Roguebook Pre-Order Demo key was provided by Homerun PR
I spent a lot of 2020 playing Slay the Spire. The lure of one more run, one more attempt to cobble together the perfect deck. Slay the Spire was something of an indie darling, bringing together a popular board game mechanic with the slick pace of play that a computer doing all the busy work and number crunching allows.
If you’re not familiar, deckbuilding is a game mechanic whereby players start with a simple set of cards and over the course of play add more cards to their deck. This is distinct from games like Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone, where you begin the game with a pre-constructed deck.
Following the success of Slay the Spire, a number of other digital deckuilding dungeon running roguelikes have begun to appear, each adding their own spin on the formula. We were recently sent a key for the Roguebook pre-order demo and I sat down for a few hours to try it out.
Designed by Richard Garfield, whose games include King of Tokyo, Magic: The Gathering and Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle, Roguebook tweaks the formula giving players control of two characters. As a result your deck will contain two sets of cards, one for each character. Additionally you’ll have to manage two health bars and their order in the party as whoever is in front will take damage.
I like the potential the two character mechanic brings. There are only two playable characters in the demo, one being a lower health higher damage character, the other being much tankier with more defensive focussed abilities. Both gain passive abilities while at the front of the party queue, so managing your ability to swap them back and forth is key. Additionally they each have their own skill trees with new perks being awarded every time your deck reaches a certain size. It’s an interesting trade off as large decks are often avoided in deckbuilders. Hopefully, the higher level skills are worth the inefficiency that comes with a larger deck, though I have yet to progress that far.
In general though, I found the rate at which my deck changed from the dull starting cards a little slow when compared to the rate of change in Slay the Spire. New cards are slightly harder to come by and there is very little opportunity to remove cards from your deck, though there are several options for transmuting them into something else.
As a roguelike, Roguebook’s runs are divided into areas. Little hex-tiled zones filled with upgrade opportunities and regular fights from with to buff yourself before you take on the zone boss. Rather than linear paths to follow you instead use paintbrush items to reveal map tiles, clearing out the fog of war and discovering more fights, upgrade spots and loot.
I wasn’t particularly keen on this exploration mechanic, the uncertainty of whether you’d actually gain anything useful from spending your paintbrush to reveal more map. As you’re not progressing down a preset path there is a flexibility to the order in which you can tackle things however you’re unable to plan your route in the same way you might in Slay the Spire or FTL which share a similar path system. Spending resources to reveal the map only to find nothing of value can feel very disappointing and feels like it adds unnecessary delays to progressing through each area.
After 3 hours with the demo, Roguebook teased at some interesting variations on the digital deckbuilder but was holding them out of reach. After my most successful run came to an end, the thought of having to wade back though the starting area kept me from starting a new one.
It may just be that it takes a few runs more before the early game becomes less of a slog but I’d love to see the game become more generous in giving you quicker access to the more exciting upgrades and card combos. It may be that the first two characters are a little stock in their basic powers and I hope the other 2 characters allow for some wackier or more interesting play from the get go.
I you want to try Roguebook for yourself and tell me I’m completely wrong, the demo is available on Steam until the end of the Steam Games Festival on the 9th of Feb.
If you prefer deckbuilders of the tabletop variety, I covered one of the genre originators, Arctic Scavengers and why its junk deck is brilliant. Alternatively, check out Gav and Nevi’s impressions of the Monster Hunter Rise demo on the Nintendo Switch if you’re after more fresh games.