Available On: Steam PC (coming soon to PlayStation, Switch, Xbox)
Played On: Steam PC
It’s no surprise by now that 2019’s Slay the Spire helped inspire an entire genre of deckbuilding, roguelike video games. Armed with a basic collection of cards, players embark on a gauntlet of battles and events, gaining new cards and refining their deck, and either finishing off the final boss, or die trying.
Roguebook is an enjoyable evolution of the deckbuilding formula, and may even dethrone the Spire king thanks to its refreshingly colorful art style, dual heroes, and rewarding map exploration.
Paint the World
The characters of Roguebook have become trapped inside the literal story book. The only way out is to reveal the hex tiles of each map by painting them with brushes and ink pots, which are rewarded as loot drops from battles.
Like Slay the Spire, each run includes three progressively challenging, procedurally generated levels, or maps, with each map culminating in a challenging boss fight. I’m given free reign on where to explore within each hexagonal map. A few tiles are revealed at the start, including watchtowers, which reveal additional tiles, and card vaults, where I can draft additional cards. I can use my paint brushes to reveal tiles around me, or ink pots to paint in a line to reach more desirable areas.
Each map is full of hidden goodies, including healing potions, gold piles, embellishment scrolls, and events. The colorful world map is reminiscent of classic strategy games like Heroes of Might and Magic, though due to limits of ink and brushes, I’ve never revealed more than half the map (thankfully a path to the end boss is always visible from the start).
Gold can be spent at the merchant, who is conveniently located the beginning of each map. The merchant offers new relics, gems, and cards, for a price. Embellishment scrolls, which are also rewarded after elite and boss battles, unlock permanent upgrades and new features for every future run, such as increasing the health of my heroes, replacing some of their starting cards, and generating additional locations on the map. They’re a critical component to making sure even failed runs (of which there are many) make me stronger and add to my overall progress.
It Takes Two
All the nice map-painting and exploration wouldn’t matter much if the card battles weren’t engaging. Like most deckbuilders, Roguebook borrows heavily from Slay the Spire, with cards dealing damage, adding temporary block, inflicting damage over time, building power, and generating energy. Yet again Roguebook evolves the formula by adding a second playable character with their own set of cards, and shuffling them together to create one deck.
Each of the four characters has a distinct playstyle and card set. Sharra is focused on offensive attacks, though also excels at swapping places with her partner, which can trigger lots of interesting combos and synergies. Seifer has a unique rage bar that builds when taking damage (or playing certain cards). When full, most of his cards transform into much more powerful versions, leading to some crucial timing to unleash his big combos.
Managing two different characters means managing two health bars, as well as the position of both heroes. Sharra, for example, receives more power when attacking in the front, yet she has less health and fewer ways to heal than meatier characters like Seifer and Sorocco. The twin character gameplay also allows for interesting card combos, such as cards with reduced cost when played from the front, or effects that trigger when swapping heroes.
The two-hero party adds an additional layer that adds to the strategic fun of card battles without dragging fights on too long or bogging them down in card complexity. It’s a shame there are only four characters at launch, and the fourth is only unlocked after successfully beating the game the first time.
Roguebook has not been rated by the ESRB. The art style is full of bright colors and whimsical creatures as enemies, such as fish in bowls, frog-people, and impossible adorable mini yaks. There’s no blood or gore, making it a solid pick for teens and older kids who are interested in digital card games.
In just a few short years I’ve played a dozen or more me-too deckbuilding indie games hoping to capitalize on Slay the Spire’s success. Roguebook keeps things simple and familiar while evolving in all right areas, making it a more than worthy successor.