'Roguebook' Is a Literary Dungeon Crawl

And it's only slightly frustrating

Key Takeaways

  • Roguebook is a randomized dungeon crawl where you have to build a winning strategy out of whatever random cards and abilities you find.
  • The game's made for multiple short runs, so it's very bite-sized and schedule-friendly.
  • It's hard not to draw a straight line between Roguebook and 2018's Slay the Spire.
The coverart from 'Roguebook.'

Nacon

If you like card games, dark fantasy, tactical experiences, and being repeatedly murdered, Roguebook is a confluence of your particular interests.

New on Steam this week, Roguebook is a "deckbuilding roguelike" from Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, and the indie Belgian studio Abrakam, best known for its 2017 card game Faeria.

I always end up putting hundreds of hours into games like these, specifically because they’re easy to pick up and play for short periods, but they also reward cleverness, strategy, and thinking on your feet. Roguebook is fast-paced, deep, and addictive, but when compared to other recent deckbuilders like Slay the Spire, it has one major mechanical issue that’ll take some explanation.

"One wrong move can have severe consequences for the rest of your current run, and it's easy to go through a whole map without collecting anything useful."

Take a Look in a Book

The titular Roguebook is a magical prison, which has trapped several adventurers and a helpful merchant inside the pages of a blank book.

As a team of two unique characters, initially Sharra the Dragonslayer and Sorocco the half-ogre, you head out into a map that's mostly blank in search of an escape route that only theoretically exists.

Again, if you’ve put as much time into Slay the Spire or similar deckbuilders as I have, Roguebook will be instantly familiar to you. You collect resources by winning fights, and those resources—specifically magical inks and brushes—let you open up more of the map, which reveals more resources and potential encounters. 

When you're out of ways to expand the map, it's time to see if you've got the firepower to successfully confront the map's boss.

Screenshot from 'Roguebook.'

Your combat arsenal in Roguebook consists of cards. Initially, you’ve only got a handful of very basic attacks and blocks, but the more of them you find, the more intricate your strategies can become.

The skill-based part of Roguebook, and the part that makes it so addictive for me, is in doing what you can with what you get. You’re meant to take the random cards, treasures, buffs, and other resources that you can find, then figure out how to assemble them on the fly into a useful, game-winning strategy. It’s 52-card pick-up… to the death.

If you're a perfectionist, like I am, this can be maddening. One wrong move can have severe consequences for the rest of your current run, and it's easy to go through a whole map without collecting anything useful. Fortunately, you do get a few useful bonuses for even a failed run.

Follow the Leader

An additional complication in Roguebook is that in a fight, your characters stand in line. The leader is subject to attack on the enemy's turn, while your secondary character is protected in the back. You can switch their positions by playing certain cards, and many abilities change, sometimes dramatically, depending on a character's position.

As long-time collectible-card game players know, part of building a deck is the luck of the draw. You can have the strongest cards in the world, but if you don't draw them when you need them, they’re useless.

Screenshot from 'Roguebook.'

In Slay the Spire, the answer to that is in slimming down your deck to make it harder to get a bad opening hand. In Roguebook, however, there’s a mechanic where you gain new and useful passive abilities as your deck grows. You’re supposed to grab as many new cards as you can, then rely on draw/discard mechanics to make up the difference.

For Sharra and Sorocco, this is maddening. I only ever found one strategy with the two of them that seemed to consistently work, and they force you to effectively build two decks at once.

It’s much less of a problem for the two unlockable characters. Aurora the turtle lady, in particular, has a very attainable basic strategy—when in doubt, summon more frogs—along with a lot of draw mechanics. It’s like Sharra and Sorocco are rough drafts, while Aurora was actually built for Roguebook as a final product.

It's a frustrating quirk to an interesting game. Roguebook is a solid and addictive entry into the deckbuilder genre that's gotten popular in the last few years.

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