Tobold's Blog
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Roguebook short review

I have been playing Roguebook for about 15 hours recently. Roguebook is a "deckbuilding roguelite" game, comparable to Slay the Spire. But it adds an interesting twist to the genre by having you explore the pages of a book using inks and brushes. Basically you play through three hex maps, but you need to "paint in" most of the map using ink/brush rewards you get from battles. Both the exploration part and the combat part are good fun.

What I like less in this game, and that is true for the whole genre, not just Roguebook, is the "rogue" part of the game loop. If you would draw a curve of your power over time, you get a sort of a sawtooth curve: Your power goes up during a run, until you either fail or complete the run, and then your power drops to only slightly above where you started the game at. You are expected to fail your first X runs, until the small permanent power boost you earn for each run is enough to make you succeed. Even worse, once you succeed, you can only play by adding additional challenges to the game, making it less likely you succeed again next time. On top of all that, there is much randomness in every aspect of the game, and the best strategy doesn't help when you need defensive cards but just happened to draw only a hand of offensive ones.

As a deckbuilder, Roguebook is on the easy side of the scale. It isn't terribly clever, and doesn't have any deck-thinning mechanics. You basically just collect cards, mostly drafting one of 3 possible random cards, and add them to your deck until it is terribly bloated. The more you explore the map, the bigger your deck becomes. Some cards get bonuses based on the size of your deck, and that can become pretty unbalanced. It is very hard to go for some sort of concise strategy in deckbuilding.

As an experience of discovery, Roguebook is pretty fun for the first ten or so hours. There are 4 different characters (5 with DLC), and you will bring 2 of them on each run, which makes for some interesting combinations. Each characters has a lot of cards to discover over time, and there are also gems to boost cards with and treasures to give other sorts of bonuses to your hero or the whole party. However, there are only the same 3 maps to go through, even if each time the things to find on each map are distributed randomly that gets old pretty fast.

What pushed the game beyond 10 hours for me was discovering that the save game file is in .json format, or human readable text. Which means you can open it with a simple text editor and change your save game. Frustrated by your heroes having too little health? Add some more! You can modify any one of the currencies (gold, brushes), and even modify the cards and treasures you have to whatever you want. Playing the game in this alternate easily modded way added another 5 hours of fun for me. But in the end I don't really like the "run after run" overall structure, and will uninstall the game now.

Your impression seems similar to Steam reviews, unfortunately. Sounds like something I might get when it's on sale a couple of years down the road, just for the twelve hours of fun exploration.

Roguelike purists don't really approve of even small power increases after failing a level, though unlocking more complex options is considered okay. You are suppose to improve just by learning. I guess the test of this is whether a skilled player could erase all his save files, and still have a chance of winning the first playthrough. If yes, it's not driven by meta-progression, even if there is some.
I don't like the basic concept of roguelikes either, which is why I never play them. Playing while complaining about the underlying conceit that drives the subgenre seems like playing basketball while complaining you have to keep throwing the ball through the hoop. Why not just leave well alone?
I think the problem is that every game is a mix of several different genres and subgenres. I do like turn-based card battlers! And within a description of "roguelite", there are games in which the rogue elements are "lite" enough for me not to mind. But I need to play for myself to see how lite or heavy the rogue elements are.

I would be open for a suggestion for a turn-based tactical card-battler (not just a card game) without rogue elements. Other than Card Hunter, I can't think of one.
I would suggest Deep Sky Derelicts. I first thought it's a rogue like, but it has multiple game save slots, so it's not.
You play as a small team of explorers of starship wrecks, in which lure mostly hostile aliens. Each part of your equipment contributes cards to your deck. If you get a better weapon or shield, you effectively remove some old cards from your deck and put some new one into it. Also, the equipment and weapons boost your stats. For example, the weapon contributes cards for a certain type of attack (physical or elemental based) and your stats determine how much damage you are doing with it.
I only played a few hours until now, but I have much fun so far.

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