It’s difficult not to become excited over anything that involves cards and the name Richard Garfield. The creator of Magic the Gathering having a hand in Roguebook definitely sets some lofty expectations, especially given how many great games already exist within the genre.
You can watch a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
Roguebook is a familiar story with fresh ink. Every time I review a deck builder, Abbee always comments that it looks like Slay the Spire, and she’s always right. But most of them have a large quirk that sets them apart. Roguebook has a few.
You control two characters at a time. Managing the cards for both in the same deck while attempting to maximize their synergy. The exploration in Roguebook is also freeform as you use inks and brushes to reveal the landscape and uncover all the loot and power-ups you need to win.
Roguebooks storybook art style is exceptionally polished making it one of the best-looking deck builders out there with slick animations to complement it. Visuals aren’t all that important to the genre, but it’s a nice bonus and speaks to detail that went into crafting the game as a whole.
The smaller differences are less apparent until you begin to flip through the games pages. But they are equally important in making Roguebook a novel experience.
|Gideon’s Bias||Roguebook Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes, Fugoro DLC included||Publisher: NACON|
|Hours Played: 20+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: Xbox Series X||Platforms: PC, Xbox Platforms, PS4/5 (Switch Coming soon)|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Rogue-lite Deckbuilder|
|Mode Played: N/A||Price: $29.99|
The gameplay loop will feel familiar to fans of the genre. You go through a series of battles, building a deck and starting over if you lose. Each run can unlock new cards and items. Roguebook follows the standard deck builder formula. Each turn you have a base of three energy to spend on cards, and any unplayed cards are discarded.
However, Roguebook’s inkwell goes far beyond the basic table of contents that the genre is known for. You control two characters at a time in Roguebook. Each one with unique abilities and cards, and you have to manage a deck containing both.
The advent of two characters puts an additional spin on the genre, as the character’s positions can be swapped around during battle. With the character in the front taking damage from attacks.
Many cards and the characters themselves interact with the positioning mechanism, with many effects triggering when the characters swap. Others are more powerful or cost less depending on how the characters are aligned. Sharra deals more damage at the front, while Sorocco gains additional block, for example.
One character going down doesn’t mean the end. Instead, the one character remaining has a chance to revive the other, and two useless wound cards get added to the deck as a penalty.
The dual character dynamic and positioning mechanism gives Roguebook a very distinct feel from most deck builders. It requires a different kind of strategy in both deckbuilding and combat, and it truly works really well.
Pairing up 2 of the 4 different characters (5 with the DLC) makes for a variety of potential synergies to explore, and that too is a lot of fun. Despite first impressions, Roguebook is not a plagiaristic Slay the Spire. It is a clear example of why you should never judge a book by its cover.
Roguebook’s other defining feature is how the game handles exploration. While most deck builders have you choose between a set of random paths, Roguebook’s is more open.
You walk around the blank pages of a storybook where only the combat encounters are unveiled. You can not walk on the empty void, but instead, use brushes and a variety of ink to paint your paths and uncover the treasure.
It’s nearly impossible to uncover the entire map of each stage, but getting the most out of your ink and brushes is incredibly important. Everything that makes you stronger is hidden within the pages. New cards, enhancing gemstones, and other buffs must all be found.
Unlike most deck builders, you do not earn cards in combat. You are instead rewarded with gold and inks. Card shrines have to be found and paid for, each one giving you a choice of three cards.
This small change alters the dynamic of how you approach combats, as most of them are entirely optional. However, they are needed to fund your exploration in order to take on Roguebook’s challenging boss fights.
The deck-building itself also turns standard conventions upside down. In most deck builders, it usually makes the most sense to keep a thin deck of your best cards.
Roguebook rewards you for the opposite. The more cards your deck has, the more talents you unlock for your party. The cards themselves have a tighter balance, so that broken combos’ and the desire to thin down a deck to pull them is less prevalent.
I’m as terrible at cutting cards from a deck as I am at cutting words from my reviews. So I often have a rough time in deck builders. It’s refreshing that Roguebook not only allows but encourages my hoarding nature.
Roguebook offers you a shocking amount of choices about how to progress through its pages and how to alter your playstyle. Cards are the most obvious factor, but each character and the party itself has a set of semi-randomized talents that are unlocked when your deck’s size hits certain thresholds. These can have a significant impact such as increasing Sorocco’s passive block or lowering the energy cost of ally cards.
Ally cards are another unique aspect of Roguebook. They place allies on the field that remain in combat with various effects that can range from simply attacking to buffing your characters.
Gemstones can be slotted into individual cards for a variety of improvements. They can let you draw a card when you play it, do extra damage, and a whole lot more. You always have access to a store to spend your hard-earned gold. In addition, you can transmute old cards into new ones by finding an alchemist on the map.
Your options within a run are always wide. But it’s almost paradoxical because your strategies will never be as focused they are in similar games. On the contrary, Roguebook is far more about adaption than selecting a strategy at the outset.
Roguebook is very, very random. Even if you maximize the efficiency of your inks and brushes, what you uncover is still largely luck-based. The fact that you are also managing cards for two characters in the same deck stymies you from pursuing a narrow-focused strategy.
Synergy is important, but playing well means finding ways to make the best choices with what you are dealt. Randomness affects all deck builders to a degree. But in Roguebook you’re unlikely to ever hit a stride of specific cards because the existence of two characters dilutes the pool of options significantly.
