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Roguebook Review – IGN

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I’ve spent a lot of my gaming time over the last five plus years duking it out against all manner of foes using the most powerful weapon of them all… cards. And in that time, two of my favourite card-based battle games have been Faeria and Slay the Spire. With Roguebook, those worlds are colliding. Well, to be more precise, developer Abrakam has brought its Faeria universe across to the roguelike deck-builder genre and created something of a (literal) storybook take on Slay the Spire. Roguebook doesn’t quite reach the same dizzying gameplay heights as that game, but it has a lot to offer, from its clever dual hero battle system and gorgeous presentation, through to its puzzle-like overworlds that are built around the premise that you’re trapped within Faeria’s lore book.

Lost in a Bad Book

One of Roguebook’s most interesting points of differentiation is its overworld exploration. Every map starts out with large swathes of blank parchment and it’s only by using brushes and ink pots that you can reveal what’s on each tile. As you paint, you’ll come across opportunities to draft more cards, to transmute existing cards, and to build up your in-battle energy reserves. You’ll discover piles of gold that can be spent at each chapter’s shop, you’ll collect relics that can potentially power up your gameplan, and you’ll stumble upon standalone events and mythical creatures. Working out how to best gather and use ink makes for an absorbing layer of overworld strategy.

Each enemy encounter, meanwhile, is an opportunity to test the cards, abilities, buffs and modifiers you’ve cobbled together so far. How well does your strategy fit together, and are you taking full advantages of the two heroes you’d chosen at the start of the run? Can you deal with multiple foes or work around status effects? And do you have enough lethality to topple enemies that steadily build their power? There’s generally a lot to keep in mind, especially as the row of relics and talents at the top of the screen gets longer and longer. These perks, after all, fundamentally inform your choice of cards to draft, as well as how to approach any given fight.

If you have the relic Sturdy Shell, for instance, it gives the equipped hero five block each time he or she takes damage. If an enemy’s looking to attack for low damage repeatedly, then, you’ll want to end your turn with that hero at the front to basically negate the damage. With blocking taken care of, this also means you can prioritise attacking or deploying allies that turn. If you have the relic Flame of Ignus, you’ll get an extra energy orb any time a card grants you one, which means you should aggressively draft cards that do just that – as well as more expensive cards and card draw, as you know you’ll be able to take advantage of them.

Even the cards in your deck can be modified thanks to Roguebook’s gem system. You may want to reduce a card’s cost, add card draw or perhaps always start a battle with it a particular card in hand. Cleverly utilising gems can have a massive impact on your deck’s power level and I really enjoyed looking for build-defining synergies.

There and Back Again

Roguebook’s turn-based battle system has many layers. Like Slay the Spire, you’ll spend energy to play cards, you’ll point attacks that do damage at enemies and you’ll find ways to build up block to mitigate incoming damage. More uniquely, you’ll also deploy allies into the battlefield – some of which offer up unique benefits like returning a card to hand or letting you swap hero positions, while others simply do damage at the end of every turn.

The design element I find most compelling, however, is the front and back dynamic for the two heroes. Swapping their positions is baked into many of the cards – cast one of Sharra’s Defend cards to gain block, for instance, and she’ll move to the front. Cards with Charge do the same, while cards with Retreat send the hero to the back. Swapping heroes is also regularly used to avoid position-specific debuffs and to trigger effects, while ending the turn with a particular hero at the front is a big part of the strategy as they’re the one that will take any damage.

The design element I find most compelling is the front and back dynamic for the two heroes. 


Some heroes utilise a specific position well too. Being at the front gives Sharra a boost to her attack power, for instance, but if she’s paired with Seifer you may want to end turns with him in the lead. Not only does he have higher native health, but any damage he takes adds to his rage meter which, when full, allows him to play a supercharged version of one of his cards.

Swapping positions is also a big part of gaining incremental resource advantages. Melee cards, for instance, cost one less when played by a hero who is leading, while Ranged cards are the same for the rear position. Weaving these discounts in while also paying attention to other keywords like Combo (which drops the cost of the Combo card by one if you play a card from the other hero first) is integral to making the most of your turns.

Hero in a Half-Shell

Each hero also has strengths, weaknesses and unique mechanics to be aware of. Sharra, for example, can generate Daggers, which are essentially zero cost damage spells. She also has plenty of strong single target attack cards and can cause ongoing bleed in enemies. Sorocco’s cards, meanwhile, are generally a little more expensive but hit harder. He’s more focused on AOE, on boosting the power of heroes and on generating block – and sometimes turning it into damage.

As mentioned, Seifer has the rage mechanic, so has cards that generate rage or take advantage of rage, as well as ways to sacrifice health and then heal back up. He can also deploy aggressive allies and then bolster their attack… or sacrifice them to save his own hide.

The last hero is Aurora, a low health, spell-casting tortoise who can summon an army of frogs, which all stack atop one another to create a single heavy-hitting ally. Many of her cards are either concerned with her health or are dual-sided. Sip is an example of both, healing for four if Aurora is damaged, but dealing four to the lead enemy if not. Sips are generated through a host of support cards, and Aurora also has plenty of card draw tools.

Roguebook Review Screenshots

Building a winning deck with cards from two distinct pools is quite fun, but Roguebook’s heroes aren’t all that mechanically interesting. I didn’t want to explore Seifer’s rage mechanic in the same way I became obsessed with orb strategies for the Defect in Slay the Spire, for instance. Many of Roguebook’s best ideas feel game-wide rather than hero-driven. Compounding this, having cards from two heroes in your deck makes aiming for a narrow strategy particularly difficult.

You’re rewarded for having more cards in your deck too, with new talent choices unlocked at certain thresholds, and this is very much a mixed blessing. With this style of game, the more cards you draft, the more watered down your strategy will inevitably become. Deciding how large your deck should be is an interesting push and pull each run, but having rewards tied to larger decks doesn’t necessarily make Roguebook a better game.

Having cards from two heroes in your deck makes aiming for a narrow strategy particularly difficult.


Run Plus Room

After you beat Roguebook once you’ll get access to New Run +. This Epilogue has 15 levels of difficulty to work through, and a whole host of modifiers to unlock – and then select – that will radically alter each run. Your lead hero might take damage each time he or she plays a card, for instance, or the back enemy may always start stealthed. It’s an interesting approach, but I found myself wishing each row was unlocked at once, as opposed to unlocking each modifier individually, as some were much more appealing to attempt than others.

The higher the Epilogue level you clear, the more Pages you’re rewarded, and these are spent on significant meta game upgrades like boosting the starting health of your heroes, adding more energy wells to each map and increasing the likelihood of rarer cards or treasures dropping. For the most part the embellishments help make you more powerful for future runs, but you may want to think twice before unlocking some of the options. Randomising the cards in your starter deck, for instance, certainly has high roll potential, but it can also leave you at a disadvantage. There’s something to be said for starting with a vanilla deck that’s reliable enough in the early game and that you then build on, while transmuting away the weaker cards over time.

New Game + represents significant endgame component, but it’s still a shame Roguebook doesn’t have anything outside of it. I’d have loved an additional palate cleanser mode, like daily challenges or the ability to create custom runs for fun in which I build my own starter deck, swap starter relics and so on.

Roguebook also has a few issues to clear up. I encountered numerous bugs in my time with the game, from cards not working as intended through to a run in which one of my hero’s starter relics simply went AWOL. I also lost a few hours progress at one point thanks to an issue with cloud save functionality. Thankfully, the game has already received a couple of significant patches, including one after the bulk of my playtime, so things are heading in the right direction.

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