STAFF REVIEW of Roguebook (Xbox Series X)

Monday, March 28, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Roguebook Box art When I think of card based deck building games, the first ones that always come to mind is Gwent and Hearthstone. There’s a decent amount out there in the genre, but if you’re a deck building fan you might want to settle in and pay attention, as Roguebook took me by surprise, even as a casual fan of the genre. Are you a fan of Slay The Spire? What about Magic: The Gathering? If so, Roguebook might be exactly up your alley, as it’s very similar to Slay the Spire in many of its core mechanics, but also the backing of Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering. Choose two heroes, prepare your strategies and build a powerful deck in this roguelike deck builder that took me by surprise.

You are trapped within the Book of Lore of Faeria, where each page consists of a new challenge and adventure. You’ll have to choose two champions to find and fight your way to freedom of this Roguebook, but doing so won’t be easy as you’ll need a plethora of strategy, great foresight, a little bit of luck and a great deck in hand.

Roguebook has you choose two heroes that will begin your adventure for that run, and as you progress through the pages and manage to defeat bosses you’ll gain access to extra characters along the way. Each character has their own card decks that suit a particular playstyle and utilize completely different setups and strategies. Different hero combinations will make for unique card combinations and strategies, so it will take some time to find what works best for you, but once you start to understand how to utilize their cards best to synergize with the other hero of choice, that’s when the magic to Roguebook starts to shine through.

You begin with Sharra, a warrior that is more based on speed, stacking her attacks, bleeds and boosting her power. Sorocco has more area of effect cards and large block cards if you choose to play a bit more defensively, a must with bosses. While he wasn’t my favorite partner hero, I tend to use Seifer almost every single time due to his deck style. He has a good health pool and attacks for huge numbers when his rage meter fills, so with some basic setup and planning he can be quite a great partner. There’s one more hero that I don’t want to spoil, and even one other tied to DLC which I quite enjoy as well, though adds for some really unique strategies. Success in Roguebook will come from finding the duo that works best for you and how to have them synergize together well with your playstyle and strategy.

Every time you play a new run you’re brought to an open page of Roguebook. Much like other games’ fog of war, the tiles on the grid are where you can explore, trying to uncover as many tiles as you can for treasure, health, ink and more. To uncover tiles that you can’t access you must use your limited paint brush strokes that will uncover a number of tiles around you. You only have a few of these paint brushes though, so you need to decide what direction you want to try and uncover, as in the fogged area you’ll see some towers or other uncovered spaces that entice you to search that direction. These towers will uncover a large area of the fog, so they are usually a great spot to try and reach.

Tiles will either be walkable on, have barriers like rocks or cliffs, or have merchants, treasure, gold and other things you’ll need to survive Roguebook. The map, or pages, are procedurally generated every time you play as well, so there’s always something new to find or fight against in every playthrough. The boss is always at the top of the page and has a direct path from the beginning, but jumping right the boss will surely end in a quick death, as you need to fight in other battles to earn gold and bonuses so you be stronger for when you do eventually take on that boss with more cards in your deck. Gold becomes important as you’ll need to purchase new cards, not only for your in-hand deck, but certain amounts of cards in your deck will also unlock perks that you can choose based on your chosen heroes for that run.

This ‘overworld’ aspect makes Roguebook more than just a standard deck builder and I quite liked the exploration parts, as this required strategy. Do you take on a few regular battles (indicated by crossed swords) or even mini bosses (red crossed swords) in hopes to get some upgrades and gold so you can get better cards before the boss? What happens if you lose a lot of life though, as health isn’t replenished after battles, so you could easily head to a boss fight and get destroyed quite quickly if you didn’t manage to find any health refills while exploring the page.

It’s not explained very well, but you’ll also notice that cards have open rune slots, which is how you can completely customize and improve your deck quite substantially, which is going to be a necessity to defeat the bosses with any purpose, especially in Chapter two and three. That said, being too overzealous can have its drawbacks, like knowing you’re going into a boss fight without full health, or if you’re really unlucky enough, finding a thief as you uncover the hexagon map that steals one of your accessories unless you can manage to have the ink to get to where he ran off to on the grid and get it back.

Good roguelikes always need to give you a reason to come back and want to play more, even more so than the thrill of finally winning. Roguebook makes each run count, as you do gain some persistent experience and unlocks as you finish each run, even if unsuccessful against chapter bosses. Find pages/scrolls along the map as you uncover the grid and these will be used to purchase permanent unlocks like perks and bonuses which will make each subsequent run just that much easier. Heroes will also level up over time and runs as well, earning new powerful and unique cards that can make a big difference.

With about 200 cards to learn and collect, there can be some really unique runs based on your current deck. There’s also dozens of relics and gems, and since even bosses are randomized at the end of each chapter, each run feels completely unique. Some cards can be quite powerful, and once you know how best to use them and combine with your partners cards, this is when Roguebook starts to become really fun. Sure there’s always a bit of randomness in games like these with the cards you’re given per hand, and it does become a bit of a grind for the first few hours until you start to put together those working strategies and have some great passive bonuses, but when it all comes together and ‘clicks’, Roguebook goes from decent to great.

Battles are turned based, and what isn’t explained all that well in the beginning is how the front and back positions of your heroes plays into strategy, just like the blocking, power and more. The beginning tutorial shows the basics but it will take a few playthroughs to really start to get it and piece it together yourself. Your duo shares the deck cards (though cards are hero specific), block and the mana (amount it costs to play cards). Your hero in the front is the one that’s generally going to be taking the brunt of your enemies attacks, so it’s imperative you know who’s going to be in the front position to take the damage if you can’t fill your block enough to negate the incoming damage.

When it’s your turn you’ll see what the enemy is going to do next on their turn, usually indicated above their head with red swords showing how much damage they’re going to attack you with. Do you forgo defending and use your mana to go on the offensive, or do the math in your head and add to your block to not take as much damage instead? Block is shared regardless of which hero plays their card, something that took me a while to figure out. This is where you need to start formulating strategies based on which cards you’re dealt each hand.

Swapping heroes to the front and back play a large part in your strategies, as sometimes card values are based on their positioning as well. This is how you can start to ‘combo’ cards, knowing the best order to play them in. You’ll also have some cards that summon Allies. Some of these add bonuses, can be saved for a quick heal or attack enemies each turn. Once I figured out how potent Bleed cards and Allies can be, I altered my initial strategies, as playing these cards may cost more upfront, they act as almost passive bonus damage each turn.

Roguebook is quite colorful, bright and has great comic inspired characters. The animation is decent and the music seems very fitting for the fantasy backdrop, almost as if you really were going opening a book and going inside of it. I’ll admit, being a casual deck builder fan, I was initially doubting that Roguebook would sink its hooks into me. Here I am a week later, delaying writing this review because I keep wanting to do ‘one more run’, constantly trying to get more cards and passives to make each run that much better. With plenty of strategy, post-game content once you complete the third Chapter and tons of possibilities with a few heroes and 200 cards, there’s plenty or replay value and longevity.

A very different card game than I was used to or expecting, if you were a fan of Slay The Spire, you’ll most likely quite enjoy Roguebook for its polished and unique take of the genre. I don’t really have much negative to say at all once you’ve figured out its intricacies and built some solid strategic foundations. Generally when I’m done a review I delete and move onto the next, but I’ve kept Roguebook installed and keep going back to it for a few more runs now and then, which speaks volumes for its addictiveness.

**Roguebook (Xbox Series X|S version) was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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