Arriving on PC this summer is Roguebook - a deckbuilding roguelike that was able to grab my attention, as it is being developed in conjunction with Magic: The Gathering creator, Richard Garfield. The game follows the travels of several different heroes, who have been trapped in the page's of the Book of Lore of Faeria. Playing as these heroes, it's up to you to navigate its randomised world and dispatch its many different threats in turn-based card battles. It might not be launching until June, but fortunately, I was able to secure myself access to a demo version, which will soon be available to those that have pre-ordered on PC.
Exploring the overworld and engaging enemies in combat are the main cornerstones of Roguebook's gameplay. The battle system here is pretty straightforward to grasp, but there's certainly an element of depth lurking beneath its surface. The action is turn-based and revolves around you and your opponents playing cards each turn by spending the limited amount of action points you are allocated. During each turn, you draw a fresh hand of five cards each of these have a cost in action points with the most potent ones costing more.
The cards within your deck contain both offensive and defensive moves, and you'll have to use them to tactically plan how to take down your opponent. Above your foe's heads, it'll tell you whether they plan to attack, rest or defend next turn, so you need to bear this in mind. Using all offensive moves might be great for inflicting some significant damage, for example, but it really leaves you vulnerable when your opponent gears up to attack. As well as standard attacks and defence moves, cards can also contain different effects such as buffing the total attack of your party and inflicting bleed damage, so all this needs to be considered.
The exploration section within the overworld is handled similarly well to combat. Here your surrounding areas aren't immediately visible, and you'll need to use ink brushes and pots that you earn from battles to reveal several more squares of the grid-like map. The map is completely randomised and across it you'll find more gold to purchase cards, more enemy encounters and also health pickups to restore your party. These also rare items that you can find scattered around that will boost the attributes of your heroes when equipped.
What I love about this is the sense of risk for reward felt during exploration. By taking on another battle you risk being slain and having to start over again, but you could end up gaining enough gold to purchase another game-changing card to fit within your deck. There's always the pressure to venture further and continue to improve your inventory, as it's pretty much a death sentence if you try and take on a chapter's boss without preparation.
Roguebook (just like its name suggests) is a roguelike, so if you find yourself falling in battle then you're forced to abandon your run and start over. There are a few elements that carry over though that help to aid you within subsequent playthroughs. As you traverse the map you'll find scrolls and these can be used to unlock new skills within the Perk Tree in the main menu. These skills are permanent and don't just expire at the end of a failed run. One skill, for example, gives you more gold at the start and another offers you additional treasure rewards from chests. In addition to this, you also receive experience points for each hero at the end of the run and once you level up, you'll unlock new cards that will start to appear.
Another layer of depth within the game is within the heroes that can join your adventure as part of your party. Each hero with the game has their own skill tree, over 50 unique cards, and synergies when used alongside other characters. The skill tree each hero has are quite interesting as they are linked to how many cards you have within your deck. At 14 cards, for example, you will unlock a new skill point but you'll have to decide whether to allocate it to a character or the entire party. Within the demo, I was only able to play with one other additional hero and this was Soroco, First Mate. This stocky part-ogre hits incredibly hard, and I hid behind him like a shield through the majority of my playthrough.
Something I disliked, however, about playing Roguebook was how much success early on felt purely down to chance. Sure, this comes with the nature of randomised roguelikes, but it felt especially punishing here when compared to other games I have played within the genre. Sometimes I could just breeze myself through a run with little to no effort and then other times I would find myself defeated by the second enemy that I encountered on the map. It also feels massively down to luck when you're choosing an area to reveal with your ink, as you could strike lucky by finding some hidden treasure or you could just uncover some trees.
Roguebook certainly looks like an intriguing mix of genres and I'm looking forward to jumping back in when the game launches to delve deeper into its various systems. I found its card-based gameplay simple to grasp, and I really like the risk for reward feeling that it had to its gameplay and within its overworld. I did, however, find my success largely dependent on luck, but this wasn't enough to deter me from pressing on with my adventure. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when Roguebook launches on PC on June 24, 2021.