The roguelike deck-building genre has become oddly popular in the last few years. What initially appears to be a combining of two fairly unwelcoming genres results in a gameplay formula that’s as difficult as it is addicting. Roguebook is no different. Taking inspiration from classic fantasy RPGs and adding that Slay the Spire touch, the demo we got our hands on hints at something that could be really good and as frustratingly difficult as you’re looking for. If Monster Train has got a little too easy for you, this is sure to give you what you’re looking for.
If you know Slay the Spire, you know the basics of Roguebook’s combat system, but I’m going to pretend you don’t for the purpose of this paragraph. Roguebook has you, and another party member, go through areas slaying creatures and picking up rewards to last a little bit longer in that final boss. Each turn, you are doled out a handful of cards, all with different stats and ways of playing them. Traditionally you have three energy, or Roguebook’s equivalent, that you must spend to activate your cards. Some might cost one whilst others will cost all three. You constantly play this risk/reward system as you risk potentially losing your precious life to get just a little bit more damage out early. You can attack the enemy in front of you to get closer to victory or defend yourself from a particularly nasty whack. You can spend the energy you have each turn to achieve victory by any means. Usually, this means punishing the enemy whilst taking a little bit of damage in return.
The defeat here tends to be a slow one. It isn’t usually in one turn, it’s a death by 1000 cuts. This sets up what the game offers well - a slow trudge into the dark at its core. The game’s difficulty ramps up as the enemies get tougher, more complex, larger in numbers. This is something these deck-builder games do so well. The first couple of runs feels crushingly hard yet oddly replayable due to the slow way it pulls back the curtains on the mechanics. As you use your cards and activate certain mechanics, it starts to come together, painting a picture more broad and varied than you otherwise thought. Roguebook knows this and blends its Fantasy RPG elements well.
By Fantasy RPG, I’m talking about the aesthetic more so than the design philosophy. You play as knights, hulking rat-men (not available in the demo build), and ogres as you push your way through forests, lands above the sky, and more. You are challenged by your typical fantasy fare as you make your way through each level to the final boss. Levels have a set path to the final boss through a tile system that clearly enunciates where you can go. The line to the boss can be followed in a linear path. You will certainly make it there but you will get there underprepared.
This is where the central traversal mechanics start. You can go off the beaten path by exploring nearby areas with paintbrushes. You are essentially painting a tile map under your feet to travel with. You can go out on a whim to explore way off into the corner or illuminate as much space as you possibly can. The places you don’t illuminate are a simple cream color where obstacles in the path are darker. This means you can prioritize movement or hope that the dark obstacle is something good for your build.
This risk/reward system is something ingrained in every choice you make in Roguebook. You could spend your gold to get a small but decent card now or wait to get a rare upgrade to your character. You could go all out in your attack or hold back and wait. This is something only made better with the two-character system. The actual fighting is very much like Slay the Spire but there’s a horizontal nature to the forming of your crew that has the character in the front take damage. Both can attack and defend but each of them gets their own bonuses and perks based on position.
The two characters you can play as in the demo balance well off each other with the lower HP knight having extra damage up close where the high HP ogre gains one block if he’s at the front. This means both of them to perform at their best in the firing line but for different reasons that can shape your build. This is something I’m very interested in watching evolve as the game grows. I’m looking forward to seeing the strange characters, interesting perks, and niche cards.
Roguebook has some nice depth to it so far but hasn’t quite managed to strike out on its own yet. The lore could do with a more interesting spin in certain areas and bugs could certainly be hammered out but this is the experience you get from a small demo. Roguebook is heading in the right direction but could do with going off script a little
TechRaptor previewed Roguebook on PC using a copy provided by the developers. The game is set to release on June 24th, 2021.