use to play cards. I have four energy available, and my hand is made up of cards that cost zero to two energy per. You’ll notice that my cards are a mix of red (Seifer) and orange (Sorocco). The deck is shuffled randomly, so you won’t always have half-and-half like I do in this shot.
When you play an attack, that hero attacks, and when you play a block, you gain that much block this turn. Additionally, all blocks move that hero to the front, and some attacks and other cards do if they have the Charge keyword. Once you end your turn, the enemy goes, and your front hero gets attacked. Block stays with the front hero, so if Sorocco gained 15 block and then Seifer moved to the front, Seifer would have 15 block.
In the above screenshot, if I ended the turn, the enemies would hit Seifer for 24, as indicated by the icons above their head. Of course, I’ll probably kill at least one before then, and gain a bunch of block. Your heroes don’t gain life after each battle, so preventing damage is crucial so you can get through the level.
At the end of each turn you discard your unused cards and draw back to five, with your energy refilling as well.
The combats are a lot of fun. You have a bunch of different cards to work with, and they combine in tons of different ways. There’s the option to play a defensive game, gaining tons of block and dealing small amounts of damage when safe to do so. You can get aggressive, and take some calculated hits in order to get the fight over sooner, and you can assemble all sorts of combos. The most fun part of the game for me is figuring out how to build the sickest deck possible, and that’s what we are going to look at next.
You begin each Roguebook run with a deck made up of cards from your two heroes, and each time you have a bunch of basic Strikes and Defends, plus a random selection of more advanced cards. As you progress through the game, you have a bunch of ways to make your deck into a finely-tuned machine.
One thing to note is that there are very few ways to remove cards from your deck, which is a departure from other games in this genre. Richard Garfield is a fan of making your deck better and bigger at the same time, which keeps it from being too consistent and repetitive while still making it higher quality over time. I like this decision, as you keep adding more cool stuff to your deck, though you do eventually turn down card rewards if they don’t fit into your themes.
One way to get access to new cards, gems, and items is the shop, run by a racoon-looking dude named Naddim.
In the shop, you can spend the gold you find while adventuring to get new gear and cards, all of which can help refine your strategy. Each of the three levels in the game has its own shop, with the quality (and prices) going up as you advance.
Another place you get cards is from vaults, which are scattered around the map. They still cost some gold, but the rate is much better than the shop.
You have a lot of control over what you want your deck to look like. When you start, any card is better than the basic stuff you begin with, so you’ll never turn down additions. Eventually, you do start to put something together, and at that point the random card rewards are often worth skipping. Let’s chat about some of the strategies you can assemble, though the beauty of this game is that there are so many synergistic combinations that this is only scratching the surface.
Sorocco is apparently a music fan, as a bunch of his cards make the card Headbang. These are created cards that stay in your hand even if you pass the turn, and reward you for clever sequencing, as they have Combo. Combo means that the card costs one less if the last card you played was of the other hero, meaning you want to alternate cards for max value. Eventually, Sorocco uses all the extra attack power for a big hit, though this strategy also makes use of drawing extra cards or having tons of cards in hand as well.
Allies are another thing going on. They are cards that stay in play, and each turn attack or provide utility (or both). Flame Spitter here is one of the basic ones, and it attacks for four but hits all of the enemies instead of just the front one. Seifer has a bunch of ways to buff his allies, and a bunch of good allies to choose from, so you can do some good work with them.
Aurora has a theme of drawing extra cards, with cards like Witstrike rewarding you for having a full hand. She also generates extra energy with some cards, which combines nicely with card draw. Unsurprisingly, I enjoy playing this strategy.
There are many, many, more strategies to choose from, but I just wanted to highlight a couple of them. I also recorded a Roguebook playthrough, so take a look at this video and you’ll see how the game plays out.
As you can see in the video, exploring the map is another big part of Roguebook’s appeal. Each level is made up of tiles, and you start by only having a small amount of them revealed. There are a number of different ways to reveal tiles, and once you do, you can walk onto them and interact with what you find. The following shot shows the map, and with me about to use an Ink to reveal a bunch of tiles.
All the little icons are places of interest, and you reveal more once you use ink or brushes to paint yourself a picture. You can find a ton of different things – items, hearts, gold, fights and more. There are also a bunch of special events, where you get to make cool choices and learn about the flavor of the world. Exploring the map is really sweet, and there’s a big press your luck element as well. You want to explore to find stuff, but you also don’t want to take too much damage before you fight the boss of each level.
Another aspect of the game I enjoy greatly is the gem system. You may have noticed the shop earlier selling gems, and what those do are offer improvements to your cards. Cards can have up to two sockets, and each socket can fit one gem. You find or buy gems as you adventure, and figuring out how to get the best value from your gems is quite rewarding. Here are some examples of what gems can do:
As you can see, there’s a huge range of effects. Some are pretty basic (add extra damage or gain some block), but some are quite intricate. It feels great when you “break it” by adding gems to form a busted combination, and there are some good combos out there.
An example is loading up some plus damage gems on an attack that hits multiple enemies or gives you multiple swings. If you put a Ruby (+3 damage) on Fire Breath (deals 15 to each enemy), you’re now getting a ton of extra value. When there are three enemies, that Ruby deals nine extra damage, and this is one of the easier combos to assemble.
My favorite is putting cost reducers on expensive spells, particularly ones that get absurd when you cast them for free, though there are untold numbers of great combos available. You can even do things like put in a gem that means you always start with the card in your first hand, which makes it a lock you have your deck’s key card.
The gem system is a big addition to the game, and makes each run feel different as you put together different combos. The last two things I want to cover are items and talents, which also give you control over how your run shapes up.
Talents are the skill tree you see here, and you get to choose one every time you add four cards to your deck (another reward for making your deck bigger). Each time, you choose either a talent of one of your heroes or a party talent, all of which have the capability of being great. The one I chose here is Regeneration, which means that Sorocco heals at the end of each battle. Talents can have a build-around aspect to them, but sometimes are just good value (like the one I just took).
Items are also divided into hero/party categories. When you find an item, if it’s a hero item you choose which hero it goes onto, and you can’t switch afterwards. You have to figure out which works best on each hero, and that adds a nice layer to things. I’m a fan of every mechanic that takes advantage of you having two heroes, as that’s a nice differentiator this game has.
As you continue completing runs, you get the option to make the game harder in exchange for increasing your rewards. You collect scrolls and use those to unlock more effects each run (like starting with more stuff, or having more things on the map, and so on), which makes this a rewarding game to just jam. I’ve been digging it myself, and have done a ton of runs over the last two weeks. I enjoy roguelikes, and this is a great addition to the genre.
Roguebook is a graphically pleasing adventure into a sweet world (it’s actually set in the world of Faeria, a different game which I’ve never played) and it ticks all the boxes I look for in a roguelike. I’d recommend trying it, both for veterans of these games and for someone interested in getting into them. It’s intuitive, slick and has all the elements that give you control over your experience each run.
The last thing I want to mention is a sweet contest the folks from Roguebook are running. It’s a card design contest, where you can have a card you design immortalized in the game, while also winning a mint Black Lotus. That’s a sick prize, and definitely worth checking out, so head on over and start thinking about your entry!
Roguebook is available on Steam here.