By nature deck builders tend to have a lot of replay value. But I particularly enjoy Roguebook’s implementation of its epilogue levels. If you’re familiar with the genre, you will know that most deck builders have an ascension style difficulty once you win a run. Each level steps up the challenge in some way.
Roguebook takes it further and offers a variety of modifiers that you can choose to enable. It’s similar to the Pact of Punishment in Hades. These modifiers change aspects of the game and you choose which ones you want to play with. They might alter parts of exploration, combat, or both, and each one has new unlockable modifiers to earn.
The game tracks which ones you have beaten with what characters, and I found that to be a nice touch. You’re rewarded for the additional challenge with more pages. Pages can be spent on embellishments, Roguebook’s form of meta progression.
Embellishments have a huge impact on your strength. They add new points of interest hidden within the map, increase your character’s max health, or even some of their starting cards. The deeper in the tree you go, the more expensive they become.
Roguebook lends itself well to people who like to master a games systems and the challenges it places in front of them. I really enjoy it myself.
However, I can’t help but feel the reliance on playing two characters prevented each one from reaching the same degree of depth found in similar games. That isn’t to say the game is shallow, far from it. But the characters feel bland, and the fact that you always play with two of them can make the game feel repetitive quicker than I was expecting. The enemy variety also wears thin fairly fast, an unfortunate flaw found in many deck-building games.
Verdict on Roguebook
Roguebook’s unique take on the tried and true formula of the genre is brilliant. The exploration is always fun. Every point of interest you uncover feels like finding a small treasure. Figuring out ways to maximize your ink coverage adds a nice additional layer of gameplay beyond the combat.
The fact that the game outright rewards you for having a large deck is a major boon in its favor. It encourages a playstyle that’s normally antithetical to the entire genre. Managing the cards and positioning of two characters also gives the game a novel feel.
Roguebook is a challenging game. Partly due to its focus on adaptation. You don’t start a run with a specific build in mind because the game will punish you for it. Instead, it actually does feel like you’re building a deck as you play, rather than selecting cards for a deck you already had built in your mind.
However, part of the challenge can stem from randomness. One example is the importance of Faerie Shrines that grant you additional energy. If you don’t find many of them despite maximizing the area of the map you uncover, it’s a swift kick in the shin with little you can do about it.
The characters are far less interesting than I would have hoped, considering there are only four of them. The fifth character, Fugoro is from a $10 DLC and has more unique mechanisms than the others. He was definitely my favorite, but that’s a sour pill to swallow.
Despite its flaws, Roguebook is still one worth opening. It’s filled with ink that paints a much different picture than its cover would suggest. It turns many common deck-building conventions upside down making for an enjoyable fresh experience in a crowded genre.
My Perspective on Roguebook
Roguebook is in a very strange place for me. I love so much about it. The fact that it encourages larger decks, the strategy of two characters that move front to back, and its free-form exploration. Ascension levels in games like Slay the Spire or Monster Train never drove me to complete them the same way that Roguebooks Epilogue pages do.
But I just don’t have the same conviction to actually play Roguebook to the same degree that I do those games, and it was honestly difficult to pin down why.
It’s the characters. While Roguebook is full of strategy, its characters just don’t have the same degree of mastery that they do in rival games. I’m still learning new ways to use characters in Slay The Spire, new ways to synergize factions in Monster Train and Tainted Grail constantly surprises me with its variety.
I haven’t come close to mastering Roguebook either, but I feel like I’m drafting from random pools of cards rather than a character’s pool of cards. If that makes sense. They just feel shallower in a way that’s hard to describe because it’s masked by the fact that you play two of them. Maybe, that’s the point. Two characters with the same degree of depth as say, the Ironclad, and the Silent from Slay the Spire may have been too overwhelming.
I just can’t shake that feeling of weirdness. I’m 100% willing to blame it on a jaded mindset from playing so many games of this genre, or my entrenchment in board games that share a lot with the deckbuilding videogame genre.
My brain has a weird tendency to latch on to things. Final Fantasy Tactics prevented me from enjoying games similar to it for years before I could let go of the fact that not every turn-based tactic game needed to be Final Fantasy Tactics to be good.
The thing is, I’m still drawn to play Roguebook because of the epilogue chapters. Watching the little character icons light up as I complete each challenge with different characters makes the completionist side of my brain feel warm and fuzzy. It makes sense, I did platinum Death Stranding after all…
- Interesting two-character system
- Roguebook encourages large decks, & that’s neat
- Uncovering a map to find points of interest is a great addition to the genre
- Metaprogression gives you plenty to pursue
- The focus on adapting your deck, rather than a narrow build is fun
- The Epilogue Chapter system is a great take on the usual end-game ascension levels
- Roguebook’s characters feel bland and less interesting than in similar games
- Enemy variety is lacking
- Playing two of four characters can make the game feel repetitive faster than expected
- The randomness that comes with exploring can be frustrating at times as not much can offset it
- The character DLC is pricey for one character
Who Would Like Roguebook?
- Fans of Slay The Spire, Monster Train, & other deck builders
- Fans of Faeria, as the game is set in its universe
- If you always found adding cards to your deck to be more fun than thinning it
- You enjoy the random nature of uncovering unexplored goodies
- You like being presented with a set of challenges to complete
Who Wouldn’t Like Roguebook?
- If you’re sensitive to RNG, Roguebook is even more random than similar games
- If you’re new to deck builders, the way the game flips standard conventions upside down might not make it a great first choice
- The idea of starting over when you lose isn’t appealing
- If you generally play games on easy, there are no difficulty settings